HIDE AND SEEK

Living France - - THE ESSENTIALS -

If you’ve de­cided to buy a prop­erty in France, it’s use­ful to have a thor­ough un­der­stand­ing of the French sys­tem of house buy­ing and all the dif­fer­ent ser­vices on of­fer. While some house-hunters will search for prop­er­ties through an es­tate agent, oth­ers may choose to use the ser­vices of a buyer’s agent or prop­erty finder.

Prop­erty find­ers who know your ideal area will help you nar­row your search, sav­ing time, en­ergy and ex­pense. Not only that, it can of­fer ad­di­tional peace of mind if you like the idea of hav­ing some­one to hold your hand through the whole process, whether it’s un­der­stand­ing how the French sys­tem works or hav­ing some­one to help you con­verse with the no­taire if your French isn’t quite up to the task.

If you’re based in an­other coun­try and don’t speak French, the ben­e­fits of us­ing a prop­erty finder ‘on the ground’ are all the more ob­vi­ous. Even if you do speak the lan­guage, buy­ing prop­erty from abroad isn’t al­ways easy. In France, there are three things that can com­pli­cate mat­ters fur­ther.

• No cen­tral prop­erty list­ing sys­tem

There are many dif­fer­ent prop­erty list­ing ag­gre­ga­tor web­sites, how­ever dif­fer­ent agen­cies use dif­fer­ent por­tals. Also, ap­prox­i­mately 40% of prop­erty pur­chases in France are made di­rectly with the seller. Fi­nally, many prop­er­ties are off-mar­ket or ‘con­fi­den­tial’, which means that they are not (yet) on the agency web­site. For house­hunters, that can often mean con­tact­ing ev­ery sin­gle agency sep­a­rately, which can be very time-con­sum­ing, to say the least.

• Prices of prop­er­ties sold is not pub­licly avail­able

Only the buyer and seller, the agency, and the no­taire know what price was paid. This makes it im­pos­si­ble to com­pare prices of sim­i­lar prop­er­ties, and out­siders are un­able to get an idea of what is a fair mar­ket value. Ask­ing prices can be 30% above mar­ket value, or only 2%; there’s no way to know. In cities such as Paris, Nice and Lyon, prop­er­ties are often sold within a week and above ask­ing price. In la France pro­fonde, a prop­erty might linger on the mar­ket for years and sell for half the ini­tial ask­ing price.

• Lim­ited list­ing de­tails

Own­ers gen­er­ally list with sev­eral agen­cies, yet keep the right to sell with­out an agency. Only the agency that finds a buyer gets any com­mis­sion, and none of them gets any­thing if the owner sells the home di­rectly. Now you know why agen­cies only give out lim­ited de­tails and pho­tos, or often even the wrong vil­lage or town. They do this to pre­vent buy­ers from find­ing the prop­erty with­out them.

One so­lu­tion is to hire your own buyer’s agent. The pro­fes­sion of chas­seur im­mo­bilier has ex­isted in France for about 15 years, and in­deed in Paris or Lyon, it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to find an apart­ment with­out one. The per­cep­tion is that the ser­vice is only for house-hunters with high bud­gets, but the money saved in the ne­go­ti­a­tions and the time saved search­ing make it an ef­fi­cient op­tion for ev­ery­one. Or per­haps you’ve al­ready made the move to France and like the idea of help­ing oth­ers do the same by be­com­ing a buyer’s agent your­self? Here’s what you need to know.

AN­SWERS TO SOME OF THE MOST FRE­QUENTLY ASKED QUES­TIONS Can any­one be a prop­erty finder?

The terms chas­seur im­mo­bilier, chercheur de bi­ens, prop­erty finder, search agent, home hunter and buyer’s agent are used in­ter­change­ably. And in the­ory any­one could use them. How­ever, in France, those who as­sist oth­ers in the sale or pur­chase of prop­erty on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and are paid for their in­volve­ment, must be li­censed as a prop­erty pro­fes­sional. They must also have pro­fes­sional re­spon­si­bil­ity in­sur­ance in place and com­ply with con­tin­u­ing ed­u­ca­tion re­quire­ments.

