Karen Tait explores the pros and cons for buying and selling privately in France
In France some 30% of property transactions are estimated to be made privately (this rises even higher when you take just French buyers/sellers into account), and websites like www.pap.fr or www.entreparticuliers.com are widely used. But is this a good route for British buyers and vendors?
The most common reason people buy a property privately is to avoid estate agency fees, which generally amount to around 5% of the sale price but can be higher or lower. Clearly this can represent a considerable saving; on a property of €200,000, it would save you €10,000 (at 5%), for example.
For this reason, buying privately can be an appealing route to take but it’s important that you understand the French property market. After all, you won’t be able to turn to an agent for advice on prices or the process.
Most French agents take the time to get to know their clients, and select properties that will meet their needs. They almost always accompany buyers on viewings, which can involve a considerable amount of driving around, and advise on all manner of things to do with buying a property in France, from getting the price right to the legal process.
They often provide an after-sales service too, advising on everything from utilities to sourcing artisans for building work. So although their fees are higher than we are used to in the UK, a good French agent does generally earn them.
Then there’s the issue of language. If your French is sufficiently fluent it’s not a problem, but when undertaking something as important as buying a property, you really need to understand everything that’s going on! That may not be an issue if you’re buying from a British property owner, but would you be able to ask a French vendor all the right questions – and understand the answers?
Although the buyer generally pays the agency fees, it is still a factor for vendors, as being able to offer your property for sale without these costs will naturally appeal to buyers.
If you have the time, energy and skills, you may also feel that you can market your property more effectively than an agent – after all, who knows your home better than you, and therefore who could ‘sell’ it better? Your property won’t be one of many, and you can dedicate as much time as possible to promoting it. Dealing directly with purchasers can also ease the flow of information.
What does this mean though? For starters you need to decide how you will market your property. Where will you advertise it? On or within dedicated private sales websites and publications, in France and the UK? Will you take out adverts in Francophile magazines, such as French Property News, or on associated websites or at exhibitions? Will you create your very own website, as a virtual ‘shop window’ for your property alone?
There’s clearly a lot to think about, and if you decide to go your own way, with your own website, you need to consider various matters including how far up the page it will come in Google searches. You could have the best website in the world but it would be worthless if buyers can’t find it.
There are also, of course, costs involved with advertising your own property so research this from the outset, and also do your homework on how effective the various websites and publications are, with attention paid to how many people they can reach, and if these are the right kind of buyers for your property.
Going without an agent also means having to show potential buyers around your home – you will be able to communicate to them the advantages of your property, but agents know how to sell property generally, even if they don’t know your property personally, and have also spent time getting to know the buyers and know what will appeal to them.
Showing people around can be time-consuming and stressful too – it’s difficult not to be offended if you find they don’t like your home as much as you do!
When selling privately, note that you need to arrange for the statutory surveys to be carried out, and ensure that the energy rating of the property is included in any adverts.
AGENTS AND NOTAIRES
Of course, you can both market your home privately and use an agent/s. Make sure you have a ‘mandat simple’ and not a ‘mandat exclusif’ with the agent though, otherwise you’ll be obliged to pay them a fee if you sell privately.
In France estate agents are strictly regulated by the government, and must be qualified, licensed and insured. You can ask to see their carte professionnelle (renewed annually) and certificat d’assurance.
When choosing an agent, compare fees, ask what they will do to promote your property, if they have any English-speaking staff, and how long the mandate ties you in for.
Remember too that whichever route you decide to take, you still need to work within the French system. A notaire must be involved and their fees must be paid (buyer and seller can share a notaire or each appoint their own, in which case they share the fees).
It may also be wise for buyers to employ a bilingual solicitor to advise on matters such as how to structure the purchase, as this can have an effect on taxes and to whom you will be able to bequeath your property.
Once an offer has been accepted, buyer and seller sign a contract – usually the compromis de vente – which legally binds them to the transaction (following a seven-day cooling-off period for the buyer). The notaire handles the conveyancing, which generally takes about three months, after which the buyer/s,
seller/s, and agent and translator if used, gather together at the notaire’s office to sign the acte de vente (completion).
Another thing to consider is currency exchange. Even small changes in exchange rates can have a significant effect on the actual price you pay for a property, so make sure you secure the best rate possible. n