BUYING A PROPERTY IN FRANCE
Property hunting in any country is a full-time job that requires stamina, lots of determination and market expertise. That is why in many countries house hunters engage their own buyer’s agent, also known as home finder or search agent.
The French property market has its own peculiarities that can make the search and acquisition process particularly frustrating and difficult. The profession of property search agent (chasseur immobilier, property finder or buyer’s agent) therefore emerged about 15 years ago and is now well established in France.
What makes the French property market so different?
Although you can get a rough idea of property prices by scanning agency websites, outside the most sought-after parts of Paris, Provence and the Riviera, actual prices paid usually are considerably lower. Actual prices paid for properties are not publicly available in France. In the UK you simply type in an address on the Land Registry website and you can see the price paid. In France, databases such as Immoprix and Les Meilleurs Agents only provide the average or median price paid per square metre for all houses or apartments in a specific city, including everything, from fixer-uppers to entirely renovated properties. This information cannot even be narrowed down to neighbourhoods and only provides a vague guideline to buyers. This lack of price information makes it very hard for you to determine the correct value of a property.
The listing agent does not have a duty to the buyer to advise on the correct price and buyers are left to their own devices (unless they have an experienced buyer’s agent on their side). This explains why asking prices sometimes can be as much as 25% over market value.
Agencies rarely have access to each other’s listings, which means that house hunters have to contact all agencies separately to access the entire market. The market is flooded with agencies and contacting them all is impossible if you don’t live here and search full time. A huge number of property “portals” exist – but each site only lists a fraction of the market. Foreign portals and international agencies often add their own fee on top of the local agency’s fee, making the total price to the buyer higher.
In addition, only the agency that sells the property gets any vendor commission. This has some unexpected negative consequences that few people know about – you can read more details HERE.
Estate agencies in France are not in the business of searching for properties for buyers. They have their own portfolio of houses to sell and can’t access the listings of the competition, other than perhaps a few other agencies that they have an agreement with. The bigger agencies often do not want to share their listings at all. Estate agents in any event cannot pre-view the competition’s listings and won’t report to you on any downsides or problems, nor can they advise a buyer as to the lowest possible price. That is not their job – it is the job of a buyer’s agent.
Counting on the vendor’s agent to represent your best interests and do the legwork for you, would be unrealistic. If estate (= vendor) agents would try to get the lowest price and best conditions for the buyer, they’d soon not get any new listings on the books and would go out of business. Also, if a conflict or problem would arise during the acquisition, they’d clearly have to help out the buyer and you’d be on your own.
For marketing reasons, many estate agents will call themselves buyer’s agents, property finders, or home hunters. If they have websites with properties for sale, they however are not exclusive buyer’s agents or “chasseurs immobiliers” and won’t be a member of the FNCI or FFCI professional bodies. They simply are trying to get in customers for the houses they list. Don’t confuse them with the American system where the listing agent routinely shares the property and his commission with the buyer’s search agent.
OUR PROPERTY SEARCH SERVICE
Our service is tailor-made to the requirements of the client. The following is a summary of the steps that generally are involved. Please contact us for more detailed information regarding your specific requirements.
Step 1. Determining Your Property Requirements
When you contact us, we listen to your plans and requirements. If you’re not entirely sure yet where or what type of property to buy, we advise you and guide you. Setting a comprehensive search brief within your budget is an important first step in the process and we take this very seriously.
We help you set your exact budget and recommend currency and mortgage brokers and tax planners so that you are well prepared before the search starts. Because each search agency in our network covers a much larger area than an estate agent, we can also recommend the best area or villages for you within the region, instead of being stuck to the smaller area or town traditionally covered by estate agents.
Step 2. The Search Mandate Agreement
Once you’re ready to go ahead, we ask you to sign the exclusive search mandate agreement which sets out your search criteria, your maximum budget, the search fee and the terms and conditions. This agreement allows us to visit properties on your behalf. You can cancel it at any time and there is no obligation to buy. Read more about our Fee Structure.
Step 3. The Property Search
Once you know your approximate viewing dates we starts the search. We contact and visit countless estate agents on your behalf, scan the Internet and use our network of local contacts. We visit any potentially suitable properties on your behalf and stay in touch with you throughout, sending you frank property reports with photos.
In consultation with you we compile a shortlist for your viewing trip. Only the properties that fit your search requirements make it to the viewing list.
Ideally you have your financing pre-approved before your viewing trip. These days many sales fall through last-minute because of banks tightening their lending criteria and having your approval-in-principle in place therefore puts you in a much better negotiating position.
Step 4. Property Viewings
Your search agent organises your viewing itinerary. They accompany you on the viewings and always leave time for second visits and last-minute properties. After each viewing they discuss the property with you and provide information on the immediate surroundings, nearby villages and towns, transport connections and anything else that is essential to know before committing to a purchase. They offer you their impartial expert opinion and help you stay on brief.
Step 5. Price Negotiations
Once you have selected a property, your buyer’s agent negotiates the purchase price and timeline on your behalf – unless you prefer to do so yourself. Estate agents represent sellers and must do their very best to obtain the highest price for their clients. With their local market knowledge and experience, exclusive buyer’s agents are able to negotiate significant price reductions for their clients. Having a representative negotiate on your behalf also takes the emotions out of the equation and changes the dynamic very much to your advantage.
At this stage we can recommend surveyors for a structural survey, or building contractors who can give you an estimate of any work you’d want done.
Step 6. The Purchase Agreement
The initial contract of sale is the compromis de vente or promesse de vente (depending on the region of France), which we recommend be drafted by a notaire (state-appointed conveyancing lawyer). You have a 10-day cooling-off period after the signing of the compromis during which you can pull out without any obligations. The compromis contains the conditions that must be satisfied before completion/closing, such as obtaining a mortgage offer before a certain date. Your buyer’s agent can arrange your own English-speaking notaire. It is also important to discuss your estate planning requirements with the notaire or a legal advisor at this point.
We also can refer you to dual-qualified lawyers in your home country before you sign the legally binding Compromis or Promesse.
Step 7. Completion
If you’re financing the purchase with a mortgage loan it takes about three months from the signing of the compromis for the notaire to do all the necessary checks and for the mortgage to come through. For cash purchases this process takes about eight weeks.
The notaire then will draft the acte authentique de vente (final deed of sale), propose a signing date, and confirm the final balance due in order for you to organise bank transfers in time.
We are by your side throughout this entire process and ensure that everything runs smoothly and things are not unnecessarily delayed. On the day of completion your search agent accompanies you on the final inspection of the property and arranges for the utilities to be transferred in your name.
Step 8. After Sale
Once you have the keys to your new home in hand your agent does not suddenly disappear. They remain your local contact, ready to recommend property managers, caretakers, gardeners, rental agencies, builders or architects.