How to sell your property in France

Right now, in some parts of France, you can see estate agents' signs proudly announcing that a house has been sold "in one weekend", "in one day", or even "in one visit". But some properties just up the road are still on the market after months. Some sell, some just don't.

Mystified? Don't be. There are some pretty simple reasons some of these properties get marooned without a buyer - and selling quickly isn't hard, if you follow the basic rules.

First of all, know your market. That could mean, if you have a lovingly restored period house in the Dordogne, that you'll be selling to an international (and possibly mainly British) market rather than appealing to French buyers. In Brittany, though, French holiday home buyers are very active - and if you're selling a flat in Paris the local market has huge demand.

If you expect to be selling to international buyers, using agencies connected to Properstar could be a smart move. And to access the local market, you may be off using one of the big French groups (also present on Properstar), like the Century 21 franchise, CapiFrance or iAD France. (Or you might find a real local specialist like Berrissimo in the Indre. They do exist, and are often extremely well informed and hard working!)

You'll also need to know where your property fits in the local market. What do similar properties sell for? What condition are they in? How do features compare - for instance, the kitchen, bathroom, garden, pool? You need to do every bit as much research as you would if you were aiming to buy a property.

Second, decide your priorities. If you want a speedy sale, you may need to be brutally realistic about the price. On the other hand if you want the best price you can get, you may need to reconcile yourself to waiting for a while; and remember, once a property has been on the market a while, it can get stale, or potential buyers may make 'cheeky' offers.

Setting the right price is a bit of a balance between 'pricing to sell' on the one hand and pushing your luck on the other. If you price above the market range, you're going to find it very hard selling; the further below the top of the range you are prepared to price, the more easily you'll attract possible buyers.

You can get a good idea of pricing by looking at the portals. There are also a number of sites that will let you check average prices for your area; try Immoprix or Meilleurs Agents. You can also check the price per square metre on the notaries' property site (www.immobilier.notaires.fr). Of course a good agent will also help you determine the price - but then, to select a good agent, it helps if you start with a good feel for the price nd what might affect it!

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Get your property ready for viewings

Before you invite potential buyers or even estate agents to see the property, set to work to get it in top notch condition. Repair small faults in the finish, such as dents in the plasterwork, scuffed paint, or scratches. Get rid of clutter - put things in storage or send them to the Emmaus charity. Depersonalise, getting rid of photos, certificates, and so on, and toning down any décor that's too in-your-face.

Let light in - clean the windows properly, remove any heavy drapes, and put more powerful light bulbs in. Above all, plan how to emphasise the plus points - for instance if your huge kitchen is a big selling point, focus on making it as attractive as you can.

How do you want to sell it - yourself or with an agent?

You can certainly sell the property yourself and save the honoraires; many French sellers do. Over 30% of property sales in France are made on this basis. But unless you have the time to respond to inquiries and handle viewings, it may be better to employ an agent - particularly if you may not be in the country much of the time.

If you're hiring an agent, make sure they have the time for a full discussion of the property's strengths, weaknesses and valuation as well as a visit. What are the strong points that ought to be stressed? How will they market the property? What kind of buyers do they think will be most interested? How much demand is there for this type of property?

Remember that you can hire a single agent with a mandat exclusif, or get multiple agents working for you under a mandat simple. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. If you do go exclusive, try not to sign up for a full three months - negotiate a shorter period so if things don't go as you expected, you're not tied in.

At this point you need to get the energy certificate sorted out, and you should probably get all the required diagnostiques done. Most agents know an expert who can handle the lot - noting any faults in your electrics, gas, any asbestos or lead paint, and natural risks. In some regions you'll also need a report on termites or dry rot.

If you're using an agent, make sure you follow up. Ask to see the adverts and leaflets before they're signed off, and make sure you have a compte-rendu of each visit. Make sure the photos are good, and that there are enough of them - some French agents try to get away with just two or three, which isn't enough to get buyers interested.

And now for a special nasty little piece of officialdom

If you're a non-EU resident, or your property is held in a company, you may need to appoint a représentant fiscal who will be in charge of policing the sale and making sure every single little bit of paperwork is correct. The representative's job is to ensure you're not ripping off the French state - if you've done a lot of renovation work you'll have to find every single receipt.

And remember the notaire, too, polices the amount you paid for the property and spent on it, as it's the notaire who is responsible for collecting any tax on your profit (unless you're selling your main residence).

Once you've got your buyer hooked, it will take two or three months from the compromis de vente (sales agreement) to final sale. Don't agree to an offer unless you're 100% certain; you can't change your mind to take a better offer later, as you can in some other real estate markets.

In rural areas the agricultural quango SAFER may have pre-emption rights, and in some towns the town hall may also have a first refusal; they are both notorious for taking the full 2 months allowed to make up their minds. If your buyer has signed with a finance clause, they'll also need to get their mortgage funds lined up.

You should also be aware that you may not get your funds paid over the same day as the final sales contract is signed. It can take up to three weeks for funds to be transferred - possibly more if you need them to go to a foreign bank account.