Monday, May 31, 2010

The chasm between sellers/buyers expectations still needs to be bridged

Regular readers know that I'm 100% on the side of the buyer throughout the search and transaction process.

There's no grey area - my clients appoint me because of my expertise in sourcing property and buying it at the lowest price possible.

One of the most important parts of my job then is to ensure that my clients have realistic expectations about what their money will buy and the current state of the market.

With our TV and computer screens full of bad news stories it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that property vendors are on their knees and willing to accept huge discounts on the asking price of their properties.

Sadly, this simply isn't least in my particular slice of France.

Sure, most sellers are realistic and are open to offers but a general 20-25% reduction on all asking prices, forget it. 

In the last two deals that I have been involved with we have managed to obtain around 15% from the asking price....and both of those were after a great deal of negotiation and our introduction of "comparable evidence" (research into the cost of similar properties).

Of course there will always be stories about the man who has a friend who knocked 40% off the asking price of a house but these rarely stand up to scrutiny (usually the price was hugely inflated in the first place).

It's a buyers market and there are bargains to be had but don't be fooled into thinking that all vendors will bend over backwards.

In this market "research, research, research" is almost as important as "location, location, location".

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Come to the charente and get off that treadmill

One of the biggest reasons for our move from suburban life in the UK was to find a slower pace of life.  We had both worked in central London for years and never seemed to have a second to ourselves and to "smell the flowers" as Walter Hagen so aptly put it.

We found our dream in the Charente.  Sure there are times (like at the moment) when I'm working hard and out viewing houses from dawn to dusk but it's a pleasure and there's always time to stop for a coffee along the way.

Don't just take my word for it though. This article in the Charente Libre explains that Segonzac is the first town in France to be awarded "Cittaslow" status. Wikipedia describes this as:

Cittaslow is part of a cultural trend known as the Slow movement.

The inspiration was the Slow Food organization. Cittaslow's goals include improving the quality of life in towns while resisting "the fast-lane, homogenized world so often seen in other cities throughout the world"

I, for one, don't miss grabbing a burger at Waterloo before catching the 11.58pm train back to Walton on Thames....fortunately, this particular hamster jumped off the wheel and left the cage a while ago!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Trick photography doesn't help anyone

It's a beautiful, sunny day here in the rural charente valley, just the kind of afternoon when I should be thanking my lucky stars that I'm not stuck in a west end office thinking about the commute home.

Sadly though I'm seething.

Technology is changing my business, mostly for the better. However, I do now regularly get emails from clients saying "seen this on the internet and it looks great, can you check it out".

Of course, I'm usually happy to do so and it's good that I work with such serious and involved buyers.  The bad news is that virtually without exception the fantastic looking "maison de maitre" for €150,000 is blighted.

The wonderful photography, taken with a wide angle lens, skillfully makes 500m2 look like a couple of acres or conveniently stops just short of showing the lorries streaming down the N10 towards Spain and Portugal.

I was out this afternoon visiting one such house - it bore no resemblance to the details on the internet and even whilst driving up I knew I'd just wasted my time going there.  I understand that agents & owners want to market the positive attributes of their property but come on, let's keep things realistic.

Finally a true story.  Friends were over from England last week and went into the estate agents that are selling their holiday home.  They saw the details in the window but with a photo of the wrong house.

When quizzed the agent said:

"I know but it's in the same road as yours and it's much prettier".

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Demand for French property on the up.

Now, I don't want to tempt fate but......

As regular readers will know the demand for French property from international buyers fell off a cliff the day that Lehman Brothers hit the dust in September 2008.

It's been consistently low since then but, at last, the buyers seem to be flooding back. Well, if flooding back is a slight over emphasis it's certainly a steady stream.  My business is all about quality of clients not quantity and I rarely have more than three client searches on the go at any one time.

For the record I am currently mandated as follows (these aren't their real initials of course but I promise they are genuine clients):

  • Mr & Mrs A who are looking for a 3 bed country house with barns and gite potential.
  • Mr & Mrs B who have mandated me to find a 5 bed house with space for their teenage children
  • Mr & Mrs C who are desperate to find a characterful old house that they can bring back to life
  • Mr & Mrs D who want a classical charentaise house that they can retire to
  • Mr & Mrs E who's dream is a property with views of the vines, a pool and a sunny terrace.
I'm working flat out and have a couple of other clients "bubbling under" who are talking about instructing me to find them something this summer.

