The top 5 differences between French and English estate agents

By: Jenny Lovett

You may think that this is a strange topic to be writing about, after all selling a house is selling a house, can it really be that different?

And the simple answer is yes!

You really don’t notice the difference until you start to search for your dream property, and I would like to share the biggest differences and spill the beans on the terminology used in France (this may just be Brittany, but somehow I don’t think it is!).

Difference number 1

A beautiful garden

UK translation – you will step out of the house into a beautiful garden

French translation – you will buy a garden, but this is not necessarily anywhere near your house. The house you are buying may indeed be photographed with a beautiful garden, but this garden may actually belong to your neighbour. Your garden may be up the road, around the corner and next on the left! This was not something we found out until we spent a week in France viewing properties; we had asked for a garden or some land, we did not know that we had to ask for it to be attached to the property.

Word of warning number 1 – Ask where your garden is!

Difference number 2

Requires a little updating

UK translation – needs a little bit of updating

French translation – requires a bathroom, a kitchen and possibly one or more walls, floors or roof adding, and no, this is not an exaggeration! We viewed a number of properties that required a ‘little bit of updating’ one of these properties was so derelict that there was no way you could move into it, even the local wildlife were too afraid to enter it. On this occasion we had an extremely enthusiastic estate agent (who had given us torches to use and gallantly held the rickety, wobbly ladder required to get to the first floor) who was ever so excited about how we lucky we were, as we could add the bathroom of our dreams just here, and that it could be off the master bedroom that we could build just there, and once the walls were made secure we could add the window back into the original stone opening and the whole place would look amazing and how, as we didn’t have to make do with somebody else’s choices, we could really make the place our own.

Word of warning number 2 - Be very clear how much work you want to do on a property

Difference number 3

The photographs that are used

UK photographs – the house is dressed and shown at its best

French photographs – nothing in the house is cleared away and it appears to be mandatory to have a clothes maiden, complete with clothes, in the bathroom. Not just anywhere but actually blocking the view of the bathroom so that the clothes maiden is all that you really see. The beds must not be made and if possible, be covered in lots of clutter; again clothes seem to be a popular choice. In the kitchen, worktops must not be cleared, remember clutter is key!

In France it also appears to be a requirement that the person taking the photographs must have no knowledge of what makes a good photograph, and when taking a photograph of a room, one item, preferably of clutter or an item of furniture (that is not included in the sale) must take up the majority of the shot.

Word of warning number 3 - Try to look past the photographs used to sell the property; you may find a nice surprise

Difference number 4

In a certain town

UK translation – the property will be in that certain town

French translation – the property will be in a 30 km radius of that town, not necessarily anywhere near it, but within a 30 km radius. There is a reason for this ambiguity, in this part of France many properties are left empty, so it is for safety reasons, but when you are looking for a property in a ‘certain town’ be aware that you might be quite a distance away from it.

Word of warning number 4 – Arrange to meet the estate agent and let them drive you to the different properties, you’ll save a fortune in petrol.

Difference number 5

Estate agency opening times

Open 9 – 5.30

UK translation – the estate agent is available all day and may even work in the evening

French translation – the estate agent arrives in the office at 9.30am, but this is too early to view a property, 11.30am is also not convenient as the estate agent closes for a two, sometimes even two and a half hour lunch at noon. The estate agent opens again for the afternoon but by 4.30pm it is then too late to view a property as they will close at 5 – 5.30pm.

There are very small windows of opportunity to view a property with a French estate agent, if you get one, jump on it.

Also beware Christmas holidays, summer holidays and the many, many bank holidays that happen in France.

Word of warning number 5 – don’t plan on visiting too many houses in one day, and remember word of warning number 4, use the estate agents car.

The above is a humorous take on our personal experience of the house hunting process in the area of Brittany that we bought in. I am aware that in other areas of France it may be different and this entry was not intended to offend in any way.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingJenny Lovett is a British expat living in France. Blog description: I'm Jenny lovett and have recently moved to Huelgoat, Brittany, France with my partner John Kelly. we have just sold up in Stockport, England and have bought a semi derelict town house in France which we are going to renovate into a B&B.
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Contest Comments » There are 41 comments

Betty wrote 5 years ago:

found this so funny, I can't believe you can buy a house with the garden some where else!

