Finding A French Property
The start of your search to find a French property can be really exciting but may quickly turn into a daunting experience! Yes, there are thousands of lovely French houses to drawl over on the internet and it’s just so easy to spend nights, weeks and even months looking at all the lovely, character properties at amazingly low prices. The weeks and months go by and still you haven’t moved ahead with the project. So, if you are really serious about buying a French property then you need to look at the different ways that you can move your search beyond beautiful images on websites and to action.
There are four main ways to proceed with your property search and the good news is that you do not have to choose only one; in fact you could just about combine all the possible ways in your French property search. However, perhaps that won’t be necessary for most people as it could be extremely time consuming in terms of visits to France. There is certainly something to be said for choosing a method that is as efficient as possible as trips to France are costly in terms of time and money.
I always remember spending a day, many years ago, showing a gentleman around houses in Limousin where he took copious notes and many photos of each property. At the end of the day he was horribly confused and left without being able to give me any useful feedback to help him in his search. The following day I was working with a young family who by chance were staying on the same campsite as the gentleman of the copious notes. They were able to tell me that he returned day after day after viewing houses and loaded all the notes and photos onto a database. Apparently he had been at the campsite doing this for a month and still had another month booked in and this was his third year of property searching in France! After a successful day with the young family who found a delightful little cottage to buy I had completely forgotten the gentleman of the copious notes. Imagine my surprise when a month later he arrived in my office to say that he had made a decision and would like a second viewing of one of the properties I had shown him. Imagine his surprise when I told him that I had sold it! So, for this gentleman after three years of house hunting he was still without a French property.
French Property Marketing Companies
There are two types of French property marketing companies, firstly those which purely serve as a portal or shop window for properties for sale in France and offer no U.K. based service. With this type of company you can view the properties online and are then directed to the French agent selling the property to ask questions or to make a viewing appointment, usually only by email. Companies such as Rightmove work in this way and there are also several smaller companies specialising in French property that simply advertise properties for sale. Being purely an advertising medium these companies are able to have an enormous amount of property for sale on their websites and are a good starting point when searching to buy a property in France or many other places.
Advantages of property portals:-
- Huge quantity of properties for sale
U.K. based companies with Information And Properties
The second type of marketing company usually has a U.K. base and works directly with their own network of estate agents in France to help English speaking people to buy property. Such companies usually cover most of France and offer properties for sale found by their partner French agents. The agents find and mandate the properties and they are put onto the website of the U.K, marketing company. The best of these companies have staff in the U.K. with knowledge of France and experience of its property market, who are able to meet with you or talk over the phone to answer any questions you may have.
Often what is most needed at the start of a property search is advice on regions and value for money in different locations. Because such companies know France they tend to be in a better position to advise on the country as a whole as opposed to local French agents who only know their own little bit of France.
- The dream of buying French property
- Mistakes people make buying a French home
- French regional information
Having answered your questions and helped you decide on an area to suit your requirements, the U.K. based company can make viewing appointments for you with their partner agencies in France. Again, the best marketing companies will be working with French agents who are English speaking and who are used to assisting Brits to buy French property. If you find a property you wish to buy the French agent will assist you throughout the French property purchasing procedure and only when you have finally bought the house will you pay the commission (which is included in all prices shown on advertised property details) to the French agent. This commission will be the same amount for anyone working through the U.K. marketing company or walking in off the street, The agent will then pay a percentage of the commission to the U.K. marketing company for their assistance in finding the client.
Advantages of information providing companies:-
- U.K. office to discuss your property search and to assist you in choosing the right region
- As an intermediary between you and the French agent they can get all your property questions answered
- Viewing appointments made on your behalf
- The French estate agents will be English speaking and will have been checked out by the U.K. company.
- The service is FREE
French Estate Agents
If you would like to work directly with a French agency you may need to search online using the term ‘immobilière’. If you search for French estate agents you are most likely to find a list of only U.K. based marketing companies.
Once you access the websites of French immobilières you will find that many have a ‘translate’ button to translate the information into English. Most French agencies which you find in this way are likely to be part of large chains like La Fôret or Century 21 and will have branch offices in most towns throughout France. They are also likely to have some English speaking staff. The individual agencies within the chain usually have their own websites but again, initially you may have to address your questions via email rather than speak direct to a person. Agents within these chains are not likely to be able to offer advice on anything outside of their own area so you will need to be sure of the area you want to look for a property if you use a chain agency. Most of the large chains of agents are likely to have their properties on Rightmove, Zoopla or Primelocation.
Advantages of French chains:-
- Loads of properties in their website
- Agencies all over France
Independent French Property Agents
When it comes to working directly with a local French agency you may find that such agents have no internet presence. However, they do still exist and there are small agencies in most towns, many of them family run with amazing local knowledge. It may not be easy, or even possible, to deal with them direct from the U.K. so it will probably be necessary for you to wander around your chosen area to find these small local agencies.
