Sunday, July 15, 2012

Welcome to our Newest Advertiser

If you’ve ever hunted for a home in a foreign country—or are looking for one now--you know how time consuming it can be.  

You spend hours on the internet, squinting at photos and watching bad videos, trying to determine if ‘’lush country setting’’ means 20 miles from the closest grocery with high-speed internet coming ‘’soon.’’

You study the windows of all the local realtors, only to find that the perfect house in the photo was unfortunately—dommage!--just sold.

You make appointments with realtors who tell you that what you’re looking for simply does not exist. And when they do have a listing with potential, the owner will have just left for Paris with the only set of keys. Or be caught up in messy divorce proceedings pour le moment. Or be at beach with her children until we-don’t-know-when. Or actually isn’t quite certain that she wants to sell after all.

If you do find the house of your dreams, you’ll be encouraged to decide quickly because someone else is this close to making an offer.

Then when it comes to mortgages, taxes, property laws and such, you’ll get loads of well-meaning advice from friends and experts...and just as much advice that contradicts it.

Everyone I know who has bought real estate in a foreign country reports that these scenarios tend to be the rule rather than the exception. And still so many people, myself included, feel it’s one of the best things they’ve ever done. But if you’re thinking of buying abroad, wouldn’t it be incredibly helpful to have someone on the ground to help? Ah, but you do: Tim Swannie, Francois-Xavier de Vial and the gang at Home Hunts.

Home Hunts is a buyers’ agent specializing in finding luxury homes and investment properties in France, Monaco, Geneva, London and New York.  They work at no cost to the buyer.

‘’We’re a registered realtor (immobilier) with all the relevant insurance but we don’t act like a traditional estate agent,’’ explains Home Hunts’ director Tim Swannie, who founded the company in 2005 with partner Francois-Xavier de Vial. ‘’You tell us what you want and we go out and find it.’’

Home Hunts collaborates with all of the best selling agents, notaires and developers to search the entire market on your behalf. They also periodically work with private owners to handle direct sales. ‘’As we’ve become more well known--our website now gets 220,000 hits per month--we do get owners who ask us for help selling their house,’’ Tim explains. ‘’And if it’s a good property at a good price we’ll take it. But our focus is very much the buyer.’’

Tim has vast industry experience, having worked in property and recruitment throughout Europe, particularly in the UK, France and Benelux. (He hails from Harrogate,  Yorkshire, in the North of England.) A frequent visitor to the French Riviera over the years, he moved here permanently in 2004 and is currently based in the Cannes area, although he continues to travel extensively.

Francois–Xavier, meanwhile, was brought up in Paris. His international sales and marketing career has taken him to more than 100 countries...but his love of Provence finally drew him to Marseille, where he settled with his family in 2002. He worked for an English-based estate agency here in the South of France for several years before he and Tim saw a niche in the marketplace and set out to fill it.

‘’We really saw how we could help overseas buyers,’’ Tim says, ‘’and act as their eyes and ears on the ground in France.’’

While Home Hunts’ head office is in Marseille, the company has a team of 30 multi-lingual, international property specialists, each of whom oversees a specific region.  New clients who contact the firm are immediately directed to the specialist in their geographic area of interest. ‘’Not only are our consultants residents of the countries we operate in,’’ Tim says, ‘’but they have outstanding local knowledge and strong associations with the best partner agencies, developers and private sellers in those areas.’’

Asa rule, Home Hunts clients tend to be heavily European (British, Scandinavian, Dutch, Swiss, German, etc.) and Americans figure prominently as well. On the Riviera and in Paris in particular, lots of clients right now are coming from Russia, China and the Middle East.

Because so many of their buyers are international, Home Hunts will do whatever they can to make the process easy: airport pickups, hotel booking, driving clients around to see properties and more.

Home Hunts will also make recommendations for specialists to help with finance, tax and legal issues. They’ll negotiate on your behalf to ensure you get the best possible deal and assist you throughout the entire buying process. Once the sale has gone through, they offer ongoing support with everything from home improvements to rentals.

As a rule, Home Hunts work with buyers looking to spend €1 million or more on the Riviera and €750,000 in Provence. ‘’When we do get inquiries at lower prices,’’ Tim says, ‘’we refer them to other companies and agents that specializes in that price range. We’ll pass you to someone who speaks your language and specializes in the type of property you want.’’