Sandra Pounder wrote 5 years ago:

I have always enjoyed reading Jenny's blogs I find them highly amusing & entertaining and for the 1st time in my life would like to visit France

Theresa wrote 5 years ago:

Loved this - it's so true! We visited numerous houses on our house hunting expeditions, and discovered gardens that were at the other end of the village,and once a field right next to the house that was being used by a farmer with inheritance rights i.e. his heirs would be allowed to use that field when he died, and so we would buy it, but never be able to use it, and may POSSIBLY receive a cord of wood each year as rent. Amazed us at the time, but makes us laugh now !

Roz wrote 5 years ago:

Ha ha so very amusing but sadly very accurate, we have friends who bought a house here in France which stated it had a paddock but it took them 10 months to actually find it as it was 1.5km away and was being used by a local farmer, it took them 6 months to actually get it back.. lovely article.. Roz & John x

Michael Collinson wrote 5 years ago:

They may be humorous but I think all the points are true a good post. I would add one In the UK when a house is advertised it will give the actual address here in France it is difficult to see sometimes from a window advert which town it's in and never shows a street name let alone a number

Karen Laming wrote 5 years ago:

We haven't started looking for a property in France yet but when we do I will print this off and stick it to the front of my property finding folder as a reminder of what we could expect Great little article

Maggie Scott wrote 5 years ago:

Jenny has such a funny way of describing her experiences in France - as we have a holiday home about six miles from Huelgoat, we can confirm how true they are!

Jacqui Prescott wrote 5 years ago:

Humour aside some sound tips and advice which are invaluable when to buy in a country your not familiar with. Thanks for this information I can pass it on to my work colleague who is seriously thinking about buying abroad!!

John wrote 5 years ago:

love this post so nice to read something that made me laugh and was informative good luck

Barbara Bailey wrote 5 years ago:

These sound like great tips for house hunting in France. It is always nice to hear from someone who has been there and done it, wrapped up in good humour.

Anne-Marie Clayton wrote 5 years ago:

I love this blog. Makes me want to sell up and live a little. Great writing.

Sarah wrote 5 years ago:

Very good post. I found it to be both humerous and informative at the same time. A must read if you are thinking of moving to France. Good luck :)

Julie wrote 5 years ago:

Great tips for house hunting in France and very humourous! Good luck Jenny

Mr B wrote 5 years ago:

This is such good advice as well as a good and entertaining read. The "garden" section is my favourite. It's hard for many to see how this could be so common.

Chris Pandolfo wrote 5 years ago:

After these wise words I shall be ready to face the French real estate n conveyancing professions when I choose my top floor apartment in a swanky arrondissement of Paris when I retire :-)

Paula Johnson wrote 5 years ago:

Great post Jenny, it made me smile, somewhat different to the UK house buying process.

Debbie wrote 5 years ago:

Funny! It seems that estate agents the world over have their quirks. We saw a house in the UK where a 6 x 6 yard was described as having a landscaped garden with patio and raised beds - not untrue just forgot to say that was it and it was one step from the back door to the raised bed!! x

Debs wrote 5 years ago:

Excellent tips, very informative and humorous but sadly a true indictment of French estate agents. However, I think you have to take estate agency adverts with a massive pinch of salt, the world over.

Debs wrote 5 years ago:

Excellent tips, very informative and humours but sadly a true indictment of French estate agents. However, I think you have to take estate agency adverts with a massive pinch of salt, the world over.

Hugh wrote 5 years ago:

From what I know of France and,French estate agents, very true. Good advice, wittily put.

J Wilson wrote 5 years ago:

Enjoying reading about the renovations Jenny and John are making to their house ! from Jenny and John (different ones !)

Ray Cunningham wrote 5 years ago:

A rather amusing comparison of estate agents. I think I would choose to be a French agent. Sounds like more fun. I have experienced UK estate agents and was not impressed. Enjoyed reading, thanks

Jean Mckee wrote 5 years ago:

Expertly written. Very informative and written in an amusing style. Well done

Carl Bevan wrote 5 years ago:

An eye opening and very entertaining read, filled with useful tips for those wishing to move to France.

Deems Cox wrote 5 years ago:

Love it. Your blogs always make me laugh! We have friends who had a similar garden issue.

Gill wrote 5 years ago:

Hi guys Well, as veteran househunters in France ourselves, that certainly rings a bell! One term used by French Estate Agents DOES translate and that is "une ruine" and we saw a few of those! I think the thought for the day has to be "caveat emptor" when house buying in any country. Keep blogging! Love your down to earth slant on life in France Gill

Mrs. Chasing The Donkey wrote 5 years ago:

GIGGLE! Who knew you had to ask for your garden to be attached to your house?? Good luck!

