Strategies and advice needed for negotiating with French house vendors?


(Paul Lewis) #1

We are living in the Millevaches PNR area of Limousin and have been over here since July 2017 (renting) after selling our renovated property in Charente for a decent profit to fellow Brits. We are looking to buy in the Millevaches Parc area as we love the rugged empty landscapes over this way. Anyway we want to buy a property that is a project (full renovation or refresh) and we would like large attached land (1 to 3 hectares) and a secluded non hamlet location. We thought it would be very easy to find, however our search has been a struggle and the local French agents have not been very helpful. We have been shown all sorts of properties that do not really meet our criteria and I get the feeling the agencies are just chasing a quick sale. Anyway we decided to look for absolute wrecks in the landscape and then try and trace the owners through the relevant mairie. This plan didn’t go very well in that it is often impossible to trace the owners or they just don’t want to sell as they would rather hang onto a ruin? We have put search notices in supermarkets, notice boards, Leboncoin etc and have had a few replies. We now prefer to buy privately to avoid agency fees and have in the last year found two properties we really want to buy.

What has been the problem is that dealing with French vendors they seem to have completely unrealistic ideas of the value of their properties. We almost bought a moulin in Creuse last year and had agreed a sale with the owner verbally. This property was habitable but needed plenty of work, although it did have a conforming fosse (unusual). Originally the moulin was up for a ridiculous price of €220,000 and then the vendor dropped it to €175,000. We offered our max offer of €130k which he eventually verbally accepted. We had nothing in writing and then a few days later got an email to say he had received a higher offer of €150k which he had accepted. This was nearly 12 months ago. Last night on Leboncoin I saw the moulin advertised by the same vendor. I contacted him and it seems after complications the other buyer disappeared. They have said they will now not accept less than €150k plus notaires fees. So we have given up on that!!

Just before Xmas we found other place (owner contacted us) which we really love but the house is a bit of a wreck (part renovation) and attic has not been converted so only one level. No insulation; no fosse; possibly new roof needed; source water only. Lovely location, land and potential but loads to do. Anyway we didn’t know the price before viewing but expected it to be around the €100k mark. So the owner has said he wants €150k + notaires (seems to be a magic figure), which the property is clearly not worth. We have shown the photos to a few English agents who work here and they have said €90-100k is realistic.

We don’t think the owner will go for this, but clearly we don’t want to overpay for a property given the work needed on it.

Just wondered if people have any advice on how to negotiate with French vendors? Should we go in really low? Is it a waste of time? We don’t want to offend him and burn our bridges. In our experience here most secondhand stuff sold by French vendors carries a high price (against its realistic value), whether that is at vide greniers, Leboncoin and anything from electrical goods to cars to houses. The French valuation of many properties just seems like speculation to us, almost a game? Some of the valuations seem bonkers to us?

We need to be canny and find a sensibly priced property to give us enough budget to properly renovate. A British friend of ours here recently bought a four bedroom, largish hamlet house with adjacent garden from a British seller. Originally priced at €138k, he dropped the price to €99k and she got it for €67k!!

We have a very good French friend (albeit an ex city girl - Paris) and she has said that for most of the privately advertised properties we have viewed that the French owners are delusional when it comes to their valuations. She has even said many agency properties carry a silly price.

Any thoughts peeps?


(Anna Watson) #2

Well, no doubt you are well aware that French and English have very different attitudes to property ownership, and I think this is what you’re up against, pure and simple.
As a massive generalisation - the French don’t attach any value to dilapidated rural properties. They wouldn’t dream of buying one, they wouldn’t even want to have one given, and if they happen to own one they don’t have any great hope of selling it because they wouldn’t expect anyone in their right mind to want to buy it (in many cases, the fully renovated property is worth less than the cost of the renovation, leaving aside the purchase price - as probably the British couple you mentioned discovered, who started out asking 138k and accepted 67k - and the French are also well aware of the potential legal pitfalls of trying to sell a DIY renovation). However, Brits have a certain reputation. A bit like, in the UK we have created a stereotype of the American tourist who will pay a fortune for any bit of olde worlde genuine English tat, so antique shops along the American tourist trail will ask silly money for battered old tankards, chipped chamber pots and suchlike. France believes in an equivalent sterotypical Brit who will pay king’s ransom for an old French ruin. To them it is barking mad, but they have heard of vendors getting silly prices for a heap of stones, so obviously they try their luck. Why would they let it go for a “realistic” price when there’s always the hope of the stereotypical mad Brit coming along with a blank cheque next week? It’s a bit like waiting to see if you win the lottery - given the choice you wouldn’t want a little win this week, you’d rather hold out for the big one.

That is the explanation for property prices, as I see it. For cars it’s different - because of the tax system (a one-off registration tax as opposed to annual fee), the French tend to keep their cars for a lot longer so there isn’t anywhere near the same second hand car market, in comparison with the UK where there’s a constant stream of 3 year old company and fleet vehicles being offloaded, flooding the market and keeping prices low. For other second hand stuff I don’t know, is everything expensive?


