The decision to put your house on the market raises several pressing questions. How much do we ask for it? How best to present it? What documentation do we have to provide? How best to market it? How long will it take to sell? And what happens when we accept an offer? There is no black and white answer to any of these questions, but based on our own experience of the property market in France, and elsewhere in Europe, French Properties Direct would like to make the following observations:
How much do we ask for it?
Valuing a house in France is notoriously difficult as, once you get out of the larger towns and cities, every property is so different – in terms of style, facilities and condition. It is also extremely hard to put an objective value on your own home. The best advice we can give is to ask a minimum of three estate agents to value your house and then, using your own common sense, choose what you believe to be a sensible price within that range.
Bear in mind that when an agent values your house you must check whether the price they suggest to you includes their fee or not. Their fee could represent up to around 7% of the on market price of a property and so is a substantial amount to have unexpectedly deducted from the price you have decided upon.
Note also that when you sell a house using an estate agent, the agent must, by law, ask you to sign a mandate allowing them to market and sell the property. By signing a mandate you are entering into a contract with the estate agent. If a buyer offers the agent the price on the mandate you are obliged to accept their offer. This is unlike the system in the UK, for example, where you can refuse an asking price offer in the hope of finding a buyer who will pay more. In France, the market does not dictate how much you can get for your house – the agent’s mandate does.
How best to present it?
As an agent I was asked this question almost every time I valued a house. I found the following points generally made sense:
- Once you have decided to sell your house there is little point in doing further renovations (other than tidying up things you are part way through). Almost invariably what you do to the house will not be what the buyer would have done – and they will not want to pay for work they are going to undo.
- There are two exceptions – a coat of neutral paint (usually white) works wonders if somewhere is particularly scruffy inside the house, and fresh gravel and/or a weed killed driveway makes a good first impression.
- Take care over photographs – you know best which is your house’s best angle and where the sun falls at any given time of day. If you are going to put your house on the market in early spring try and have some summer shots available. Swimming pools and sunshine grab attention much better than rain and grey skies. Take the trouble to choose a good ‘hero shot’. This is the picture which will front any brochure or appear on a web site. It has to show your property in its best light. It is acceptable to use Picasa or Photoshop to straighten or crop a photograph or to improve the exposure, but do not tell lies. Minimise clutter in photographs – take away the toothpaste, face cloth and shampoo in the bathroom, for example.
- Make your descriptions accurate. If you can’t be accurate then don’t refer to it in an advert or information sheet. It is better to omit than mislead.
- When you have a visit with a potential buyer there are a few golden rules:
- If you have a dog, keep it out of the way. One vendor I knew always put the dog and the dirty laundry basket in the car before any viewing; and she was a professional letting agent.
- Tidy up – clutter makes a house seem much less spacious
- If you can bear to do it, then de-personalise the house. Put excess books, ornaments, photographs etc away in a box ready for when you move. It helps a potential buyer picture themselves as the inhabitants rather than you.
- Ensure that your house smells good.
- Plan your viewing in advance – which of you will conduct the viewing? Which door will you go into the house through? In what order will you view the rooms? Where will you linger with your buyers, and where will you walk briskly past?
What documentation do we have to provide?
In France you must provide a DPE (Diagnostic de Performance Energetic) before you can market a house if it is your primary home. This is part of the overall Diagnostic Survey which is necessary once you have a buyer. A specialist diagnostician will do the lot for you, often only asking you to pay once you have sold. You can find them listed in Pages Jaunes under Diagnostic Immobilier – as with an estate agent, get a couple of quotes before you decide who to use.
It is also a good idea to get your septic tank surveyed (if you have one) as soon as you decide to market the house. This is called the control assainissement, and can take some time to organize. It would be a shame to lose a sale because you had not got the ‘control’ done in advance. Your mairie will be able to give the contact details of the body responsible for this survey in your area.
If you have a swimming pool you will also need to prove that you have an acceptable safety measure in place when you come to sell the house and, as of March 2015, we understand that you need to ensure that your house is equipped with smoke detectors. Your notaire will help you ensure you have the necessary information here.
How best to market it?
As a general rule we would suggest that you keep your options open and do not sign an exclusive mandate with one agency (which will tie you down to using only them, unless you sell privately).
If you decide to go down the estate agency route at all then chose complementary rather than competing agencies – for example a traditional, French one with a local clientele and good local knowledge, a specialist agency if your property merits it (for example someone who specializes in equestrian property if that is what you are selling) and a reputable international chain with a big marketing spend. You should also consider using French Properties Direct as well or instead because we have the marketing power of an international agency and, whereas you do more of the leg work, we can save you a lot of money at the end of the day.
