It’s common for foreigners in many countries, particularly the UK, to use an agent in their own country who works with one or more French agents. A number of French agents also advertise abroad, and many have English-speaking staff (so don’t be discouraged if you don’t speak fluent French).
If you want to find an agent in a particular town or area, look under Agences Immobilières in the relevant French yellow pages (pages jaunes) available at main libraries in many countries. If using a local estate agent, it’s best to go in person. French estate agents generally don’t post or fax you property details but expect you to be there, on the spot, and to visit houses immediately.
French estate agents are regulated by law and must be professionally qualified and licensed and hold indemnity insurance. To work in his own right in France, an agent must possess a carte professionnelle, which is granted only to those with certain professional qualifications or considerable experience. The carte must be renewed annually and its number and place of issue should be shown on the agent’s letterhead.
Estate agents should also provide a financial guarantee for at least €75,000; without this, they aren’t entitled to handle clients’ money. If an agent provides a guarantee for more than this amount, the name and address of the guarantor (i.e. bank) will also be shown on his letterhead. If an agent has a lower guarantee, you should pay your deposit to the notary or another legal professional involved in the sale.
Tip: Ensure that you’re dealing with an agent who fulfils these requirements and, if in doubt, ask to see his qualifications and confirmation of the guarantees he offers.
Most French estate agents are members of a professional body, the three main ones being the Fédération Nationale de l’Immobilier (FNAIM, http://www.fnaim.fr), the leading French association of estate agents, the Syndicat National des Professionnels Immobiliers (SNPI, http://www.snpi.com) and the Union Nationale de la Propriété Immobilière (http://www.unpi.org).
Very few foreign agents in France possess the coveted carte professionnelle. Until recently, foreigners were permitted to act as self-employed ‘sales representatives’ (agents commerciaux) of French-registered agents, requiring no particular qualifications. This practice has now been widely outlawed, however, and you should beware of making any binding agreements with an agent commercial and certainly shouldn’t pay any money to one or any unregistered ‘property agent’ or ‘search agent’. In fact, you shouldn’t even view properties with anyone who cannot produce a carte professionnelle (or who isn’t employed by someone with one); if you have an accident while visiting a property, you won’t be able to claim unless an agent is legal and registered.
If you’re dealing with an agent commercial, you should check that he’s listed on the local registre du commerce (he should have a registration number and a SIRET number) and, preferably, that the agent he represents is a member of one of the recognised professional bodies (see above). Members of the Federation of Overseas Property Developers, Agents and Consultants (FOPDAC), First Floor, 618 Newmarket Road, Cambridge CB5 8LP (0870-350 1223, http://www.fopdac.com) are bound by a code of ethics requiring them to meet local licensing requirements and must therefore be French-registered if they have offices in France.
There may be advantages in using a foreign agent, particularly an English-speaking one who is experienced in selling to foreign buyers and is familiar with the problems they can encounter, but you should ensure that they are trading legally. Some UK-based agencies (e.g. My-French-House.com Ltd, 0845-123 5885, http://www.my-french-house.com) offer a ‘complete homebuying service’, putting you in touch with French estate agents, notaires, lawyers and, if appropriate, developers and builders; you should carefully check any agreement or contract offered to you by such companies to ensure that your interests are protected.
If a foreign agent refers clients to a French agent or agents, he may share his commission with the French agent(s) or charge extra for his services – in some cases a great deal extra – and you should always check what’s included (and what isn’t) in any prices quoted by foreign agents. See also Fees below).
Marchands de Biens
A marchand de biens is a property ‘trader’ who is permitted to sell only property that he has owned for at least three months. Like developers, traders don’t need a licence to sell property and you should take legal advice before buying from a marchand de biens. In fact, this is no longer a recognised profession in France. Note, however, that some licensed estate agents are also marchands de biens.
There are no government controls on agents’ fees, although they’re obliged to post a list of charges (barème) in their offices. Fees are usually levied on a sliding scale between 5 and 10 per cent: the cheaper the property, the higher the percentage, e.g. 10 per cent on properties priced at €20,000 reducing to 5 per cent on properties costing €150,000 or more. On expensive properties an agent’s fee may be negotiable. An agent’s fees may be paid by the vendor, the buyer or be shared, although it’s normal for the vendor to pay (i.e. the fee is ‘included’ in the purchase price). A price quoted as net vendeur excludes the selling agent’s fees; commission comprise (written as C/C) indicates that the price includes the agent’s commission. Make sure when discussing the price that it’s C/C and not net vendeur.
Many foreign agents work with French agents and share the standard commission, so you usually pay no more by using a foreign agent. The agent’s fee is usually payable on completion, but may be payable sooner.
Tip: When buying, check in advance whether you need to pay commission or any extras on top of the sale price (apart from the normal fees and taxes associated with buying a property in France).
Around 15 per cent of property sales in France are negotiated by notaires (a peculiarly French official, whose functions aren’t the same as a notary or notary public), who also have a monopoly on conveyancing for all property sales in France. Notaires have a strict code of practice and aren’t, for example, permitted to display property details in their offices, which means that most have a working relationship with a number of estate agents. When a notaire is the selling agent, his ‘agency’ commission isn’t included in the asking price and is paid by the buyer, which should be taken into account when calculating the overall cost of the property. However, the ‘agency’ fees charged by a notaire are usually lower than those levied by estate agents (see above), e.g. 5 per cent up to €50,000 and 2.5 per cent above this figure. Although there may appear to be a conflict of interest when a notaire is instructed by the seller but receives his fee from the buyer, in practice there are usually no problems. VAT (TVA) at 19.6 per cent must be added to all fees.