These instructions have come from all kinds of different sources - this blog, my recent coverage in the Daily Telegraph, my affiliation with FrenchEntrée and my regular musings in French Property News and French magazine.

I know that straw polls like this don't quite carry the same credence as the BBC/Mori exit poll but I'm sure you get my drift.

Long may it continue.

Cycling in the charente valley

Can't think of a better way to start off a Sunday morning - left the senior partner having a well deserved "grace matinée" and met up with Paddy on the bridge in Jarnac.  The charente was sparkling in the early morning sunlight and the town was slowly wakening with locals making their way to the market to pick up their bread & croissants.

We set off through the vines and, not for the first time, chatted about how lucky we are to live amongst the rolling hills of what must be one of the prettiest areas of France.  No traffic in sight on the back roads either...just the occasional farmer out on his tractor and a rush of "bonjour's" as we passed a swarming pack of real cyclists on their way to Cognac and out towards the coast.

We're working our way up to something similar too - it would be a huge trek for our strictly amateur muscles but with the sun on our backs and the thought of a leisurely lunch when we get there we're confident of tackling it soon.

Meanwhile we're content to take it easy, soak up the spring sunshine and revel in the fact that neither of us will be on the 6.42 am into Waterloo tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

"This is money" article - Can a buying agent save you money?

Interesting article on This is Money which you can read here.

"If you are serious about moving it's hard to see the flaws"

I'm not sure that people still see buying agents as being just for the super-rich - thanks to Phil,  Kirsty and others that view seems to be a thing of the past.

If I was moving a long distance in the UK I would certainly use a buying agent, if I were buying a property in a different country with additional linguistic, legal and cultural barriers then it's clearly a "no brainer".

We may not have "super powers" but we certainly know our local market and you'll be safe in the knowledge that we are acting solely for you and not the seller.

One final thought on the idea mentioned of taking a fee as a percentage of the saving made (in this case 15%). 

Yesterday morning I sent a client a shortlist of houses I'm suggesting he visit when he comes out.

Top of the list is a house that is being marketed for €330,000.  His budget is €250,000 and I sent it to my client as I know that the owners would accept this. 

In the "buyers" market that currently exists I think it's far fairer to take a simple percentage of the purchase price.

Mind you, the client is always right so if anyone wants to work with me on this basis then I'm happy to hear from them!

Monday, May 03, 2010

Some French property blogs to follow:

I know that my life seems to revolve around the charente valley but France is such a great country that sometimes it does no harm to broaden our horizons.

With this in mind I would heartily recommend you dip into (and maybe even follow) these other excellent blogs about life and property over here.

First up we have the newly created "A word from Calvados" coming to us from the area in and around Bayeux on the north coast. Welcome to cyberspace Janine, I hope you enjoy the ride and I look forward to seeing the blog evolve.

Then we travel a wee bit south to take in the Loire and Alison Morton's entertaining & varied blog from Thouet.  Topic....just about everything..... from M&S in France to local house prices.

Keep going down, almost to the Spanish border, and you'll discover Perpignan Post - here you'll be able to compare a day in the life of Caroline Hill as a property finder to some of my entries in a similar vein (hopefully you'll also see that we share a passion for client service).

Finally you should head due east along the riviera to Cote Abode where you'll find some delicious posts from the exciting and exotic life of Rebecca Russell.

Hope you enjoy them.......don't desert me though!

The Sunday Telegraph discovers Cognac....

There was a good article in the Telegraph on Sunday which you can read here.

The journalist, Adrian Woodford, obviously had a good time when he came here and our wonderful region of SW France made a lasting impression on him.   I really liked this bit:

Farther down rue d'Angoulême, Cognac pulls off the neat trick of becoming emptier as it becomes more beautiful. There is a fabulous half-timbered building guarding one end, sending several smaller streets splintering and scuttling down to the river. Whichever way you chose from here, the streets are lovely, a jumble of lanes that has barely changed since the 17th century.

He's right you know...the streets of Cognac are indeed lovely.  When you live here you tend to take things for granted and it was most refreshing to read about "my" town through someone elses eyes.