Over the last decade, Home Hunts has grown from a small property agency to a market-leading luxury property specialist.
The company was founded in 2005 by Tim Swannie, who had moved from the UK to the French Riviera (via Amsterdam), and Frenchman Francois Xavier de Vial, when they discovered their mutual desire to help people buy a dream home in France.
As a luxury property buyer’s agent, Home Hunts acts only in the best interests of their buyer, from finding the right property through to the negotiation and even after the sale.
The entrepreneurs’ dedication to providing customer service excellence and their passion for France has led Home Hunts to enjoy the level of success it does today. But now with a 30+ strong team across France, how do Tim and François manage their business, and how do they spend their time in the country they work so hard to help others enjoy?
In the first of a series of two interviews with the Home Hunts directors, we asked Tim Swannie twenty questions to find out more:
Whereabouts do you live in France and why did you choose to settle there?
I live in Grasse on the French Riviera. I moved here nearly three years ago, but have been based around this area (mainly Mougins and Valbonne) for around 15 years now. I chose to move to Grasse for a few reasons, but mainly because I really like the town – it has a very interesting history, it’s full of charm and has good facilities. I am constantly on the move and so its location is also convenient for me to travel around.
Grasse recently received a large grant from the government and they are heavily investing in the development of the town. Right now it is one of the best places to invest in property on the Riviera.
Which French restaurant do you enjoying eating out at the most?
The restaurant I eat at most is probably Café des Arcades in Valbonne. The food is delicious – always simple and fresh – and the service is great. It always seems to have sunshine on the terrace.
I am lucky that I get to travel and eat out quite a bit. There is a brilliant rooftop restaurant on top of Le Meridien hotel in Nice. I ate there with a client recently, he is a Michelin-starred chef and even he was impressed. We also had lunch there with our Riviera team a couple of weeks ago. The food is great, and the view of the Riviera coast is simply stunning.
There are so many spectacular wines in France, do you have a favourite?
That is a difficult one. I am not a wine expert by any means, and I must admit I do like quite a few new world wines (I hope François, my French business partner, is not reading this), but I do have a few favourite French wines too. In summer perhaps a really cold Provence rosé, maybe something like a Whispering Angel, or a Château Miraval (which is the estate owned by Brad Pitt).
One of my favourite reds, Les Pierres Plates, is from a small vineyard down in Languedoc Roussillon (or Occitanie as it is known now) – it is delicious.
If you had to pick one French dish that you enjoy the most, what would it be?
I’m not sure if the French could really claim this as theirs, but a perfect meal for me would be a board of charcuterie and cheeses, pâté, fresh bread, butter, cornichons, and so on. I also love duck, so a nice ‘magret de canard’ with ‘gratin dauphinois’ always goes down well.
When you have downtime at the weekend, or in the evenings, how do you like to spend it?
On weekends where I am not working or travelling, I like to take time to relax. Summer weekends might include days at the beach or barbecues with friends, maybe a long lunch locally and a few glasses of wine, or even just relaxing in the garden with a good book.
I am a bit of a movie geek, so in the winter when I get some time to myself I absolutely love to relax and watch films at home
As a director of Home Hunts, what aspect of your job do you like the most?
I love the fact that the job is so varied. I manage the marketing department for Home Hunts, which I really enjoy, and I am also constantly in touch with our sales team who are like family to François and I. When colleagues are away, I cover for them, so I get to meet with clients and partner agents regularly too.
One of the things I like the most, however, is the ability to travel that I get with Home Hunts. We cover a large area now, so I am often travelling around France, I also visit London quite frequently, for property shows or to meet clients, our PR partners and so on. We have partners in many other countries too, so I occasionally get to travel further afield to places like New York, for example, where we have some great partners.
Home Hunts has grown to be a market-leading luxury property specialist in France – what aspects of the service that you offer clients are you most proud of?
That’s a tough one, I’m really pleased that we manage to maintain such a high level of service in all of the areas we cover, this is really important to François and I. We have won a few awards over the years for our service and we are both really proud of the team, all of whom work very hard for our clients.
We get a lot of positive feedback from clients about the service we offer, which is always brilliant to hear and very rewarding. Many clients refer their friends to us too which shows we must be doing something right!
What aspects of the property-buying process are often the most difficult for your clients?
France is renowned for its red tape so there can be quite a lot of paperwork to go through when buying a property. This is here to cover the buyer (and seller too of course), but it still can be a little overwhelming for some. We are here to help to guide people through all this.
Understandably, people get excited about owning their new home, but the process in France does take time. Buying a property in New York or London, for example, can be done in a short period, in France it takes ten to 12 weeks, sometimes longer. As I said above, it is our job to help clients through this and explain everything fully up front.
Having previously lived in the UK, how do you think full-time life in France compares?
It is difficult to compare really. I am very happy here, I have a great group of friends and I love what I do for work, but I also love the UK very much too.
There is so much on my doorstep down here, from the amazing Riviera coast, the mountains, great villages, towns and cities to visit, and Italy is less than an hour away in the car if you want a change.
I love the weather in the South of France, that is certainly a big improvement from Yorkshire (where I am from) and Amsterdam (where I lived before moving to France), but I do miss UK pub culture sometimes. There is something special about a good local pub in the UK, particularly in the winter time, with a big open fire and hearty grub. My brother and his wife own a great pub in the UK and I stayed with them over Christmas, so it was brilliant to get my fix for a while.
For people looking to relocate permanently, what are some of the most vital things to consider?
