Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What buyers look for when viewing

I am indebted to an American website (apartmenttherapy.com) which conducted a survey on what prospective buyers look for in a property during viewings - and what owners should or shoult not do as a result of these findings. They were based on viewer's responses to typical 'home search' reality programmes on TV, similar to those appearing in UK and in France on channel M6 and hosted by a very experienced French estate agent Stephan Plaza.

In the American survey there were several gripes about how the programme could be 'faked' and the responses edited. That said, and in the comments that followed on the apartmen therapy website, the big debate seemed to be whether to home stage or not. In the French programme, Stephan Plaza is a firm believer in home staging, arguing that the majority of buyers (borne out by yet another recent survey) prefer to buy a property that appears ready to move into. Buyers simply want to put down their suitcases and get on with living.

This view was echoed in the US TV programmes but commentators argued that many would-be purchasers cocentrated so much on 'cosmetic' aspects of the property being viewed, and neglected to check out possible structural defects, the state of the electrics/plumbing/heating systems (all expensive to put right), or external aspects such as a noisy neighbourhood (main roads, schools, bars, restaurants, shops etc), let alone discovering - too late! - the neighbours from hell living next door.

There seemed to be considerable confusion about what could be put right: few it seems accepted the difference between changing the wallpaper or the colour of the carpet compared with altering a poor physical layout or rooms that were simply too small.

There are probably as many opinions as there are choices, but in my personal experience that most properties will (eventually) seel if they are presented in a clean and tidy state, and those annoying little maintenance and repair jobs have been attended to. Owners are doing themselves a disservice if the front door bell does not work, the gate is hanging off its hinges, the property is cluttered and untidy, there are obvious signs of pets, and rooms (particularly kitchens and bathroooms) are dirty.

While buyers are may be spoilt for choice, they may never find their ideal house even after months or  years of viewing. Unless they are looking for a second home or moving to France for the first time, many buyers move out of necessity (work, growing family, aging parents, budget etc) rather than choice. My advice is generally to change what you can and learn to live with what you can't.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sacking the 'agent immo'

I have just sacked one the French agencies handling the (non) sale of my apartment. What brought matters to a head was when they called me on my mobile phone - I was en route to the cardiologist to have my blood pressure checked, which did not help - and announced they had an offer I 'must accept' - a mere 11 000 euros below the already reduced asking price that they and I had discussed and agreed only a few weeks ago.

I refused outright, would not make a 'counter proposal' (I feel it is up to the buyer to do that) and eventually after several fruitless discussions with them, finally cancelled my sales mandate.

Having been an agency negotiator myself for just over two years, the issue brought to mind again the differences between a property negotiator (= seller), and a property adviser. I as never totally happy as a negotiator and was never quite comfortable about if and how far I should cross the line over getting a sale at all costs (and earning my commission) and pointing out the negative aspects of a property - that buyers in their enthusasm tend to overlook - such as a potentially noisy location, high management charges, lack of public transport etc.

What I also found, observing negotiators at work when I am accompanying clients on visits (including those trying to sell my apartment), is that they often failed to point out what I think were the benefits of a particular property - sound building, good insulation, not hiddden in shade, good neighbours, low charges etc , which again some buyers tend not to think about.

On balance I feel happier in the advisory role............

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What makes a French city top?

A number of recent surveys have listed some fifty French cities as among the most popular in France - and offered some clues as the reasons why.

The rankings were compiled using a questionnaire asking participants to rate a number of factors (climate, culture etc) in order of importance, and give them a points score out of 20. Interestingly, the search went further than that, and by establishing the age and life stage of the respondents, the researchers were able to show that while certain cities were popular overall, some scored higher within particular groups.

The outright winner was the city of Toulouse, followed by Bordeaux, Rennes, Nancy, Béthune, Paris and Fréjus. However an analysis of the different groups revealed a slight different picture and whosed why certain factors were liked by particular groups and tended to push a city higher up the ratings. It was found that Toulouse was highly rated rated by young peple, Nantes by families, and Angers by 'seniors' (another poll awarded this last distinction to Fréjus, which as seen as 'a paradise for seniors').

Certain cities or areas can acquire an identity which may be appopriate or not, and if you are thinking of moving and buying property, yet another report (reported in the Guardian 02/11/13) says you should also look for evidence of what the researchers termes as 'connectivity'. The outward visible signs of a city's connectivity can include available public transport, cycle and walkways, open spaces, sports facilities, pedestrianised areas, walkable neighbourheads and sectors where there is a good mix of housing, business, services and shops - all of these favoured as places where people can connect with other people.

'As much as we complain about people, there is nothing worse for mental health than a social desert' the Guardian article explains, 'The more connected we are to family and community, the less likely we are to experience heart attacks, strokes, cancer and depression. Connected people sleep better at night. They live longer. They consistently report being happier'.

A longer version of this article will appear in French Property News early in 2014.