Monday, November 30, 2009

Buying agents - the miracle workers

So say "The Times" this morning in this illuminating article.

It's great PR for those of us who act purely for the buyer and does go a little way to justifying some of my earlier blogs about the changing role of estate agents.

I particularly liked this quote:

“We take the pain out of buying and make it fun,” says Mark Lawson, head of farms and country estates at The Buying Solution, a Newbury-based agency. “People come to us principally because they have been looking for a while and are fed up, or because they know they don’t have the time or knowledge to do it well.”

If someone buying a house in the UK is scared that they don't have the time or knowledge to do it well then imagine those overseas buyers looking to buy a property in France - with its different language, process, laws and tax structure.
Trust is a big issue in the buyer/agent relationship and we need to earn the same confidence that buyers have in their other professional advisors like their accountant or lawyer.

Friday, November 27, 2009

"Gammon flu" hits Jarnac

The girls are pleased as punch because swine flu has closed a private school in Jarnac.

It's not their normal school but they do go there to special English lessons on Saturday morning's - they now have a free day tomorrow and are delighted.

So delighted in fact that Katie woke up this morning and announced to the world that she had developed "gammon flu".

Mum: "No, no're fine and if you had anything it would be swine flu"
Katie: "Yes, I had that but I went to Doctor Reynaud and he cured me"

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Win a rare 1966 cognac - just in time for the world cup

In just a few months we're all going to be struck down with world cup fever as Wayne Rooney and crew try to emulate the feat of England's triumphant 1966 heroes.

You could be lucky enough to watch the matches whilst sipping one of the rarest cognac's in the world. It's difficult to find single vintage cognac (even the finest bottles are usually blended) and even more difficult to find one from this historic year.

There truly are only a few bottles left in the world so visit us at the France Show between 8-10 January and make sure you enter our draw for this magnificent prize.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Girondins de Bordeaux - a taste of life without Gourcuff

I'm setting off for Bordeaux this afternoon with trepidation in my heart.

A groin injury means that Yoann Gourcuff (Bordeaux's world class midfielder) will miss the game against Juventus.

I'm not saying that Laurent Blanc's men are a one man team but imagine Argentina without Maradonna and you get the picture.  The rest are all good team players but certainly not exceptional and I fear for them against a Juventus side that need a result and who have won six of their last seven matches.

I'm convinced that next season will see Gourcuff playing in England or Spain so tonight may well be a little glimpse of things to come.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Property marketing - the future is now

Just released - Cities in 3D.

This is a video preview, imagine the impact this is going to have on the way consumers search for property in the coming years.

Fancy buying a house in Cognac but don't know what it's like out here?  Take a tour of the town....check on the map to see what properties are available...find a couple that look the floorplans & internal photos then look them up using the 3D feature.

Like what you see then call me and I'll go buy it for you at the lowest price possible.

The quantum shift in power is taking place from the seller to the buyer and the services offered by estate agencies are going to mirror this shift.

French X for a shock

So, last night the one half decent singer, Cyrielle, was in the bottom two again and luckily was saved by the girl with the second sexiest eyebrows in the world (my wife wasn't too chuffed with my comments in my previous posting about Julie Zenatti).

The standard remains dire with a set design that uses Opportunity Knocks or New Faces as a model and an audience of, oh, at least two dozen screaming fans.

Next Monday night the star guest is none other than Leona Lewis.

It'll be interesting to see what the comments are after seeing someone who can actually sing live.  I feel sorry for the poor candidate that has to follow her on.

Maybe they should have invited Jedward instead.

French "HIP's" explanation

Came across this excellent article in The Connexion.

It explains all about the seven surveys that must now be undertaken: for asbestos, lead, energy efficiency, termites, gas, “natural or technological risks” and electrics.

I know that HIP's get a bad press in the UK but I think the French system works really well with everyone knowing where they stand from the start.  Sellers see it as "normal" and buyers get a lot of important information before they sign.

Adding septic tanks to the magnificent seven above can only be a good thing too.

Take note too of the last line of this report:

In no case is the owner of the property required by law to remedy any defects found as a result of the surveys.

Buy the house or the dog gets it

Had to chuckle yesterday.

