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FACT SHEET : PREPARING TO PUT YOUR HOUSE FOR SALE

Listen to Philippa Weitz's interview on expatsradio on this subject.

You can download a fuller and more updated verion of this fact sheet.

A lot of misunderstandings happen because the responsibilities of a French estate agent are quite different to those of an English estate agent. For example:

  • As soon as an English estate agent has a buyer "in the bag" the whole file is handed to the solicitor for the conveyancing. In France the estate agent handled this first stage and also the first stage of the French equivalent of conveyancing. These legal responsibilities require us to ask detailed questions to ensure that the all the details are correct, vendors, house description, purchasers. So please do not be surprised if you are asked lots of questions by your estate agent, it's a sign of a good agent taking their job seriously.

  • Estate agents in France often do thousands of kilometres each month, both to take on property and to show them to potential purchasers. Many estate agents are on commission only and don't even get their expenses paid, which puts agents under a lot of stress. Helping them by preparing a folder of information will be much appreciated by the agent, and you know your house best, and also the local area. Because of all this some agents will prefer to do all the "taking a house on for sale" work by email and internet. Essentially, achieving a sale is best done by partnership between the agent and the vendor.

A French estate agent has a duty of care to ensure that the property details are accurate, nothing is exaggerated, and that nothing is hidden that should not be hidden. This fact sheet is designed to help you prepare for the visit of your estate agent. You can print it off by simply pressing [CTRL] + [P], followed by [ENTER]

Getting ready for the agent can be divided into 5 topics and covers both the legal aspects of the sale and the marketing of the property. Much of the marketing now happens via the internet, rather than via the estate agent's window. This has the advantage that we can include far more information and the client immediately has access to far more photos.:

1. Preparing your house

  • Tidy the house - you will be amazed how many unmade beds I photograph, and boxes of junk in the living room

  • Move all cars off the area in front of the house that will be photographing as the main selling photos

  • Tidy the garden, make sure the garden furniture looks neat and inviting, not as if there has just been a hurricane

  • Open the shutters and clean the windows. Most people are very keen on light, it's one of the most frequent subjects for potential purchasers

  • Do not spend a fortune doing major works preparing your house for sale (unless so advised by an agent, very rare, it is likely to be money down the drain), instead concentrate on small things, such as a coat of paint where there are dirty marks, repairing a banister. "Froo froo" is very important - make the curtains look inviting, for example.

  • De-clutter all the junk. Sometimes I go and I simplytry to minimize the terrible photos that I know will come out - if necessary put it all in a shed.

  • Keep the house tidy at all times, and when you are having a visit ensure that the heating is on, and if you have a log fire, make sure that is lit, and the lights on. All this is so much more inviting.

  • Hide excess children's toys - they rarely look pretty and are usually simply ideal for tripping over. Whilst you don't want your house to look like an unlived in museum try and minimize the toys.

Having said all this, it is important that your house looks lived in, a house is a living space and needs to look inviting - smells of coffee are good!

2. Photos

The agent will need your help with the photos. In these days of scanners, email, computers and digital cameras this becomes much easier.

Prepare lots of photos for the agent - I like between 50 & 100 photos as usually only a small percentage are any use for marketing purposes, but they can be really useful when you have a potential purchaser. For example, if someone is travelling from Holland expressly to see your house I would really rather, for everyone's sake, that the client has seen every available photo so that they are fully informed before investing in a long journey.

Sometime when we go to a property even in the summer it is impossible to take good photos because it is raining, or too dark for some reason. It is very helpful when you gather your photos together that you choose photos in all 4 seasons, and also always try to get a photo of the whole of the front of the house, otherwise people think that it is semi-detached, even if you write that it is detached in the details.

If you have had works done, then prepare photos before, during and after, with notes to accompany them, with full notes.

When showing the agent around let him or her go in front of you - otherwise you will be in every photo he/she takes.

3. Preparing the Paperwork

There are so many things that will help the agent to effectively prepare a house for sale. The gathering all of the paperwork is to ensure that we can prepare the mandate, the contract between the vendor and the agency. If inaccuracies creep in when the mandate is prepared, these mistakes can subsequently balloon through the sales process, and sometimes result in large problems and a failed sale because things where not correctly described.

For example I recently took on a property for sale where the vendor told me they had 2 hectares, were 30 km from the sea, and had 300 sqm of internal living space. In reality they had 5 000 sqm (a quarter of what they had told me), were 100 km from the sea, and had only 270 sqm of living space - quite a difference all round, and this would fail the French equivalent of the Trades Description Act. This is why we ask for the titre de propriété, to check the official description; if there is a discrepancy between the description and what we see then we can ask why, usually it will be because building works have taken place, at this point we then have to ask for all the building permissions paperwork, so that the whole thing ties up. We don't want any nasty surprises when we get to the notaire's office for the sale, either for the vendor or the purchaser.