How long will it take to sell?
A difficult question to answer. The French property market is slower than the British, for example, and having a property on the market for a year is not unusual, even in a strong market. The four factors which help a house sell are:
A sensible price, which takes into account any local nuisance factor
Well maintained and in good condition, unless of course you are selling a renovation project, which is a different issue.
Being in a popular sector of the market. At the present time traditional stone houses with around 3 bedrooms, a manageable garden and with a price of up to about €250 000 are selling in SW France, for example, because we are seeing a lot of retired or almost retired couples who want to come and live there. In Normandy, for example, prices tend to be slightly lower, but buyers are basically looking for the same sort of thing - traditional, vernacular, construction, well maintained and easy to manage. If your house is like this, and it is in a nice location/well presented, then you should find it will sell more easily than other categories. A little more expensive, or a little bigger and it could take longer – but, at the end of the day, taste is a very subjective thing and there is no scientific answer.
What happens when we accept an offer?
Allow a minimum of three to four months to sell your house from the moment the offer is accepted. It can be slightly more than that if your buyer requires a mortgage or if your property has a lot of land. If your buyer requires a mortgage there can be a delay while the mortgage is agreed/authorized and if they are turned down for a mortgage the sale can fall through with no recompense to you.. If your property has what could be considered more than a large garden then the entire property has to be offered to local farmers, who have the right to purchase it (in its entirety and at the price the buyer has agreed with you) ahead of any incomer. This is referred to as a droit de pre-emption and is designed to keep agricultural land in use whenever possible. It is very rarely taken up and in the 7 years I worked as an agent in France I never came across a case where it was. However, you have to allow for the process to run its course.
You will normally be in a position to decide which notaire you use – and it is usually the one who sold you the house originally. They have the paperwork and you know them, so, unless you have a compelling reason not to use them, they are a practical choice. Your buyer may want to use a separate notaire, which is their right, and they may also use a solicitor from their home country. The buyer pays all legal fees connected with the sale – even yours, unless you should decide to employ a solicitor yourself – you must pay for them. If you are stuck for a notaire or if you want to know more about their role, this is their web site:
You will also find and excellent guide to the legal process, in English, on this site as well as lots of other useful information.
There are two contracts which are signed during the transaction process
- The compromis de vente (sometimes called a sous-seing privée) which is usually signed within a month of the price being agreed. This is a lengthy document detailing what is being sold by whom and to whom and giving a date by which the transaction must be completed. It sets out what must be proved before the sale can go ahead and makes provision for any special circumstances which have to be taken account of before the sale can be finalized. Once both buyer and seller have signed the compromis, the buyer has a ten day period of retraction, during which they are allowed to back out of the sale without penalty if they change their mind. Note the seller does not have this facility and if the buyer is buying in the capacity of a company rather than as a private individual then they forfeit the right to a period of retraction.
- Several months after the compromis has been signed the acte authentic is signed and the transaction is complete. The period between the signing of the compromis de vente and the acte de vente is a strange one from the point of view of the seller. You have in effect sold the property in all but name and can make no changes to it. However, you must maintain it in the condition it was in at the point at which the compromis was signed (so if the dish washer breaks you have to replace it or get it fixed, for example).The acte authentic is a shorter document than the compromis and basically checks that all of the provisions in the compromis have been fulfilled. Once the acte authentic has been signed and the funds have changed hands the property is no longer yours and will be registered as belonging to the new owners with the French land registry, or publicité fonciere.
When do we get paid?
The notaire will have received cleared funds into their bank account before the sale can complete. The funds are kept in a dedicated government account rather than a traditional bank account and will be transferred electronically into your bank account(s) after completion. You may want to send money abroad after the sale, either because you are moving to another country or because you want to invest abroad. Get quotations from currency exchange specialists before you move money abroad – they can save you a lot in commission. We recommend Foreign Currency Direct and use them ourselves to transfer currencies. You can find out more about them at:
Please quote our name if you speak to them as they have told us that our clients will get a preferential rate.
The notaire can only pay money into your bank account. They cannot, for example, send it direct to a currency exchange specialist. Furthermore, before your bank will send the money on to any third party they need proof that it is not part of a money laundering scheme. Your notaire will, if requested, send the bank a document proving that the funds are the proceeds of a house sale.
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