Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Chasseur

Sorry if there have been multiple postings on Twitter or Facebook, I have been messing around with Twitterfeed.  I should say that just in case anyone is actually reading this, I know it's kind of boring... I'm not sure, but I guess the idea of blogs is that you write something because it interests you, and other people either read it or they don't; mostly they don't.  The virtue of internet information is that it is easy to ignore.

Last Spring we decided to start looking again.  We had a trip to Paris scheduled because Carol was giving a talk in Prague, so I looked around on the internet and came up with a new chasseur outfit, called Flathunter.  The email contact person, H., was an American raised in Britain, she seemed nice enough, so we set up an interview. 

I started talking about chasseurs in my last post.  It is very difficult to buy real estate overseas.  Aside from the cultural problems and the oddities of the French real estate system, the simple fact that you are 3000 miles and six time zones away makes it almost impossible.  Unless you somehow have a way to spend a couple of months in Paris, it's just not possible to go see enough apartments in a couple of days to make a decision.  In Paris, nice apartments come and go quickly, so unless you have some way to grab onto something when it comes on the market, it will be gone by the time you get there.   In addition the official French real estate system is very formal and hard to navigate.  Unlike in the US, real estate companies only list the properties that have been specifically contracted to them; there is no equivalent of the MLS.  So every apartment is connected with a different agent, who has no interest in showing anything else.  The most familiar fixture of the American system, the ever cheerful eager-beaver, show you a million houses, take you around on Sunday morning, anything I can do to sell you a house real estate agent, is completely absent.  It's back to a familiar theme:  most French real estate agents, and for that matter the sellers themselves, act as though they are going to a whole lot of trouble to show you their apartment.  Real estate agents don't answer calls, and many of them won't deal with Americans at all.  Even sellers, when you get in touch with them via one of the for sale by owner websites, don't answer emails.  I think it would be very very frustrating to try and undertake it on your own, even if you lived in Paris and spoke very good French.

So that is what chasseurs do, for a considerable fee.  We set up a meeting with H., went to see her and got the story.  For 1,000 euros down and 4% of the eventual sale (serious money) you are assigned a chasseur whose job it is to hit the real estate market, giving you updates via email or phone so you can eventually schedule a visit and come see whatever apartments are there at the time.  Then they are supposed to help with the process all the way through closing, which in our case turned out to be a problem.  Anyway we signed a contract.

Of course, the process is hard even with a chasseur, because apartments come and go quickly enough that even if the chasseur finds something, if you can't get over there within a week it's likely to be gone by the time you do.  Our Chasseur was C., the person who was still helping at the end of the story  Our first contacts with her were by email and phone, as we described to her what we were looking for:  price range, at least 50 square meters, something big enough to hold four people, five in a pinch, with an elevator, in an older building, not on the ground floor.  At the beginning we were less sure of location, but we knew we wanted something in an area where we could rent.  We could eliminate some neighborhoods because they were sure to be too expensive.  Over a period of a couple of weeks she made a few suggestions.  The level of communication was not particularly intense.

Fortunately, it turns out that you do not have to rely exclusively on your chasseur, because there are a couple of pretty good websites that you can use to search for apartments. is the for sale by owner site, and is run by the real estate agencies.  They both have fair but not wonderful front ends that allow you to search by location and price.  As time went by we spent a lot of time on these sites, especially CAM, and as time went by we came more and more to do the identification of possibilities ourselves.  We would email them to C., who would head off to see them.  There were the typical frustrations, there are many Spring holidays in France, and C. was not always great about following-up on our suggestions.  She would go to some of them and ignore others.  We'd email reminders and she wouldn't answer.  It was the usual thing.... she was nice, when she got around to things she was fine, but the whole thing was lacking in that good old let's-get-a-deal-done real estate agent energy.  We kept making tables of apartment we had found, checking off when she had seen them and reported back to us. 

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