Meet the Directors – Home Hunts Luxury Property
Tim Swannie and Francois-Xavier de Vial founded Home Hunts in 2004. French national Francois and British Tim have a true “entente cordial” working relationship and have earned themselves an enviable reputation within the luxury property market in France. We wanted to share this interview with our two directors to help to put names and face to the company. We hope you find it interesting
Tim Swannie, originally from Harrogate in North Yorkshire emigrated to the French Riviera in 2003 having previously spent 5 years in Amsterdam. Tim started Home Hunts with Francois and is based in our Riviera office in the beautiful village of Valbonne.
Why did you move to France?
I was living in Amsterdam at the time and one of my good friends and his family moved to live on the French Riviera. I visited them many times and fell in love with the place. The weather, the scenery, the food and the way of life in general… it is hard not to fall in love to be honest…. I initially came down for a summer holiday and 8 years later, I`m still here.
What do you like about living in France ?
As I’ve said, the way of life down here is hard to beat. The food is fantastic, the people are great, the scenery is beautiful but above all the weather tops everything off. More than 300 days of sunshine a year can`t help but make you smile.
How did your family and friends feel about you moving to France?
I actually left my home town, Harrogate, for the Netherlands in 1998. It was a tough decision because I love Yorkshire and I`d lived there all of my life. Of course I worried about missing my family and friends. I was 24 at the time and my family were really supportive and encouraging. The move from Amsterdam to France five years later was fairly easy because I`d made the big move once already. I still travel back fairly frequently and also get a lot of friends visiting me here, plus my mum and dad have a holiday home about an hour away from me so we see each other all the time.
What led you to start working in the property market in France?
I had worked in and around the property market for a number of years in the UK, I worked for Black Horse Agencies in Yorkshire and became their youngest ever branch manager when I was 20. I also worked as a financial advisor as well as in property advertising so I had quite a good overview of the property market. When I first moved to France, I knew I would like to sell property here and ideally wanted to work for myself. I was introduced to Francois-Xavier by a family friend and we got on well from day one, we both had a similar vision, we have quite different backgrounds and skills but the same mentality and it just worked!
Why did you choose the Cote d’Azur as a place to live and work?
I chose the Riviera to live in initially because it was where my friends were. It’s very international here and it’s an exciting place to live. It made sense for us to start the business here first as it is one of the top destinations for overseas buyers to buy in France, particularly for luxury properties which is the area we specialise in. Since the beginning we have expanded to cover many other regions of France, as well as Monaco, Geneva and London so I do travel around a lot but my base is the Cote d`Azur.
Did you speak French before you moved to France?
My French is still not fluent actually, but I can hold a conversation…. I only had schoolboy French when I arrived but it has improved over the time I`ve been here of course. The locals are generally fairly helpful, they do understand if you don’t know certain words and a lot of people in this area speak good English too which helps.
Did you plan to start your own company before you moved?
Not really no, I arrived in the middle of the Cannes Film Festival which was amazing and then I just had a fantastic summer in the sunshine with friends. I enjoyed it so much however that I really didn`t want to leave so in the September I started to plan how I could stay. I dealt with a number of estate agents over that summer and decided there was a real opportunity to offer a service where we act strictly for the buyer. We focus on overseas clients and we act as their representatives in France, searching the whole market for them, providing advice and support and helping them to buy their dream home. I was introduced to Francois-Xavier later that year and the rest is history.
When did you start the company and how was it to set up?
The process started in 2004, but we did not officially start as Home Hunts until the following year. We set up a limited French company which is fairly straight forward and then we applied for our Carte Professionelle (Estate agency card which is imperative to have in France), this took us more than 6 months to obtain, it is a lengthy process getting through the red tape in France sometimes. Estate agents (immobiliers) are heavily regulated in France, this is good for buyers because you are very well protected.
Once we were fully registered and legal, we slowly visited all of the agents on the Riviera, as well as developers, notaries and so on to build up our network and get our name known. From the start, we wanted to ensure our clients could access all properties on the market so it was important for us to build a strong network from day one. We started our marketing campaign and we visited property shows in the UK and some other countries and we began to attract clients who could benefit from our service. Setting up a business in France is definitely challenging but we`ve learnt a lot over the years
What have you found most difficult when adjusting to life in France?
I don’t think I’ve found anything too difficult, I`ve found it all quite exciting. I do miss my family and friends sometimes of course but as I’ve already said, I get quite a lot of visitors and I go back to the UK fairly often for both work and pleasure. Learning the language is still quite challenging but I`m slowly getting there.
How has your daily life changed compared to life in the UK?
