Friday, 6 September 2013

Leboncoin your house - Sold!

The house had been with a couple of estate agents for six months and there didn't seem to be much interest.

There had been a few visits but "the market is slow and even though the house should appeal, the buyers just aren't there," the "experts" said.

Well, that's the explanation I received from one of the agencies, although the other (the local branch of a national chain) simply didn't bother with regular feedback.

So to help move things along a little, and because I had some time to spare, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

And that of course meant turning to, a (generally) free classified ads website although to list a property, you have to pay if you plump for a package.

A word or two on Leboncoin, as it has received quite a bit of coverage

Its success since it was founded in 2006 has been phenomenal

Look at some of the stats (thank you Wikpedia). They're staggering.

Turnover in 2011 was €64 million - almost 80 per cent up on the previous year.

The company that measures (among other things) French television and radio ratings, Médiamétrie, released figures showing that Leboncoin was second only to Facebook in France in terms of the length of time people spent every day consulting the site.

It has more than 17 million one-time visitors every month (and that's just those looking once) and apparently 3.6 million log on every day to take a look around.

Heck there has even been a sociological analysis (don't "Zzzzzzz" out there) about it in a three- page spread of the national daily Le Monde. So it has gravitas now.

Little wonder then that some people swear by it when they want to have a spring clean, get rid of something that might bring in a few centimes rather than simply chucking it out, or are on the look-out for a bargain.

And then there's the real estate side of things.

It has apparently revolutionised the housing market (over one million advertisements and counting) - cutting out estate agents and their fees.

Now I'm far from being a natural salesman - quite the opposite really. And I had my doubts as to whether I would actually be the best person to market my house. But hey. It was worth a shot.

I couldn't do any worse than the professionals now, could I?

(screenshot from

Photos taken and uploaded, description written and checked, I placed the advertisement and waited.

And it didn't take long for that proverbial ball to begin its roll.

Over the next three months there were almost 40 enquiries by email or 'phone coming at all hours of the day, and that wasn't counting  all the unsolicited calls from professionals insisting they had "someone who was looking for exactly what I was selling".

Quantity wasn't everything of course.

Each enquiry required lengthy details and explanations on location and, of course, trying to gain an idea - as a vendor - whether the house would actually meet the potential purchaser's needs.

While the level of interest was quite high (maybe it was just at the right asking price) I also came to the realisation of how much work (some) estate agents put in to their job.

In fact, the whole process was to prove a steep learning curve.

To begin with, separating the wheat from the chaff in determining who were serious potential buyers and who were simple time wasters, was something of a nightmare.

Sometimes it was simple. As in the case of the man from Germany who wanted the usual sort of info you would expect and then, after a couple of weeks "reflection", made an offer (lower obviously) at a price he considered the real market value based on "other properties for sale in the area.

And that was without having visited the house.

He received a polite response saying, "Sorry but I'm not interested".

There were inevitably enquiries that drove me around the bend with questions that were often nigh on impossible to answer.

Where's the nearest village, baker, post office, railway station, motorway exit? What's the bus service like - for the woman who didn't have a car. What are the neighbours like? How far away are they?

I could deal with those - more or less.

But "What's the house like?" and "How is does it feel inside?" rather stumped me.

It was all a matter of personal taste after all, and not something that could really be answered without visiting.

While some enquiries were clearly genuine, others came from those who seemed to have stuck a pin in the map or were merely passing time ringing every small ad on the blessed site.

A woman from Paris, two years away from retirement apparently, was on the look-out for a place in the country and contacted me via email with the longest list of questions imaginable. They ranged from layout, decoration, heating and sanitation to colour of the walls (really) the timetable of the local bus service, and the days on which the rubbish was collected (huh?)

She received a prompt (and polite) answer - her enquiry came pretty soon after the advertisement had first appeared, so I was riding that first wave of enthusiasm - only for her to reply immediately with "helpful" advice on how she would heat the place and informing me I was asking too high a price.

"Get in touch with me should you drop the price and I might be interested in visiting," she wrote.

Yeah. Right.

