Estate agents or immobiliers in France are bound by a strict code of conduct, but a 2023 report by government consumer rights agency DGCCRF indicated high rates of illegitimate practices among agents. Here are some of the common scams and sales tactics to be aware of when buying or selling a property in France.
How to choose a reputable estate agent in France?
First things first: if you are looking to list your property with a French immobilier, it’s best to ensure that they are a member of a registered body such as FNAIM, SNPI or UNPI. Avoid using unlisted agents, individuals “freelancing” as estate agents, or any agency that can’t prove its credentials.
All professional estate agents should, at minimum, hold a carte professionnelle immobilier, and this means that they are bound by a code of conduct (known as the code de déontologie) covering all areas of customer service and practices. Of course, this doesn’t mean that all agents follow the code of conduct, so it’s a smart idea to familiarise yourself with the rules and your rights as a buyer or seller before entering into any agreement with an estate agent.
The DGCCRF report revealed some 62% of estate agencies inspected (more than 1,000 branches) had broken the law, mostly in the form of deliberate inaccuracies on property listings and agency fees in an effort to boost sales.
Unfortunately, foreign buyers can be a target for these underhand techniques, especially as they are often not aware of the rules in France and may not have a strong command of French. The best defence is to educate yourself on these common scams and sales tactics, use your common sense, and don’t be afraid to ask questions and negotiate, especially when it comes to signing the mandat de vente (the sales contract). Word of mouth and reviews are your friend when it comes to choosing a reputable agent, so don’t be afraid to ask around and take your time before making your choice.
Common estate agent scams
The most common estate agent ‘scams’ concern the fees and/or commissions paid to the agency upon the sale of a property. Agency fees should, by law, be clearly visible on all property listings and adverts, and should always be listed as TTC (with VAT included), not HT (without VAT). The buyer should be aware from the outset of the total price of the property, including all taxes and fees. Remember that, as a buyer, the agency fees will be included in the total sale price of the property, so even if they are listed as being paid “by the seller,” they will still add to the total property price – on which the notaire’s fees (paid by the buyer) are calculated.
Properties also must, by law, have an energy rating of A-G as determined by the diagnostic de performance énergétique (DPE), but an increasingly common tactic is to list the energy rating as “en cours” (in progress) in an effort to disguise less-than-favourable ratings. A lower rating, naturally, is likely to put buyers off or encourage negotiations on the sale price.
If you are selling your property, watch out for estate agents that keep your property listed on their site after your mandate de vente has expired, as well as clauses that dictate that you must pay agency fees (or partial fees) if your property is sold by another agent or privately. Unless you have an exclusive contract with that agent, this is illegal, and agency fees can only be paid to the agent who handles the sale.
Finally, the immobilier’s code of conduct dictates that they must defend the interests of their client, demonstrate impartiality, and provide “exact, intelligible, and complete information” on all of their professional activities, services, and charges. Estate agents are also bound to avoid conflicts of interest and cannot engage in any business, commercial, or personal activities that might interfere with the best interests of their clients. If you have any reason to believe that your estate agent is doing otherwise, it’s important to speak up and, if necessary, seek the necessary legal advice.
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