The agent immobilier (estate agent)
As in the UK, the sales agent is instructed by the vendor to sell the vendor’s property for a commission. Unlike in the UK the purchaser will transparently be asked to pay this commission, which is freely negotiable and may range from between 5 & 12 % of the purchase price. This is payable at the time or very close to the point of completion. The agent will in most cases be qualified to perform tasks similar to that of their UK counterpart however the French agent immobilier will not be a surveyor. The profession is strictly controlled by the Loi Hoguet of 2nd January 1970.Therefore in order to operate as an agent in France a person must hold a carte professionnelle issued by the local Prefecture, be covered by a fidelity bond and professional indemnity insurance. It is an offence to operate as an agent outside these parameters and it goes without saying that unregistered, unqualified agents should be avoided. We would suggest that you only contract with agents registered with the ‘FNAIM’ ( Fédération Nationale des Agents Immobiliers).
Agents who act on your behalf must obtain written authority from you in the form of a mandat de vente (with respect to a sale) or mandat de recherche (where you commission the agent to find a property for you). The authorised agent/s should register the mandat on their official register. The mandat is a legal document and should be carefully examined prior to signature as you will be bound by its terms and as with any contract, you should be fully cognizant of the commitments you undertake.
Once you have decided upon the property you wish to purchase and agreed upon a price the agent or notaire will draft the initial contract or compromis de vente. Expect the agent to encourage you to sign this document as soon as possible.
The initial contract is generally drawn up by the vendor’s agent. Some agents will commission a notaire to do this under instruction. This is preferable particularly with respect to rural properties and/or complicated transactions. If the agent has drafted the initial contract it is usual for this to be a standard form document applicable to all suitable properties on the agent’s books so do not be misled by what may appear to be little more than a photocopied sheet, it is a valid and potentially binding legal document. It is as well to bear in mind that the agent’s objective is to facilitate the sale, and whilst he or she will be aware of the vendor’s requirements, the agent may not be aware of or appreciate your needs, indeed may not be able to identify areas of the French process that may be contrary to your interest.
It is at this point, should you not already have taken the precaution of doing so, that you should ensure that the initial contract you sign has been examined by an independent specialist lawyer so as to safeguard your interests from the outset. Ask yourself the question, would I buy a property in Blackpool or Bournemouth without instructing a legal advisor? Why would you then consider doing so under a significantly different legal system without professional assistance in Bordeaux, Beziers or Boulogne? Should you decide not to instruct us for goodness sake instruct somebody.
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