The real picture is not what you see first.

Because of too much home staging house hunters are often lured into visiting French properties that are not worth the time and the journey. To avoid this some basic searches on the net can help get a better picture of a property and even explore its dark (or grey) sides.

As a property finder, we do this all the time. Once a property is spotted we remotely assess it by deeply browsing the net. We collect facts and information not only on the house, but its environment, the seller, its purchase history. Everything available.

When we select a proparty for our own fisrt viewing, we already “know” it well and home staging won’t put wool over our eyes. This tedious homework is time and money savvy and it makes us able to provide a first class service for reasonable fees.

To illustrate this, I invite you to a journey into property intelligence. Our start point today is an ad on Leboncoin ( https://www.leboncoin.fr/ ), the French portal where everyone can advertise anything, even castles.

We spotted an offer in English for a “château” in the centre of France. (https://www.leboncoin.fr/ventes_immobilieres/965871409.htm?ca=7_s )

LBC

Three points attracted our attention:

  • The castle location was not precisely given but the name, “château de Pellebuzan”, was an easy lead.

  • The advertiser is an individual, probably Dutch or Belgian. His/her land line number is available, thus enabling a direct contact in the future.

  • Fuzzy aerial pictures reveal nothing of the inside but show a lot of outbuildings around the castle itself.

By googling the castle name we were able to find a website: www.pellebuzan.com. Although only in Dutch tit added a lot to our understanding of the property current state and destination. Numerous indoors pictures showed a well renovated castle, especially the 6 rooms open to B&B and the two gîtes.

Another puzzling point was that the property description on Leboncoin was in English. We presumed that the seller’s “targets” were UK house hunters. For that reason, we visited Green-acres ( http://www.green-acres.com ) and Rightmove. We quite expectedly, found the property on the latter (http://www.rightmove.co.uk/overseas-property/property-39855732.html). This proved our assumption correct and that no agent had an exclusivity on the property. For us, property finders it means more room for manoeuvring.

Rightmove also provided a very good description of the property even if wording was a kind of verbal home staging. Its pictures were a big help to figure out the property’s layout.

To better assess the seller’s strategy and complement our fact finding, we decided to visit some of the handful of French realtors specialised in castles. We also identified the estate agents located in the vicinity of the property and visited their websites.

We discovered that Le Nail immobilier, one of the best “castle specialist” in central and western France advertise Pellebuzan: http://www.cabinetlenail.com/annonce,vente-chateau-chateauroux,4874,515vm,fr.html

As usual its fine and precise property description and very informative pictures were a good help to summarize our fact finding report on this property. We also found out that one local agency and one subsidiary of a French national network were advertising the property.

With all collected bits and piece and information we then prepared an illustrated report that went from general situation to surface area of the main rooms.

Find out about the seller

Once the property is assessed, the second step in house hunting is understanding who is “on the other side of the hill”, namely the seller. To be able to negotiate successfully one must understand who he/she is, why he is selling, what expectations does he/she nurture and what are his/her rationales, if any…

In our example, thorough searches on the net allowed us to understand that the seller is a Dutch speaker who bought the castle ten years ago to start a B&B and gîtes business. The castle that previously belonged to an aged general was renovated from 2007 to 2010. It was probably a staged renovation as the B&B business was officially registered in 2008.

Recent pictures also show that the property is now well maintained and give a fair idea about the attraction of the place as B&B and gîtes. Night rates for the rooms, that are also on offer on Airbnb, are in the upper middle class. Occupancy rate is difficult to assess and will require further investigation. Although the already quoted B&B website is professional, we found an Airbnb page summarily illustrated with unattractive pictures of the place in winter staging apparently bored dwellers. We draw no conclusion at that stage but this was a hint.

Another source we explored was a YouTube video advertising the castle. The video is accessible at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dK9VmPblKE .What struck us was that it had been made by ParuVendu, an older brother from Leboncoin and that is was published in 2009. We actually think that the owner already tried to sell the property then and probably failed. This is a point to check and to remember.

For the sake of the seller’s privacy we wish not to unveil further findings. We just wanted to demonstrate here that understanding the seller is a complex but critical part of (private or professional ) house hunting. Further to an internet investigation, conversational intelligence is the advanced method to get the information that will allow the buyer to take the lead in the negotiation. More than often, seller’s agents try to protect their clients from too much understanding from the buyers and find who the to be buyer really is. A property finder acting on the buyer’s behalf usually make all endeavours to disguise his/her client’s intention and uncover the seller’s ones.

Lowest price is just a start

Last but not least in our example we found out that prices discrepancies were huge between the different websites. Although some of the below mentioned prices should be taken with caution as not all sites are clear about whether their prices include the agent fees, they obviously demonstrate that it was worth browsing:

    • 1,150 000 € on local and specialized real estate websites (fees included)

    • 1,110 000 € on Rightmove

    • 1,100 000 € on Leboncoin (fees included)

    • 1,075 000 € on Moulin.nl (a website open to individuals; presumably fees included)

So, by just “googling” we saved our potential buyer 75,000€ upfront, 6.5 % from the highest price. The lowest price – obviously to be taken as starting point for the upcoming negotiation – was found on a Dutch website (https://www.moulin.nl/nl/vastgoed/kasteel-te-koop-taille-humaine-gîtes-op-23-ha_123007/). We found and explored it because the seller is a Dutch speaker and his strategy was to address all potential customers (French, UK, Dutch, Belgian, local, international, castle focused, etc). This proved advantageous.

At the end of the day, what is all that about ? We got a fairly good knowledge of the property and some good elements for a buying strategy. A potential buyer can now express his feelings while knowing they won’t blind him. As property finders we are not game spoilers, we are money keepers.