PARIS — Countries often develop their arrogance from their great cities; thanks to Paris, the French exhibit a sense of specialism about their special place on the planet.
The French authenticity is difficult to challenge — the bread, the wine, the architecture and the fashion to name a few distinctions. However, the country is often just downright different.
Take the real estate market; it is a maze of varying processes and systems than can boggle the mind. On the other hand, the French real estate market offers consumer more choices.
Without a comprehensive MLS system, real estate companies represent 50 percent of the properties for sale, but the other half of the listings are "peer-to-peer" sales — the U.S. equivalent of FSBOs when sellers find buyers directly without the aid of an agent.
PAP.fr is the most popular P-to-P site, which charges a small fee to list the property, similar to a classified advertising model.
The consumer-direct trend began with home-seller-placed newspaper ads, and it accelerated with the use of "mini-tels" in the 1980s, which are interactive screens on telephones, still common in France.
Today, the Internet has created a more efficient market place for these "P-to-P" sales, firmly establishing two distinct markets for buyers and sellers — agent or no agent.
"The tension between the two groups is evident," said Richard Ollier, the CIO of Giroptic, a French company that offers a 360-degree camera that resembles a stylish vibrator.
Generally, here like elsewhere in Europe, agents are not a revered bunch.
Representatives of the French real estate industry get noticeably agitated when they hear about the U.K. housing market, where only 5 percent of home sales are FSBOs or the U.S. with only 15 percent or so.
It is a fact that the industry does not like and that it would like to change, but they live with it, according to Bernard Cadeau, president of ORPI, the country’s largest real estate agent company. Organized as a co-op, member firms belong to the ORPI network. The private firm has 10 percent market share with the vast majority of agents in the country being independent.
Further confusing the market, but again offering consumers more choice, is the practice of "exclusive listings" versus "simple listings." Exclusive listings go to one real estate agent. Simple listings are listed with several agents, all of which could have different listed prices. You read it right.
The Internet has muddled this split-listing practice because agents with exclusive listings resist putting up pictures and offering complete property descriptions and other specificities that consumers in the U.S. expect. This has precluded consumers from having access to a complete list of homes for sale on the market. And there are no standards whatsoever as to how listings are displayed.
Agents fear exposure will threaten their exclusive relationship with the seller, risking commission dollars.
"These listings are lacking in vital information," said Alain Silverston, a French citizen who migrated to the U.S. during the dot-com boom and now is a condominium-building manager in Long Beach, Calif.
Another confusing element to the French real estate business is its five trade associations, making it difficult for the industry to speak with a single voice on policy and business practice issues. In addition, this gaggle of trade groups creates a political challenge for putting together an organized effort around an MLS in France.
"We are making progress," said Cadeau, who has been leading the charge to create a U.S.-like MLS in France.
Real estate portal SeLoger dominates the online real estate market; it has the most property listings online and charges agents to post them.
In addition, start-ups have begun to crawl for listings, upsetting the established firms and the established portal, SeLoger. Same song, different country.
New business models are emerging in France such as effiCity that is modeled after ZipRealty, using Internet leads and technology-enabled agents for a more efficient and lower-cost service than the traditional 6 percent charged in France.
Transactions are expensive here; on top of the commission, an 8 percent government fee is charged, which includes escrow charges. Though the 8 percent is wrapped into the mortgage, this combination of costs helps explain the strength of the P-to-P market.
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