We arrived in Cahors the main town of the Lot a sunny Saturday morning in mid-July, parked and looked into one estate agents (immobilier). We explained our aim of viewing houses to buy and arranged a first visit on the Tuesday. We were sure to like this house as it was already being renovated by ‘un anglais’ we were told.
On the Tuesday we followed the young lady from the agency which wasn’t easy as she drove her little Clio in the style of Alain Prost (last French F1 World Champion) for a good 25 minutes to a village west of Cahors. It didn’t take long to see why the ‘anglais’ was wanting to sell. The property was in the middle of the village, next to the church and Guinea fowl in the neighbour’s garden. Although the pathway next to the house was part of the grounds it was traditionally a right of way for the community. I think the final flaw to the property was that an end wall was clearly coming away from the rest of the house. It was easy to see the corresponding cracks inside and out on opposite sides of the house. It really was a hotch-potch DIY job (bricolage), literally stuck together!
Viewing Houses on Our Own
In the mean time we had also registered with another agent further down the main street. The initial reception wasn’t exactly warm. In fact it was rather cold. It appeared that at that time many anglais came over and as a way to kill a day of their holiday would arrange for an agent to take them about. This usually cumulated with the agent leaving them at a property where they would picnic. This tended to be the last the agent ever saw of them. So we had to show we were not like the rest and that we were serious! As a compromise they gave us some dossiers to look at photos and descriptions. These were organised in price ranges, I think we chose the 2nd cheapest. We didn’t go for the cheapest as these seemed to be piles of stones in fields and an occasional roofless barn. Once we had selected a few we got the young agent to mark their whereabouts on our trusty Michelin map of the area. Of course there was no such thing as a GPS in those days. We were then left to get on with it ourselves. Should we like anything we were to return and arrange for a visit to view the interior of the property.
I have to say we have never experienced this before or since, it was certainly a novel way to do business. However we put it down to being the French way and thoroughly enjoyed our days driving around the area to the south-east of Cahors and looking at some quite….. interesting (is probably a good word) properties. Out of those we viewed only 2 were open. One was a lovely building with a couple of out-houses, a barn come car port attached, nothing whatsoever inside, a completely blank canvas. The other, was an old presbytery with even priests’ robes, chalices and gold crosses lying around. We didn’t choose either not relishing the graveyard by the side of what would be our house. However I have to say both properties been restored beautifully since then. With a little vision it’s amazing what one can achieve.
We did find another we liked the look of and arranged a viewing with the ‘patron’ of the agency. He knew as did we, within the first couple of minutes, that he had a sale and after a few brief conversations he left us with the keys. Of course it was time for lunch so off he barrelled to Cahors. So, what did we do? We did the ‘anglais’ thing and had our picnic at the house. Luckily for him though he did see us again and we bought our first property together.
Understanding the Role of Estate Agents
I have to admit that has been the only time I was left to fend for myself. What would you have done? Would you have gone elsewhere? Or would you have just shrugged your shoulders and got on with it? For us it worked well. We had a great laugh together with our friends and we always seemed to end up at the Lion D’Or in Lalbenque for a late morning coffee or refreshing glass of beer (demi).
There is much more competition nowadays and agents are keen to get your name on a sale. When looking in Toulouse we have even had to sign a (‘bon de visite’) declaration of viewing so that the agent would not lose his fees by us then trying to purchase privately.
Another surprising point that has struck us is back then it certainly helped if one was fluent. But since our return to Europe the younger generation is very willing to speak English. How times have changed!
With more and more people coming over, there has been a definite growth of English speaking agents employing or run by native English speakers.
Estate Agents’ Fees
As the buyer you won’t have to worry about paying extra for the ‘frais d’immobilier’ (the estate agents fees). You do effectively pay it but it’s in the price of the property. However everyone says it’s the seller that pays.
For sales that are relatively low in price (under €80,000 say) the estate agent may list different fixed prices for various bands. Over this a percentage will be charged. It might be €80 – €100,000 will be at 6%, over that at 5%. It really does change from area to area and agent to agent. Fees are often presented in the agent’s window. Look for the word ‘Barème’ (scale) on the announcement.