Posted 7 months ago on July 31, 2014, 7:31 p.m. EST by genarohilley
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Three years ago, while visiting friends in the wine-producing Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, Timothy McDonald decided he wanted what they had: a chance to experience small-town life in what is sometimes described as an unspoiled and more affordable version of Provence. A year later McDonald and his wife, Kathleen Brooker, took a mortgage on their paid-up Seattle home and plunked down $200,000 in cash for a 15th-century former shop house in the remote agricultural village of Azille (pop. 1,100), 90 minutes from the Toulouse airport. The couple, both in their early 60s, plan to spend several months a year there after she retires someday from her job as executive director of Historic Seattle. (McDonald, a semiretired architectural preservationist, already spends a month at a time there.)
While some aging boomers might put a premium on convenience or a place that can accommodate future physical limitations, McDonald and Brooker bought in a town without even a train station and from a contractor whose idea of tasteful renovations included removing the handrail on the narrow staircase of the three-story stone structure. And why not? They’re fit bikers, runners and history buffs who care more about the town’s proximity to Cathar Romanesque sites and enjoying their French, British and Swiss neighbors. “We wanted to have a bigger life, rather than have a bigger home in the U.S., and ironically we found it in a small French town,” says Brooker.
Of course, American billionaires and celebrities have always lived large in Europe. Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen reportedly keeps a staff of 12 at his hilltop villa in St. Jean Cap-Ferrat, along the Côte d’Azur. George Clooney‘s 30-room palazzo on Italy’s Lake Como has starred in many A-list parties.
But a weaker euro, low interest rates and crashing real estate prices in parts of the euro zone are prompting more ordinary American Europhiles to look at buying a piece of the Old World .
What they’re currently finding, says Ronan McMahon, who reports on real estate trends for the International Living website, is that European prices peaked between 2006 and 2008 and are now all over the map. Stratospheric London and Paris prices never fell that much and have headed back up. But an exodus of youth from rural France and Italy has made homes like the one Brooker and McDonald bought somewhat more affordable.