House purchase negotiations are a delicate process anywhere in the world. Tempers easily flare and communications can break down because of misunderstandings or hurt feelings. When you don’t speak French fluently and don’t know the ins and outs of French customs and the French real estate market, then things could go wrong even quicker when buying property in Provence or elsewhere in France.
Viewings in France
Non-French house hunters tend to be very surprised when the owners are present at a viewing, eager to point out the positive sides of their home. This is not uncommon here, so be prepared! Long conversations about an exotic plant or a painting can be distracting when you’re trying to evaluate a property for the first time. For a second viewing it of course can be very helpful to have the owners present and at that point you should not hesitate to ask as many questions as possible. The estate agent is not as likely to have all the answers as the owners and a good relationship with the vendor can also be very helpful later on.
If you’re not careful, your interactions with the owners could end up jeopardising the negotiation process.
One reaction to owners being present that I’ve seen is the potential buyers becoming overly friendly out of awkwardness. If you’re not careful, your interactions with the owners could end up jeopardising the negotiation process. Unless you speak fluent French, your conversations with French vendors (and their estate agent) risk being limited to lots of polite smiles, nods and positive words. To the French, such extensive politeness generally indicates that you absolutely love the house and want to buy it at (or near) the asking price. Being respectful is of course very important, but French vendors simply won’t expect you to make a lowball offer after you’ve been so smiley and chatty.
When subsequently receiving a much lower offer than expected, French vendors can easily refuse to negotiate any further. With second homes there is often less of an urgency to sell and you could easily lose out on a property because of this type of misunderstanding.
The other thing that can happen is that non-French buyers are purposefully negative about a property in the presence of the owners, thinking that this will persuade the vendors to accept a lower price. Focusing on and discussing the downsides of a property is important. But best do this quietly, and ideally after the viewing is over. No matter how outdated or ugly a house is, if you’re interested in buying it, best find something positive to say in the presence of the vendor. It’s common courtesy and it will get you much farther than negative remarks.
Before deciding to make an offer make sure that you can inspect the house thoroughly without the owners or their estate agent hovering over you. You need to have the time to walk around alone and take as many photos or video as you like.
House hunting in France brings many challenges with it. Not speaking French and lack of knowledge of cultural sensitivities could jeopardise price negotiations. Having a bi-lingual property expert on your side substantially mitigates this risk.
Sophia Mose is a licensed French Agent Immobilier. She runs PROVENCE SEARCH, a property search agency offering bespoke property search and acquisition
services in southwest Provence and the Côte d’Azur, including Aix-en-Provence, the Luberon, Alpilles, Cannes and Nice. Get in touch for an initial consultation.