I was showing a house, barns and 10 hectares of mixed woodland & farmland to a client who had flown over specially.  It's a smashing place and the owner is a lovely Ukrainian lady who had offered the agent and I hot coffee and lashings of home-made apple pie when we first visited it on a wet & windswept day.

She had also introduced us to her beautiful Alsation called Diane. 

Seemingly Diane had lived in the house all her life and was her husbands dog until he died - she used to follow him all through the woods and fields and never left his side.

The lady now wants to move into a much smaller town-house as she hasn't the energy or inclination to look after the property. It's a special place but it really does need and deserve the sounds and sights of a family running round it.

At the end of the viewing the agent asked my client what he thought and we were just chatting generally about the pro's and con's of the property. 

In a classic case of sitcom magic the agent got a little over excited and blurted out "Of course the lady can't take Diane with her and she'll be sold with the property....that means that if you don't buy the house the dog will have to be put down".

I'm (almost) sure he said it as a joke.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dear Mr Google - pls can I have a job

Just seen this on Global Edge about Google's property portal advances.

On July 6th this year Google announced its first foray into the property portal market with the launch of Google real estate in Australia.

Properties are presented on a Google map but users had to click to the agent’s or property portal’s website to view the full details. That changed this weekend with the integration of property detail pages into the Google system.

Google Australia, which seems to be the testing bed for Google’s global real estate ambitions, has now introduced Place Pages which are essentially property detail pages containing descriptions, photographs, local information, maps, videos and Google Streetview.

There are going to be some big casualties in the fall out here and I can really see Google sweeping up all before them.

So Larry (Page) how about a job as Head of International Property Marketing for Google, I'd love to help define and implement such a momentous industry changing strategy....

....based out of Cognac, France of course.

91% of Brits would use a "buyers agent"

Encouraging research coming out of the Association of Property Finders and Buyers Agents (APFBA).

Over 2000 people were questioned between November 2008 and March 2009.

Worryingly, two thirds of buyers questioned believe that estate agents work for both buyer and seller. On being reminded that estate agents are generally paid to represent the best interests of the seller, 89% of buyers accepted that a conflict of interest exists where an agent deals with both buyer and seller in the same transaction.

Indeed, some 86% of those questioned said that they would get a fairer deal if they had a professional to represent them, and 91% would use a buyers’ agent if this would save them time, stress and money.

I have blogged before on the changing face of estate agency and firmly believe that buyers agents (or property finders as many people call them) will become more and more prevalent as the market changes.

I have been asked by French Property News to write on this subject and will post a link when it is published.

Meanwhile I leave you with this from the excellent UK based Homebuyers Agency:

The survey also showed that 75% of buyers prefer use the internet as their primary search method. With portals such as Rightmove, Globrix and Property Live providing access to every property listing in the UK it seems that the UK is moving towards a similar model as the US and Australia.

There, estate agents work as ‘listing agents’ for the vendor, uploading their listings to the Multi-Listing Service (MLS), or in other words the internet portals, and buyers’ agents are employed by the buyer to help find, advise, evaluate and negotiate on the property purchase.

Lance Armstrong eat your heart out

Just recovering from yesterdays exertions in the rolling countryside of the charente valley.

My father-in-law has been a keen cyclist for years and is a regular in the amateur stage of the "tour de france".  Since he moved out here he's started to take me out on weekly rides and he just won't take no for an answer.

He had suggested we add an extra stage to our normal Sunday morning route and cycle to Barbezieux and back - a journey that is tiring enough when I do it in the car.

Now, as well as being ultra fit he also has the advantage of a €1500 lightweight racing bike and proper riding gear (yes, even the hideous pink jersey and lycra shorts).

I have to struggle along with a twenty year old mountain bike (brakes not working since 1998) with flat tyres as I haven't got a pump.

Meanwhile, my expensively put together cycling regalia consists of a pair of shorts and an official, yellow, 2006 tour de france tee shirt which is the only genuine item of sports kit that I possess.

Maddeningly, my overnight prayers for rain went unanswered and we set off at 8.00am on Sunday morning. Needless to say there was a strong headwind and the only silver lining was that pa-in-law couldn't hear my foul curses as they were whipped away into the vineyards as soon as they left my mouth.

