Property sales update: End of the world for property sales, or the beginning of a new era?
What effect will the COVID-19 pandemic have on the property market going forward? It’s way too early to tell, but Joanna Leggett tells us how agents and Notaires are having to think on their feet, and also shares her thoughts on some long term changes.
More and more buyers are searching online
I don’t think that anybody could have predicted the speed and ferocity of the current changes to our everyday lives. Our immediate thoughts are for the welfare and safety of our salaried staff, our 600 agents across the country and, of course, our clients and friends. Last week, like all other estate agencies, we closed all of our offices and equipped our staff so that they could work from home, as part of our own property sales update. Incredibly though, our phones are still ringing and we are still receiving literally hundreds of enquiries every day. People may not be able to physically view properties – but, with time on their hands, they are certainly looking online and planning for a time when a semblance of normality returns.
Of more immediate importance are the people who are in the middle of a property purchase/sale, what happens to them? With over 1m sales in the last 12 months, the French property market has been at its hottest for years. Notaires now find themselves in an unprecedented situation, working with laws that stem back to Napoleonic times. Our immediate take is that most of them are using common sense to try and complete the transactions. For example, many are saying that they will now accept an e-mailed “power of attorney” from buyers stuck in the UK, or from vendors unable to leave home (with the original, signed, document being put in the post).
Anyone who has lived in France for more than five minutes will, however, understand that different officials have different interpretations of what is and isn’t allowed. A Notaire in rural Dordogne may not now have put the same new protocols in place as one in Paris or Nice! Our agents and head office support team are flat out talking with vendors, buyers and Notaires, finding solutions to this (hopefully once in a lifetime) situation.
Online videos and virtual tours are the way forward
For those looking to sell their property all is not lost. There is technology in place to create an e-mandat (mandate) or e-avenant (price change) without anyone needing to visit. We have been talking with vendors about the kind of photos they should be taking, which they are then sending through electronically. This means that we can take the mandate, discuss valuations (using a mix of local knowledge, comparable evidence and Google Earth) and create basic property details on their behalf (DPE reports and measurements excluded, until the lockdown is over).
But are there any potential buyers at the moment you ask! The answer is a resounding yes – as I said we are still taking hundreds of enquiries every day. Modern house hunters are used to looking on the internet and our listings are full of videos and virtual tours. Our agents are more than used to taking clients on “virtual visits”, that often last an hour or longer.
That is the immediate situation, but what about the longer term impact on the industry? Well, nobody in their right mind would be foolish enough to predict what is going to happen in terms of house prices in the near future. That will depend upon the length and depth of the shutdown, as well as the overall political and economic impact. All I would say is that the property market here in France was healthy and robust beforehand and our economy was strong, I’m cautiously optimistic that the property market here will emerge relatively unscathed.
Potential buyers are still looking
However, the way that clients view properties will change (with more reliance on virtual viewings before committing to the real thing), who knows, agents might even be more willing to give out the exact address rather than a vague idea of which town or village it might be in! Similarly, the laws and processes that govern French property transactions will surely be updated to account for 21st century life. Electronic signature for mandates and completion contracts will quickly become standard and the whole process should be secured and speeded up by using the Blockchain (or so my younger colleagues tell me!).
Property search and purchase was entering a new era anyway. My view is that one of the unexpected consequences of this damned Coronavirus will be to usher it in earlier than expected.
That’s for the coming weeks and months though – for now I urge all readers to stay at home where possible and to stay safe and, above all, our humble thanks go out to all those in the front line.
There is now more reliance on virtual viewings
This property sales update is dated 30 March 2020 and comes from Joanna Leggett, Marketing Director of Leggett Immobilier
Images: Leggett Immobilier