Property Update: Practical Advice for French Property Buyers

Property Update: Practical Advice for French Property Buyers

Alistair Lockhart, FrenchEntrée’s Property Director, shares some thoughts on how French Property buyers can make their lives – and their relationship with their estate agents – easier:

I first got involved with French property in 2004, when my wife and I moved to a lovely little village on the border between the Dordogne, Charente and Haute Vienne. As a sales negotiator for an estate agency which sold predominantly to English-speaking clients, the mistakes that prospective buyers would make were commonplace. Most of my colleagues had experienced some or all of them. In the worst case, sometimes these errors would torpedo the purchase. Sometimes they simply made the buyer’s search less efficient, which meant it took them longer to find the right property.
Fast-forward 16 years, and yes (spoiler alert) at FrenchEntrée we have the same conversations with prospective buyers both before, during and after the property purchase.

Here we detail some of the most common issues we come across. Hopefully, as a result, your search will be more effective and efficient, and you can get the most of your relationship with an estate agent. Remember, fail to prepare….prepare to fail.

1. Unrealistic Expectations

If your expectations of what you can purchase with your budget are unrealistic, then not only are you set on a path of disappointment, but you’re going to make it very hard for estate agents in France to help you. In fact, they won’t want to help you; they’ve probably got a decent-enough pipeline of clients who are more attuned to what they can afford, so they’ll focus on them. Do your research online. Trawl our website, as well as other property websites (if you must) and do an audit of what you can get. If nothing else this will help you work out what you will need to compromise on. Not everything can be a ‘must have’. Some of your criteria will have to come down a notch to ‘nice-to-have’. The sooner you can do this, the better your chances of honing in on the right property and having agents ready to help you. Ask the estate agent(s) you are working with to guide you on what you are likely to achieve with your budget.

2. Perfecting your Search Criteria

This is key to getting off on the right footing with your French estate agent. You might be dealing with one, or several. You should be prepared to help the estate agent out, making it easier for them to help you. You want to work with dynamic, proactive estate agents (not always easy in France) who are looking out for the ideal property for you. You want to be taken seriously.

If your brief is too short, i.e. “I’m looking for a 3 bedroom house somewhere in South-West France. Bit of land. Enough for a pool. Flexible on location” then the estate agent may not take you seriously. Sorry, but that’s the truth. It’s far too vague, and there could be thousands of properties to sift through which might fit the bill.

Conversely, if you send across a 2-3 page list of requirements which are overly-detailed, you might also not be taken seriously. If you include what you want the neighbours to be like and which direction the main bedroom window should face, again, this is a huge turn-off for estate agents. I get it, you think you’re being helpful by listing EVERYTHING you want, but it’s overkill. Think about what your ‘must-haves’ are and begin with those. You can gradually introduce the optional extras once you have a good dialogue going with the agent.

3. Understand the Geography of France

I once had a 10am viewing with some British clients to view some properties in the Charente. At 9.30am I had a call from the clients saying that they weren’t going to be able to make it, as they were staying near Guéret, in the Creuse, and hadn’t realised how far away it was. This was, conservatively, a 2 hour car journey, or a 4-hour round trip for the clients. Of course they weren’t going to do that! But it would have taken just a few seconds to look-up online while they were booking their appointments. I had to call the vendors of the properties they had wanted to view, and let them know the viewings were cancelled. 3 disappointed vendors – not great PR for an estate agency.

Go back to basics with your research. How easy is it to get from A to B? What is the climate like in the area? Do you want four distinct seasons, or do you want year-round sun? What are the nearest major towns or cities? What are they like? What about transport and infrastructure? If you’re looking for a holiday home, can you get to your French bolthole for a weekend? If you’re emigrating, how easy is it to get back to see friends and family? What’s the landscape like in the areas you’re looking in? Do you want flat or mountainous or somewhere in-between?

You should do desk research and field trips to France before you step foot in a property. Remember, as much as estate agents are there to help and support you, they are not extensions of the local tourist board and shouldn’t be treated as such.

4. Be Patient

Chances are – if you’re looking to own a property outside of Paris or any major conurbation – you’re going to have to adjust your expectations of speed. Particularly in rural France, vendors and estate agents aren’t necessarily going to move at the same pace as when you have dealt with estate agents in the UK, or realtors in the US. It’s hard to explain, but initially you’re going to be frustrated with what you perceive to be a lack of interest from the agent. After you’ve lived in France for a few years, you’ll begin to understand that “that’s just the way things happen”.

I remember a lovely anecdote someone told me once by a former colleague. He had been living in France for a few weeks (having relocated from a high-pressure sales management job in the UK) when he went out to get some croissant from the local bakery. He lived in a hamlet, so drove the 10 minutes to the nearest village. He got there at about 2.30pm. The sign on the door read ‘Will re-open at 3pm.” He stood there, ranting to himself, pretty annoyed he would either have to go home or wait half an hour, when another expat went past, walking his dog. The chap asked my friend how long he had been living in France. “Three weeks”, he replied. The chap nodded at the bakery, silently acknowledged the frustration with the opening times, and said, “Don’t worry….give it a few months, you’ll calm down.”

5. Finances before Offer

Every article you read will say “Make sure you sort your finances beforehand”. Yet, regularly, prospective buyers will have an offer accepted by a vendor, maybe even sign the compromis de vente, and then get in touch with us to find out if they are eligible for a mortgage. This might then be compounded by using a High Street bank to send over the 10% deposit, potentially unnecessarily losing hundreds sometimes thousands of euros in the process (when they should have been using a specialist currency broker like Moneycorp). In the worst of cases, they failed to tell the Agent or Notaire that they might need a mortgage, so the compromis de vente didn’t include the relative conditions (clauses suspensives). Now if they can’t get a loan, they could stand to lose their 10% deposit. It might sound unlikely, but I’ve seen it happen. Even if there is no pecuniary loss, there is potentially a loss of time for the buyer (if they need a mortgage then find they aren’t eligible, so have to rethink) and also an opportunity loss for the vendor, who has perhaps taken the property off the market in good faith, only to find that a lack of preparation on their buyers part means the sale ultimately falls through. And, yet again, not great PR for the agency – they introduced a prospective buyer to their vendor who was not in a financial position to buy.

Following the rule in (4), don’t rush in. Be patient. Really work through your finances before you even begin to look at properties, so you know what you can genuinely afford. If you need a mortgage, either in France or in your own country, do your planning beforehand and ideally get an in-principle decision before you make an offer. This both protects you and reassures the vendor – it might also put you in a better negotiating position!

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FrenchEntrée's Digital Editor, Zoë is also a freelance journalist who has written for the Telegraph, HuffPost, and CNN, and a guidebook updater for the Rough Guide to France and Rough Guide to Dordogne & Lot. She lives in the French countryside just outside of Nantes.

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