An exclusive buyer’s agent or property finder is a local property expert who does not list properties for sale and exclusively represents buyers in their search and acquisition. They negotiate the lowest possible price and best conditions on their clients’ behalf, pre-screen properties for clients, point out any potential problems and protect their clients’ interests throughout. True buyer’s agents are only paid by their clients and are independent from vendor agencies. As a result, they have access to 100% of the market, including private sales and confidential listings.
In France, estate agents are hired by vendors to find a buyer and get the highest possible price. Owners usually list their property with several agents in different towns and villages and only the agent who manages to find a buyer gets any commission. The rest get nothing.
Owners can usually also sell privately at the same time and in that case none of the listing agents receive any commission. This is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to get listing details or exact locations for properties in France. Agents only give these out for their rare exclusive listings. Some agents share listings and in that case share the agency commission. They however do not have access to the listings of other colleagues and there is no central database or multi-listing system in France.
France has a large of number property “portals” that advertise agency listings, but these only contain a portion of the market and have many outdated listings. This means that buyers have to scan every single agency website and contact every single agency separately in order to access all houses on the market. Only once you visit a property will you know where it is and what it really looks like. This can lead to a lot of wasted time and money.
The following real-life story illustrates perfectly how a buyer’s agent can help where vendor agents have failed.
Case Study – l’Isle sur la Sorgue Property Search
We’ve just come back from the Notaire‘s office in the Luberon for the signing of an acte authentique de vente (the French final deed of sale). It was the smooth and happy finale to a long journey for Susan and Richard Jameson*, who can now finally start enjoying their lovely house in this bustling Provençal village.
I met them at the property this morning to do the pre-signing inspection. The movers were busy emptying the house and the Jamesons very kindly had brought a present for the charming French seller, which was much appreciated. A good relationship with the sellers is important and it’s at the buyer’s peril to assume that buying a house in France is purely a business transaction. When I preview potential houses for clients, the owners often are present (this is typical for viewings in France) and I always make sure to compliment them on their house (or at least the garden!). Negative comments won’t lead to getting a better price; quite the contrary. French owners are known for their tendency to refuse to sell to a buyer who is rude to them or dismissive about their property.
We generally conduct the price negotiations on behalf of our clients and have been able to obtain sizeable price reductions while still keeping a pleasant relationship with the vendor and their agent. The buyers however do best not to get too friendly with the owners before the price negotiations have been concluded and the initial contract of sale has been signed.
A good relationship with the sellers is very important and it’s at the buyer’s peril to assume that buying a house in France is purely a business transaction.
After a general walk-through and the meter readings Richard asked me to interpret some final questions and the seller showed us where she had put extra keys, instruction booklets and lists of useful phone numbers. I had already arranged for the vendor’s gardener to come meet Susan and Richard in two days and called the phone company and utility companies to set up their new accounts.
During a lovely lunch we went over the final checklist to make sure the signing would go smoothly. The Jamesons’ notaire had sent me the draft Acte in advance for review and I already had explained the content. Susan had been very worried that they would not be able to install a swimming pool and I’d double-checked with the Urbanisme department of the local Mairie to make sure there were no special restrictions (some villages in the Luberon don’t allow swimming pools anymore, so do check on this before signing).
A few months earlier, the Jamesons had opened a French bank account. This process can take some time and it’s a good idea to start it early. Although the funds to buy a property can be transferred from a foreign bank account into the notaire’s escrow account, a French account is needed on the day of completion to pay the pro-rated property tax by cheque, set up direct debits with the utility companies and obtain the mandatory home insurance.
Richard and Susan could almost laugh at some of the awful experiences they’d had over the past three years and it was hard to imagine that half a year ago they had given up on ever owning a house in their favourite part of Provence. Despite their reasonable search criteria they had ended up making many wasted viewing trips where they were shown houses that were vastly different from the descriptions on agents’ websites and simply did not fit their search criteria. Property listings can be very misleading and Richard and Susan soon realised that they could not rely on them when planning a viewing trip to France.
Their hope was renewed when they found an English-speaking estate agent who assured the Jamesons that she understood what they wanted and could also show them properties listed with rival agents. Unlike other countries, France does not have a multi-listing system (MLS) where agents can tap into all properties on the market. Some agents share certain listings, but house hunters need to contact each agency separately to fully cover the market.
They arrived in Provence for three viewings with this agent, only to find that the appointments had all been cancelled and they again had come for nothing. The properties were all on with a rival agent. He had interested people for the same properties and did not want to risk having to share commission with the Jamesons’ agent, his competitor. After this experience the couple decided to give up their search in Provence.
France does not have a multi-listing system where agents can tap into all properties on the market. House hunters therefore need to contact each agency separately to cover the market
Susan smiled as we walked across the road to the notaire’s office for the closing meeting. “I’m so glad we found your website. Otherwise we’d still be dreaming in London, in the rain!”
* The clients’ names have been changed to protect their privacy, but their email is available upon request.
Sophia Mose is a licensed French Agent Immobilier. She runs PROVENCE SEARCH, a property search agency offering bespoke property search and acquisition services across southern Provence and the Côte d’Azur, including Aix-en-Provence, the Luberon, Alpilles, the Var, Cannes and Nice. Get in touch for an initial consultation.