Saturday, March 12, 2005

Are estate agents the same everywhere?

I remember from Britain the occasional humourous item translating what estate agents say into what they actually mean. Examples that springs to mind is 'compact and bijou', for which read 'not enough room to swing a cat'; and 'in need of a refreshing coat of paint', for which 'no roof' would be more to the point.

Similar liberties are taken with the French langauge on a daily basis, at least for 90% of the properties we have been conned into visiting. But there seems to be a distinct difference in the type of liberty.

Here, there is less a flagrant transformation of the facts into something more palatable, and more a flagrant attempt to focus on a good point, in the face of sometimes insurmountable bad points about a particular feature. This can sometimes have good comic potential, unfortunately not appreciated neither by my partner in crime nor me. Our sense of humour having been compromised by the distance travelled and the temperature, and the totally inappropriate property itself. Let me give you an example.

'Un beau volume', means that the (usually) barn is very spacious. This is usually undeniably true. However it is usually not the most significant feature of said barn, which has acres of roofing in need of about 10 years loving care and attention by an artisan, should you be able to find one.

Do you see what I mean? Another story we've heard, jaws on the ground, is that a farm is 'au calme'. Again undeniably true. Ten miles from the nearest road is quiet, with just one other property within ten miles. BUT, that just happens to be a saw mill. So the farm is 'au calme' but not really, well not at all, actually quiet.

You begin to get the picture. Another feature of French estate agents is their absolute conviction that given half a chance, following an introduction to a seller, a buyer will thank the agent and then enter into clandestine negotiations directly. No commission. They are not paranoid; they have this fear because this is what the French actually do. Avoiding fees, taxes, NI contributions, entry charges, in fact any payments at all, is one of the French national sports. Second only to strikes. So when you see a 'for sale' advert, it will give the name of a town or village. This generally has only a vague relationship to the property's actual location, to avoid the above scenario.

Now for us, if not for most people, the location is pretty important. And if it's not right, we don't want to go and visit it, especially if it means 150km each way in the middle of winter. But you just can't get anything out of the agent any more precise than the advert; you arrange to see it, you arrange to meet in front of the church, Mairie, bar tabac etc., and then get trailed off up to 25km in any direction to the secret location. Which of course turns out to be rubbish.

This doesn't strike me as good customer service. It is not the only example of bad customer service, but I will spare you the complete catalogue. I did though think about why the service is so bad. I came to the conclusion, in a eureka moment, that of course it's because the buyer isn't the customer! Obvious! The seller is the agent's customer. now, there may be different ways of looking at this, but the important way is the way the agent looks at it. And they view the seller as the customer, especially when demand is rising well beyond supply as in this area. So they have no qualms about using potential buyers to develop their relationship with their customer, and then casting them aside like so many used Johnson cotton buds. This explains the fact that no agent has ever called us back; agents have paraded us for their sellers so many times it's not true; and why estate agents have such a lousy reputation and everyone, now including us, will go to great lengths to ensure they never see a penny of our hard earned cash.

People used be hanged, deported, or imprisoned for less not so long ago...

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