The Reality of Finding Property in France
Until last night, I was in Epernay taping a House Hunters International with a woman working for the U.S. State Department who has taken a one-year sabbatical to “live her dream”…in Epernay.
Epernay is a one of the most important towns in the Champagne region, if not considered the “heart” of the champagne industry. Located 25 kilometers from Reims, the city nicknamed the “Capital of Champagne,” gathers together some of most famous Champagne Houses along its prestigious “Avenue de Champagne”—Moët & Chandon, Perrier-Jouët, Boizel, de Venoge, Vranken, Pol Roger, Mercier and G.H. Martel. This elegant avenue is considered the epicenter of the champagne industry. One kilometer long, it has a total of 100 kilometers of cellars, housing millions of bottles!
The “vendanges” or harvest season is over, having started from the end of August through September. “Champagne Day” is celebrated on the 4th Friday of October every year, making it this year on October 28th. It was born in 2009 at the initiative, believe it or not, by a Californian blogger and wine trainer, Chris Oggenfus.
(To learn more about Epernay and its champagne story, there are many great web sites, but I found this one was best of all for interesting concise information.)
The Reality TV show, House Hunters International, presents a rosy-colored glasses view of what it’s like to search and secure a property in France. If you are a fan of the show, then you know how easy it looks to visit a few properties, discuss the pros and cons of each and then make a decision—which will they buy or rent? The true trials and tribulations of the search are not addressed. In one scene, when I started to explain to Krisi, the “contributor,” that she can make an offer on a property quickly because consumer protection laws in France allow her to retract her offer up to 10 days AFTER signing the pre-sale agreement, the director cut me off at the pass: “Too much detail. We don’t get into the mechanics of the purchase on the show,” she said.
True. It all looks like so much fun, and easy peasy. Fans of the show could easily think that finding and securing property in France is “du gâteau” (a piece of cake). We see it all the time—unrealistic expectations.
No matter how much we try to educate our clients about the difficulties we face in the process—the reason they have come to us to begin with—they don’t always want to believe us. Sometimes we think they think we’re lying to them, just to make excuses for why the search is taking longer, or why we haven’t shown them enough properties, or why the agents aren’t responding, or why the landlord doesn’t want to accept them as tenants.
We have NEVER NOT found properties that suit our clients, for rent or purchase, but the landlord or agency still has to agree to rent to them, and the agencies representing the properties for sale still have to actually respond and set up the visits with the sellers. None of it is as easy as it is in the U.S. When our client has unrealistic expectations of the market, or of the cultural clashes we face, or our ability to make their dream come true hassle-free…it makes it doubly more difficult for us to be successful.
Here are some examples of the kinds of comments we get:
“Since last Friday, he has sent us five apartments to consider, which I had already seen previously on my own, on publicly available websites such as XXX.com, etc.”
This statement implies that we have some magical other resources for finding properties than the average flat hunter. It’s logical that anyone wanting to own a property in France searches the internet! Just like you, that’s where we start. We can’t invent the properties; we can only find them, so since we’re all using the same sites, it’s natural that we come up with the same products. But that’s not the only reason you hire us.
Sure, you can find them all day long by yourself, but we’re the ones vetting them to ensure they are still on the market and making the dates with the agents. This is a very tough job, believe it or not, because of the way the French agents work…or don’t work! There is no “lock box” so that all the agents have access to the properties like there is in the U.S. Each visit must be set up with the agent, who has to talk with the seller to secure it. It all takes time.
Keep in mind that most properties you see on the websites have already been sold, since it takes about three months to close, meaning that’s how long they sit there tempting you! But once we start talking to the agents, they can introduce us to other properties they have on their books that aren’t on the sites yet…these you don’t have access to.
The rental apartment searches are the toughest, but no matter how much we say this, often a client doesn’t want to believe it and just thinks we’re making “excuses” for why it’s not moving faster.
Here’s one from a rental client:
“Our expected moving date is quickly approaching (we’re reaching the four weeks mark this week). Because of that, we are getting a little anxious regarding the search for our new apartment.”
Of course they are anxious. This is nerve-wracking—not to have a home to move into upon arrival! But, we ALWAYS recommend taking a short-term apartment in the beginning for one to six weeks to allow for the time to find and secure the rental, as well as get the apartment set up for real habitation—it takes time to get the utilities set up, for example! And we can’t start the search much before six weeks prior to a move-in date, as the rental properties come on the market and get booked for immediate occupancy. This means that if we start early, you must be prepared to sign a lease early, too.
