How to find a real estate agency in France

Choose your agent carefully

In France, being a real estate agent is a regulated profession under the Loi Huguet; agents must obtain a carte professionelle and must also hold indemnity insurance. Their license must be displayed at their premises, and will also show the extent of the financial guarantee which enables them to accept deposits from buyers. Most are members of one of the trade associations FNAIM, NPI or UNPI.

Some individuals, particularly serving the foreign buyer market, are self-employed, but work under the aegis of an agency; they still need to be registered with the local authority and their status can be checked with the supervising agent.

Large chains and networks of agencies throughout France include Century21, ORPI, Guy Hocquet, Laforet, ERA, and Foncia. There are also a few agents that have been set up specifically to serve foreign buyers across the country, the best known being Leggett Immobilier.

It isn't hard to find an agent; France has nearly 30,000 agencies according to some estimates - there's no official figure - and most towns of any size have a number of agents in the main street. Most agents have websites, and there are also a number of portals such as SeLoger.com and Logic-Immo.com.

In addition, if you're actively searching in France, free magazines (Logic-Immo publishes one) can be found in many supermarkets and outside some high street shops showing agents' listings. To ease your search you can start with browsing options in Properstar.

Difficulties of the language barrier

However, not all French agents are equally able to serve foreign buyers. Some simply don't speak English; others don't understand how to help non-resident buyers arrange finance or know how to assist with bureaucracy. If you're looking in an areas like the Dordogne or Luberon, where foreign buyers are common, you may find an agent who's used to dealing with foreign purchasers; if you're looking in the Massif Central or Jura, you might be less lucky.

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Before you make contact with an agent it can be useful to set out your criteria for a property - what is essential, and what is negotiable. You may be asking about one particular property that you have seen advertised, but if you are clear about what you want the agent may be able to show you others that are equally suitable.

French agents are rarely pushy - some will content themselves solely with showing you the property that you have shown an interest in.

Often, agents will not give out the address or exact location of a property, but will ask visitors to meet them at their office and sign a bon de visite before taking them to the property.

Signing this document prevents buyers going to another agent (which may have the same property advertised at a different price) or doing a deal direct with the householder. Agents will accompany viewings - 'open house' arrangements are unknown in France. Many French agents know their patch in incredible detail, including local shops and businesses, politics and events; they are a real resource, and smart purchasers will get as much information as possible out of them.

Who pays the agent?

Traditionally, the buyer has paid the agent's commission, but many properties are now advertised as HAI or FAI (honoraires/frais inclus), meaning the vendor pays the agent. Commissions can vary between 5% and 8%, relatively more for cheaper properties, and less once the property exceeds EUR 100-150,000.

Using an agent may be advisable for foreign purchasers, since agents know the process and can help deal with the notaire and with finding finance. However, many French people buy privately, using listings sites such as PAP or ParuVendu.

Find your home in France