How to get the best service from your French estate agent
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If you’re clear with what you want from your estate agent you can expect a great working relationship
When setting out on the road to buying a property in France, chances are you’ll first pick up a copy of French Property News and then search on the internet for that perfect home. But you are also likely to come into contact with in estate agency or two as you refine your search and drill down into a particular area. Adrian Lithgow of Agence Eleonor delves into the role of the estate agent and how to get the best out of yours.
One of the things that many British buyers find shocking is not just the comparatively higher fee rate, but also the fact it is they who are expected to pay it. With fees commonly up to 10% on properties of €100,000 or less, and then on a sliding scale to an industry average of 5% for the more expensive, buyers quite commonly ask why they should be so high and what value for money they could possibly get.
Most of the differences between a UK and French estate agency are due to the fact that in France the profession is highly regulated. This means that there are high barriers for entry, stringent demands of financial security and insurance, rules about marketing, obligatory continuous training and a regime aimed at protecting purchaser and vendor alike.
Also, in France the stated agency fee always has to include the 20% VAT charged by the government, unlike in the UK when this comes as an unpleasant surprise when the vendor gets their bill.
But the fact that in France it is the purchaser who usually pays the fees, rather than them being deducted from the sale price and paid by the vendor, actually works in the buyer’s favour. This is because the equivalent of stamp duty and conveyance fees (the notaire’s fees) are based on a percentage of the net price excluding the agency fee. So, if these are, say €20,000, and the notaires’ fee is an average of 8.5%, the tax saving would be in the order of €1,650.
Nevertheless, the agency fees you pay in France are significantly higher than in the UK. This doesn’t mean that French estate agents are coining it in, however. Despite the regulatory issues mentioned above, the market is very different with prices and volumes significantly lower than in Britain, and in country areas much greater travel and time costs on visits.
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The fact is that every buyer also has, in effect, to pay for all those agency clients who don’t buy but take up time and resources. So what can you expect them to do for you to mitigate this?
First and foremost, the French estate agent has a ‘semi-professional’ status and is not merely a salesman who turns and churns you. This means he or she shoudl be a genuine partner who takes you through the whole house purchase process, from selecting appropriate properties for viewing, knowing about them in more than cursory detail, and having good knowledge of the area and its facilities.
They will clearly be useful as a translator, particularly if your seller is French, and they will guide you through the rather different French property purchase procedures.
As a bare minimum this means organising and then explaining to you all the diagnostic reports on the property as required by French law, helping you with all the documents you are required to give to the notaire, being with you through the signings of the compromis and acte de vente, checking on the property before the final acte, and reading the electricity and water meters.
We are also commonly asked for advice on mortgages and how to find a broker; advice on currency exchange, insurance, medical care, setting up bank accounts; finding a gardener, an accountant, an architect, builders and other artisans; helping with planning permission, removal services, swimming pool know-how and so on.
All of this is part of a relationship that takes place over a considerable period - I have clients who still call me on a regular basis for support up to three years after they have bought their home. In some cases, a genuine friendship has developed.
No estate agent is under any obligation to provide all this extra-curricular help. We do so because we want to be helpful to clients and obviously we want to build a good reputation for our service.
Over to you
There is quite a lot you, as the client, can do to get the best out of us. The most important is clarity of purpose. No one expects you to know exactly what type of property you are going to buy, but at least know that you have decided to buy one, and in what general area.
Being upfront about your financial situation is a big bonus. Saying you’re a cash buyer when you aren’t is a real pain, especially if you have been misrepresented as such to the seller. In short, the more reasonable your demands and expectations, the better service you will get.
When it comes to negotiating the price, clearly both sides need to be happy and the agent has to hold the ring to meet you in the middle, But in this climate, you can generally expect they have negotiated enough off the purchase price to cover the cost of their fees.
So, if all goes well, you can get a great service that takes you from first visit to opening champagne on the day of the sale and all, in effect, for free!
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