Our house search was launched right after the summer vacation, in September 2020. We started by poring through the information available on seloger.com, the most popular website used for the rental and purchase of residential properties.
Unfortunately, not soon after our house search started, the number of Covid-19 cases returned with a vengeance. The French government attempted to limit the spread of Covid-19 by initially enforcing regional lockdowns, though more lenient than the first round. A nationwide one was enforced on the 30 October for a minimum of four weeks.
Since we were in the midst of the second lockdown, our search was mainly desktop research, reviewing the photos or 3D virtual tours of houses put up for sale.
We expected seloger.com to be more active, with more listed houses for sale. However, after monitoring the situation for a few weeks, we realized that not many houses were for sale. We attributed the slow market to the second lockdown and yearend holiday season.
The scarcity of houses for sale continued into the new year. Soon, we realized that what we mistakenly understood as “slow market” is actually a disequilibrium between demand and supply. There are currently more buyers than sellers.
Due to the pandemic, sanitary health measures such as the lockdowns and the switch to working remotely have prompted people to move out of cities and search for a bigger and greener living space. The surge in demand has resulted in 5-10% price increase of residential properties in many regions of France.
Each time a reasonably priced and decent house is put up on sale, it gets snapped up within days. An agent revealed to us that, in the pre-covid era, he usually had 50 houses to clear at any one time. However, for the past year, the business has moved so fast that he has only a fistful of houses at any moment to offer to house buyers.
While the agent may have exaggerated his numbers (which we believe he did on the ’50’), the market situation that he has described seems to ring true. In the good old days, ‘A Vendre’ (For Sale) signboards were the usual type of real estate signboards we saw around in our area. Nowadays, we are more likely to see signboards put up by real estate agents, announcing their search for home / landowners who are interested in selling their properties.
We Will Call You Back
From January onwards, we started to (or rather tried to) contact agencies with house listings that fitted our criteria. Quite a few agents who were so busy that they simply would not get back to us after we emailed them or left messages.
There was one particular agency that had a couple of houses that we were interested in. We called and left messages. Receiving no callbacks, we dropped by the agency impromptu on a Saturday morning. The receptionist took down our contact details and search criteria, promising that someone would call us back.
Do you think that they called us back? Business must be flourishing for the residential real estate agents. These agents can afford to be rude to potential clients. They may not have suitable houses for us to view at that particular moment, but it does not mean that they should not build client relationships for future business.
Spread The Word
Most new house listings do not stay long on the market unless there is something really wrong with the property. For instance, if the house is situated in the middle of forest with no car-access road leading to it, or you need to rebuild the foundation of the house. Generally, the moment a new house is put up on seloger.com, the appointed real estate agency would receive numerous callers expressing interest.
Our brief experience in the house search market shows that the appointed agency has likely already lined up house visits even before the listing is available to the public. What it means is that, by the time you see a house listing that interests you, it is likely that you are a step too late. House visits have likely already been scheduled and done; offers for the house may even already been made. This is what happened when we put our apartment for sale (see below).
To be ahead in this game, you need to have contacts. You need to spread the word around to different real estate agents that you are in the search for an apartment. The agents would contact you once they have something that fits your criteria. The most essential thing is that they will arrange a house visit for you before the horde lands.
Selling Our Apartment
To buy a house, we would have to sell our apartment. The budget for the house depended on how much we could sell the apartment. At the start of our search, we thought that the key complication might be the timing of cashflow. Ideally, the timing of the sale should match the timing of the purchase. We were afraid that it might take too long to sell our apartment, resulting in us not able to timely finance the purchase.
We have an apartment with a very centralized location. I personally thought that it would be relatively easy to sell our apartment, even without the pandemic hanging over us. However, my other half was more nervous about the sale.
Apartment Sale Strategy
After meeting GH and LF, two big French real estate franchises, we handed the apartment sales mandate to LF. We opted for LF as the agent proposed a bolder sales strategy. The latter suggested we marked up the pre-pandemic market value to gauge the reaction of buyers, instead of being conservative and starting with a lower selling price, as suggested by GH.
We also followed the advice of the agent to repaint sections of the wall, after which our apartment was immediately put on the market. Before the apartment listing was made public, our agent already revealed that he had lined up a couple of house visits. The day after the listing was put up on seloger.com, he had secured more visits.
We were, of course, keen to have our apartment sold but were dreading the numerous house visits from interested buyers which might disrupt our work, which had been mostly moved online. In addition, you may snicker, but I was afraid that the buyers may not want take off their shoes when they enter the apartment, which meant that we would have to clean up after them.
Apartment Sold 'A Prix'
Fortunately, our apprehension about numerous visitors trooping into our apartment came to naught. Five visits were scheduled over the weekend. However, only one visit took place. The first visit was a couple who, after spending fifteen minutes in our apartment, immediately offered to purchase our apartment “à prix”, at our asking price. We were shocked, but extremely glad that the sale was quick. We later understood from the agent that the couple actually gave an offer for another apartment in this area a few months back. Unfortunately for them, they waited a couple of days before giving their offer—the apartment was bought by someone else during their ponderation.
With the apartment sold and to be handed to the buyers by mid-July, our only concern left is not able to find our house and having no roof over our head in July. We have six more months to complete our quest.