"Come on boy, I'm giving you 15 years" loses any inspirational meaning after the fifteenth time and it took us 1 hr 20 mins of wretched sloggery (not sure that's a word but it really should be) to reach the summit of Barbezieux.

Then, miracle of miracles, we turned around and everything fell into place.  Whether it was an adrenalin rush after turning for home we'll never now but I felt great.  Having a tail wind helped and we did the 22km's back in 58 minutes.  I even found time (and energy) to make polite conversation and to stop for a pee when he was caught short.

I know that a 44km ride is chicken feed and you're probably thinking "so what".....but nuts to that, it was me pedaling not you and it gave me a huge sense of achievement.

My legs don't half ache today though.

Friday, November 20, 2009

10 tips for buying in France next year

Inspired by this article in The Times I have set out my top 10 tips for those looking to buy in France during 2010.

1. Choose your location:  France is a huge country offering seaside resorts, skiing, cheap equestrian property with acres of land, plush penthouses in Paris and much more.  Find your ideal area before beginning your house search.
2. Decide on your "brief": If you're vague with agents then don't be surprised if what they show you doesn't take your breath away.  The more thought you put into your brief the better the results.
3. Make sure you see a good cross section of the market: You'll find that some agents are friendlier and more knowledgeable than others but you're buying a house not on a blind date. Agents can only show you what they have on their books and always have a vested interest. Don't forhet that every second house purchase in France is actually a private sale and done without an agent.  If possible use a buying agent (see 10).
4. Get your finances in place: It's pointless finding a little gem if you're not in a position to buy it. This is a simple thing to do and will save masses of heartache.
5. Try looking in Jan/Feb: The annual Brit invasion usually starts around Easter and you see prices rise beforehand.  Try getting here beforehand and snapping up the best properties.
6. Don't deal with an unlicenced agent: There are still plenty of sharks around. Ask to see their carte professionelle or you could get your fingers burnt.
7. Use a good notaire: Quality differs among notaires and you 100% have the right to choose (don't be told otherwise), ask around and find one you are comfortable with.
8. Try and collect as much comparable evidence as you can: Houses are notoriously difficult to value in France and it's often the owner who sets the price. Visit as many "similar" properties as you can and use this comparable evidence to help negotiate a good price.
9. Don't be greedy: It's tempting to get more land than you need (you'll live to regret it) or to buy a house with masses of barns (roofs cost a lot to repair).  If in doubt take your time to really think it all through.
10. Use a buying agent: Let's face it you may well not be fully conversant with the language, laws, process and local area.  Buying a house is a huge commitment and a good buying agent will save you time & money as well as give you peace of mind. Not sure where to look? Try here.

Bon courage....

The use of social media in the commercial property industry

Forgive me this indulgence.  My life post 2003 is purely geared towards the residential property market.

However, for 20 years before this it was a mixture of both commercial & residential property and I still like to keep in touch with what's going on.

The RICS have just issued this white paper on the use of social media and it makes fascinating reading.  I met one of the authors (Bob Thompson) a couple of times while I was at Chesterton and he's always worth listening to.  He also references a professional services marketeer called Kim Tasso who is also seen as one of the most passionate and brightest lights in the industry.

You can download the report here and it's a good read whether you're interested in offices, shops & sheds or not.

That's it....normal service will be resumed shortly and I'll be writing about the much smaller (but ultimately sunnier) world in and around Cognac again soon.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

France qualify for World Cup finals - but where's the passion?

So, it's the morning after the night before. 

Thierry Henry is now the most hated man in Ireland after knocking Maradonna's hand of god from the top of the "outrageous cheating in sport" charts.

It's a shame for Robbie Keane and his men, as well as the hordes of Irish supporters who would have brought colour, song, good humour and huge emotion to the finals.

Personally, I'm delighted that my friends and neighbours will now at least be watching the world cup next June but I can't see there being any real buzz, street parties or bunting unless France reach the final.

In 2006 we went to some of the matches in Germany yet based ourselves in North East France (Strasbourg).  Whilst in France there was little attention paid to the football but as soon as we crossed the border you could see & feel the passion immediately.

Every town or village we drove through seemed to have giant screens erected with flags lining the streets and bars promoting football evenings. 

