How do I sell my French property through an estate agent?

How do I sell my French property through an estate agent?

Estate agents have the time and expertise to market and sell your French property but make sure you choose the right one for you and understand the contracts you are signing

How to choose an estate agent

You can find a selection of agencies by walking round the town or village where you are interested in buying or selling, and by looking in their window you will get an idea of the sort of properties they sell. Your first contact with the agency may be with the agency principal but more often will be with one of the property negotiators who may be a salaried employee, or more commonly a self-employed agent commercial who has a sub-license to operate under the name of the agency. It is difficult to assess their individual level of competence and the industry suffers from high staff turnover as people come and go, having failed to earn an adequate living. You may have to rely on recommendations or other factors such as the length of time the agency has been in business.

The criteria for becoming a French estate agent are quite strict, with a business qualification or relevant documented experience required before being granted a license by the préfecture. Agencies are also subject to controls including unannounced visits by police or representatives of one of the two major membership organisations (FNAIM, SNPI) to which most belong. These routine checks are designed to ensure that the agency has a signed mandat for each property on its books, and that its rates of commission are prominently displayed, together with their certificates of insurance, particularly if they are licensed to accept client funds, such as a deposit paid when buying a property. As a consequence you can be reasonably confident that your agency is competent, properly insured and running its business correctly.

You can, of course, use the services of more than one agency, and in making your selection you might choose one that is perhaps a local specialist and another that offers international connections that reach buyers outside France.


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The paperwork you will have to sign

Having decided on your agency, you will be asked to sign a sales mandat which is a contract between you and the agency, under the terms of which you instruct the agency to market and sell your property, in return for a fixed commission.

Mandat exclusif

The mandat may be exclusif in which you appoint one agency exclusively. Under these terms, the agency has the sole right to market your property, and you are prevented from appointing other agencies to act for you or to market the property directly yourself during the term of the mandat and for an agreed period after its expiry.

Mandat simple

Signing a mandat simple enables you to appoint one or more additional agencies and also to market the property yourself – depending on the terms – including hanging your own ‘For Sale’ sign outside the property or creating your own website.

Le prix net vendeur

In either case, the mandat contains a number of more or less standard clauses – details of the property to be sold, the name and details of the vendor, the term of the mandat and the commission that the agency will receive in the event of successful completion of a sale. This is clearly expressed as a percentage of the asking price and in figures, as is the sum the vendor will receive – known as le prix net vendeur.

Length of the mandat

Normally the mandat will run for a fixed period, such as three months, after which it continues to run by tacit consent between the parties, until formally cancelled by the seller, or occasionally by the agency. Among the points to watch is the length of time after the expiration of the mandat that the agency is entitled to receive a commission, in the event where a potential buyer originally introduced by them returns to the property (either privately or through another agency) and ends up buying it.

This is one of the points you may want to negotiate, and agencies for their part will insist, before accepting your cancellation of the mandat, that you give them details of your potential private buyer to ensure that he or she is not someone already introduced by them.

Bon de visite

When taking potential buyers on visits to your property, agencies will ask the buyer to sign a bon de visite as a written confirmation that the buyer was introduced to the property by the agency concerned. Differences can arise where more than one agency is involved or you are trying to sell privately (under the terms of a mandat simple) and disputes are generally best settled by negotiation rather than lengthy and expensive litigation. It should be noted that the French courts tend to favour the agency in many cases, and that agencies have the resources through their professional association and insurance cover to undertake a legal process that might be beyond the capability of a private seller. Note again that the mandat is a binding contract strictly between you (as vendor) and the agency; the buyer walks away unscathed.

Using more than one agency

Once your appointed agency starts to market your property, you will almost invariably receive approaches from local competitors, assuring you that they have an active buyer anxious to visit your property and suggesting you sign a mandat with them. This is only possible if you have signed one or more mandats simples or you are marketing your property privately.

Active property searchers tend to visit more than one agency, hopefully among them the ones you have entrusted your property to, and may even have already visited your property through one of them. Seeing your property appearing in several agencies at once may be taken as a sign of desperation and even confusion if you have not insisted that the property is advertised at the same price in each different agency.

Sometimes a potential buyer may be brought to your property without realising they have been before, especially as without external photographs many properties are disguised by competing agencies. This can be embarrassing for the vendor, the buyer and the agency concerned. More seriously it can lead to disputes, in the event of a sale, as to who first introduced the buyer.

The mandat exclusif avoids many of these difficulties but note that under its terms you may be obliged to refer private buyers (such as someone who has found your property through their own research) to the agency, and pay commission on any resulting sale. It is worth remembering that as part of any private transaction the buyer would normally expect a discount, knowing that you are not paying an agency commission. As a result you are no better off than if you received the net vendeur figure after paying the agency commission, and you also forego the agency’s expertise in negotiating and managing the transaction all the way through to completion.

Peter-Danton de Rouffignac lives in Perpignan and advises on all aspects of property buying

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