Friday, September 23, 2016


Friday 23 September 2016

Sunny 26 degrees

I was out on prospection when my phone rang.  A french lady whose name translated as four poster bed.  Would I like to come and have a look at her house?  I asked her for more information and was it with other agencies so I could have a look at the condition and fittings.  Ah yes, said the lady, but I want to discuss it with you first....

The main reason, of course, I wanted to look at the other agency advert, was to see which agency it was and what was the price being asked.  The agencies chosen by a vendor give useful clues.  

A french person who goes initially for an english facing agency is saying that they want a price which the french will not pay.

A person who has myriad agencies is desperate

I am usually reluctant to go and see a house without finding out in price band the owner wishes to run around but it wasnt far to go so we made an appointment.

A French person normally goes into the local French agencies.  French people like walking into a physical agency, shaking hands and having a real person sitting opposite them at the desk.  They have not taken to the internet in the same way as the English speaking world because of their preference for human contact.  Perhaps, in the future, when all the English speakers have shut themselves away in a hermetic space with only their android phones for company, things will be run by verbose Spaniards and flashy Italians and oh là là French people.  And things will be very different.

But back to Madame 4 Poster Bed:  I found the house easily and it looked presentable.  M4PB had told me it was magnifique - a word which indicated a high price and second most overused word in the French language.  A 19th century property with large extension, brand new roof, garden with mature trees and freshly painted facade and shutters.  A black cat watched me from between the blades of a Yucca plant.

Madame opened the door in a rattling of jewellery and flash of very whitened teeth.  She was a talker.  We went around the house and she didnt draw breath. Was pleasantly surprised.  Apart from the violently custard yellow hall, stairs and landing, the rooms were spacious and the floors were original.  The walls had chalk rendering and matt colours which glowed in the afternoon sunlight. Ornate Indian shutters as bed heads.  Subtle lighting.  No space for storing clothes.  Massive loft.  Large yoga room with bathroom ideal for installing granny at ground floor level or as rented holiday unit.

I measured up and took photos and the lady produced some Earl Grey tea and biscuits and we got down to the business of price.  

I will tell you how the international agency estimated the price so you can see how it is calculated; said the lady.  

It is 1400-1600 euros/m2 in this village; I replied.  Was it xxx agency?

Yes!; said the lady; and that is what they used for their base of calculation.  

I felt much happier - perhaps for once they had not gone for an utterly bonkers price.  But no....

The lady continued... And then they added on an amount for my very large loft space.  And then they added on the price of the land....

I was almost stunned into silence.  But Madame, the average price is for the totality!  A house does not come without land - it does not float in space.  A house has a roof and under that roof is often a loft.  

The owner looked at me and I looked at the lady N'est pas? I added.  The lady was upset.  She had trusted this agency and as a consequence, her house was on at a price of 1950/m2.  She was a single widow who could not afford her mortgage.

And I was suddenly very angry.  What sort of service do this agency think they are providing?  True, they had found her a 'buyer' but with not enough cash and in his early 60's so unable to borrow enough money to make up the difference. And six months had passed and, with it, the Spring and Summer clients.

This lady believed in the myth that English speaking buyers are rich, that they are willing to pay 'top dollar', that they love old houses and are just desperate to spend their time doing them up.  In reality, this is no longer the case. 

In the early 2000's yes, people did snap up old houses and pay prices which astounded the locals but since then, prices have risen significantly.  People 'blame' the British for pushing up prices.  But who was asking the price - who was seeing how much they could achieve for Granny's old ruin in the back of beyond?  Brits dont come along and insist on paying as much as possible.  They are savvy. Americans and Australians drive a very hard bargain. No one is anyone's fool.

I had always wondered how this particular agency arrived at its prices.  Having suspected for years that they just asked the sellers how much they wanted, I now realised that it was all just calculated.  Calculated to thrill the vendors. Calculated to make the other agencies look mean and stingy.  Perpetuating the myth.....

I persuaded her to drop the price somewhere nearer the upper average market price and left with the mandat in my bag and a heavy heart.  Not for myself and the difficulty of getting people over the doorstep but for the lady, alone in her large house and with her unrealistic dreams of the 'big' buyer.

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