Friday, May 20, 2011

Property buying agent?

This new term has been given another airing in today's Daily Telegraph, in an article highlighting the use of property searchers or 'buying agents' (their term) by potential buyers, this time in Italy.

It is a term we have resisted using, along with the French chasseur de biens (literally 'property hunter') as searching for French properties forms a relatively small part of our business. We find that local French estate agents are well informed about the local market and it is rare that they are unable to track down properties that are for sale or likely to come onto the market.

Note that many 'property searchers' have in fact links to estate agencies. In Britain some established estate agencies have even set up property search subsidiaries, duplicating the work of agency negotiators who should be presenting their clients with a list of properties for sale, or more pro-actively making enquiries among their colleagues. In France, some property finders advertise a range of properties in much the same way as professional estate agents, so that it is difficult to understand how they can claim to act independently for the buyer.

What we find most clients appreciate is our expertise in ensuring that the buying process, including initial search, procceds smoothly, from checking the inevitable paperwork but more importantly ensuring that the property is as described, and there are no hidden surprises. This involves being in place, understanding French law and the property buying process, and drawing on ten years practical experience of  overseeing every type of transaction, from beach-side holiday apartments to land destined for agriculture.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Don't rely only on printed information when buying property

A couple of recent cases have prompted me to emphasise again to buyers of French property the need to physically check for themselves (or ask someone to do it for them) the land or property they are intending to buy, and its surroundings.

In my experience I have found that Notaires will - in good faith - primarily rely on the documents provided to them by vendors, estate agents and the local mairie, but that these may not always be up-to-date or one hundred per cent accurate. A typical example is the plan cadastre which identifies the property and its reference number for tax purposes.

In a recent case, when I visited some agricultural land on behalf of clients I found that the property included a two-bedroom house built some 15 years previously, but which did not appear on the cadastral plan. When I visited the local mairie they said 'they knew about it'; the vendor insisted that the mayor had visited the property and had said 'no problem'; while the chief executive at the mairie bluntly informed me that the 'house was illegal, built without planning permission, and was sited on agricultural land which was also classified as a zone rouge' - in this case due to high risk of flooding.

The buyers subsequently withdrew from the purchase but in early discussions with the Notaire he was unaware of the house, as he was working only from the cadastral plan which did not show it.

In another case, involving purchasers of agricultural land they intend to cultivate, a forage (deep well) did not appear on the plan, and an irrigation channel bordering two sides of the property was interpreted by the Notaire as a farm track. A clause was later inserted in the purchase documents to include the forage and the irrigation channel, together with their attendant rights to draw water. There is still a question pending about the precise boundary line as there is a second well adjacent to the farm track (which runs alongside the irrigation channel) with what looks like provision for an electrical supply (EDF pole and junction box and metre). All these elements are important to the buyers who plan to cultivate the land.

These cases illustrate the need to physically check your French property before buying and not to rely solely on the official documentation.

Monday, May 16, 2011

French property insurance - buy locally?

One piece of advice that I regularly offer to clients and friends is to buy their French property insurance locally. Many choose to spend hours on the internet seeking a quote that will offer a few euros less but my question invariably is How do these online companies react when you come to make a claim?

In contrast I have used the local office (agent) of a French national insurance company for the ten years that I have lived in France, dealing with the same owners and staff during that time. Most questions are dealt with face to face as the office is only a few minutes from where I live and answers provided right away. The office has often arranged instant insurance cover for new buyers literally on their way to the Notaire's office to sign the final papers, and who have forgotten they need to provide proof of insurance when buying their apartment.

They have also paid out sums on account to help clients facing a claim and needing immediate financial help to finance a repair (following a broken water pipe and flooding) or to get their car back on the road after an accident. They recently sent an expert and estimate for repairs within 24 hours and advised the apartment owners that dampness in their living room wall was due to a building fault and therefore the responsibility of the building management. When a friend's car was written-off due to a breakdown, the office cancelled the insurance cover immediately and even refunded half of the current month's premium as it had occurred on the 15th.

Sometimes it pays to shop locally.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Diagnostic report before selling French property

A question arose recently on one of the French discussion forums whether the 'presence of a few English style electrical sockets alongside some French ones' was likely to cause problems on selling the property - and at the time the diagnostic report had to be prepared.

Two points arise here. The first is not to under-estimate the length and complexity of the latest diagnostic reports, which in the section dealing with the property's electrical installation, can run to several pages, and include a detailed survey of every room, commenting on each single power outlet. The presence of UK-style sockets and attendant wiring will cause serious problems, as there have never been any French norms approving this type of electrical installation. A qualified French electrician has the right in extreme cases to inform EDF who may cut off the supply until the installation is brought up to current norms.

Second, it seems inconceivable that anyone would buy a French property that had UK-style circuits and power outlets or that an owner would subsequently install these after purchase, against all the advice and information readily available on the subject in the French forums.