Property agents in France can be invaluable in getting you the inside track on an area and its property secrets. But be sure to help them to help you, says Peter Elias
Taking the plunge and buying a house in France is a significant undertaking. The consequences of a poor decision can be enormous, both mentally and financially, so it is really important that potential buyers plan well so that they can get the best results from the process of buying in France.
I have worked as an agent in France for 12 years now. Experience has shown me that, somewhat surprisingly, when making an initial enquiry, clients often seem reluctant to part with the essential information I need to help them with their quest.
We are a relatively small business, made up of six individual commercial agents, all working as a team in south-west France. We cover two adjacent territories, Poitou-Charentes, (where the business started) and the Dordogne valley (comprising the Dordogne, Corrèze, Lot and Haute-Vienne departments). Generally, our team responds to enquiries within four hours, and a normal maximum would be a 12-hour delay. We then supply clients with additional photographs and extra detail for each property that may not be available on the website.
We always ask clients for more information to assist us with their property search at this stage. The crucial first point is budget – if you are a cash buyer you will know how much you have available, but if you plan to buy with a mortgage we can introduce you to a mortgage broker specialising in French loans. You then need to decide on the style of property and accommodation needed, plus the areas that you would like to choose for your househunting. It is also a good idea to establish your ‘must haves’ and your ‘would likes’ – in other words those areas where you may, or indeed may not, be prepared to compromise.
I would suggest viewing trips of no longer than four to seven days in duration, as it is tiring and there is a limit to how much you can take in. Also limit your visits to a maximum of, say, five properties per day. Even with digital cameras to help your memory, the properties will start to merge with one another at the end of a long day.
Plan your visits to maximise your time seeing houses, and minimise the time spent driving. Try and spend a bit more time with your agent – we nearly always find that this pays dividends. Many people will completely change their mind about their requirements during their visit and you should immediately let the agent know if you would prefer to look at something different.
Some other tips to bear in mind include the following. Never choose to view just one property unless you have to, and if you must, then check the day before that it is still available. Ask a few extra questions in order not to waste your time. Do not arrange to visit more than two agencies in one day – indeed, this is normally only possible if they are within an hour or so of each other.
Give yourself enough time to look at the local villages and surroundings when you are visiting properties. Choosing to have a lunch in the square or an evening meal in the area can give you a better feel of whether you like the place enough to consider it as the location of your future French home.
Unlike the UK, most French properties are marketed with several agencies, and this can create some problems. Sometimes vendors will forget to advise one agent that a price reduction has taken place, or even that the property is sold!
We are normally able to indicate to clients the level of interest in a property, but when there are a number of agents involved, this becomes increasingly difficult. We prefer to work where there are, say, a maximum of two to three other agencies. It is also worth noting that some agency fees are considerably higher than others.
Sometimes we will have a property in ‘exclusivity’, which in other words means we have it on a ‘sole agency’ basis. When this is the case, our marketing of the property is more effective, and we can keep all parties better advised about interest levels and viewings plus, of course, the crucial negotiation process.
Vendors are often reluctant to offer a property on a ‘sole agency’ basis, but a good agent should be able to sell a correctly priced property within a three-month period of exclusivity.
If you find something that you would like to buy then make sure that you let the agent know and make an offer. Even in the current market, we have instances of several clients who have lost a property by mulling over their decision without having mentioned it to the agent, only to then find upon registering their interest that somebody else has seen it and had an offer accepted. (It is worth noting that an offer at the full asking price generally triggers an obligation upon the vendor to sell their property.)
In today’s market some buyers are reluctant to pay the asking price, and try to negotiate the sale price, and at this time another agent may step in with another buyer and ‘trump’ the initial offer. So do beware!
Returning to exclusive mandates, we always have a few ‘select’ properties on this basis. Stating the obvious, they can only be purchased via our agency, and these are often special properties. One good example is a pair of four-bedroom cottages near Argentat-sur-Dordogne.
The property is ideal as an owner’s house and a rental property. Alternatively, both could be rented out to provide an excellent income. Priced at €425,000 you get a lot for your money, including a heated swimming pool and grounds of almost a hectare, with direct access to the River Dordogne.
If a gîte complex is your goal, then another exclusive mandate we have is for a superb complex in Poitou-Charentes, just an hour inland from La Rochelle. This property comprises a large two-bedroom detached owner’s house with a grenier to convert, plus four-bedroom, three-bedroom and two-bedroom architect-designed holiday cottages (catering for up to 24 guests), a heated swimming pool, a games barn and five acres of land. Priced at €555,000, here is an opportunity to live a new lifestyle and escape to France.
Many buyers come to us with a need to generate an income in France. Apart from the obvious gîte route, one other excellent way is to run a restaurant. With a business of this type, it is best to buy something with a proven track record, in a popular location. Quite rare on the market, a good business can be a great acquisition.
We have a restaurant with a five-bedroom chambres d’hôtes business in a busy tourist town with local industry, giving year-round business. The property also has a two-bedroom owner’s apartment and a separate one-bedroom gîte. The restaurant seats up to 30 guests in the dining room and can serve a further 45 on the terrace.
Situated 70km south of Limoges airport, this excellent business opportunity is to the north of Brive. A great opportunity for a budding ‘MasterChef’! The business will set you back €526,500 but provides a high turnover and good profitability from day one.
Representing the breadth of properties available in France, our portfolio extends from humble barns to luxury châteaux at prices rising to almost €4.5m. Prices start at €25,000, but at this level there will of course be a significant amount of work to undertake. Barn conversions are many people’s dream; their opportunity to live out the Grand Designs concept.