(Jane Jones) #3

Our french neighbour first offered his partly built house for sale at 175,000€. After 4+ years on the market the final sale price was 75,000€, so negotiations do happen. However the energy behind the negotiation was that he was getting divorced, so there was pressure. Otherwise I think it would still be unsold.

So yes, there is a lack of realism among French vendors, especially for things that are renovations or quirky in some way. (Our neighbours house was to be a maison passive, but he ran out of money half way through the build). Standard houses are easy to value as there will six others similar in the area, so prices much more sensible.

And many of the sort of houses you are looking for will be something that the owner has inherited, and has no great need to sell. Or is in a complicated family ownership which is a nightmare to sell. If it’s not even on the market then that’s a good sign that they are not hugely interested. But if the owner of the latest one has contacted you then more hopeful.

Our current house, which was half a ruin, was also overpriced. We offered what we thought it was worth, and they came down a bit. And because it was a private sale we then agreed to split the difference as had the costs of the agent fees still up our sleeve. So a bit overpriced, but not excessively so. And we gained hugely in the long term as the ex-owners helped us massively with the renovation! Looking back we should perhaps have started a bit lower.

So I would offer right at the bottom end of realistic, and leave yourself some room to go up. This is a business deal, so try to put ideas of offending people to one side.


(Paul Lewis) #4

Thanks for the replies Jane and Anna. I tend to agree with you that the French maybe see the Brits as an opportunity to sell their old properties at inflated prices. I suppose it is all relative though as UK property prices are much, much higher in general than France. I don’t know why the rural French seem to think we are all rich. We only came to France because we couldn’t afford a house with land in the UK. Mind you I was surprised to see from looking online the other day that we could buy the same sort of thing in the Scottish Highlands (secluded house to renovate/refresh with big land and views) for a lower price than similar properties here in the Millevaches Plateau. What has amazed me more during our two year search here is the very poor quality of much of the rural housing stock (under €150k) and the lack of even basics like double glazing, insulation, efficient heating, fosse septique, good roof. I mean it is not like it doesn’t get cold for a large part of the year in the Massif Central is it? If the house needs a new roof and a fosse as well as a kitchen, plumbing, electrics and insulation, windows, doors etc then I expect the price to reflect that. In most cases it doesn’t and even agencies seem blind to this lack of logic? We have found our potential perfect property with lovely land and setting, yet we are unlikely to be able to reach a deal because the French vendor will hold out (probably for years) for his assumed and unrealistic value. It’s just getting very boring now.


(stella wood) #5

Perhaps you need to rethink. Either start a serious discussion with the Vendor or walk away.

There are properties all across France… plenty to choose from… why not give Fate a chance… :sunglasses:


(Jane Jones) #6

Well the corrèze is a department that is depopulating (if there is such a word in english?) so has more houses than needed. And the population is an aging, rural one so no great incentive to do much to their houses as far easier and probably about the same cost to move into a newly built square box.

Just keep making offers on things that interest you, and ‘one day your prince will come…’


(Paul Lewis) #7

Yes Stella we plan to have serious discussions with him. I don’t think we are in a position to go exploring other parts of France. Also where we have chosen is one of the least populated areas of France that is affordable. When you have lived in the Scottish Highlands and that is your benchmark then it is very hard finding rural places in France that don’t feel overcrowded and dominated by farming. Millevaches is one of the least populated areas in all of France and the summer climate is moderated by the altitude, which is good for us because we are not fans of crazy hot summer weather (30 degrees plus). Also it is mountainous (which we like) and much more affordable than the Alps or Pyrenees. We have put some thought into this you know. :wink:


(stella wood) #8

Of course you have put some thought into it… sounds like you have found the region/area of your dreams… but… the prices are not so pleasing…

as I say… pay the price or bite the bullet… (or is that one and the same thing??)

Anyway, best of luck with your forthcoming negotiations…


(Paul Lewis) #9

To be fair, most of rural France has been depopulating for decades now, hence the surplus of houses and wrecks in the landscape.


(Paul Flinders) #10

Not sure I can add a lot - our house in the UK was bought new, almost “off plan” and from the developer so apart from getting them to agree different kitchen units we didn’t have much wriggle room.

We paid the asking price for our French place as well but I knew the vendor had dropped 10k€ a week before we viewed and would not budge for a French buyer who offered him less - in fact we only got it when they couldn’t reach agreement. It wasn’t a renovation project though, far from it - he’d ploughed about 50k€ into it which he didn’t get back, but it did need a new kitchen and a more tasteful colour scheme.

Keep looking, if you find something cheaper and as nice or nicer buy it. If you find something cheaper and a bit less nice use it as leverage.


(Paul Lewis) #11

Pay the price?? With respect, by that logic you suggest that the prices asked are realistic?

