All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Calling the bottom of the market

Chateau de LangeaisImage via Wikipedia

I want to sell my house. Not the one in which I live, but a smaller one that I used to rent out. Now, I have the same magic touch with housing as Gordon Brown had on the gold market when he sold piles of the U.K. gold reserves at rock bottom prices, so, once I have sold my house, you will know that the bottom of the housing market in France has been called and that prices are set to soar.

I no longer wish to rent. Tenants have more and more rights as against owners, and requirements for owners are becoming more and more onerous. I am not a Rachman, and I jib at having to pay out for an 'diagnostique' before I can covers things like the state of the woodwork, the electricity, asbestos, lead, a test on the level of insulation all very right and proper, but in my case it costs about 1000 Euros. With rent at about 350 a month, it is not inviting. Then there is the question of non paying tenants.....not much you can do to get your money back if they do a moonlight flit while if they have children they can thumb their noses at you between November and May as you cannot evict 'vulnerable' people in these chilly months of the year. By the time the tax treatment of rent is taken into consideration, the game is not worth the candle....and I'm getting no younger. I'm tired of telephone calls telling me that the loo is blocked - answer, you let the toddler shove paper towels down it, you clear it - that a window is broken, or whatever else people think is my responsibility. I even had one bright spark who dug out my beds of flowering shrubs to replant them with bedding plants from the garden centre but the best was a couple who had arranged insurance on the house, a building dating from the late eighteenth century with granite window surrounds, who sent me the estimate for the blinds the insurance company deemed necessary....plastic roller blinds whose fitting would entail chopping into the stone!

Enough! All this is behind me and a new era opens, that of the estate agent.

In this area, we are unfortunately off the main tourist drag, or even in these hard times, the house would sell without a problem. However, the top class agents' offices are more than 50 kilometres away, and no French agent worth his salt will take a client that far from base. Where would they get lunch? I am left with local French and local English agents who have widely differing working styles.

In the glory days of house sales to the Brits, nearly every tin pot French agency had english speaking staff. These typically worked on a commission only basis, and a few remain, clinging on grimly only because their agencies have no one French who can speak English and even if they have no English buyers, they have any amount of English sellers who can't speak French! Some of the old regulars I know well, even if only by repute. I have been here a long time! The relative newcomers are an unknown quantity, but can provide entertainment. I was explaining to one of them that I was waiting for the plumber to finish an overhaul and had been waiting, as is not uncommon in rural France, for some months. He beamed at me and announced soapily

'But that is what we all love about France, don't we?'

He was rapidly disabused of that notion in a few words which would have been better chosen if I had had time to consider the matter.

No, it is not one of the things I love about France, waiting for an idle bugger to get round to doing a job which would take a couple of hours, for which he will send his underpaid assistant and then demand top dollar.

In some cases, the agency's director has come out himself - usually when I have refused to accept the presence of one of the better known old lags on my property. He looks over the place carefully, looking for the slightest fault, like the front door, which sticks a bit, while airily waving away the problem of the plumber. Monsieur will come eventually, that is not the problem. He sits me down with him at the table and produces a file. Within are the details of the houses on his books with which I will be competing if I put the house with his agency. Well, if I took this exercise seriously, I would be completely downhearted. There are photographs of things that look as if Picasso did the exterior paintwork, others that look as though he confined himself to the interior, ceilings so low that even a Frenchman would have to duck, optimistic conversions specialising in chipboard and various hovels. However, the object of the exercise is to convince you that to sell, you have to pitch your price in line with these horrors, which will mean that the agency will be able to sell it quickly and get its claws on the commission. These days, they are not proud. Any amount of commission will do.

I haven't experienced the next stage of the spiel, but a friend who has told me that when she did not appear too impressed by the competition, her agent told her that she should be glad to accept any price for her house since she was, no doubt, having trouble paying her mortgage - she doesn't have one - or living on a reduced income thanks to the results of relying on the Anglo Saxon financial model. More like, in my view, having to support half of childbearing France on what she pays in tax!
There are people who are financially stretched, but, unless they have been terminally stupid in loading themselves with debt, nothing that a bit of belt tightening won't cure. However, the press light on a few people returning to the U.K. and decide that all the English are bankrupt and fleeing the country. Evidently, French estate agents believe all they read and hone their technique accordingly.
I heard, though not at first hand, of another French agent who told his prospective English client that she should be ashamed of wanting to make a profit from her house as she had bought it so cheaply! The mind boggles at times.

There are well established English agents, all duly licensed and legal, who have survived the hard times and they have a different technique. They trot round the house with you, cooing enthusiastically about the possibilities and then sit down over a cup of tea to tell you how hard things are, how few clients they have and how they don't know how they could sell the house at its' proper value. However, their valuations usually come in somewhat above those of their French competitors.

The other alternative is the internet. I think in my price bracket I should be O.K., but a friend with a big house up for sale tells me she is deluged by offers from kind Christian bank directors and high ranking civil servants from Nigeria who want to put money into her bank account.
Christian indeed. God helps them as helps themselves.

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