Once again, you need to be sure of the area in which you are looking, no agent intent on a sale, will advise you that somewhere else may suit you better!
Advantages of independent agents:-
- Good local knowledge
- Likely to have years of experience
- How to buy French Property
Notaires In France
Traditionally it was Notaires who sold property in France. In fact, when I first started in the business more than 30 years ago, it was the only way to find a rural property for sale in France. In the country, in particular, the only time that a house was sold was when the owner died. Even then a sale was still quite a rare occurrence as normally descendants tended to hold onto the rural family home for holiday use. As there were so few houses for sale the details of these rare properties could be displayed in a glass cabinet outside the office of the local Notaire. And there the details usually sat and faded with each summer’s sun! I guess it was about the time that I started in the business that things seemed to change in rural areas. Young families started to move into larger towns in search of work and more properties came onto the market and estate agencies opened up in all of the small market towns. However, still today, throughout France, Notaires continue to have some properties for sale but the little display cases outside their offices are more obvious in small market towns than in the large cities. Sometimes you may be lucky enough to find a gem of a property in this way but I wouldn’t rely on it.
Advantage of French Notaires:-
- You may just find a special property that no one else has seen
Private Property Sales France
From time to time you may come across a French property being advertised privately on the internet. By buying direct from the vendor you will certainly save the French estate agency fee which usually ranges from 6%-11% of the purchase price (the higher fee being charged on lower priced properties). However, you will also be buying without the assistance that any good estate agent will offer you during the whole purchase procedure.
The agency fees in France are certainly high but French estate agency is much more highly regulated than estate agency in the U.K. and agents and their assistants have to be more highly qualified and undergo regular ongoing training sessions. Any good agent will view the assistance they provide in helping you to find a house as only the start of their service. They will liaise between the vendor, purchaser and Notaire throughout the purchase and in my experience, they are still on hand once the deal is done to provide information and assistance as you settle into ownership of a property in France.
If you have already bought a house in France then it may not be too daunting to buy one privately and if you have fluent French you will certainly find it easier but either way, if you decide to go down the private purchase route you will need to devote a substantial amount of time to the process.
The French properties advertised for sale privately bought by Brits tend to be owned by other Brits. This should make the process easier as the vendors will be able to help with recommending a Notaire and in passing over the utilities. However, this necessitates remaining on good terms throughout the stressful process, something which does not always happen.
As a safety measure, if buying a property privately, you can employ the services of an English speaking Notaire working in the U.K. who will be able to oversee the purchase procedure and assist with other matters. You can find such companies on the internet. Their services will not be inexpensive but for some people it means that they can buy the house they have found privately with more security than trying to deal with the complicated process on their own.
Advantage of private sales:-
- Saving estate agency fee
- Finding a house that may not be generally available
Couple of helpful links:
Prepare For Your French Property Viewing Trip
French Property Viewing
Finally you have chosen the area of France in which to search for a property and probably chosen a few houses that you are interested in. It’s time to plan a viewing trip. There are many things which can make your viewing trip more successful:-
- Make viewing appointments with agents before you leave for France, and don’t forget the summer season can be very busy.
- Make sure the agents you are going to see know what you are looking for. It’s a good idea to send them a list of your requirements before your appointment.
- You will probably make appointments with more than one agent but it is wise to make only one appointment a day. Many agents will allow half a day to spend with you but it is good to have the rest of the day to consider what you have seen and maybe to return to the area in which the properties were located to see if the area really suit your needs.
- Allow a couple of days to remain in the area at the end if your trip in case you need any second viewings or even to negotiate a purchase.
- Take a copy of your list of requirements with you so that you can see houses ‘with your heart’ but return to your list to check them out ‘with your head’. Inevitably, you are likely to make a compromise or two in finding the right house but it’s good to check your list to remind yourself of what compromise you are making.
- Do not take photos on your first visit to a property. See the property through your eyes and not through a camera lens. If the house becomes a serious contender you will be able to return to take photos.
- Give the agent useful feedback. The quality of the feedback you provide is likely to assist the agent to find the right house for you.
- Take sensible clothing and footwear, particularly if you are viewing rural property
- Take water and a snack, sometimes you may find that you are out viewing houses much longer than you expected.
About Healey Fox Property
Healey Fox is a company, based in the U.K. and works with its own network of specially selected French agencies. We have more than 30 years of experience in the French property market and are always happy to help prospective buyers select the right area for their purchase.
The English team at Healey Fox have been educated in France, lived in France, worked in France and bought and sold their own French properties. We love sharing our knowledge and experience with people wondering about buying a French property. Call us on 44 (0)1306 775 008.