You have decided that you want to buy a property in France and, as a result of previous visits, know which region you would like to live in. How to find the ideal property?
The majority of buyers start with a search for properties for sale on internet, but before doing so, it is worth understanding the way the market works in France. Unlike other countries, the majority of property is not placed in the hands of a sole agent but is put with several real estate agents. Given that some agents in France are not as professional as they might be, you can find the same property for sale at different prices, with different characteristics such as living area. If the photos of the property are taken from different angles then you could believe you are looking at two different properties when in fact it is the same one – time wasting guaranteed!
France, and in particular the South of France, is slowly moving towards a higher percentage of sole agency sales thanks to a system that resembles the American Multiple Listing System (MLS). In this system a property is taken on a sole agency basis and then made available, via a dedicated website, to all other estate agents in the system. Coast and Country is part of MLS Côte d’Azur but for the moment it only covers a small number of total French property sales.
The result of this fragmentation of the offer is that for a particular property search (e.g. houses for sale on the French Riviera at under 1 million euros) you may end up dealing with a large number of different estate agents with all the difficulties that this implies in terms of organizing visits, etc.
While on the subject of agents it is important to know that any person involved in selling property in France needs to be officially registered with the Préfecture in their area. This registration is only possible in the case of the manager, or gérant, if that person possesses the necessary qualifications and has subscribed to insurance policies covering financial responsibility and third party risks. All the staff must also be registered. If this is not the case, those persons are working illegally and a purchaser may find it difficult to gain compensation in case of future problems resulting from any negligence on the part of the agent.
You will undoubtedly notice that amongst the numerous internet sites showing property for sale in France, a large number are relatively anonymous affairs, with hundreds of houses and apartments for sale; you are not sure where they are based and who are the people behind the affair. Much better in our opinion to deal with perhaps a smaller company but one where the people are identified.
Beware of companies advertising that there is no cost to the buyer; there is no such thing as a free lunch, particularly where property sales are concerned, and advertised prices always include the agent’s commission (unless clearly specified to the contrary). In general, the seller is responsible for paying the agent his commission.
Having made a selection of properties for sale that apparently meet your criteria it is a good idea to make an initial visit to your chosen area of France to see the physical reality of what is available. It also offers the possibility to confirm the criteria on which the initial property search was based. After visiting properties on sale that face north, when you specified south, or beside a busy road when you wanted peace and quiet, it also allows a better appreciation of the real estate agents themselves.
My advice is to find, and stick with, an agent with whom you feel comfortable – someone who clearly understands what you are looking for, the things that are really important to you (not always what you at first think), and has the intelligence and energy to find properties that match. In the case of a reputable, well-established estate agency, that agency will generally have access to the portfolio of properties for sale with the other agencies in the area. If you subsequently see an apparently interesting property on the website, give the agent the details and he or she can find out if it is suitable or not – a phone call between professionals can often elicit truths not always given to the casual enquirer.
Using just one agent can save an enormous amount of time for a purchaser, as the agent can organize a tight schedule of visits to properties for sale that are almost certain to be of interest. If the first visit was perhaps not particularly fruitful, this strategy should ensure subsequent visits are more so.
Alistair Buchan, Coast and Country on the French Riviera, September 2010