Originally written June 21st 2022
I’m here! After a long journey, I have finally made it to our little cozy village house that our neighbor tells us used to hold patients who were waiting to be treated at the local village hospital. What happened to the watchmaker’s home you ask? A year later, I am still wondering the same thing!
When Andy and I got heavily into the financial details of owning a second home, I had actually reached out to the watchmaker’s real estate agent. We had chatted throughout the month of March about Andy and I coming to see the home if it was still available in June, when I was finally off of school. From the little information that I was able to collect from googling around online, I had discovered that reaching out to real estate agents early was highly recommended. Neither Andy nor I had ever been to the south of France, so we decided to create a list of homes to go and visit, stretching across the entire south. We talked openly about our willingness to let ourselves fall in love with the watchmaker’s home and agreed it was the home we were hopping on a plane to visit come June, but we knew we should see more than just one home in order to feel as though we had done our due diligence. Setting up viewings with real estate agents in France is very different than doing so in the U.S. In France, the person seeking to buy a home does not have an agent. It is up to the potential home buyer to find homes they want to tour and then contact the agent, FOR EACH HOME! There were instances, however, when we were on a home tour, where the agent would suggest a few of their other listings not too far away. Unfortunately, we always declined, already having a pretty set schedule on the days that we visited homes. The process of having to contact multiple agents, though, meant that if you wanted to view five different homes, the probability of you having five different agents was pretty high. In our case, trekking across the entirety of the south of France and having 15 + listings on our plate meant a slew of agents from many different regions and backgrounds.
Around May, when we were about half way through planning our final list, it started to click as to why it was suggested to try and connect with an agent early. There were quite a few homes that made it on our list that had numerous agents on the listing, each one from a different agency. Despite leaving numerous messages, both voice and email over the past few weeks, we couldn’t get a response from any of the agents, much to our frustration.
It was starting to feel as though most of my correspondence was strictly set to tracking down someone who wanted to show me the house of interest. To our surprise, there are a lot of foreign agents in France. During our search, we had English, Norwegian, Dutch, Irish, Scottish and Danish agents, but it seemed to be strictly the French agents who would let your requests go unanswered. While we still aren’t 100% sure why this seemed to be the case for us, one French agent did shed some light on a potential reason. “We need to fill the windows,” she said in English with the most perfect and elegant French accent. She tilted her head towards the window facing the street. The front window was lined with ads for homes that were for sale, catching people’s attention as they walked by and glided to a sudden halt in front of them. “We aren’t in a hurry to take them down, then we’d have gaps in our offerings.”
Another difference we were soon to discover were the home advertisements themselves. Many of them are quite misleading, listing a larger, well-known town in the area as the location of the house. When you arrive at the town, though, you are then chauffeured 10-20 minutes away from that location to where the home actually is. This aspect is really disheartening, as you are usually taken away from the ideal location that got you to set up the appointment in the first place, and transported to a location in the middle of nowhere that toots a traveling boulangerie as a key feature in the otherwise desolate town. And then there were the photos, the awful, awful photos. You are lucky if your listing features more than three blurry photos actually depicting the home. So many times the photos will give you zero context as to a home’s layout or the actual space and more often than not, there will not be a photo of the outside of the home. When we asked an agent about this, they had said it is because the listing agent does not want other agents poaching the listing. We were surprised to discover that a seller can have multiple agents for their one home, pitting them against each other. It started to make sense why some homes had up to five different agents, all from five different agencies. I will say that in some cases, however, this feature actually worked in our favor. There were quite a few times where we were able to find the listing on multiple sites and contacted every agent, only having one finally get back in touch for a showing. So, while having multiple agents made it a little harder to keep track of whose house was whose, it did widen the possibility of getting a return call and being able to get our foot into the door, no pun intended!
Another thing we found interesting is that most agents would meet us in the town square and walk us to the home. Some even had us sign documents saying that if we bought the home, it would be purchased through them. Addresses are not given for homes in France, in order to prevent the buyer from just going to the home and propositioning the owner to sell to them directly, cutting out the agent (and their fees) entirely. There was definitely a learning curve when it came to this buying experience!
When it came to the circumstances surrounding buying in France, we were actually quite lucky. Because of covid, many countries (especially the ones who fuel the south of France holiday home market) were still banned from entering. That meant that homes were sitting for much longer than usual and that owners, eagerly ready to part with their properties, were willing to cut prices more than normal. We crossed our fingers and created a list of 17 homes from Caracassone to Menton.
**Above is our journey from the Spanish boarder through the whole south and all the stops in between. You may notice Vaison is not marked, it was a totally by chance we ended up there!
Bonjour, Ciao, Salut! I'm Rachel and this is my story documenting our experience buying a home in France. If you are looking for advice on home buying, feel free to e-mail me or check the bottom of the home page for a link to a basic guide.