Tuesday, May 28, 2013

French estate agents

Reading the various French property discussion forums, it seems that many (British) contributors have a veritable fear and loathing of estate agents, who are invariably blamed when their property fails to get sold!

To put the issue in perspective, whether you like them or hate them, French estate agents are still responsible for over 70% of property transactions, the remainder being transactions between private sellers and buyers, and the remaining few handled by some Notaires,  who are also licensed to act as estate agents (not all choose to do this). Overall property sales have declined by under 20% in 2012-13 so far, but prices have not declined dramatically, and there is not an over-supply of properties.

Various commentators argue that France needs a further 500 000 properties every year, to replace older properties reuiring updating but no-one wishes to take them because of cost, and to house a growing propulation. The collapse of an estimated one in three French marriages has also fuelled a demand for larger properties (3 or 4 bedrooms) to accommodate 're-composed' familes, where the partners may each bring children into a newly formed household.

Not surprisingly in a time of economic uncertainty - over jobs, taxes, spending power - the market for second homes has stagnated, with a lack of buyers in coastal and country areas, and owners trying to offload a second property they use less often, as children grow up and holiday habits change. In some areas, second homes can represent 70% of the local housing stock, so the decline in sales is particularly noticeable.

The decline in sales of first-time properties results as much from general economic uncertainty as the difficulties young would-be owners face when trying to secure a mortgage, particularly after the ending of the PTZ (no-interest government guaranteed loan) in January 2012. As a result many are stuck in rented properties, when they could be paying the equivalent amount in loan repayments as they do in monthly rentals.

Although bank interest rates are at their lowest for decades, lenders are increasingly reluctant to lend to employees in 'unsecure' jobs, which translates into any job that is not in the public sector!

As I have so often said on this blog, the French market is huge and complex, with many regional variations. Depending on what type of property you own and where it is located, you may have to wait for a general upturn in the French economy and/or a radical change of direction by president Hollande, before the market recovers.