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French estate agents

A guide to what you should know about French estate agents

Property and estate agents - a changing world

House hunting has changed vastly in recent years, with the advent of the Internet and its place in the lives of almost all of us. This is even more true of house hunting abroad, and it is likely that most people who want to buy property in France (Why buy property in France) or elsewhere abroad, make the initial searches for their dream homes on the Internet, on sites such as ours, rather than travelling to the country in person. (French Connections, Ferries to France, Travel France.)

The advantages of using the Internet when looking for property

The facility to search for property in France on the internet is, of course, a massive advantage for most people, who do not have the time and/or money to make many fruitless trips to France before hitting lucky and finding the right place. In past times, not only did people have to travel without having any real idea of the properties they were likely to find, but also had frequently to confine their searches within an area of the country that was familiar to them, perhaps somewhere they been on holiday at some time.

New areas discovered in France

People would simply not consider looking for property in areas that they knew nothing about. This meant that a lot of the wonderfully diverse regions of France remained a mystery to many of these potential house buyers, and effectively closed off many of their options. Now, you can, at the click of the mouse, discover endless information about all the different regions and towns and villages of France, offering the chance to discover the part of France that really will fulfil your hopes and dreams. (Guides to French regions, departments and towns.)

The next step in finding your dream home in France

Of course, the images and information you download can only tell you so much about a property and an area, and only the brave or foolhardy would buy a property or move to an area that they have only seen on the Internet. Once you have done your homework and you think you have found a property that interests you, or an area that you think you would like to make the focus of your search, you are ready for the next step. This may well involve a French estate agent, or an agent immobilier. (And here it may be worth pointing out that although most British use an estate agent when buying property in France, only about half of the French use an estate agent when buying or selling their property. Instead, they deal with a Notaire directly in an attempt to lower costs.)

What you should know about French estate agents

Here follows a list of things that you should know about the way that French estate agents work. This will help you to avoid potential pitfalls and to get the best from the services they offer.

1. French estate agents are known as agents immobiliers

Interestingly, the word "immobiliers" comes from the French for unmoveable, or immobile, which is applied to property that is fixed in place, ie, a house, or land (Land for Sale in France). Makes sense, really!

2. French estate agents should be qualified and registered

In some respects this is another example of French bureaucracy and excessive attention to detail, but as with many other similar things in France, there is a pay off, and it is you, the buyer, who stands to benefit. A French estate agent should be fully trained, so that the advice that you receive is correct, up to date (there are refresher courses available for this purpose) and useful. They should also be registered with an official body such as FNAIM, and membership means that you have a guarantee of a quality service, and recourse to a professional body should the service you receive be substandard. Ask to see the Carte Professionel and a Certificat d'Assurance before proceeding with your viewings. If you intend to let the agent handle the financial side of the sale, check that he has a bank guarantee that covers him for the amount of money that you plan to allow him to hold for you.

3. French estate agents need to have a power of attorney

French estate agents need a power of attorney before they can negotiate a sale for a third party. This is why you will have to sign a "Mandat de Vente" if you are selling or buying a property through a French estate agent. This also precludes the possibility of a corrupt agent buying these properties at low prices for himself, as he cannot buy any property on which he holds a mandat.

4. French estate agents like you to make an appointment to view

Contact the French estate agents, or agents immobiliers, who are concerned with the properties you want to see, or who have offices in the area you like, and arrange to have some viewings. This applies even if you are looking to move within France, rather than from the UK, as estate agent in France is unlikely to be able to take you to view properties without a prior arrangement.

5. French estate agents will prefer to take you to a number of properties if possible

Widen your horizons a little and set aside a day for each agent, if there are enough properties on their books that fit your brief. Not only does this give you more chance of finding the property that suits your needs, it allows you to get a feel for the locality and to form an understanding of whether or not you really want to buy there.

6. French estate agents will not tell you the location of a property

French estate agents will not tell you the location of a property that you have enquired about in advance of an appointment to view. This is because competition among estate agents is high, and there is a lot at stake. Many French property owners will also try to arrange a private sale to by pass the estate agent, which is somewhat unfair on the agent whose work brought the property to your attention in the first place! Many agents these days want you to sign a "Bon de Visit"' to show that you have viewed the property through them.

7. French estate agents charge commission to the purchaser

Although this practice is changing, it is still quite commonplace. Traditionally, the agent's fees are charged to the buyer, so you will need to be aware if this is the policy of the agent that you are using. Sometimes properties are advertised for sale without the commission, so make sure that you are capable of paying the full price if this is the case. Fees can vary from 5-10% of the price, and if you are not expecting this, it can make a significant difference to your desire to purchase a particular property! It is slowly becoming more common for the vendor to pay the commission, as in the British system, but this usually only results in the fees being built into the asking price anyway, so you are unlikely to be any better off! (Buying a French Property - The Fees.)

8. French estate agents like to drive you to properties

This is quite often the case, whereas in the UK you are more likely to make an appointment to meet the agent at the property. One reason for this practice has already been discussed (the agent wants to be sure that you don't negotiate a deal with anyone else), but it is also so that they can point out areas of interest in the locality and give you useful local information. Another reason for this is that rural properties in France can be very hard to find, and at least this way if you get lost on the way to the property you are all lost together!

9. French estate agents may not work in August

Many French estate agents take August as a holiday. This is common throughout France, so if this is the time that you are planning your viewing trip it may be a good idea to reschedule. Of course, some agents do work in August, eager to pick up clients who may otherwise have used their less enthusiastic colleagues! This also applies to weekend working. Some French estate agents guard their weekends as jealously as their properties and refuse to schedule appointments for Saturdays and Sundays. It may also be that the agent is prepared to take appointments on Sundays, but the vendor is not... Sundays are a sacrosanct family day for many French, and they do not relinquish these easily, even when threatened with a sale! (French Public Holidays / Bank Holidays in France.)

10. Some French estate agents will help you with the buying process

Some French estate agents will help you with the remainder of the buying process once you have negotiated a sale through them... but some will not. They do not receive payment for this, but if you are fortunate enough to have a helpful agent their advice can be invaluable. Sometimes you may even find you have made a friendship that endures after you have moved to the area. Monica Lancaster, whose business "Ma Maison"' finds properties for clients in association with an estate agency in the Languedoc, runs an excellent support network for clients that extends indefinitely! She organises dinners at local restaurants, parties and other networking occasions, and is always on hand to explain the complexities of this French life. (Life in France, Living in France.)

French estate agents in all their glory

So there you have it. The French estate agent, in all his or her glory. Many of them are honest, honourable, helpful and professional, but a few, sadly, are not. Check that they have the necessary credentials before proceeding, as outlined earlier, and be honest and honourable in your turn.

Additional articles which may be of interest:

Property sales in France
Property grants available in France
Tax in France
Banking in France
Jobs in France

About the author

Joanna Simm moved to the Languedoc area of south-west France in October 2004 having found her property through French Property Links.

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