This passion for football is something I miss about the UK - but I guess there's a fine line between national pride and jingoism/racism. It's easy to slip from singing positive songs that encourage your team to vile chants about the other teams supporters or players. 

I love the old fashioned respect, politeness & tranquility here in France so shouldn't really complain that their football chants aren't loud enough.

It is possible though - Irish & Scottish football fans have a great reputation at World Cups and prove that you can have a good time and make friends while still roaring on your team. 

So I'll be taking a leaf out of their book next June & July. 

The streets of St Meme les Carrieres will be alive with the sound of "three lions" and the fluttering of a huge flag of St George. 

It's just a shame that the drapeau tricolore is unlikely to be flying next door.

Monday, November 16, 2009

French property blog gets worldwide exposure

Just taken a quick peek at the google analytics pages for this blog. 

I update it most days and it's easy to think that all I'm doing is talking to myself.

However, a couple of things lately have made me realise that this isn't the case.  A short while ago I did a piece on the current state of the market and (gospel truth) within a couple of minutes the phone rang and it was Trevor Leggett of Leggett Immobilier to say how much he liked it & could we work together.

Then, last week I was with some new clients and out of the blue they said how much they enjoyed reading the blog each morning before they got down to real work.

Hence my desire to know how widespread the readership is.  A little drop of Cognac hasn't quite got the circulation of The Sun but it certainly does have a hardcore of fans....primarily in the UK, France and USA. 

Then there are readers in a further 57 countries around the world including regulars in South Africa, Russia, India and Scandinavia.

If you take a step back it's quite extraordinary to see how far things have come with the internet.

Journalists face some enormous challenges from the millions of unskilled amateurs like myself. People who haven't been taught how to check facts, compose sentences, paint pictures and weave must be hugely frustrating for anyone who did actually make it through journalist college.

I'm not complaining mind and if you happen to be reading this over a cup of coffee in Vietnam, Iran, Mexico or Argentina please do feel free to let me know what you think.

Cognac marathon man causes some snickers

Running twenty six miles has never appealed to me but we do always turn out as a family to support those hardy souls who run the annual Cognac marathon.

This year was no different and Saturday saw us lined up by the finish line at the quay in Jarnac applauding all kinds of folk.  The biggest cheer (and the odd wolf-whistle) was for a burly charentaise farmer kitted out in a bunny girls outfit with just a small white fluffy tail covering his fish-netted derriere.

The second biggest was for a local runner, and good friend of mine, Jean-Francois Blaineau who came in third behind a couple of seriously good runners from Paris & Spain. 

Watching him sprint for the finish and give an effortless radio interview afterwards it was easy to forget the hard work he puts in.  I see him out on the road, at all times of year, always alone (no-one else could keep up) and always humble about his achievements. Go into his home though and you'll see his trophy cabinet absolutely full to the brim of cups and shields that he's won.

As well as "playboy man" there were plenty of others in fancy dress, running for charity, and some elder citizens that made me feel ashamed to be watching rather than participating.

Maybe next year eh....

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gordon Brown hits Murdoch for six

Total coincidence of course but at the end of his worst week in British politics (thanks to a witch hunt by the Rupert Murdoch owned Sun newspaper) the prime minister has exacted his revenge on the Aussie media magnate.

A government review has said that the ashes need to be shown on "free to air" tv - at the moment the exclusive rights are with pay to view Sky tv.

This fast ball will hit Murdoch where it hurts (his pocket) but is good news for the man in the street who thinks that cherished sporting events like this should be open to all.

Of course nobody over here understands or cares about cricket....I have tried and failed to give even a basic understanding of the rules at many a dinner party.

Maybe I should invite the locals round if the ashes do come home to the BBC.  Having regularly sat through endless hours of local charentaise politics it would be nice to get my own back by making them sit through an afternoon of forward defensive prods as England battle to hang on for a draw.

"Estate agents regularly lie to home buyers"

This rather emotive headline from the Daily Telegraph (see full article here) seems to have caused hysteria throughout the internet with most people saying "yeah, tell us something new".