Well, it is completely different and I know I’m very lucky for that. Each day is varied as I`m not doing a 9-5 office job, I do have days in the office of course but we have a team of more than 30 people throughout France and Monaco and this is growing so I travel a fair amount to meet with our different teams. We also have a team in London and are setting up a small team in New York at present.
I quite often work with our higher profile clients and get involved wherever I can help on that side of things. I`ve met some fantastic people through work, some of which have become close friends, we are helping people to make big, life changing decisions so we do get quite close. I`ve also met some really colourful characters including Hollywood stars, TV personalities, musicians and sports stars, oil billionaires from all over the world which can make life quite exciting
What do you miss most from home?
Certain people (you know who you are) but apart from that, not too much. I don’t really feel far away from home as I`m only 1.5 hours away on a plane and as I`ve said, I do get back fairly frequently anyway. If I’m ever missing a bacon sandwich, I can nip to the English store in the next village too which is quite nice from time to time
Any hints and tips for anyone planning to move to France?
As for everything in life, go for it expecting to make a success out of it. It’s amazing how powerful the art of positive thinking can be!
Francois-Xavier explains first a little bit about his professional life before setting up Homehunts:
I started my career in 1990 as export manager for a small company called SODIM, a subsidiary of the French cigarette monopoly SEITA making measurement instruments for the tobacco industry.
I then moved to England to work for an English competitor based in Milton Keynes (Filtrona Instruments) to end up creating my own company (in the same field) in the South of France (Marseille) to represent a German manufacturer, Borgwaldt Gmbh.
I spent 18 years in total in the tobacco industry and had a thrilling career involving extensive travelling (the five continents and more than110 countries visited !) and a what I liked above all was a great deal of contact with people.
What led you to first start working in the property market in France?
Simply, it was just an idea that germinated when I was living in the UK . I had a lot of British friends who wanted to buy a property in France and I was wondering how on earth they could communicate with the local French agents ! Hence the idea of launching a service that would apply and appeal to foreign buyers .
In 2001 I moved back to France and settled down in Marseille and for a sometime started representing a UK based agency, in the Provence-Côte d’Azur region.
I wasn’t surprised to see that British clients enjoyed the service and it is actually one of my UK clients who introduced me to my future partner Tim Swannie. It clicked with Tim from the start and he had the brilliant idea of supporting the concept with the creation of a website to display the properties of our partner agents. That led us to create Home Hunts as a company.
You have an interesting background, having travelled extensively to much of the world, how do you think that helps in dealing with clients?
Well I suppose when you travel to places like Sudan, Pakistan, Russia or Colombia and generally speaking work with foreign clients, you have got to be able to understand their mentality and accept that the way they think is different from yours. That is what my travelling taught me. The fact of speaking four languages was obviously a big asset in facilitating this understanding of the environment.
Buying a property, especially abroad, is a very emotional process and people have got to be comfortable dealing with you. The whole idea behind Home Hunts is to make the experience of buying a property in France for our clients easy and trouble free.
We have a wealth of profiles at Home Hunts. Our consultants are Chinese, Russian, Polish, Dutch, British and even one is French ! They all have an international background acquired in previous experiences and that is why they will be able to understand the requirements of our foreign clientele.
You are based in Marseille, why do you love this area?
Coming back from the UK, my wife who is an Argentinian tango teacher said to me that she wanted to relocate “in a town with a harbor like Buenos Aires”….
I agreed but insisted that there must be a good local football team…. The only choice was Marseille really!
More seriously, after the Milton-Keynes rainy drizzle, we wanted a place with plenty of sunshine and Marseille is quite a unique place for its environment. Every Saturday it only takes me 10 mn to go cycling in the famous Calanques and not many big cities in Europe can offer such unspoilt beauty at their doorstep.
As a French national how do you find it working so closely with an international team?
The truth is I have rarely worked with French people and I think at Home Hunts we have a unique combination of profiles and that is the strength of our organization.
I’m delighted because most of our consultants speak good French and not only do they have a good understanding of the clients but they can develop a privileged relationship with our local partners which proves to be precious when it comes to finding the right property.
Our international team is a blend of competencies and I am very proud that some of them have been with us from the start. Tim & I try to run Home Hunts as a family business and this personal touch comes across to our clients, we believe this is really important and have no intention to become a corporate machine.
Do you have a favourite part of France and why?
As you can imagine I love this PACA region so much because of its climate naturally but also for its unique variety of landscapes and activities it can offer. Not many areas in the world feature the mountain and the sea in such close proximity!
I was born in Normandy but spent all my youth in Paris. As a town, nothing can beat the city of lights and I’m glad we started working in Paris.
Otherwise I like going on holidays to Brittany & Normandy just because sometimes I miss the rain….