We sold a completely newly renovated 140m2 house with 2 hectares, outbuildings and all new everything roof/fosse/energy efficient/eco etc for not a huge amount more than what this guy wants for a wreck of a house? The point of my post was to highlight that the French in many cases (not all) have extremely unrealistic valuations and was hoping for suggestions on how to negotiate effectively…not to just walk away as there are other houses to choose from. Our two year search in this area clearly suggests there are not many that meet the criteria?


(stella wood) #12

I am suggesting you renegotiate/haggle… and if the Vendor will still not agree to your Offer…in the end… you will have to walk away.

A Vendor who is not in a hurry to sell … is in a very strong position… :thinking:

What other properties sell for… is obviously of no interest to the Vendor. Just have a go… but you cannot force the Vendor into anything… as I’m sure you realize.


(Paul Lewis) #13

I guess it is just absolute frustration on our part. You are right, if the vendor is in no hurry to sell then they have all cards really. Just seems very disingenuine to me, with vendors trying and often succeeding in flogging off substandard houses for inflated prices and expecting the buyer to invest all the money into something that will never be worth the total outlay. This is the rural French property market in a nutshell. Many have been stung. We don’t intend to be.


(Paul Flinders) #14

Though this can include the French.

As I said the chap we bought from (who was French) bought the house in about 2007 - perhaps intending to do it up and make a tidy profit for his retirement (he’d have been about 70 at the time). Unusually for the French market prices had been rising strongly for a few years at the time.

Fast forward to 2015 and he sold for 7k€ less than he paid. In the meantime he had put in a new heating system, new bathroom, had the outside cleaned and a new exterior coat put on, had the roof renovated and replaced all the windows and doors with new PVC double glazed units (including new roller shutters).

I actually felt sorry for him when we discovered all of this when we did the paperwork for the compromis and AdV - I’m not surprised he was reluctant to budge on price.

I realise none of this applies to your situation but I think it has to be accepted that the French property market is a very different beast to the UK one and, as you say, a vendor in no hurry to sell is also not going to be in a hurry to drop his asking price.

I think Stella is right - you have to decide whether the place is worth it anyway, even if it is vastly overpriced or whether you are going to walk away and wait for the right property to surface.


(stella wood) #15

Paul… I really do understand your frustration. I’ve been through the mill…

French families inherit property… and thus there will be several names on the Deeds… each person in the family, will be expecting his/her share in making the decision of what to do… sell or keep … and the price, if selling, … and each person will be seeking his/her share of the money raised…

Often they stand empty until a family member, maybe one of the younger generation, decides to take on Grandad’s place…it can take decades, if at all.

I know of dwellings which have been allowed to fall down and crumble away…vanish… while the families argue… so, in the end, they all lose out

Sounds crazy to you and I, but that is life here in this truly wonderful country…


(Paul Lewis) #16

Talking of mills or moulins, just under twelve months ago we had our offer accepted on a moulin in Creuse with 15 hectares of land (mainly steep woodland along the river but with meadow and river frontage). This was a property where we managed to haggle down the price, albeit it was ludricrously overpriced in the first place and had been on the market forever. We only had a verbal agreement by email and nothing in writing.

We were both in a grotty, freezing rental house at the time and had the flu so were unable to get out (-20 windchill IIRC) to sign any paperwork. A few days later in my vague flu induced state I received another email from the French vendor saying he had received another offer which exceeded ours by €20k. We did not want to go any higher as the place needed loads of work. So that was that…or so we thought. I was on Leboncoin the other night and saw the same moulin advertised by the same vendor. I messaged him and was told the sale had fallen through because it had taken his sister nearly 12 months…yep count em…twelve months to agree to the sale price…by this time the buyer had disappeared. So apparently the sister has specified that the property must not be sold for under a certain amount and that is above what we would pay even now. So this mill has now been on the market for pushing three years…incroyable as they say in France. Will they get what they are asking for…I highly doubt it. C’est la vie!!


(stella wood) #17

There are situations like that … all across France… sometimes families fall out with each other with disastrous consequences all round … :roll_eyes:


(David Martin) #18

If all the properties are vastly overpriced I suggest that’s its you who is made the wrong valuation. If a seller is not prepared to go below a certain price that is the price that you will have to pay. If the seller is not desperate to sell you have no choice.


(John Hall) #19

We sold a completely newly renovated 140m2 house with 2 hectares, outbuildings and all new everything roof/fosse/energy efficient/eco etc for not a huge amount more than what this guy wants for a wreck of a house.

I feel that you have answered your own question.
Sadly so many people feel that a home is an investment that will increase in value to enable you to “climb” the property ladder. Certainly that was true some years ago in the UK but not in France. I can speak from experience having owned and renovated 4 homes in France since 1992. No-one thinks twice about buying a new car and then selling 3 years later for half the price! Property is moving in a similar way. We all need to live somewhere and where ever that is then if you own it it ain’t worth a red cent while ever it gives a food above your head.
I fully understand your frustration in not being able to find a property that fits your pocket but perhaps your pocket is not deep enough to meet your dreams? As others have said, pay the price or walk away.


(Paul Lewis) #20

Helpful!