Sylvia Davis wrote 5 years ago:

Ha-ha, number one rings true, Jenny! I enjoyed reading your post.

Gerda wrote 5 years ago:

This is oh so very true. Funny in how it is written and so fitting to Jenny's blog, but it does portray the way it works here in France. When we were house hunting about a year ago, it was the lack of decent "staging" a home for showing (and photographing!) that surprised us the most. Oh yes, and we are just about getting used to the closing things at lunchtime for a couple of hours! Would I change it? No way! These are the quirks that make life interesting. Love the blog, and yes, do read it if you are thinking of moving to France!

Owen wrote 5 years ago:

Hey Julie, Exceptionally witty and intuitive. Can you do another blog dedicated to french builders merchants and their building materials!! When I got back to UK first time I went to Travis Perkins I hugged the yardsman!

Gayle Parrish wrote 5 years ago:

This was very illuminating. I would never have thought to ask if the garden was actually attached to the house! And I'm all too familiar with the "needs a bit of updating" translating into "even mice won't live here." Thanks for writing this; it certainly made my day!

Angela McDonald wrote 5 years ago:

Love this! Makes me laugh out loud at the buying process and the following renovations! Has made me want to sell up and buy a derelict house somewhere in the countryside despite the many hiccups! Excellent reading!

John wrote 5 years ago:

hahahahaha, you cant make this stuff up, Britain and France separated by only 20 miles of water, and boy what a difference that makes, not much stuff gets shared to my FB page Your post is worthy of sharing and humorously informative, well done , oh and check your spelling and erroneous additional word

John Swale wrote 5 years ago:

Like all of Jenny's blogs, true and down to earth, even I can understand what she is saying. My wife and I are considering moving to France in the next few years and find the description of the photographs quite entertaining. We visit France a lot as my parents live in a tiny village in the South and yes the gardens being detached from the house appears to be quite common. My parents own a field and the local farmer sees no problem with driving his tractor across it to save following the road. A fence means he drives through the ajoining hedge instead! However the pace of life in the countryside (as long as you learn to survive the suicidal drive in the middle of the road with a last minute swerve into their own side by drivers)has got to be better than the UK. The health service is good, the shops sell quality (though a trip to UK for clothing is worth while) and the weekly markets all entice the down trodden Brit to a better life. Keep up the blogs Jenny, I'm quite sure you'll be building a customer base for your B&B from fans in the UK. Regards john

Heather Allison wrote 5 years ago:

Love Jennys blogg, me & my partner are looking at moving to France & renovating a derelict house & out buildings, Jenny has inspired us to make sure we do, found the blogg by accident & so happy I did, love the posts & pictures, you can see the project moving forward. Thank you Jenny, we will be following you through your project! Thanks for the info on wanting/needing your garden with your house & not down the road. Keep it coming.

Heather Allison wrote 5 years ago:

Love Jennys blogg, me & my partner are looking at moving to France & renovating a derelict house & out buildings, Jenny has inspired us to make sure we do, found the blogg by accident & so happy I did, love the posts & pictures, you can see the project moving forward. Thank you Jenny, we will be following you through your project! Thanks for the info on wanting/needing your garden with your house & not down the road. Keep it coming.

Hahaha! We bought a house in the Netherlands and our experience has been really similar- I could especially relate to the garden part and the "needs a little bit of updating part!

Delia Hampson-wild wrote 5 years ago:

Good blog jenny very informative and helpfull. Very down to earth Easy to understand and quite griping good luck

Debra wrote 5 years ago:

I have been reading about Jenny and johns adventures, make excellent reading, love it. We may even be thinking of moving ourselves x

Pete wrote 5 years ago:

Some very useful information, I will be bookmarking it for future reference :-) Thanks.

Bea wrote 5 years ago:

Oh how true these are and with my current experiences, I'm sure I could add a few more to the list! Now after third viewing trip in almost as many months we have learned: 1. not to have any expectations of any agent or any house and 2. when viewing sales photos, to try to look past last night's dirty dinner dishes left in the sink, smalls artfully draped and left drying in the kitchen, muddy work boots left on the worktops and finally, how could one fail to mention the unmade beds and black bin bags tastefully displayed right in the middle of the photos? Wish I could say it's all been an amusing experience but so far it's been quite a disheartening process but we won't give up (or lose our sense of humour.... hopefully)! Look forward to reading the rest of your blog.

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