So now turning to the list of paperwork that it is helpful to provide copies (these can be scanned instead) of:

  • The titre de propriété - this is the title deeds, the document that you received from the notaire some months after you signed to buy the house. Usually it is located at the bottom of a large file as you don't usually need to use it. I read all the titre de propriété, as soon as I receive them. It is the document that tells you who owns what, how it has been bought, a description of the house and land, (sometimes) who owns which boundaries, co-ownerships, and any rights of way across the land. All this information will need to go in the mandate.

  • All major building/refurbishment/improvements bills in the last 15 years. These are important first of all because of the 10 year builder's guarantees - in the absence of the official paperwork you would personally be liable for these. An artisan (craftsman) will usually have an insurance "assurance decennale" and dommage ouvrage" - you should make sure you have copies of these when you pay for your building works.  The second reason that these bills can be important (for the vendor) is they can mitigate capital gains liability in France, providing the works were carried out by a registered artisan and includes the labour element.

  • All planning permissions that are current, whether the works have been done or not.

  • The plan cadastral - the land registry plan for your property showing exactly what plots you own.

  • A floor plan of the house, each floor. This does not need to been to scale, but it is very useful for the agent. You can do it in Paint which is available on every PC sold. If that's too difficult then simply do a list of all the rooms and include their surface area in metres. Now this is an area where people often get it wrong, "surface habitable" only applied to living space in the house, so no caves, garages etc. Also if the attic has been converted you can only include what has a height of more than 1.82m high (approximately 6'), which sometimes makes rooms under the eaves look very small, but that's the requirement. Of course taxable area goes wall to wall .... gut that's another subject!

    If you are supplying room dimensions for an agent always under-estimate the room size - very few older houses have rooms that are square boxes, so can be difficult to measure, but the rule is ALWAY under-estimate for legal reasons.

  • Directions and maps - I can't tell you how many wasted kilometres I have done because of poor directions. Often I will have travelled a long way to see a house and will not know the local environment. Detailed directions from the local town are really helpful. Please give these to the agent before the travel to you.

  • Local tourist attractionsand activities. France is a huge country and even 30km can be a huge amount. You know the locality best so try and get some details of the local tourist attractions to give to the agent. Write a little summary about what appealed to you, what you love about the area about the area - you'll be surprised how helpful this is to an agent - we can't know every area!

  • List of local towns, what amenities they have and how far away they are from you (be accurate!).

  • List of problems that ought to be notified, such as subsidence, a high voltage electricity line, a planned rubbish dump, a quarry, nuisance neighbours, and noise issues.

  • List of exactly what is and is not included in the sale, and what might be negotiated. For example, you might own more land that could be included or not. In these circumstances I usually advise vendors not to part with the land separately before selling the house to allow for maximum potential/flexibility to sell the house.

    If you have a cooker that you want to take with you that is rather special, make sure that this is itemised as not being included, the same goes for wood burners, curtains, carpets, furniture. Take photos of anything that will be included in the sale so that at the time of the sale they can be included with the compromis and signed for by both the vendors and purchasers.

  • History of the property. If you are selling a property that is unusual or has a bit of history this can be interesting for a potential purchaser, it is worth writing down what you know.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but is there to guide you. Remember what I said earlier, the best way to sell your property in France is to work with the agent. That said there are a number of things you should not do!

4. Things definitely not to do! The list is short.

Do not try to take over when the agent brings clients round for a viewing - your idea of a palace may not be shared with the clients, and it can be deeply embarrassing to have a sales pitch following you round.
Do not hover during a visit - check beforehand with the agent what he/she prefers, and either park yourselves in one room, or go for a walk, or go to the neighbour etc.

5. Practical arrangements to organise with the agent

  • Get keys cut, organise keys, or sort out visiting arrangements for the estate agent. Make sure all the locks work after the winter - I spent a good hour a couple of weeks ago trying to get a stubborn lock to spring into action.

  • Discuss the House Seller's Reports (The diagnostiques) with the agent and get them done sooner rather than later. (We can help you organise these). The reports are likely to cost you around 500 -700 euros, but I would recommend that you have them done straight away as not having them done can hold up a sale.

The usual disclaimer: PWT has issued this fact sheet for guidance only. Please always speak to your estate agent about how to market and prepare your proeprty for sale. PWT cannot take any responsability for any errors and has strived to ensure accuracy in its fact sheet.