Buying French Property – Who Represents You?
If you’ve been searching for French property for a while and find the system confusing, then you’re not alone. On the face of it, things in France seem to work the same way as in the UK, Australia, America or the Netherlands. Maybe you contacted an estate agent assuming that they had access to all property listings? Or did you think that they would represent only you in the negotiations and could share the commission of any listing agent? Unfortunately, that is not how things work in France. Read on to find out more.
The first difference is that French vendors generally list their property with a range of agents and often even try to sell privately at the same time. In most countries, a multi-agency listing means that the sole or joint listing agent(s) is/are guaranteed to get commission and the agent who introduces the buyer automatically gets their share. In France, however, there is no central database and 90% of vendors who list their property with agencies enter into non-exclusive listing arrangements (via a mandat de vente) with each separate agency. Only the agency that sells the home gets a commission. The others get nothing, no matter how many showings they did or how many advertisements they placed. And if the owner sells privately, none of the agencies get any commission whatsoever. I always wonder why French estate agents accept this arrangement, but once something is a tradition in France, it’s not easy to change it.
You can imagine that this relatively low chance at any fee diminishes the motivation of the agencies.
French Estate Agency Commission Levels
This limited chance at remuneration also explains why agency commission is relatively high in France, sometimes even reaching a staggering 10% for properties with smaller asking prices. Each agency has different commission levels, with agencies run by English speakers often charging the highest rates (you can check an agency’s commission range (barème des honoraires), as it must be published on their website and they are not permitted to deviate from it, other than in exceptional circumstances). Add to this the fact that owners regularly forget to tell all their agents that they’ve lowered the asking price, or even that they’ve have sold the property, and you’ll understand why you have come across the same house at different prices or you have enquired about listings that turn out to have sold long ago.
Incomplete Property Details
The commission “lottery” for agencies also explains why online French property details rarely show the surroundings of a property or photos of the facade and don’t disclose the exact location. This is not the French being overly décontracté. On the contrary; it’s an (understandable) attempt at preventing house-hunters or other agents from finding the property directly and ringing the doorbell of the vendor. And then there is the battle of the search engines. In once asked an agent why she had incorrectly listed a property as being in Saint Rémy de Provence instead of the actual location – a much smaller village 15 minutes away. “Ah,” she said with a big smile, “that’s because people are more likely to type in Saint Rémy when doing a Google search.”
Foreign Portals and Agencies
With more than 90% of initial enquiries from house hunters now being made online and the absence of a central or multi-listing system in France, the emergence of foreign-run property portals and aggregators is not surprising. Searching on English language property portals or foreign agency sites can be a great way to start your search and get a rough idea of the market in your desired area.
Although some of these sites claim to do a free “search” for you or even call themselves property finders or buyer’s agents, they are often based outside France and of course, need to earn money. Most get a hefty share in the commission of the local French agency if an enquirer they’ve passed on ends up buying a property. Do keep in mind that (a) they work with the vendor agency, (b) often won’t know the property or its surroundings, and (c) aren’t regulated or insured in France.
Foreign buyers in France often assume that the agency that has shown them properties will represent them during negotiations. In many countries that is how it works. In France, the estate agent, however, does not have a specific duty to represent either the buyer or the seller in the negotiations. They are true intermediaries and are supposed to “facilitate” the sale. The vendor engaged them to get the highest price possible in the shortest time possible. Agencies rely on their local reputation for getting more properties on the books. It would not be realistic to expect the listing agent to be able to negotiate the best price and conditions for both (opposite) sides to the transaction. Only an exclusive buyer’s agent, such as the members of the national body the FNCI (similar to REBAA in Australia and NAEBA in the US), exclusively represents the interests of the buyer. For Bilingual exclusive buyer’s agents with at least five years’ experience, you could consult the website of The French Property Finders.
No matter how you end up buying your French dream home; transparency is key. Don’t hesitate to ask whether your agent or property finder is licensed and insured in France and who pays their fee or commission.