Buying Property in France: Listing Agents One is not Enough
Understanding Real Estate Agents in France
When looking to buy a property in France – especially if you’re not fluent in French – it can be tempting to register with one anglophone estate agent and hope for the best. For many house hunters, the search in France starts like that. They spot a beautiful property on an international portal for French properties. They fill out the form on the website and receive a few more photos of the property, but usually no address. From then on, their inbox overflows with links to additional property listings, all supposedly meeting their search criteria. And finally, they book their trip to visit some of those lovely properties, already dreaming of sitting in the sun with a glass of rosé on the terrace of their Provençal dream property.
This approach might well work out if you’re very lucky, but in most cases, it’s unfortunately not successful. Here’s why.
Real Estate Agencies (Realtors) in France – Who Represents You?
In many countries (Netherlands, USA, Canada), the property listing system is transparent. Agencies can visit each other’s property listings. And the agency commission is shared equally, no matter which agency brings in the buyer. In those systems, the agent for the vendor represents the vendor and a different agent acts for the buyer, protecting the buyer’s interests. This approach allows the parties to each have their independent representation. Not only during the property search, but also the negotiations, purchase, and after-sale. And, importantly, each has their own agent if things go wrong and there are disputes.
However, this is not how things generally work in France. The exception is where an exclusive buyer’s agent is involved, but they are rare. For experienced anglophone buyer’s agents in France see the website The French Property Finders.
Therefore, in France, house hunters must approach all the agencies in their search area themselves. The agencies have listing agreements with the vendors and have an obligation to try and find a buyer at the best price and conditions. They act purely as property brokers or intermediaries.
Is There a Shared Central Database for Property Listings in France?
The short answer is, NO. As a result of the listing, system explained below, unfortunately, there’s no shared properties-for-sale database in France, accessible to all agencies. Only for the (rare) exclusive listings are there some networks such as AMEPI. And some agents do share certain properties with a few colleagues in the same area. But as an outsider, it is not clear who shares with whom and how many properties they have access to.
Therefore, don’t sign an exclusive search mandate with a listing agency, because, in the more sought-after parts of France, none of them have access to the listings of all other agencies.
So How Does the Property Listing System Work in France?
Firstly, in France exclusive listings with one agency are rare. Instead, most vendors list their property for sale with several different agencies (agences immobilières) on a non-exclusive basis. For example, one listing mandate (mandat de vente) will be signed with a foreign franchise. Another with the cousin of the neighbour’s mother because he has just become a sales agent (agent commercial) with a national network. And a third listing mandate is given to an experienced local agency in the nearest market town. If the property doesn’t sell quickly, vendors often add more agencies.
This explains why you so often see the same house pop up on many different websites. And sometimes at different prices, because each agency has its own commission scale (honoraires d’agence).
But that is not all. Generally, the vendor retains the right to sell the house directly (sale by owner), without having to pay anyone any commission if they succeed. Only the agency, if any, that sells the property gets a commission. For these non-exclusive listings, the agencies, therefore, compete for the commission.
Now you understand why the listing particulars are often so vague, without the address, no photos of the front of the house and even often giving the wrong town or village. This is to prevent you from finding the house yourself and ringing the doorbell, with the agency missing out on the commission altogether. Or a competing agent recognizing the house and calling the vendor to also get a listing mandate.
How to Approach a Property Search in France?
These are a few pointers to help you make a good start:
- Narrow down your search area. Visit at different times of the year. The parts of France that are very green do get a lot of rain, even if the weather might be perfect when you’re visiting. Areas that are bustling with activity in summer can be entirely deserted from October to April.
- Determine your budget carefully, taking into account the acquisition fees and taxes and the cost of furnishing a house or apartment.
- Draft a clear and realistic summary wish list for the agencies (preferably in French). Set out whether you need financing. It’s a big plus if you don’t need a mortgage. If you do intend to take out a mortgage, make sure you have an agreement in principle or another form of pre-approval from a bank and point that out, it makes you a much more attractive candidate.
Email the local agencies that have your type of property, instead of filling out an online form on a portal or foreign advertising site. Keep in mind that those portals or foreign agencies share in the commission, making you less interesting to the actual agency on the ground than a potential buyer who comes to the agency directly. Most agencies in the more desired parts of France are overwhelmed and understaffed. As a buyer, you must almost sell yourself to them as a serious, well-prepared house hunter.