If you want to buy a home in France, it’s wise to be honest and open with estate agents, advises Julie Savill as she reveals the questions to ask and the key information to reveal
Whether you hop straight on a plane to France and get viewing or do detailed research from the UK, there are a few key things a good estate agent should ask you, tell you and show you when you are hunting for a French property.
What you should tell them
At your first phone or face-to-face conversation, expect a full and frank conversation about your requirements in terms of geography, property style, land required, your timescale, ‘red line’ non-negotiable must-haves and, of course, budget. When money comes into the equation, embarrassment can swiftly follow, but try to put that aside – it shouldn’t matter to your agent if you want to spend €20,000 or €2m and we need to know where to pitch the search.
You should expect to be asked how you plan to fund the purchase. It might be with a mortgage, equity release, cash or the sale of another property. If you are selling, it will only be classed as a cash onward purchase once you have completed the sale. Why do we need to know how you are funding the purchase? Because we have a duty of care to all our vendors to make sure that potential buyers are in a position to proceed, and in France it is a legal requirement to obtain this information.
You might be asked to provide proof of funds – which is something you’d want from your agent if you were selling, right? If you are unable or unwilling to discuss timescales and ability to proceed, you shouldn’t expect an agent to answer endless questions about specific properties or the detail of life in France.
Working on commission, agents do need to know if you are on a short or longer buying cycle, whether you’re half-tempted to move to Moldova instead, and whether or not it’s at all realistic financially.
You may also be asked to provide proof of identity, such as a passport. An agent will take all the information you have shared and begin hand-picking properties for you to consider. If you can provide photos or brochures of properties that have caught your eye, it will help you and your agent.
Share a vision of the styles that please you. You might be sent properties that don’t make your heart sing at first sight. In the same way that not all of us are photogenic, many properties are prettier in real life than they appear in a photo. Be guided and consider visiting some of these if your agent seems convinced that they are good bets.
Similarly, you might be sent properties that seem to be above budget. We stay in close contact with vendors and we’ll know when a price reduction is imminent, or if the vendor’s personal situation has changed and they have become more negotiable on price.
What they should tell you
Once you have a shortlist of properties that you are considering viewing, expect a good agent to talk honestly about the setting, the location, and the condition. If, for example, there is a pylon nearby, a chicken farm next door or a known structural issue, you should not be finding out at the viewing.
We are often asked about the reason for a sale. We usually know, and more often than not it is simply time for the owner to move on to a new adventure. However, while a property purchase is usually a happy event, a sale can be for very private and personal reasons and we will protect the privacy of the seller.
Another question often asked is the length of time a property has been on the market. Sometimes a vendor will go to market at an unrealistic price because they have over-invested or simply love their own home too much. Other properties just need to find their time to sell. It’s not unusual for a house to be on the market for a year or two before the right buyer comes along. Often at that point we suddenly find three buyers fighting over a property that has languished for several months. Our advice? Don’t fixate on this detail. If you find the right property, it simply doesn’t matter.
It’s fair enough to say you’ll know it when you see it; the emotional connection is usually the clincher.
Once you get a viewing, expect your agent to be a local expert. They should be able to talk knowledgeably about schools, vets, the viability of running gîtes or chambres d’hôtes in the area and much, much more. If they don’t have all the answers, they should know where to go to get the info.
A good agent will save you time and money on wasted trips, educate you on the pluses and minuses of individual properties, towns and areas and get you to that property that is perfect for you. It’s a skill, matching buyer and property, and the thrill of getting it right and setting someone on the path to their ideal place in France is the best reward going.
Julie Savill is marketing director at Beaux Villages Immobilier
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