Well, as the saying goes: location, location, location. This is the same for those buying a holiday home too of course, but when you are permanently relocating, it is even more important to make sure you really know where you are going to live.
Spend time getting to know the local village or town, visit restaurants, chat to locals and check out the facilities (schools, shops, doctors, supermarkets and so on). This is going to be your home so do your homework.
Holiday home hunters will have a slightly different criteria – what factors are the most important?
As above, location is very important, but holiday home owners are slightly different. It depends on what you want from your holiday property and which months you intend to visit. Are you planning on renting it out? If so, check how strong the local rental market is. Can you rent all year or just in the main season?
Many holiday home owners want somewhere they can relax, which is also within easy reach of a village or town where they can buy provisions or have a long lunch in the sunshine. Doing your area research is really important.
What is the most unusual home you have ever sold?
Well, I have to make a quick point here: at Home Hunts, we do not sell houses, we help people to buy houses. It may be pedantic to say, but this is how we train our team. We are not estate agents who try to sell the houses on their books. We are buyer’s agents and we help our clients find their dream homes. We search the entire market and guide them through the whole process.
In terms of unusual homes, one that comes to mind is a beautiful former sheepfold in Provence. This property was the summer home of Eric Clapton and we helped a lovely British family to buy it last year. It had started life as a small stone agricultural building hundreds of years ago and was transformed into a spectacular eight-bedroomed farmhouse with tennis courts, cinema room, gym and so on. An amazing transformation from humble beginnings (a little like the former owner).
The most unusual home I have ever seen (but we haven’t found a buyer for it, YET!) is the famous ‘Palais Bulles’ near Cannes, it also happens to be one of the most expensive properties in the world, think James Bond villain lair on steroids… It is in an amazing waterfront location and is totally unique, check it out for yourselves here!
What is the most expensive home you have ever sold?
I’d prefer not to get into specifics as the key to our role as a buyer’s agent is discretion, but we have sold several properties in the tens of millions of euros.
What effect is Brexit having on the French property market?
It hasn’t been great, I must admit. We often wish we had a magic wand to take us back to June 2016 and somehow get a different outcome, but we are where we are.
Before the Brexit vote, Brits made up about 60% of our clients, but this dropped to nothing for a couple of months, mainly because of the shock of “what next?”. This didn’t last too long though and we saw UK enquiries coming back around September that year. They haven’t got back up to the levels before the vote, but Brits currently make up just over 40% of our enquiries.
2018 was the best year that we have had since we started Home Hunts so we are not complaining business-wise, but this is partly down to the fact that we work with clients from all over the world and have become less dependent on British clients.
However, we are all currently doing our lucky dances and whatever else it takes to pray for a sensible outcome to the Brexit mess. We want to continue helping lots of our British clients to buy over here!
If you had to give three top tips to buyers what would they be?
1 – Research areas – spend time in the place you want to buy.
2 – Speak to a mortgage expert – there are some amazing deals to benefit from.
3 – Contact Home Hunts – we are here to help you through the whole process.
I would probably say tip number 3 is most important of course….
How did the property market change in 2018 and what can buyers expect to happen in 2019?
It was a good year for us and the property market in most of the areas we cover was buoyant in 2018. Mortgage rates are low and prices are stable, and are even showing a slight increase in some areas such as the Riviera and especially Paris. The capital seems to be soaking up a lot of investment from outside the EU, particularly from the Middle East and China, from buyers who may have previously considered buying in London.
We are expecting a good year in 2019 too.
What’s one of the most amusing things that has happened during the buying process with a client?
Honestly, every purchase is different, and we have had many different experiences over the years, some funny, some very far from funny, but we learn from each one!
One story that sticks in my mind happened a few years ago. We helped a family from Geneva to buy a waterfront property on the Riviera. The whole process with them was fun because they are a wonderful family, extremely wealthy, but very down to earth and with a great sense of humour. Not only did we find them the property, but we also managed a complete renovation for them and continue to offer them a concierge-style service to this day.
During their renovation project, there was one particular day where we had to arrange to meet two private jets at Nice airport (one from Geneva and one from London), which were full of furniture for their new pad. I had to be there to meet them and arrange transportation of the furniture to the house. Both planes turned straight round to load up again and came back later that afternoon with a second round of furniture.
It certainly wasn’t a normal day at the office.
What should clients definitely have considered before signing on the dotted line of the “Acte de vente”?
We have a buyer’s checklist that we send to clients and go through with them. This covers all of the points that should be followed at each stage.One thing they definitely need to have done before signing the ‘acte’ is to have arranged for funds to be with the ‘notaire’.
We always recommend local ‘notaires’ – usually that speak the language of our clients – and we work closely with them throughout the purchase. We are here to advise our clients so they don’t have anything to worry about.
What locations should clients be looking at this year if they’re seeking a profitable long-term investment?
This is impossible for me to answer succinctly because we cover a large area these days. We have a team of more than 30 consultants in France covering the French Riviera, Provence, Occitanie, Paris, the Alps and all of South West France.
We know every client is different and we help them all to find their ideal property, depending on their criteria. If anyone reading this would like some specific advice, they can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you had to sum up your service to clients in one sentence what would it be?
We work for international buyers offering a free, tailor-made property search service, helping them through every step of the French buying process and beyond.
If you are looking to buy a luxury property in France, you can search online at www.home-hunts.com, but if you would like to speak to Tim or any of the team directly about your property needs, then call +33 (0)970 44 66 43.