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 and accessing the government database with prices paid in the area, the market in France remains opaque for an outsider. Outside the most sought-after parts of Paris, Provence and the Riviera, actual prices paid usually are considerably lower than asking prices.

French listing agents do not have a duty to the buyer to advise on the market price and generally 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.

France does not have a central or multi-listing system for properties for sale. Sellers rarely give an exclusive mandate to one agency. Instead, they hire several separate estate agents to market their home.

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.

French estate agents are hired by vendors to market their property and negotiate the highest possible price. They do not have a specific fiduciary duty to the buyer and only have to disclose problems with a property that they have been made aware of – they have no duty to investigate anything about the house, other than whether the vendor has the title to property and that their identity is correct.

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 do not preview 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 an d it’s simply not the custom in France.

Counting on the listing agent to represent your best interests and do the legwork for you, would be unrealistic. If listing 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 help out the vendor 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,” 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.