Unlike estate agency in Spain, the practice is strictly regulated in France and you may not have the qualifications to set up an agency or even to
work in an existing agency. French law doesn’t recognise the activity of ‘intermediary’ or ‘property services provider’; anyone who’s involved in property sales – and even rentals – is deemed to be an estate agent and requires the appropriate registration. You cannot act as an estate agent ( agent immobilier) in France unless you have a carte professionnelle (professional card) or are officially contracted to a card-holding agent; to qualify for one, you must have a reasonable level of French and have one of the following qualifications:
- A brevet d’études professionnelles in professions immobilières, which usually requires two years’ full-time study, although you may be able to shorten the study period if you already have relevant qualifications or experience.
- A recognised foreign certificate or diploma confirming that you’ve undertaken least two years’ legal, financial or commercial studies;
- A secondary education qualification (e.g. A Levels) plus three years of higher education and at least a year’s experience of estate agency work in your home country;
- At least two years’ (and sometimes as much as ten years’!) experience of estate agency work in your home country.
An estate agency must be registered as a SARL and must have the professional indemnity insurance from an accredited body such as the Fédération Nationale de l’Immobilier (www.fnaim.fr) or the SOCAF group (www.socaf.fr).
A realistic option for those who don’t have the qualifications to obtain a carte professionnelle is to act as an agent commercial indépendant immobilier (commonly referred to simply as an agent commercial), whereby you register as self-employed with the local Greffe du Tribunal de Commerce. Greffes du Tribunal de Commerce in many departments will refure to register agents commerciaux, insisting that they become salaried employees of the ‘parent’ agency. You should therefore check local regulations before attempting to set up as an agent commercial.If registration as an agent commercial is allowed, you must obtain a contract with an estate agent (or preferably several) who has a carte professionnelle to work under his aegis. As an agent commercial, you’re covered by the agency’s guarantees and insurance and may even be authorised to sign agency agreements ( mandats) with vendors. You’re paid a commission, which can be up to 60 per cent of the agency’s commission (itself between 5 and 15 per cent of a property’s selling price).
In France’s main cities, particularly in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse and Bordeaux, the corporate relocation market is huge, and a few companies (e.g. Provence Welcome Services) also deal with private relocation. However, the private sector is generally poorly served and there are currently no English-speaking businesses offering such a service. This isn’t because individuals moving to France don’t need help, but rather because of the bureaucracy involved in setting up as a relocation consultant. A corporate relocation service is recognised by the French administrative authorities, but a private service isn’t. Your only option is currently to register as a consultant, which means that you must join the Chambre de l’Ingénierie et du Conseil de France.
If you’re thinking of setting up your own business in this area, you must have many skills – negotiating skills, people skills, language skills – as well as extensive local knowledge and contacts. Obviously English and French are the main languages, but Dutch is also a big plus. The other thing to remember is that relocation invariably involves buying or renting a property – the client needs a home first and other services later – so it’s useful to have experience in the property market.”
The ARA offers training and education for relocation providers, as does the European Academy of Relocation Professionals (EARP, www.earp.eu.com), which is the profession’s training body and provides both country-specific and general training in all aspects of relocation services.
Property Maintenance & Caretaking
The continuing growth of foreign second home ownership in France means that there’s a demand for property maintenance and caretaking services. Maintenance covers a host of activities, including minor construction and repair work, gardening, pool cleaning and key-holding. Caretaking a gîte involves cleaning, changing linen, making good minor damage and liaising with maintenance services. Note that you must have the proper authority to do so from the French administration. Security is a highly regulated activity with extensive background checks made on people wishing to work in this field.
As with estate agency and relocation services, diversification is the key to a successful maintenance business – at least until you’ve established your reputation and learned which areas of the market are best for you to specialise in.
Many expatriates – particularly Britons – buy properties in need of renovation or restoration, with a view to using them as a holiday home, living in them permanently, letting them or reselling them at a profit (if they’re lucky). Often, the work involved is beyond their capabilities – or they simply don’t have time to do it – so professional help is required.
People starting businesses in France should have enough money to serve as a buffer; they should be properly registered; and they should become part of the local community rather than hide in an expatriate community. If your French isn’t terrific, hire someone to go with you to the various offices and translate. Make sure you understand what you’re signing, as it’s really difficult to change anything.”
Building & Property Development
If you plan to work or do business in construction and building services, you need a solid background in the building trade and the qualifications to prove it. Bring any qualifications you have with you and make sure they’re translated into French. Indeed, as an expatriate, you may have to overcome prejudice that results from the ‘dodgy’ practices of many foreign builders.
Get registered with a SIRET number – don’t work on the black – but be clear how you want to be registered and, if you’re running more than one operation, try to complete the whole procedure at once, which will save you trouble if not money. Not only must you be registered as a builder, but also under French law, work carried out by companies and individuals in the building trades must be guaranteed for ten years ( garantie décennale). This means that the company or individual is required to rectify any defects arising during this period that affect the solidity of the work or that render it unsuitable for its intended use. This responsibility is covered by a compulsory insurance.
For most jobs as a tradesman or artisan ( artisan), e.g. electrician, plumber, stonemason, carpenter, surveyor, you must either be qualified (e.g. electrician, plumber) or have experience (e.g. stone cutting). Becoming a qualified electrician of plumber isn’t simply a case of having your foreign qualifications translated, as French electrical and plumbing standards ( normes) may be quite different from those in your home country, and you may have to learn a completely new modus operandi to work (legally) in France. Courses are run by various administrative departments, but, of course, the vast majority are in French. Like builders, you must have public liability insurance and your work must be guaranteed for ten years.
If you’re a qualified surveyor and are thinking of working in France, there are a number of issues you should take into consideration. First, the French aren’t in the habit of having a property surveyed before they buy it. There’s a tradition of trust in France, and vendors are expected (indeed required by law) to reveal any hidden defects of which they’re aware before selling a property; in many cases, the buyer and seller are acquainted, so it isn’t in the seller’s long-term interest to conceal any problems. Secondly, there’s a tacit assumption that, if there were any serious defects with a building, they would have revealed themselves; many properties are hundreds of years old and it’s reckoned that, if they haven’t fallen down yet, they must be good for another few decades! A French buyer may engage a builder (usually a friend or acquaintance) to look the building over.
You will, of course, need to develop a detailed knowledge of the characteristics of French property, including traditional materials and construction techniques, methods of wiring and plumbing and other vagaries, and of the relevant specialist vocabulary. A good dictionary of building terms is the Dictionnaire d’Architecture & de Construction/Dictionary of Architecture & Construction by J.R. Forbes.
There are many types of property surveyor in France, none of which may correspond exactly to those in your home country. This can make life difficult both in terms of registering your activity in France and in terms of finding French customers. It’s possible to enter into a collaborative partnership with a French-registered architect or surveyor, who simply ‘signs off’ work done by you, but you must ensure that in doing so you have the necessary public liability and professional indemnity insurance.
This article is an extract from Making a living in France.
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