Finding Villas for Sale
Real estate listings in France are not the same as in the United States (where you can search every property that’s for sale –and all past sale prices– in one MLS system that every agent uses), or in Canada and the UK (where sellers price their properties at close to market value). On the French Riviera, prices are often unrealistic and it’s hard to find good listings or reasonably-priced villas for sale. This is due to a number of reasons….
Real Estate Listings in France
You may find this shocking, but only 58% of all villa sales are via real estate agents, and many of those are sold ‘off-market’ to their clients (or developers, which then give the agent another commission when they flip it) without the need to publish the listing online.
The rest are via auctions, directly via notaires (4% of sales), or through private sales via local newspapers, social media, classified sites, or specialty property press (listed by the owner). This is because real estate agents charge between 4% and 10%, and many owners would prefer to try selling another way, only dealing with agents if they can’t find a buyer on their own.
Once an agent gets hold of it, they’ll first try to “off-market” offer it to their clients and other agents they have partnerships with. If none of them can find an interested buyer, that’s when they start paying to advertise it. They hold off on making the listing public for as long as possible because publicly advertising it invites competition from other agencies (other agents find it on Google Earth and approach the seller, so they’ll make the commission if they sell it). So usually if a villa hasn’t sold by the time is publicly advertised, it’s because it’s overpriced or has issues. Learn about why so many villas are overpriced.
In summary, villas on the French Riviera proceed through three markets — private, off-market, and publicly listed:
Market 1: The Private Market. First, sellers try to sell without using an agent. About half of all villas are sold privately, without being listed with an agent.
Market 2: Off-Market. If they couldn’t sell private, then they list with an agent. A large percentage of villas are sold ‘off-market’ by the agent to their existing contacts, without being listed publicly or on the Internet.
Market 3: Publicly Listed. If nobody wants to buy the villa, then agents list it publicly on the internet. These villas usually sit on the market for many years and don’t sell unless the owner dramatically lowers the price.
Nearly all of the villas that are listed publicly are the ones that have issues and are overpriced.
Make sure to read about real estate agents in France before working with them.
Finding Villas for Sale
While there’s no single website that has all the publicly-advertised listings, there are several websites that aggregate, the best is Le Site Immo (which shows when the listing was posted, the m² price and price drops). Other are: Le Figaro, Green Acres, and Super Immo. They all allow you to sign up for new listing alerts via email. As you’ll see if you watch the alerts for a while (years, even), the same houses keep getting re-listed over and over.
When searching on these sites, make sure to sort by price as that will make it easier to spot duplicate listings and falsely inflated m² information.
Another thing to be aware of is that some agents refuse to work with other agents (for various reasons), resulting in the agent you’re working with telling you a property has sold when it hasn’t, so make sure to double-check with another agent (or, later, in DVF). Also, many deals fall through — a property with an offer on it is far from a done deal and very well may end up back on the market.
On the French Riviera, the seller pays for the agent’s fees, but those fees are baked into the price, so if you buy direct you might be able to negotiate a lower price.
There is an interesting website called Castorus, which tries to track which real estate listings have changed the price, and how long the listing has been online. It will give you a sense of the minimum length of time a listing has been online, and if the price changed on the sites they track.
Reading Real Estate Listings
Listings normally say the number of m² and pieces (rooms) that a villa has, but these numbers are sometimes inflated / inaccurate. Frequently, we see the m² of a villa inflated by 50% to 100%, and sometimes as much as 200%! In theory this is not allowed, but in reality agents do not get punished for false advertising in France.
Each main room, not including the bathrooms, storage or kitchen, are considered a ‘piece’. So a 3-piece is usually a 2-bedroom. Watch out because some agents fluff this a little by calling a 2-bedroom with an extra large living room a 4-piece, so it’s important to double-check. A ‘salle de sejour’ or ‘salon’ is what Americans call a ‘living room’. Some estate agents list rooms as bedrooms even if they aren't what you would consider a bedroom (no windows or super-low ceiling, too small, etc.), so make sure to count in person at the property.
Timing is Important
Since only 62% of villas on the French Riviera are primary residences, that makes the spring and summer less ideal for finding a villa to buy, as many owners have rented out their villas for the summer. There’s more selection in the fall, after the summer vacation rental season. By the winter, owners whose villas are still on the market may be more flexible on pricing.
Auctions & Foreclosures
Auctions and foreclosures may (or may not) provide an opportunity for a bargain in France. Usually an auction is chosen to affect a quick sale – perhaps because of divorce, inheritance, or to settle debt. You can find out if there are any auction or foreclosure properties for sale in the area you want by checking the Notaires website and Kadran.
Properties at auction will typically have a much lower reserve than the market price and all wannabe bidders will need to pay a deposit in advance – which can be anything from 5% to 20% – if you don’t win the bid your money will be returned. Additional fees add up to roughly an extra 10% and may include court expenses, lawyers’ fees, publication fees and more – it is important to check in advance what your obligations are. Here’s some more information about French property auctions.
Buying a Villa? Read This First!
When you’re ready to look for a property, make sure to read our complete guide to buying real estate in France. These guides explain how to estimate a property’s real value, how to get the best price and avoid over-pricing, what to look out for, how to avoid getting scammed, and more.
First, in order to understand the real estate market in France, you must understand how m² pricing is a giant scam. Then, you can move on to the other guides:
Our guide to where the market is headed includes: French Riviera real estate market predictions, current & historic pricing trends in the market, and the reasons why prices will continue to fall. Plus, supplementary guide to Russians & their impact on the French Riviera real estate market.
Our guide to scams and secrets includes: warnings about the unethical tricks that agents, notaires, sellers, developers and builders use to get more money out of you. This is a must-read, and the whistleblower guide that those in the business don’t want you to see.
Our guide to real estate agents includes: the dishonest things agents will tell you, how real estate agencies operate, buyer’s agents and property finders, why you should avoid illegal and non-local agents, and who to trust (an important warning).
Our guide to pricing & determining a villa’s market value includes: why there’s so much extreme overpricing, how to estimate a villa’s market value (what it’s worth), and a step-by-step guide to finding your offer price.
Our guide to important things to find out includes: diagnostic reports and surveys, sun & micro-climates, potential issues with the view, housing taxes, the age, internet and mobile access, danger (red) zones, health risks, privacy & space issues, nearby problems, what you’ll actually own, illegal additions and structures, why they’re selling, how to verify, and more.
Our guide to things to consider includes: your actual costs, issues with buying a ‘newly renovated’ villa, learning about local crime & squatters, and questions to ask yourself.
Our guide to the buying process includes: negotiating the price & the initial offer, choosing an honest notaire, buying in the black, the official offer & deposit, using a SCI, contract pitfalls, the cooling-off period, what to do before handing over the money, and the final signing.
Our guide for after you buy includes: insurance pitfalls, tips for second homes, renting your villa, renovating, and what to know about hiring people.
Guide for sellers: How to price your villa so it will sell.