HIDE AND SEEK
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