I have two thoughts:

Firstly, most of the estate agents I know are honest, hardworking folk who would not knowingly mislead anyone who came into their office.  If you look beyond the headlines it says that 24% of agents were deemed "not to be complying with consumer protection laws" which actually could be the most insignificant thing.  Sure one or two agents are bound to lie and be unscrupulous but tarring everybody in the same way is just too easy to do and smacks of lazy headline writing.

Secondly, traditional agents act for the vendor who ask them to portray their house in the best light possible and to the widest possible audience.

Buyers need to recognise this (particularly if they are buying abroad or in an area they don't know). Put simply, the agent is acting for the other party and will get every penny out of you he can on behalf of his client.  Other professionals like lawyers & management consultants do this in business every day and people understand what to expect.

When they sign a mandate with an estate agent most people don't say - "I want a fair price", they say "I want the best price you can get please".

If you want a fully impartial opinion and someone to help you negotiate the lowest possible price you need to appoint a buying agent. 

Sure they will charge you for their services but they will almost certainly save more than this cost by helping you buy at the lowest price as well as giving you peace of mind that no-one is pulling the wool over your eyes.

If you're thinking of buying a house in the UK you can find a list of buying agents through APFBA (The association of property finders & buying agents).

If you're thinking of buying a property in France follow this link to a list of registered property finders who would be happy to act for you

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armistice day in France

Just back from the Armistice day service in our tiny village.

As usual the girls joined other local children in belting out La Marseillaise....including the lovely lines:

Do you hear in the countryside
Those ferocious soldiers roaring?
They come up to your arms
To slit the throats of your sons and wives!

We then all trooped off to the mairie to share "un verre d'amitie" (literally a glass of friendship, in our case a couple of hefty pineau's). It's a bank holiday here and most of the locals seemed set in for the day.

It's always a poignant occasion and, being English, we tend to get a warm welcome, especially from the few people who don't know us now. 

It all took me back to my first ever memories of Armistice day.  I was a young lad in a cash & carry with my father when, over the tannoy, they announced a 2 minute silence at 11.00am.

Everyone stopped what they were doing and it was the first time I had seen him cry - it was also the first time that I realised he had actually fought in the war.

I wish he could have been there today to see the grand-daughters he never met pay their respects....I guess it would have brought a few tears to his eyes again.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

French X Factor - where is Simon Cowell when you need him?

There are one thousand and one brilliant things about living in France....sadly TV isn't one of them (unless you include the sport on Canal +).

This year sees the first ever French X Factor and we had really been looking forward to it.  I guess we should have realised it would be awful when we first heard it would be on tiny station W9 rather than big budget TF1.

Same concept, same graphics, same music but that's about it.  Castings were attended by one man and his dog, the quality of entrants is poor and the guy who hosts it is still to fully recover from his charisma by pass operation. It's so poor that it makes you think even "Jedward" would have a legitimate shot at winning it.

You can see some of the videos for yourself on the official site.

The best thing about the show is the presence of Julie Zenatti on the judging panel.  She's a spiky French pop singer and she doesn't hold back with her opinions. She's also got the sexiest eyebrows I have ever seen.

It's also a novelty to be watching the X Factor without feeling that you are constantly being manipulated, where "arguments" are not blatantly scripted and where they might just put someone through on talent rather than on who will net the show most press coverage.

Ultimately though it's utter rubbish.

And needless to say we're addicted.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Property market has bottomed - it's official

As Disraeli (and then later Mark Twain) said: "There are lies, damned lies and statistics" and boy does the UK property industry thrive on market data.

Every day we seem to be bombarded by forecasts from the government, estate agents, developers, building societies and Uncle Tom Cobbley.

At last though I've found a statistic that I trust because it comes straight from the horses mouth - those searching for property.

Bickey Russell is an analyst at Google and she's recently been talking about the way that the general public searches for property online.

Ms Rusell says that the public believes the days of the bargain are numbered, with queries relating to bargain properties, such as ‘repossessed homes’, ‘property auctions,’ and ‘cheap properties’, down by 55 percent since February.

She has all kinds of other statistics but it's this little gem that strikes a chord with me.  The number of property transactions is all about confidence. 

If Joe Public thinks that the market has bottomed (and clearly Joe does) then they're going to start buying again.