So what’s hot right now in Provence? Home Hunts Provence manager Nicola Christinger-Grant says that the village of Uzes--which is not, strictly speaking, in Provence but rather in the Gard Provencal--is definitely her #1 undiscovered up-and-coming location. ‘’We have buyers from all over showing interest there at the moment,’’ she reports. ‘’Uzes is situated with Nimes to the south, Avignon to the East and the Cevennes mountains to the north/west. It offers a fabulous mix of countryside and deep gorges, with the river Gardon skirting through many neighbouring villages. Like St Remy de Provence, the main town center has a circular boulevard lined with shops. And nestled inside is the main square, Place aux Herbes, the heart of this chic, honey-colored town. Architecture and property types here are also interesting, with farmhouses, village houses, hotel particulier and villas--all offering excellent value for money.’’

To date, Home Hunts has successfully sourced more than 300 homes for happy buyers and is currently negotiating on 14 properties for their clients. ‘’Sometimes the house of your dreams lands in your lap,’’ Tim says. ‘’More often, it takes extensive searching—a process that can be long, confusing, frustrating and, if you’re hunting long distance, even more difficult. We’re here to help.’’

For more info, see the Home Hunts website here. You can see the different regional offices and meet the team members here.  To reach Tim directly, call the company headquarters at +33 (0)9 70 44 66 43 or email him at

Photos: Tim Swannie (left) and Francois-Xavier de Vial. House photos are as follows:

1. & 2. For sale! Located in a charming village of Sanilhac, less than ten minutes from Uzes, this detached house was originally part of a large agricultural domaine. It's surrounded by vineyards and offers stunning views of Mont Ventoux. The house has 230 square meters of living space including four bedrooms, with gardens/grounds of 4800 square meters, a pool, terraced area, outbuildings and numerous trees including olive, apricot, plum, fig, cherry, quince, apple and pear. Originally dating to the late 19th century, the property was extended in 1950 and renovated in 2004. Price: €790,000.  For info, click here.

3. Sold! Home Hunts handled the sale of this six-bedroom waterfront property on the Cap d'Antibes (French Riviera). Completely renovated throughout, it has an indoor/outdoor pool, beautiful gardens and access to a private beach. The family from Geneva that purchased it went on to buy another property nearby for their staff. It was priced at €19 million.

4. Sold! This beautifully renovated farmhouse, in a small village just to the South of Uzes, has five bedrooms, a small stone outbuilding, well laid out gardens a pool. Priced at €795,000. 

5. & 6.  For sale! Located within walking distance to the town center of Uzes, this beautiful 'maison de maitre' dating to 17th/18th century was recently reduced in price. It has an olive grove with 60 trees and grounds of almost 9000 square meters, sitting next to a pretty river which offers private safe bathing in a natural pool. Original materials and features (central staircase, stone fireplaces, etc.) have been preserved. A guest house and several other outbuildings await renovation. Priced at €1.18 million. For info, click here.


  1. We have bought property in a foreign country, a somewhat third world island in the Atlantic off of the coast of south Florida in the US and our experiences were similar to what you've described. It took ten years to find the perfect spot and along the way, it would have been very easy to give up. Many did.

    If we were younger, we would be seeking the help of Tim and Francois-Xavier, as we love your area of Provence. Thanks for sharing this valuable and much needed service Julie. We wish them both great success and I'm sure they will be received well.

  2. Dear Julie,

    Thank you for your outstanding Blog and for your excellent articles, all highly appreciated.

    My wife, Danielle, and I have been traveling through Provence and the Cote d'Azur for the past 30 years, and we have often thought of moving to Aix-en-Provence full time. We will keep you advised on this!

    You bring Provence "to life" with your Blogs and articles for which we are all highly appreciative.

    Thanks for all you are doing!

    All the best from Houston,
    Bill Gottfried

  3. Hi Julie, hope all is well in Saint Remy. One thing that is good to realise for Americans and others wishing to buy in Provence is that French estate agents have an agreement (mandate to sell) with their clients, the sellers of houses. They have a portfolio of houses to sell and a duty to sell their clients' properties at the best possible price. Many houses are listed with several agents, but not with all agents and there's no MLS system in France. It is therefore crucial to engage a bi-lingual independent buyer's agent who only works for buyers and does not also sell houses. He or she can search the entire market for you and you'll be certain to have covered all agents, Notaire's and private sales. How do you know a buyer's agent is truly independent and will search the entire market for you (i.e. not only their own portfolio and perhaps one or two other agents)? Firstly, you pay a buyer's agent a success fee, as the buyer's agent does not share fees with seller's agents (there's no such thing as a "free search" . . ) and secondly, look if they have houses for sale. I don't mean a few example houses, but truly a portfolio of houses to sell. If they do, they'll obviously be biased towards their own portfolio. This glaring conflict of interest is not always understood in France. This is why I set up Provence Search. All agents are happy to work with me, as I don't share commission with them, but am paid by my clients. Sophia Mose J.D. LL.M Member of the New York Bar



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