For 10 years I have helped hundreds of people from across the world find their dream home in France.
Buying property overseas can be a daunting experience, with international buyers facing regulations and cultural differences that may not make complete sense. But rest assured, the buying process in “la belle France” is straightforward compared with some parts of the globe.
There are, of course, some issues in the buying process that are specific to France and French estate agents that international buyers should be aware of, from making the initial enquiry to the final signing at the notaire’s office.
Here are some of the key questions that the FrenchEntrée Property Services team handle regularly.
The Address of the Property
The main question buyers ask is, once they have spotted a property, how can they find its exact location?
It is common practice in many countries for estate agents to supply the precise address of any property on their books. In France this is not the norm. Most estate agents will refuse to provide such information before meeting the client face-to-face in their office.
There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, there are more private sales in France than in many other countries. With estate agents receiving between 4% and 8% of the sale price in fees, it is vital for them to do all they can to make sure the buyer deals with the agent and does not contact the owner of the property.
It is increasingly common for French estate agents to ask potential buyers to sign a bon de visite; a document proving the buyer was introduced to the property and/or vendor by that agent. A signed bon de visite can be produced as evidence by the estate agents, if a dispute arises relating to fees and how a property was sold.
Secondly, many properties are located in rural France and may be permanently unoccupied. It is a potential security risk for estate agents to reveal the location.
Details and Floor Plans
Another key question relates to the lack of detail, provided by estate agents. When describing a property and its floor plans, French agents are known to be very succinct. Buyers are often presented with no more detail than “Three bedroom stone house with a garden and a pool”.
This may be accurate, but is it enough to warrant a 6,000-mile round trip from the U.S. to visit the property?
There are agents in France who have learnt to provide more detail about a property to international buyers. However, they are in the minority. In the U.K., floor plans are a standard part of the property particulars given to potential buyers at the agent’s office, or available online. Buyers in the U.K. study floor plans to understand the layout of a property before arranging a visit. However, in France floor plans are still rarely available.
One Property, Two Prices
I was talking to a client from California last week who is looking for his dream home in the Dordogne.
He had spotted a property that he really liked on www.frenchentree.com. We have a database of around 12,000 properties currently on the market across France.
It became clear that my client had seen the same property for sale elsewhere, with one advertisement quoting an asking price of €550,000, and the other €680,000 – a difference of more than 25%.
It is common in France for the same property to be marketed by several agents and, as a result, differences in price happen. Most of the time this is caused by vendors reducing the price of their property but forgetting to relay the new price to all the agents selling their house.
When an estate agent is aware of discrepancies they can offer the property at the lowest price that potential buyers have seen on the Internet or with another agent.
How We Can Help
The FrenchEntrée Property Team is here to help potential buyers with these issues, as well as the more mundane, but equally important questions. For example, we regularly check how far a property is from local shops, restaurants and the doctor’s surgery. We can provide you with the details you need on any given property.
Hiring an independent property finder through FrenchEntrée can save you time and money. Based in France, the property finders are able to scour the whole market – searching all estate agents, private vendors and notaires for your ideal home.
They pre-visit the places you are interested in and give you precise feedback on the property and its surroundings before you board a flight to come and see for yourself.
Gaëlle Perreaux is in charge of FrenchEntrée Property Services Ltd, which has been helping international buyers find their dream property in France for a decade. With over 120 estate agent partners, they are able to source any kind of French property, priced from 40,000 euros to 40 million euros.
Originally published in the October-November 2013 issue of France Today
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