Property searchers, buyers' agents or 'chasseurs de biens' have been around for a few years in France, even forming their own membership association, but unfortunately like many good ideas - I would cite here the French 'auto-entrepreneur' initiative as another spectacular example - the French have managed to get it wrong! This usually happens once the bureaucrats get involved and try to pick apart something that started out as innovative and clearly responding to client demand.
What happened in the case of property searching was the official insistence that this new occupation fell within the estate agency sector, and consequently was subjects to the 40 year old 'loi Hoguet' of 1970 which defines how the French estate agency sector is governed. Under this law, only licensed estate agents are allowed to mandate and market properties, and take part in the negotiating process between vendor and potential buyer.
As a result many property searchers became freelance commercial (selling) agents tied more or less loosely to a licensed estate agency, instead of the truly independent, impartial advisers they should have been to their client - the potential buyer. This was until a little known ministerial reply of August 2008 sensibly clarified the role of someone paid by a client - in this case referred to as the 'mandant' - who acts as an independent searcher and adviser, working outside the traditional estate agency sector - but using local estate agents as one of their sources when conducting an initial property search on behalf of their client.
Some estate agents and even various newly formed associations of property searchers seem unaware of this important distinction or choose to ignore it. Fortunately, the role of the relocation adviser has developed alongside that of the independent property searcher, in the former case often working for a corporate client and helping relocate and settle one of their employees and their family in another part of France. Their services can include finding a property to rent or buy, and helping with all the administrative formalities of moving and settling in.
Recounting her experiences trying to find a family home in Edinburgh, Financial Times journalist Merryn Somerset Webb* describes finding and using a property searcher and poses the question Why are buyers prepared to spend the largest amount of money they are ever likely to commit when buying a property - and not ask for independent advice? Recognising, of course, that estate agents are in business to sell property, not to worry about whether you are going to be happy in it or not.
As an independent French property searcher and adviser working outside the traditional agency sector - though I was for two years a negotiator/salesman in a busy French estate agency - I now find I spend almost as much time dissuading clients from buying certain properties as I do advising on those I think will meet their requirements. As a negotiator I was under pressure to sell. Today I am relieved of that burden and derive considerably more satisfaction in seeing a client truly satisfied with the property they eventually purchase and move into.
* Financial Times 30 July 2010