We may be restricted by a pandemic but you can still view, research and even buy French properties with the help of virtual viewings and electronic document signing
Bored teenagers aren’t usually called upon to show househunters around homes. But that’s just one of the ideas that Normandy estate agent Suzanne Jenkins-Pearce suggested recently to clients trying to market their properties during the coronavirus pandemic. With physical viewing appointments impossible due to strict lockdowns in both France and the UK, she has been reaching out to her vendors on social media. “If you have bored teenagers at home why not ask them to make a video tour of your house to assist with virtual viewings while buyers are not able to come and view properties themselves?” she wrote on the Facebook page of her agency Suzanne in France.
It just goes to show we are living through extraordinary times. France is in a strict lockdown requiring people to stay at home for all but essential outings, and this ‘confinement’ is now expected to be extended for a second time beyond 15 April. The UK too is in lockdown and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office currently advises against all non-essential travel abroad.
The good news is that the vast majority of estate agencies and other specialists that help Brits buy property in France are operational. They may be working from home but they are still talking to clients by phone, email, social media and video chat via apps such as Zoom, FaceTime and Whatsapp.
“Enquiries are coming in and our sales team is busy calling buyers and answering questions about properties and life in France,” says Julie Savill, of Beaux Villages Immobilier which has branches across France. “We are all still adjusting to this ‘new normal’ but it won’t be forever and the more we comply, the sooner restrictions will be lifted.” Like many other agencies, Beaux Villages has been arranging for vendors to do video tours of their homes or even offer live stream viewings so that househunters in the UK can view properties from the comfort of their armchairs.
Freddy Rueda, of Real Estate Languedoc agency, said: “If any buyer wants to buy unseen we can provide a video of a property, reply to questions and arrange a phone conversation with the agent who knows the property. The contracts can be signed by proxy.”
It’s too early to say when Brits will be able to resume physical property viewings in France, but one thing everyone agrees on is that the market will bounce back once the lockdown is lifted.
“My feeling is that people’s whole psyche will be very different after this,” said Dominic Hilton of UK-based French property agency La Résidence. “There will be a ‘seize the day’ approach and people who have long dreamt of moving to France will be motivated to get on and do it.”
Property transactions in France are still going through, despite the movement restrictions and the government has rushed through legislation allowing certain documents to be signed remotely during the lockdown. A decree published on 4 April has authorised notaires to sign deeds remotely and electronically during the Covid-19 crisis. The decree is to last until one month after the end date of the current health emergency.
“Many estate agencies are already sending out contracts for electronic signature and this is likely to become more widespread where a property was viewed prior to the lockdown and has progressed to the offer and acceptance stage,” said legal specialist Barbara Heslop, of Ashtons Legal, trading as Heslop & Platt. “In place of the usual requirements, it will be possible to complete transactions using electronic signatures via web portals such as DocuSign and Yousign. The use of video conference and video links (such as Microsoft Teams) is also likely to be introduced so the notaire can see the clients actually signing the documents and vice versa.”
Nationwide agency Leggett Immobilier says it has even received offers since the lockdown, including one for a €1.3m property viewed just before restrictions were imposed. It is also supporting many buyers who have signed the pre-purchase contract (compromis de vente) and now need help to complete the process from home.
What if you have signed the compromis de vente but are now in fear of losing your income?
“The coronavirus situation in itself would not, in my opinion, constitute a valid reason for withdrawing from a purchase once a contract has been signed and the 10-day cooling-off period passed,” says Susan Busby, of France Legal. “The best solution would be to negotiate an extension to the planned completion date.”
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