Then there was a man from northern France who wanted to know more about the possibilities of turning the place into a home for the elderly. Apparently the commune in which the house is located is one that gives grants for such projects.

I patiently explained that all bedrooms - bar one - were on the top floor and the stairs were not exactly easy to negotiate if you weren't altogether nimble on your pins  and in my opinion it wasn't suitable for people of a certain age.

"But could you send me additional photos and tell me more about the house," he insisted, ignoring what I had just told him.

Another woman rang to tell me she was interested in the house but the bank would  only agree to lend her half the asking price!

I listened. I answered her questions and I thought, "Why is she calling?"

And the questions and requests for extra photos just kept coming.

Was there fermage on the adjoining land? What were the taxe fonctionnaire and d'habitation? What's the soil like? Building permission? The outbuildings? How many hectares?

After hours of painstakingly answering questions and providing extra information, I managed to line up three separate weekends' worth of visits with a dozen potential buyers.

And that proved to be a whole other ball game. One for which I was ill-prepared.

The first visit was from a woman who turned up with her father-in-law (a builder), her brother (a plumber) and her husband (an electrician) with a barrage of technical questions I simply couldn't answer.

Then came the donkey man - so-called in my head, because he kept donkeys - who loved the house first time around but on a second visit with his rude father, was persuaded the surrounding area was too damp.

Well it had just rained and rained and rained (remember the spring we all had in France?)

Tant pis.

For some the house was too isolated. For others not isolated enough. The house was too small, too big, too dark or too light - you get the picture.

Occasionally there were comments on the decor or layout.

Somehow I overcame the temptation of appearing defensive and answering back. I let the house speak for itself, with no desire to present it in any other light than an honest one.

If anything the whole experience was one of learning how to be diplomatic, and meeting and greeting such  a wide range of range of people was fascinating

Some were interesting, others simply tedious or downright rude.

The man who complained and criticised everything, even before entering the front door. A rambling life history of how another had separated, not seen his children for several months, lived on a farm but was only renting temporarily.

A couple whose search for the right place had to start all over again as their finances had fallen through first time around (not a great omen)

Family disputes, histories, plans, dreams and aspirations...

Had I turned in to some kind of Agony Uncle, or was it my Libran charm working wonders?

I wasn't really selling - more showing people around and leaving it for them to determine whether they were interested and all the while listening to their various life histories.

There were also the no-shows - encouraging me early on to insist on a contact number when a visit was arranged.

And even one poor man who turned up the wrong weekend.

Some visits though fair warmed the cockles.

Mrs goat woman - so-called in my mind I need to explain...thought the house was delightful.

Mr wardrobe man - not because he had a thing about furniture, but was concerned about whether the ceilings would be high enough for his antiques - was equally enthusiastic.

A woman from Savoie wanted to buy a property for her daughter and four small grandchildren who currently lived in Bretagne so they would closer!

I didn't like to point out that it would still be a four or five hour journey away.

She wanted to make an offer on what was her "coup de coeur" but wasn't in a position to until her daughter had put her house on the market.

Er...I thought. That's not really the right way around here in France.

And the best reaction of all when I asked a woman visiting what she was looking for, she replied, "I'm looking at it."

Although she made an offer, it was well below the price I was asking.

The result of all the work?

Three offers - including one at the asking price.

And I've just returned from completion.

So merci Leboncoin.

But would I do it all over again?

Given the right set of circumstances, perhaps.

The fact that I was several hours drive away from the house I was selling, made the process more complicated than it might ordinarily have been.

And I'm not sure I would want to hear people passing judgement on my main residence. I'm not certain I would take the criticism so easily.

Plus, as enjoyable as it sometimes was, there's no denying it was also bloody hard work and tiring.

If nothing else, the whole experience left me knowing why I had always entrusted the selling of any house I had owned in the past to estate agents.

And I also came away with a new found respect for the work they have to do.

So, if all else is failing and you have the time, patience and...I have to say this, the language skills (I only had one non-French visitor) then give Leboncoin a try.

You've nothing to lose.

Bonne chance.

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