Monday, May 25, 2015

Choosing a French estate agent

Though many owners choose to go it alone and successfully market and sell their French property, the vast majority of property transactions pass through estate agents. How then to choose your French estate agent? I offer some guidelines:

1. Look around your area and check which estate agents handle the same sort of property as the one you are trying to sell. Some estate agents specialise in high value chateaux and wine domains, while others may have more experience selling holiday apartments or moderately priced houses either as first or second homes.

2. Check that your property fits naturally into the agency's selection, including your hoped for price - if your propertyly is more expensive, be prepared to argue why, and listen to the agent's advice.  Bear in mind that no two properties, even in the sqme street, are ever entirely alike.

3. You can sign an exclusive contract with a sole agency, or choose to appoint more than one, and at the same time reeserve the right to market and sell the property yourself.

4. If you decide to appoint more than one agency, there should be a logical reason - such as achieving wider coverage. There is little value in appointing several agents in the same town or local area, and prospective buyers may be confused and wonder if you are desperate to sell - and why?  A local agency plus one or two with, say, British connections can reach a wider market for your property and improve your chances of finding a buyer.But note point 5 below.

5. When I worked in a French estate agency, with over 60 years experience in the area and four local offices, I found that:
- buyers tend to come to the office, having seen local publicity or looked in the window, either unannounced or by appointment
- they tended to visit a number of estate agencies in the region and may have seen the same or similar properties via another agent
- buyers generally knew the area from holidays or previous visits and had a fairly clear idea of what they wanted, including how much they could afford to spend
- our role as 'negotiators' was principally to listen and try and match the properties on our boooks to the potential buyers' aspirations, then accompanying them on visits to those selected from our online catalogue (totalling some 500 properties of all types)
- the bulk of our work, once a sale was achieved, was supervising the transaction through to completion, in close cooperation with the Notaire handling the sale

6. Finally to dispell some popular misconceptions:
- estate agencies are generally not in fierce competion with each other, even in slow times and there is little chance for aggressive 'marketing' (see 5 above again) of a property, sometimes expected by the seller. Property selling takes time, buyers are naturally cautious and may dislike 'pushy' sales tactics. They have a wide range to choose from, even in busy times, and may even change their plans.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

March of technology - USA versus France

An interesting post, with nearly 150 responses, on the American home deco site *. It incorporates an eclectic list of various household items, classified as 'Nearly extinct' (mainly techology such as fax machines, address books, alarm clocks), 'Endangered' (desk top computers), 'Vulnerable' (books and magazines) and items defined as 'Defying the odds' (such as vinyl disks making a comeback, board games). The responses from forum members have for the main leapt to the defense of many 'traditional' items listed, ranging from bar soap to sewing machines. And in my own response I tried to give a 'European' view of some of the items listed, including:

- desk-top computers - as many readers pointed out they are essential for 'serious' writing or formatting text, needing multiple screens and extensive software, that does not suit a laptop. Also apparently for gaming (a new one for me!)

- books - Kindle and other reading devices never made a real inroad into France, and they seem to have vanished from bookshops and multi-facet stores such as FNAC. Book publishing and sales are increasing, with many independent booksellers continuing to survive. My own small town of Perpignan has at least six independent bookstores, plus FNAC, and at least 20 secondhand book shops or open air stalls that I know of.

- corks in wine bottles - In my reply I emphasised that no real wine lover would buy wine that did not come in a bottle with a real cork made of cork!

- mail boxes - Obligatory in France and often standardised, and can be opened by the delivery person with a pass key. Ideal for receiving small packages such as items ordered on-line.

- cash and notes - A system known as Moneo (a cash card for small purchases) came and went within about three years. Users found it simply too fussy when paying for a baguette or the morning newspaper.

This just a small selection and interestingly the list included the category 'Defying the odds' - including vinyl records and board games making a comeback. Added to real food, vegetarianism and downsizing I see these as welcome news!

* Source 'Going, going, gone - 30+ items that are disappearing from our homes'. Scroll down if the article is not still on the first page, as the site is added to several times daily.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Too many public holidays in May?

The month of May in France is perhaps best known for the number of public holidays that occur - four in total starting with May Day (Workers) on 1 May, 8 May (end of war in Europe), Thursday 14 May (Ascension day) and finally Pentecost on Monday 25 May. Three of the holidays occur on a Friday or a Monday, enabling a long weekend for those who can afford it, and with Ascension day on a Thursday, many French will 'faire le pont' (literally 'make the bridge') and take Friday off and enjoy a four day weekend.

All this is occurring just a couple of weeks after the staggered Easter school holiday, where schools in different zones take their holidays at different times to ease the burden in the popular resorts (something that does not happen during the peak July and August period when everyone choses to take their holiday!)

Are there too many holidays in one month? Most would probably agree but the dates are immutable, due to outside events and religious traditions. One of the results is that some shops close and others do not, some open for just half the day or - as we now approach the third holiday this Thursday - announce that they will be opening all day with business as usual. It is all very confusing, as some public monuments and museums also choose to close, and buses and trains adhere to a 'holiday' schedule. As a result town centres can be deserted and unless the weather is exceptional many families can spend a miserable day at home waiting for life to get back to normal.........

Friday, May 8, 2015

France has ten times more airports than Germany!

An astonishing statistic, but France has 160 passenger airports while Germanay manages with just 17. The bad news is that only 10% of the French airports are judged to be viable economically, with the remaider supported by subsidies - from the Region, chambers of commerce etc - to the tune of some 100 million euros each year.The Normandy region alone boast a dozn airports.

During an investigation by France's Channel 2 last night, the example of Dole (Jura) was highlighted. It somehos survives as a departure point for Ryanair flights to Morocco, but with low cost tickets still susidised - each customer paying 49 euros and the Region a further 23 euros on each ticket. Dole is located just 50 kms (half an hour) from Dijon which runs just 10 per cent of the flights it predicted after a 25 million euro investment.Even an idle airport can cost over one million euros annually to staff, service and maintain without a single flight taking off.

How did this situation arise? Last night's programme argued that many Regional governments mistakenly argue that a local airport brings further investment, people and jobs, but opponents argue that more often it creates a further tax burden for local residents. Competition from fast TGV links and a good road network can also reduce airport traffic, as can decisions by low-cost operators such as Ryanair and Hop! as to where they choose to base a service.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

New York finally allows small apartments

The city of New York is finally following France and almost all of Europe in allowing the constuction of small apartments  that up to now had to be a minimum 37m² - huge by French standards!

Studies revealed that 31 per cent of New Yorkers - the same number curiously as those found to be living in my home town of Perpignan in apartments of less than 30m² (from one-room studios of 15m² upwards). Further investigations in New York found that single occupiers prefer a microwave oven to a traditional cooker and a small kitchen, to which I would add a washing machine/dryer popular with busy singles. Elise Franck, a very successful owner/developer of apartments designed for short term furnished rental has written a book* full of practical ideas and case studies based on her projects in Paris and Lyon.

Back in Manhattan, the New Yorkers are making a cautious start by building 55 apartmenrs ranging from 24 to 33 square metres. 'We have to admit' said a city concil spokesman 'that these are what people want, as we accommodate more singles, people live closer to work, marry later and get divorced sooner'.

* see her website for details