Price negotiation in the French countryside is a touchy game where rationality is less than often the leading principle. There are nevertheless some basics in French seller psychology a foreign buyer should know.
An exorbitant price might be a good opportunity
In fact, most French private sellers have no idea about the price they can ask for their house. They bought it in French Francs a long time or some years ago (ages in the fast moving property market) and suddenly they are decided or have to sell. Usually , their first valuation is based on a mix of :
Wooing speeches of an estate agent who wants them to sign a sell mandate.
Specialized valuation websites readings (like the excellent meilleursagents.com) + 20 % because their house is “so lovely”.
Gross sum of all the money (and efforts) they put in the house before they understood it was too big / too rainy a place/ too demanding.
Expectations on how life changing selling a house should be.
Self esteem for what is often a lifetime achievement.
Their idea of the buffer sum to add to a “reasoned” selling price by anticipation of a tough negotiation; something around 10 to 15 %.
This may explain why a lot of properties remain on the market for months or even years. Once the buyer understands that his expectations were far too high, he will scale down his demand. In France, the average property price diminution after negotiation lays between 5 and 7% from the asked price. Actually, considering the initial asked price the diminution would be often around 25-30 %.
An exorbitant price can nevertheless be a good opportunity as there will be no or less competing buyers and once the price has started sliding it may go far below the buyer’s target price. The issue is how to get the seller on this dangerous slope. This is a long way but it may be worth the patience.
The 3 types of sellers
The first thing to do is get to know the seller in spite of the smoke screen the estate agents are launching in order to avoid any direct contact that could jeopardize their mandate. To achieve this have a look at the place for sale according to your own standards but don’t forget to watch out for details. They tell a lot about the property owners (age, social condition, tastes). Be aware that home staging by estate agents will hide these hints by replacing the original décor with an Ikea catch-all one. If the owners are present, engage in small talks and have them speak about their house. If you’re with an agent only, insist on getting as much information as you can about the house and the owner.
There are broadly three types of sellers. An inquisitive attitude will help you understand which category the owners belong to.
The first category is made of sentimental sellers. They don’t want to sell their house but to transmit it, especially if the house has been in the family for generations. In such a case, the buyer’s objective should be to be acknowledged as the legitimate “heir” of their beloved home.
To achieve this, use viewings to note what is considered worthy by the owners (sometimes watching the internet listing is enough to spot it). It may be the garden, the veranda, the CCTV installation, the fireplace, the spacious drawing room. Anything. Insist on these sacred places. No need to overplay an admiration for the “stunning” disco bar or the collection of lace doilies, just show a genuine interest for their past endeavours in building, refurbishing or decorating the house.
If you succeed in this operation of social seduction, the negotiation will be facilitated. Once the owners are convinced that you are the right person, the house is formally conveyed and they will do their best to find an agreement among friends. And as French people don’t like speaking too much about money, this won’t take long.
Another kind of sellers are the believers. These people truly believe that selling the house will be a life changer. They consider that You are the solution (or the cow to milk) to their problems and they do want to believe in you. Their expectations are usually far away from the market harsh realities and they will trust you as long as you don’t shatter their dreams.
In such a case, your objective is to become the good and wise uncle. Again, numerous viewings are not a waste of time if you take these opportunities to convey reasonable messages. Tell the owners what is worthy in the house and what is not. Speak about the market, the price of refurbishments and engage with the agent for him to support your position. In a nutshell, show them that the house is not a heap of gold but that they will receive a reasonable amount of money if they agree to sell at your conditions. Remind them that you are their sole buyer and that, on a quiet market, a property is worth the money the buyer is ready to pay for it. If you are a cash buyer, insist on how consistent is your offer. If the trust has been established, they will listen to you and will think twice before letting you go.
The last archetypes a buyer can engage with is the enlightened seller. This person thinks he knows better than everybody what is the right price for his property. It is a problematic type of seller because with him reducing the selling price is not just about money but a matter of being right or wrong. His Gallic pride is at stake.
In such a case, don’t pretend you know best, although what you know for sure is the money you can spend on this acquisition. Think clear and look confused. Let the seller take the lead and try convincing you to agree with his valuation. Don’t discuss the price but engage in questioning about the house features. Challenge him by talking about other properties you are considering. He will run the gauntlet of exposing his views about why his house is the best choice for you. Once this is achieved, let him understand that the only obstacle for him to be right is the price. And make an offer.
The offer. Make sure it is low enough to be rejected
With no competitor around (don’t be fooled by “the other buyer”. Except in big cities, there are less than 2 buyers for each house) making an offer that is much lower than the asked price is always possible. If the price is over the limit, it’s a must. What matters is the way to do it.
Legally, the offer must be in writing. Use this opportunity to say that you are interested and why you are interested. Make it obvious to the seller that you know the offer is low but give clear explanations on your motives for proposing it. In your conclusion, make it clear that a No will be taken as start for a (long) discussion. Even if your chances of receiving a yes are nil, this will set the frame for the upcoming negotiation.
If you received a No, ask for the reasons to this answer. Use this answer to raise your offer but take your time and let the other party understand that you are playing the long game. Make sure the seller get the feeling that you reviewed your valuation according to his views but seed doubt about your willingness to come to an early conclusion. This moral victory will help him take a favourable decision on the next rounds of negotiation. Meanwhile your mastering of the time will remind him that there is no alternative available in a foreseeable future.
Obviously these archetypes are a bit theoretical. Most French sellers are a bit of all three types. Sometimes a family of sellers can be composed of a mix of them. A good buyer must understand how to adjust his role-play according to such a contingency. At last, what unites all three cases is that patience is the ultimate trump card in this game.