Thursday, July 1, 2010

Another twist to French estate agency sector

Although an admirer of the French estate agency business - I used to be an agent but now prefer my role as adviser - I am also aware of its many defects. The sector is in theory highly protected under French law, such as the 'loi Hoguet' which closely defines estate agency activities and sets down standards for anyone wishing to apply for an estate agency licence, normally a business degree and/or several years experience.

In practice, estate agency operations can be open to anomalies, notably in the use of freelance 'commercial agents' who are self-employed and loosely attached to an agency as property negotiators. They depend for their legitimacy on the agency's professional licence, issued by the Prefecture to the principal/owner.

A recent and worrying development is the establishment of several national networks of freelancers, recruited for the most part without previous experience, and relying for a living on the commissions they could potentially earn from mandating properties for sale and subsequently negotiating a purchase. These activities require considerable professional expertise and experience if they are to be performed correctly, including an in-depth knowledge of the property market, estimating property values and completing the transaction from initial pre-contract to final signature.

Many of these sub-agents depend on an estate-agency licence issued by a single Prefecture and used to legitimise the activities of an entire national network. FNAIM, the French estate agents' national body, has expressed concern about "the reality of control over the activities of these negotiators at a time when we are trying to strengthen the guarantees offered to consumers" (Le Monde 06 July 2010).

Checking up on one of these networks (which continues to recruit) I found that my small local town has two of their 'agents' in place (in addition to more than 20 properly licensed estate agencies), operating from their home addresses. A search of their property website revealed just two properties listed, where the average licensed agency has a minimum of 100 on offer.

These developments are worrying not only for potential buyers, who may find themselves in the hands of these fringe operators, but also for individuals who imagine that joining a network as a commercial agent is a viable route into the French estate agency business.

Picture - Daily Telegraph, UK