I know this sounds ultra simplistic (because it is) but I place more store in this single stat than all the bumph that gets released by the RICS, NEA or the agents/banks who all have not very well hidden agendas.

Ms Russell also says that the first half of 2009 saw unique visitors to property sites up 15 percent. In the same period searches for the term ‘house prices’ rose 28 percent (having seen falls in 2008) and general queries related to property were up 11 percent.

So there we have it - the recovery has long it will take before transaction numbers rise consistently month on month nobody knows, but it's 9th November 2009 and I'm calling the bottom of the market.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The yawning chasm between house buyers & sellers

I've had the same discussion with three different people over the last couple of days.

There seems to be a huge gap between what UK & international property buyers are prepared to offer for French property and what the locals are prepared to accept.

This means that although there are increased activity levels (enquiries, viewings and offers) the number of transactions involving international purchasers are still very low.

All three discussions have commented on the fact that the "mindset" in France is very different to the UK or USA.

I remember that when I lived in Surrey we wouldn't dream of visiting a house that had been on the market for more than a few months.  If the owners had been trying to sell it for over a year then quite clearly it was blighted with all kinds of hidden terrors awaiting the fool who bought it.

If a house has been marketed for a while then Brits tend to make a low offer and more often than not it's accepted, no one wants to hang around.

Out here there are thousands of houses that have been on the market for a year or more.  Locals don't see them as tainted or over-priced....they just haven't had the right buyer come along yet.  Prices here just don't fluctuate like they do in the UK and we haven't seen anywhere near the drop in value as my family and friends on the other side of the channel.

All of this is a huge generalisation of course and ultimately individual circumstances will dicate the price that someone will offer or accept.  However until this gap between "bottom of the market bargain hunters" and "intransigent owners" closes then times are going to remain tough for all of us who make our living in the property arena.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Girondins de Bordeaux - aux armes

Huge game for Bordeaux tonight as they travel to Germany to take on Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

A win and they will almost certainly top the group.  A draw would also be a terrific result and move them to within touching distance of qualification.

I was at the home fixture against Bayern a fortnight ago with three friends from the UK.

We stood behind the goal in the virage sud, with the "ultramarines", and it was a cracking atmosphere.  Even my friends (who have no allegiance to Bordeaux) found themselves caught up in the moment. I suspect they may even keep a sneaky eye out for the score tonight.

There's something about standing up at football that just seems can you be passionate while sitting down.  Similarly the exits were blocked, people were smoking and when we scored the smoke from the flares caught in our throats.  Dozens of EU rules were flaunted on the night but there wasn't a hint of aggression or trouble.

All we need now is for Marouane Chamakh to break his Champions League duck and for a girondins victory tonight.

Would it be asking too much to draw Real Madrid in the next round too?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Life in France - how do you define integration?

There have been some spikey "letters to the editor" in The Connexion recently about people buying & selling British food in France.

It (falsely) leads you to believe that there are only two types of expats living over here.  Those who don't want anything to do with Great Britain or the Brits in France and those who are happy importing their sausages, watching Sky and going to the golf club for a Sunday roast.

People get incredibly indignant over even the smallest issues and it got me thinking about our life out here.

On one hand I earn my living in euros and pay way too much to the state by way of TVA, tax and cotisations.  Our kids go to local school and most of our friends here are French.  On Friday night we had a dinner party where we didn't speak a word of English, all produce was bought at the local market and we discussed everything from Sarkozy/De Villepin/Chirac to how this year's PTA aren't as active as last year's.

On the other hand I spent Saturday watching English sport on the BBC and tonight we have (English) friends coming round to watch a Prison Break triple header on dvd.  We also take the girls to McDonalds once a month and I'd have no hesitation at all in going to the British food stall in Cognac market if I fancied a pork pie or a Curly Wurly.

It seems wrong to me to judge others by how they wish to lead their lives.  Life in France isn't better or worse than in the UK it's just different.

I do feel that those who don't attempt to learn the language or integrate are missing out on huge tracts of life over here....I also think that it's rude to live in a country and to make no attempt at communicating  in the national language. 

However, if someone wants to operate (or shop at) a stall selling produce from the UK then best of British to them - particularly if they could get hold of those little licorice sweeties I had as a child!