One of the big banks, Crédit Mutuel Arkéa, has bought a controlling stake in Liberkeys, underlining the growing market for fixed-price estate agents.
France has a long tradition of people selling properties themselves to avoid paying commission.
These are usually around 5% of the sale price for an open mandate, allowing you to place your property with several estate agents, and lower, at around 4%, if you give one agent an exclusive mandate.
The internet has meant the traditional agency, with an office in town and staff who know the local property market inside out, has had to adapt. Most now have a website and some have stopped printing traditional listing brochures, although the wisest have kept up print advertising in local newspapers.
Competition has also increased, with different models of estate agencies setting up shop, either physically and online as Liberkeys does, or with web -only networks using local reps as freelancers or as franchisees.
‘Good deal for buyers’
Liberkeys charges a fixed price of €6,500 when it sells a property – up from €3,000 when it started – and asks for exclusive mandates, achieving this in 70% of cases.
Managing director Thomas Venturini told The Connexion the company is now selling around five houses a day, and the average client saves €16,000 in fees.
“It is a very good deal for buyers but less so for agents, so we are looking at our prices and they may well rise, possibly to €10,000, in future,” he said.
The company was launched in 2018 and by the end of 2021 had sold 1,000 homes.
It has 120 employees, of whom 75 are agents, and expects to double the amount of business it did in 2021 by the end of the year.
The dynamic urban housing market led Liberkeys to site its agencies in large cities including Aix-en-Provence, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Nice, Paris, Reims and Rouen.
It will use some of the money gained through the Crédit Mutuel Arkéa sale to expand further, and aims to show a clear profit by 2023.
Since 2019, it has also expanded into rural areas, using independent mandataires immobiliers (self-employed agents) who work mainly from home but who have access via computer to the same tools as salaried agents.
“I was surprised by how successful they were – in some months, 50% of sales have been from rural areas,” Mr Venturini said.
Networks of mandataires immobiliers without physical offices are a growing trend in the estate agent market.
They started in the early 2000s and promise commissions some 10% to 15% lower than traditional agents.
Between 2017 and 2021, they saw their market share in the sale of houses (excluding new-builds) rise from 11% to 22%, according to the mandataire trade body Maison des mandataires.
It claims that during the same period traditional estate agents saw their share of the housing market fall to 72% from 82%.
Jean-Marc Torrollion, president of the FNAIM trade body representing traditional agents, believes mandataires and fixed-price agents have benefited from the growth of the property market, while traditional agencies have not necessarily looked to expand.
His concerns with the mandataire model include a high turnover of people who become one without much or any training, and who find it difficult to tide themselves over until their first commission cheque arrives.
Traditional agencies still profitable
Traditional agencies, meanwhile, have seen new entrants and consolidations, proving those with a physical presence are still profitable.
The Arche group has built a network of traditional agents, including Laforêt, Guy Hoquet, Century 21 and Nestenn, while south west-based Human, which had 520 agencies, has bought 51% of Côté Particuliers, with 120 agencies.
In France, each estate agent business must have someone, usually the owner, who holds a professional carte T, issued by a chambre de commerce et d’industrie.
Traditionally, two years studying law at university, resulting in a diploma at Bac +2 level, or a BTS professions immobilières from a technical college are required for a carte T. Bac +2 diplomas in economics or business can also be used for applications.
Alternatively, you can apply for a carte T after 12 years of work experience with an estate agency, preferably as a negotiator.
No qualifications are needed to be an estate agent employee or mandataire.