A landlord’s onerous experiences of renting out property in Paris inspired him to set up a digital platform to help fellow owners navigate the complex system.
Buying property as an investment has long been popular in France, where the complicated legal environment and bias towards tenants does not deter many owners from handling the rent of their houses and flats themselves. Estimates are that 75% of them do so, with the other 25% using traditional estate agents.
Bruno Cantegrel, who developed a web-based platform called Monsieur Hugo to offer help to owners, said: “I have been renting out properties for 25 years, and I know how complex it can be.
“Many owners, like I did, just start out with paper files and then work up an Excel spreadsheet or two.
“However, it can quickly become hard to navigate and there is always the risk that you forget an important date for renewing a lease, for example, which can cause problems later.”
One of the most popular features of the site, matching owners with renters, is free of charge to use.
It includes a digital file with all the paperwork needed to rent a house or apartment, similar to the government’s own DossierFacile.fr website.
“When I first rented in Paris, I had no idea what awaited me,” said Mr Cantegrel.
“I arrived early for the first viewing and found there were already 50 people queuing on the stairs and into the street, all with folders in their hands.”
People are now used to online services like Doctolib
Property owners can use the site to access an appointment calendar, similar to that used by the Doctolib.fr website, now the go-to for most French people needing to make a medical appointment.
“For many years, the internet was used mainly for work, but it is increasingly being used in other areas too, like doctors’ appointments or, in our case, managing property,” said Mr Cantegrel.
“Before, people could not really see the point of doing so, but now it seems obvious that making a doctor’s appointment is quicker and easier on a computer or smartphone than by using a telephone.”
The site checks paperwork for the landlord
Applicants who have completed a digital file on Monsieur Hugo are flagged up as being potentially good renters.
“We check paperwork, which itself stops most people who want to use false documents from doing so,” said Mr Cantegrel.
“Most often, there is a difference in the declared income from work and the most recent tax return, something which can be explained with a check. If this is ignored, however, it can potentially lead to problems meeting rent payments each month.”
Property owners only pay if they use the website to edit their rental contract and have it signed electronically.
The platform also sells insurance and finds tradespeople
Most of the firm’s revenue comes from an associated insurance broker business, which, for €27 a month, provides rental insurance against things like leaks or wiring anomalies.
It also gives access to a network of tradespeople ready to intervene in rental properties at short notice.
These services are linked to the web platform, where users can also organise their finances by taking advantage of programmes which automatically show how much is due out of each month’s rent for taxes and electricity and water charges.
Payment dates can also be programmed in and, if desired, direct payments from property owner bank accounts to the relevant authorities can be set up.
“People invest in property partly because it is something you can see and touch, unlike buying shares on stock markets,” said Mr Cantegrel.
“What has changed is that much of the associated work, which used to involve a pen, paper, diaries and calendars, is now done much easier electronically.
“These days, property owners can have the real building on one hand and the digital work on the other, and they are both linked.”