If you’ve ever looked for property in the UK or the US, you’ll be used to seeing estate agents websites and property portals which show the exact address. The house number on the street. A link to Google Maps so you can see the outside of the property and roam the streets around it.
The assumption is that the real estate market in France, as a Western European country, will work in the same way.
You’d be wrong. And be prepared, it can be very vexing!
Let’s look at why French agents might be reluctant to tell you exactly where the property you like is situated.
Firstly the French property market is very fragmented. There are tens of thousands of estate agents in France, many of which only have a handful of properties in their portfolio. Also, many properties are for sale with multiple agencies, i.e. on a non-exclusive basis. Agencies love getting ‘exclusive’ mandates, as it means it ties the vendor in for 3 months or more, and they have a better chance of selling the property as it removes the competition.
Secondly, private sales are very common in France – for the domestic market. As it is very easy for a vendor and a buyer to come a financial agreement, shake hands and then skip down to the Notaire to handle the conveyancing. Estate agents are therefore very nervous that if they divulge the address, a deal will be done which cut them (and their commissions) out of the loop. The risk is lower with foreign buyers, compared to the domestic market, but you only need either party to speak either French or English and a private sale could be agreed. Let’s also not forget that many properties for sale in popular areas of France are being sold by English-speakers, so language isn’t a barrier.
Some agencies will employ a ‘bon de visite, which is a document which explains that you have been provided with the details of the house by a specific agency, and in case you decide to purchase it, you will buy it through that agency. This gives the agency some reassurance you won’t cut them out of the loop. This isn’t paranoia – it happens with surprising frequency.
I remember a Dutch colleague of mine was showing a property in the Charente to some Dutch buyers. The homeowners were British. My colleague was in his car, and the buyers were in their car. The viewing seemed to go well, and as my Dutch colleague was driving away from the property, he looked in his rearview mirror and saw the Dutch buyers car go into reverse back up to the house, the clients got out and began talking the vendors. My colleague threw his Renault Espace into reverse, jumped out of the car and made sure that he managed the conversation!
Nowadays some agencies operate an online system whereby you can sign what is effectively an electronic bon de visite for all of their properties, if you provide proof of identity details – passport etc.
This is all part of building a strong relationship of confidence with a good agent. You’re going to want them to look after you, you want to tap into their expertise, make sure you get the property for the right price and ensure that the process goes smoothly. You want the agent to be in your corner – you’re buying a property in another country, where you probably don’t speak legal-level French!
At FrenchEntrée we’re not only able to introduce you to our trusted partner network who will work hard to find you the right property, but will look after you throughout the process – but you also get the back-up of our expertise at no extra cost. We can help you to develop a strong relationship with your agent, and if there ever any wobbles or concerns, you can ask us to intervene on your behalf.
If you have any questions about how French estate agents work, or would like to share with us your plans for France, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – [email protected].