In 2014, the loi ALUR re­it­er­ated the li­cens­ing obli­ga­tion for chas­seurs im­mo­biliers and re­lo­ca­tion com­pa­nies. The li­cence num­ber must be listed on the search agency’s web­site and busi­ness cards. This makes it easy to check if a buyer’s agent or prop­erty finder is a li­censed pro­fes­sional.

What is the dif­fer­ence be­tween prop­erty find­ers and tra­di­tional es­tate agents?

A pro­fes­sional buyer’s agent does not take on list­ings and is in­de­pen­dent, work­ing purely on be­half of the buyer. Their mis­sion is to coun­sel their client, find them the best house and ne­go­ti­ate the low­est price. An es­tate agent is in the sell­ing busi­ness – they are hired by an owner to mar­ket their prop­erty and achieve the high­est pos­si­ble price.

In France, the es­tate agent does not have a spe­cific duty to rep­re­sent ei­ther the buyer or the seller in the ne­go­ti­a­tions – they are de­fined by law as be­ing an in­ter­me­di­ary who can bring two par­ties to­gether and ‘fa­cil­i­tate’ the sale.

Al­though agents might hon­estly think that they can rep­re­sent both par­ties’ in­ter­ests at the same time, it would be

un­re­al­is­tic to al­ways ex­pect this to be pos­si­ble with the buyer and seller on op­po­site sides of the trans­ac­tion.

A search agent can spend four to six weeks on one search, with screen­ing vis­its, ex­ten­sive pho­tos and de­tailed re­ports. Ven­dor agents spend their time tak­ing on new list­ings and show­ing their own port­fo­lio to po­ten­tial buy­ers. They can­not take on an in­ten­sive search for only one client. À cha­cun son métier!

How much does it cost?

The search man­date agree­ment sets out the de­tailed search brief and the search fee, which is usu­ally be­tween 2% and 4% of the pur­chase price. The higher the pur­chase price, the lower the per­cent­age. Often, the ven­dor agent will re­duce their agency fee be­cause the buyer has a search agent, but this is not au­to­matic.

Some prop­erty find­ers of­fer a ‘free’ ser­vice. ‘Free’ prop­erty find­ers can only work with cer­tain agen­cies, who give them a cut of their fee. As a re­sult, they’re not in­de­pen­dent and can­not cover 100% of the mar­ket for their client. Oth­ers charge the buyer a suc­cess fee, which en­sures that they re­main with­out con­flict of in­ter­est and can search with all agen­cies and also pri­vate sales. Th­ese prop­erty find­ers will pre-visit prop­er­ties on your be­half and send you de­tailed re­ports with pho­to­graphs. In the ne­go­ti­a­tions they will en­deav­our to re­duce the seller’s agency fee (which is in­cluded in the ask­ing price). That re­duc­tion often tends to be close to the search fee, mean­ing that the ser­vice ends up be­ing ‘free’ again.

How does it work?

The man­date agree­ment al­lows the search agent to con­tact ven­dor agents on the client’s be­half. In­stead of hav­ing to con­tact 30 or 40 agen­cies, the client has a lo­cal ex­pert on the ground, who vis­its po­ten­tial ‘can­di­dates’ for them and re­ports on the pos­i­tives as well as the neg­a­tives, with pho­tos and videos. To­gether they de­cide on a short­list of prop­er­ties to view, be­fore the search agent then or­gan­ises the view­ing ap­point­ments and ac­com­pa­nies the client on the vis­its. They act as an ad­viser and can ne­go­ti­ate the price on a client’s be­half. A pro­fes­sional prop­erty finder is by your side un­til you have the keys in hand and your util­i­ties have been set up.

If you need a help­ing hand to find your ideal home in France then a prop­erty finder could be the an­swer, says Sophia Mose, as she ex­plains the ben­e­fits of the ser­vices they of­fer

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