Only the French – Property Auctions by Candlelight

Only the French – Property Auctions by Candlelight

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Auction by Candle

In Paris, the new way to pick up a property is at a vente a la bougie, or sale by candle. While the tradition dates back to Medieval auction rooms, when business was conducted at a more leisurely pace and the darkness was both more ubiquitous and more convivial, it’s been revived in the age of internet banking, when a languid approach to bidding might see you outbid by a telephone from another continent.

The spectacle of a vente is such that they’re widely attended by people who don’t have any intention of buying anything. The charm of the event is what they come for. But others come with a clear idea of walking away with deeds, and at the Chambre des Notaires near the Place du Chatelet in Paris, properties worth hundreds of thousands of Euros change hands – by candlelight, in broad daylight.

At its heart the vente is run like a normal auction. But there’s no gavel  – the candles are used as a  timing system instead.

Enter a vente as a buyer and you can start bidding when a candle is lit for the property. When no more bids are entered, a second candle is lit. Only when this is extinguished, and the auctioneer has announced the fact – le dernier fou etiente! – is the sale complete.

A vente offers a unique bidding environment. It’s much less hurried than the typical British auction, yet far faster than the standard French housing sale, a long-winded process which is binding without being final for several months. When you buy a house in France you pay a deposit as soon as your offer is accepted. Officials including a notary public are involved and the business of buying can take six months or even more. During that time you’re committed to the sale and financially involved, but the house isn’t yours: you can’t move in or walk away. Contrast that with a vente and you can see that is isn’t just pageantry that makes them popular.

After you win the bidding at a vente, you have to pay the vendor within 45 days. As soon as your money is in their bank you’re entitled to take possession of the property. There’s no room for wriggling or gazumping: the market, represented by the people in the room at the time, decides the price in the open and the results are published on the website of the Chambre des Notaires.

Despite their advantages, there’s one party involved who doesn’t usually get a very good deal at ventes –the vendor. Search the ventes site and you can find the dates of forthcoming auctions and of the properties available (if your French is up to it). You can also find starting prices that make you realize another good reason ventres are well attended, like an Aquitaine chateau starting at £733, 000.

That’s great if you’re looking to snap up a bargain, but not so great if you’re the vendor, so many ventre sales are by the government dispensing of the properties of the intestate, or bank seizures.

So even if the idea of a ventre doesn’t tempt you, is this a good time to  buy a house in France? Knight Frank argue yes, pointing out that their French sales team has received 144% more enquiries than this time last year, and that foreign money is beginning to inflate the French commercial market. Many Chinese investors, for instance, are in France looking for vinyards. Meanwhile residential sales are healthy and three distinct regions –  the French Riviera, Provence and Paris, which Caterine Ryall, of Paris-based agents Sextant France, calls ‘one of the most structured and transparent in the world’ – are performing particularly well. The trend away from ‘fixer’ properties toward turnkey houses, often new builds, is as pronounced here as in Italy, meaning if you’re happy to do some renovation you could step into a bargain – maybe even by candlelight!