Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Getting the best out of your 'agent immobilier'

Your first contact as a potential property buyer in France is almost always through a local 'agent immobilier', a member of a licensed profession uniquely authorised under French law to handle the sale of properties entrusted to them by their client-vendors. As French agencies tend to work a little differently from their English counterparts, it is useful to know what to expect - and what not.

Many first approaches are made by email and a common frustration for non-French buyers is what they see as tardiness by the agent in responding to their requests for 'more information' about one or more properties. Having worked in a busy French agency, a three-person office of a group of four, I can explain how life really was. We routinely received 20 to 30 emails per day. In addition to potential buyers seeking general information, many emails concerned ongoing transactions, as well as requests from vendors to consider taking their property onto the agency's books.

In addition there were phone calls, mainly from French buyers; visitors arriving at the office either unannounced or by appointment; visits to make to view properties with the client; or to a vendor to prepare a mandate for sale, take photographs and prepare the sales description for the office window, magazine advertising and the website. Every sale also absorbed numerous man-hours preparing the documents for the Notaire's dossier, with some agencies, such as ours, even preparing the initial sales contract ('compromis de vente') and taking a 10% deposit on account.

As a result, general enquiries arriving by email tended to sink to the bottom of the pile, particularly if they were vague requests for more property details (often no more than we had posted on the website), compared to phone calls which could be dealt with quickly or visitors arriving in person.

We also learnt over the years that 90% of these general-enquiry emails produced no result - no subsequent phone call, no visit, no sale. We also developed a fairly accurate profile of the typical property buyer as someone who:

- knew or had visited the region
- were often already known to us
- knew what they were looking for (house, apartment, land etc) but prepared to be flexible
- phoned a few days ahead to arrange property viewings by appointment
- had allowed sufficient time to visit us and several other agencies (a minimum of several days) and make return visits if necessary
- had their finanaces in place and were ready to sign an initial offer or the 'compromis de vente' and pay a deposit to secure the property
- might come back for a second visit
- might come back in three to six months time

Most had NOT requested information by email but had probably phoned us after identifying a property or several, mainly to check their availability and to arrange viewings. Very few were travelling a long distance to view only one property they had identified or 'set their heart on'.

To make the most of your property search visits, I advise clients to be reasonably certain of which region and type of property they are interested in; to listen to the agent's advice about alternatives, prices, locations, lettability, offers; allow sufficient time for visits and preferably by appointment; try not to visit too many properties too quickly; to be aware that the same property may be with several agencies; to be honest with the agent about whether they are really in a position to buy or simply making a preliminary visit to get a feel for the market.

Following these simple guidelines can help ensure that your dealings with the French agent are pleasant and productive. If you are not used to the French property buying system or do not speak French, then firms such as ours are available to help you from initial property search through to completion and settling-in.