“They said they would review our file by Monday and get back to us and we have not heard anything back yet. We understand, that it is impossible to force an answer regarding our application, but we are surprised that it is impossible to reach anyone there in order to confirm that they have indeed received our dossier and reviewing it.”
They might be surprised, but we aren’t. We deal with lack of responsiveness all day long. “In France, business doesn’t necessarily come first. Their personal life balance and priorities do. This doesn’t mean business is not important; this would be a very black-and-white conclusion to make. It is just not more important than keeping a professional/personal life balance. This is what the French Art de Vivre is about. It is not only during holidays in the South of France, but this is also an everyday conception of life. Many French people are not even conscious of it until they leave France and realize that it is not the normality everywhere.” (Source)
“We are a little over 30 days away from our arrival in Nice and I’m feeling a little concerned. We’ve been at this apartment search for two months now and your agent has only been able to secure two apartments to visit on our behalf. At this rate I’m worried we won’t have an apartment when we arrive. That said we’ve also heard a lot of ‘excuses’ about how hard it is to rent to Americans. I’m wondering how we’re going to overcome these obstacles and actually achieve our objective.”
There goes that word “excuses” again. These aren’t “excuses;” they are EXPLANATIONS…real justifiable reasons. Our agent responded: “I’ve contacted agents on apartments that the clients have sent links for, as well as links I have found myself. Most of them either didn’t get back to me or they’ve told me that they don’t accept foreign income. One canceled an appointment because the owners were coming to stay there for a couple of weeks. Another one who has gotten back to me had one that wasn’t available for one year, but from October to June. The one I looked at last week is promising, but the agent is still waiting for the property owner to get back to him. He told me that he will let me know as soon as he does.”
Here’s one that was really classic—thinking money will buy them everything, as it often does Stateside, but not in France: “On your firm’s plate is the opportunity to close a 4,000€ commission with five hours of labor, which I think is a pretty good deal.”
That got a good laugh, since what he thought was five hours of work was actually more like 50 hours of work. And while 4,000€ sounds like a lot of money, we don’t perform the searches for rentals for the financial rewards because they aren’t profitable. We do them because our clients need our help. Doing this on your own is difficult if not near to impossible.
He further went on to write: “I am not buying a precious gem. There are plenty of apartments in Paris, and plenty of folks who will be willing to rent them to us.”
Dream on! We are placed in a very difficult position because there simply aren’t “plenty of folks who will be willing to rent them to us [you].” If the tenant applicant were French, working for a French company with a CDI contract (Contrat à Durée Indéterminée), they would be, but they weren’t. They were foreign tenants with foreign-based income. And then, the clients didn’t want to rent “just anything,” so that limited the playing field, too. We are at the mercy of the landlords with the properties acceptable to the tenant.
Meanwhile, 99 percent of our clients are happily successful and write glowing words to us:
“You both, and the rest of your team, do wonderful work in helping us all to envision the possibilities of a beautiful life in France and in providing us with the information and encouragement to realize our dreams. We are very happy we took this leap and are so grateful and appreciative of your support. We love living in France. We love our apartment and neighborhood, Nice and the whole area. It is everything you said it would be and more. So again, a big merci beaucoup for everything from us.” Nancy and Tom G.
See more testimonials on our website.
The point to all this is EXPECTATIONS. First off, my advice is to change the word “expectations” for “hopes” and you will never be disappointed. Understand the differences between what you know based on your U.S. default mode and the reality of maneuvering a new life in France. Realize that what you may think are “excuses” are really just bona fide reasons or explanations.
Our goal is to accomplish the task for which you hired us. We want to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as we can, just like you want us to. We will do our best and face the obstacles on your behalf. If you can’t or won’t trust us to be 100 percent honest with you, then don’t hire us. Have fun trying it out all by yourself.
But, you CAN trust us. We will NEVER lie to you. Everyone on our staff knows this is my policy and my mission. So, have fun watching House Hunters International, but know that it’s never as easy as it looks.
It’s natural to have hopes and expectations (if you must!) when you make the move to France. You’ve likely been dreaming and planning for months, even years. But there are often some unexpected surprises, like baffling cultural differences, that could tarnish your dream. Fear not! Here is a guide of what to expect before you go so you can feel more at home in your new home in France.
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group®
Adrian with House Hunters International contributor, Krisi
P.S. We were among the first expat real estate agencies to provide services for North Americans seeking to move to France or invest in French property. We have years of experience as well as relationships with top industry experts to help you with everything related to French property. Please visit our Services page for the full range of assistance we’re able to provide.
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