Goodwill to all – even French estate agents

Saint Lizier decorated for Christmas

As it is Christmas, I thought I should sprinkle some goodwill over that much maligned species, the French estate agent. Most of my clients cannot understand how estate agents here in France can justify their commission of between 5 and 10% and I certainly know of agents who do not deserve to earn such large fees; these are the agents who never bother to return calls or emails, organize viewings of completely unsuitable properties and then wipe their hands of buyers the minute the Compromis is signed. These are the worst examples and I have learned from experience (and countless wasted viewings) who these agents are in my region and I do not use them – nor do I need to work with them as, in almost all cases, any property they have on their books will also be on the books of other agents. Conversely, I have built up an excellent network of very hard-working, proactive and extremely helpful agents who spend huge amounts of time and effort in helping me to find exactly the right property for my clients.

While the basic job of the estate agent in France and those in other parts of the world is essentially the same, in practice the role, workload and responsibility can actually be very different and there are reasons why agents here charge a higher commission:

Firstly, French estate agents do more work for each sale than their foreign counterparts and have a legally defined role in law which often includes drawing up the official Compromis de Vente before passing it to the Notaire and thus they have far more legal responsibility. In France, the agent also has a much closer link with all parties and has liability working as a professionally intermediary, liaising between them to make sure that the Notaire can process the sale efficiently and will even be there at the final signing to help with translation and to advise on the legal formalities and iron out any last minute problems.

Secondly, French estate agents have a much closer relationship with the seller and will work very closely with them and spend a great deal of time marketing their property over many months. In many countries, the agent will often carry out just one visit to a property to take all the initial details and that might well be the end of their direct involvement with seller with most subsequent communication taking place by phone or email. In France on the other hand, the agent will personally do every viewing with any potential buyer and once things come to negotiation stages, many of the agents I work with actually go to see the seller face-to-face to discuss each offer and the terms at each stage. Often however,  even after all this work and outlay of time, the agent is quite likely to see the sale go to another agent while they ultimately earn nothing for all their time and effort.

Thirdly, the French move house less frequently than in many countries so the volume of transactions is much smaller but the French population is dispersed over a much larger area than say Britain which means that accompanying buyers on viewings is vastly more time-consuming and expensive for agents here than it would be in the UK. Furthermore, it can also be a very frustrating job because an agent can only sell the property they have on their books so, however good and helpful they may be, if they get a potential buyer looking for something they just do not have for sale, there is very little they can do. Conversely, in my role as property finder, at least I am able to work with lots of different agents as well as Notaires and private sellers so that I have a far wider pool of properties from which to track down the perfect property for my clients.

Fourthly there are a far greater number of checks and tests that have to be done on a property in France before it can be sold and much of this extra information has to be organized and collated by the French agent. The proper checks have to be carried out for asbestos, lead, beetle and termites as well as tests covering such issues as electrical and gas connections, septic tanks and energy efficiency. Plus, most of the agents I work with will help the new owners with the reconnection of services such as water and electricity and remain available to answer questions in the days or weeks after the final documents have been signed.

Finally, it is always worth always keeping in mind that the majority of agents you will deal with in France are actually Agents Commercial which means that they are effectively self-employed and so do not receive a regular salary – the commission they make on a property is all they earn – and in reality it is often far less than the stated commission because this is then shared between the owner of the agency and their colleagues. Plus, pity the poor agents that work with me as, more often than not, I ask the agents to lower their fees in order to reach the best possible deal for my clients and hence they earn a lot less than their advertised commission on any sale I bring them. So it can be a thankless job and, despite what you might hear, I certainly do not deal with many wealthy french estate agents driving Mercedes.

So this is by way of a thank you to all the agents who have helped me find some fantastic properties for my clients this year. I look forward to working with you in 2012.

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