Frequently Asked Questions – Buying in France and hiring search agents in Provence and the Côte d’Azur
We are hired by buyers via an exclusive search mandate agreement and paid a success fee by the client. This allows us to be fully independent experts, protecting the interests of our clients and negotiating on their behalf.
If we instead were to share in the listing agent’s fee, we would not be independent from the vendor agency. The loyalties of a property finder who gets paid by the vendor’s agent cannot squarely lie with the buyer. It would be a bit like asking a Peugeot dealer whether Peugeot is the best car or whether a BMW would be better. He’s not very likely going to tell you to go buy a BMW instead.
Also, this system is the only way that our clients can have full access to all listings on the market, including confidential sales and private listings. Why? Because only a few listing agencies in Provence and the Côte d’Azur agree to share their fee with property finders and the better agencies won’t work with so called “free” property finders. Those that do, won’t share their best houses with these search agents, preferring to keep the full commission.
However, although we do not ask listing agents to reduce their fee, during the negotiations they often do cut their fee, because of our involvement. This reduces the overall cost to the buyer and often already covers most of our fee.
Buying a property is a big investment and it is important to get impartial advice from a local expert who is hired by you and paid by you. How else are you going to know whether you’re making a good investment and in a good location?
The second point, having access to the entire market, relates to the fact that more and more agencies are refusing to work with so-called “free” property finders who want to share in their fee. Now that the market is improving, most agencies are not interested in giving away a large chunk of their fee. As a result “free” property finders can only work with certain agencies, which means that their “clients” can only see houses on with those agencies and only see a fraction of the market. Not ideal and a good example of penny wise, pound foolish.
Yes, they do! Since 2014, when the loi ALUR was enacted, there is no doubt anymore that chasseurs immobiliers (property finders or search agents) relocation companies and anyone else in France who contacts agencies or private sellers or landlords on behalf of someone else and receives remuneration for this activity must be licensed under the loi Hoguet of 1970. Provence and the Côte d’Azur are teeming with unlicensed and uninsured “property finders.” Therefore, check if a search agent or relocation company has their real estate licence (Carte Professionnelle) listed on their website, as required.
In order to obtain the licence, property professionals in France must comply with strict education and/or experience requirements. In addition, they must comply with a code of conduct, avoid conflict of interest, have professional liability insurance, charge VAT (TVA), have an accountant, and follow 14 hours of continuing education. Using an uninsured, unlicensed property search agent obviously is not a good idea. Estate agents also are not eager to deal with these illegal property finders.
Property finders or search agents (buyer’s agents) in France may also work as a so-called “agent commercial”, registered under the licence of a Carte Prof holder. They must be insured and comply with the continuing education requirement and the code of conduct of the profession. Again, they need to clearly explain their status on their website and business card and if you don’t see this information, then do ask for it before hiring someone.
Before 2014, some property finders argued that they didn’t need to be licensed if they did not negotiate the price or conditions for clients. Since 2014 it has been very clear that this excuse does not work. The French consumer protection agency has prosecuted and fined many agencies that violated the licensing law and has stated in their report that all relocations companies and property finders must be licenced. Unlicensed property finders with websites only in English can evade detection, so do be careful. Needless to say that it’s not in your best interest to hire someone who breaks the law while searching for properties for you.
Sophia Mose is the holder of Carte Professionnelle (Transactions) B14-5615 issued by the Préfecture des Bouches-du-Rhône and is covered by mandatory professional indemnity insurance. Provence Search is registered with the R.C.S. of Aix-en-Provence – registration No. 509 629 622. Rebecca Russell, Anne Green and Jacqueline Hanks are insured and registered “Agents Commerciaux en Immobilier” working under the Provence Search real estate license. Sophia is the only non-French member of the national body of exclusive buyer’s agents, the Fédération Nationale des Chasseurs Immobiliers (FNCI).
Clients hire Provence Search for different reasons and with different requirements. These are some of the benefits of hiring your own expert representative on the ground:
1. You don’t have the time and are far away
Searching from a distance for your ideal property in France is stressful and time-consuming. There are hundreds of estate agents in Provence and many don’t speak English. France does not have a multi-listing system or central database and you’d need to contact every agent separately or scour the countless different portals.
At Provence Search we are in the unique position that agents even let us know about properties that aren’t on the market yet or that are kept off the internet at the request of the seller. By engaging us you can sit back, relax, and be sure that you have access to the entire market and will view a shortlist of only the best properties within your brief and budget.
2. You want to get the best price
In the current market there are some good deals to be had, even in the best parts of Provence and on the Côte d’Azur. But how do you know whether the listed asking price is fair or how much room for negotiation there is? How long has the house been on the market and why are the owners selling? These are all things that we find out for you.
Asking prices for seemingly similar properties in Provence can vary enormously and to an outsider the reason for this can be unclear. We have the local market knowledge and experience, we investigate for you, and with a track record of successful negotiations we have the expertise to help you negotiate the best price.
3. You don’t know exactly where to buy in Provence or the Cote d’Azur
Using the expertise of an impartial local advisor is essential to ensuring you buy in the right location. Why is that village so popular and are prices in the next one so much lower? Will the house you’ve fallen for be easy to sell again years later? Where is the Mistral wind strongest and how long does it really take to get to the beach in August or to the International School in rush hour?
We are not tied down to a small areas and know the entire Provence Côte d’Azur region very well. Whether you are looking for a holiday home, an investment property, or your permanent base, we steer you to the best area for your needs and help you track down the perfect property in the perfect setting.
4. You would like help with the practicalities of the purchase
Our international clients value our impartial guidance throughout the often complex buying process. You’ll have your point person on the ground from start to finish overseeing all aspects of your purchase. We also can recommend the best mortgage providers, currency traders and legal and financial experts to ensure that your purchase is structured correctly. We work with an excellent renovation and construction company who can provide a quote before you buy, so that you know whether your budget will work. If you need a caretaker, gardener, letting agency, interior designer or architect for your house in Provence or on the Côte d’Azur, then we are happy to share our hand-picked local contacts with you.
5. You simply want an independent expert advisor
Estate agents are employed to sell their clients’ houses to you at the best possible price. It is therefore unrealistic to assume that they can also act for you. Provence Search does not have a portfolio of properties for sale and we only represent you, the buyer. We search for you with all agents and private vendors and give you impartial advice and guidance every step of the way.
Estate agents are in the business of selling property. This article explains why French estate agents with property listings cannot be true buyer’s agents at the same time. The way the French listing system works means that estate (vendor) agents cannot access all the listings on the market (no multi-listing system), as is the case in other countries. In most cases the vendor will list with several agencies and only the agency that finds a buyer gets commission. This results in strange situations where rival agencies look at each other’s sites to see if they recognise the houses listed and then try to get a sales mandate from the owner as well.
The agency you mention might share properties with one or two other agencies in Provence or the Riviera, but doesn’t have the time to do a full search for you or do pre-screenings. That is not her job. Her job is selling houses and getting new listings on the books. And she certainly couldn’t be on your side only when it comes to the negotiation stage, as she works for the seller.