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The estate agent: A specialist adviser
On your property

The estate agent is an important intermediary in the property market.

What is an estate agency?
Firstly, an estate agency is where you will find one or more estate agents. It is a place where you can meet face to face when you’re searching for a property to buy or rent and discover what is currently available and what may be available in the future. It can take care of sale or rental transactions. It can also manage the problems of owners and tenants by acting as an intermediary in the management of a property or of the shared areas of co-ownership property.

Who can be an estate agent?
Estate agency is a highly regulated profession which is only open to those who hold a ‘carte professionnelle T or G’ authorising them to carry out property transactions and/or property management. ‘Cartes professionelles’ are only issued to those with proven professional expertise and with the necessary insurance cover. This gives you the guarantee that the agency has professional public liability cover and a financial guarantee. When you put a property up for sale with an estate agent, you are entitled to ask to see their ‘carte professionnelle’ which is issued by the prefecture, or an ‘attestation d’emploi’ (certificate of employment) issued by agencies to their employees.

The roles of an estate agency, step by step:

Visit to property to be sold
This is the first step in a property sale. When the seller has contacted the estate agency, the estate agent will visit the property and collect all relevant information about the property to be sold.

Following this visit the estate agent will give you an estimate of the price at which the property should be sold, based on their knowledge of the market.

Following this valuation, the agent will give the seller his opinion on the property and advise them on selling the property. The seller entrusts the sale of their property to the agency representative.

The estate agent then completes a sales mandate and records the description and photos in their files. The mandate is compulsory and must be signed by all sellers (take care in the case of inherited property). In the event of cold calling by the estate agency, ask for the ‘bon de rétractation’ (cancellation slip) which should be attached to your mandate. The agency’s fees must be stated as being payable either by the seller or the buyer.

The property information will be displayed in the agency’s window, on their website and on property sales websites with whom the agency works.

Introduction of potential buyers
The estate agent is in contact with potential buyers who are actively hunting for property. They will contact potential buyers who are listed in their files and whose search criteria match those of your property and suggest that they visit your property. Online property listings will attract active potential buyers via the internet.
During the visit, an agency may ask you to sign a ‘bon de visite’ (confirmation of visit), although this has no legal validity.
If the clients are interested in buying the property after the visit, they will make an offer in writing that the negotiator will pass on to the seller.
If the buyer has visited the property with several agencies, they are free to decide which one they wish to complete the transaction. However, they are obliged to choose one of them, the buyers are not allowed to deal directly with you.

The offer to buy:
This is a pre-contract which is only binding on the seller. It is unavoidable. Once accepted by the seller it becomes binding. No money can be demanded of you at the offer stage.

The property negotiator will become the intermediary between the buyer and the seller to bring about an agreement on the price. It is very much in the negotiator’s interest because they receive commission when the two parties have agreed on a price and have signed a ‘compromis de vente’ (preliminary sale agreement). They are ideally placed to negotiate the purchase price.

Signing the ‘compromis’
Once the purchase price is agreed, the buyer and seller sign a ‘compromis de vente’ (preliminary sale agreement) in the agency to define the process. The purchase process is completed two to three months later at the notaire’s office. This delay allows time for the various compulsory checks that have to be carried out prior to purchase: certificats d'urbanisme (planning certificates), ‘extrait cadastral’ (land registry extract), etc. Meanwhile the buyer goes about obtaining their loan. The buyer must pay a security deposit which is usually a maximum of 10% of the sale price. The buyer has a seven day right to cancel the sale without having to give a reason.

The estate agency’s rates
Rates of commission are not regulated and vary from one agency to another. The estate agency’s commission is payable only when the authenticated deed is signed at the notaire’s office or when the lease is signed (in the case of rental properties) and not before. The commission may be paid either by the buyer or the seller. With regard to property management, a percentage is applied and is deducted monthly along with the rent for the property in question.

Types of sale
The above is an example of a classic sale, but there are several other types of sale such as ‘viager’ (life annuity), ‘vente à terme’ (forward sale) and ‘location avec option d’achat’ (renting with an option to buy).
  • Viager: this is a type of property sale. It usually concerns an elderly person who sells their property in exchange for a lump sum and a rent for life. The rent is paid until the end of their life. The person can retain the right to live in the property. There is no typical viager. The lump sum, the rent and the usufruct can all be negotiated according to the seller’s and buyer’s needs and wishes, who are then known as the ‘crédirentier’ and the ‘débirentier’, but the main consideration is the value of the property. The rent gives the seller a regular income.

    There are some famous ‘débirentiers’: General de Gaulle, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

    The most famous French ‘crédirentière’ is surely Jeanne Calment who sold her house to her notaire when she was just 90 years old...
  • La vente à terme: This is a variant of ‘viager’, the main difference being that the outcome is known and has no connection with the death of the seller. The seller can, if they wish and by mutual agreement upon signing of the authenticated deed, remain in the property. ‘Vente à terme’ is an excellent long term property investment and is an ideal way to build a retirement fund.
  • VEFA :or vente en état futur d'achèvement’ is a contract used for the sale of new, unbuilt properties. It is also known as ‘vente sur plan’ (buying off-plan) and has mainly been used for the sale of dwellings for tax exemption purposes under schemes such as DUFLOT, De Robbien and Scellier, although the last two no longer exist.