ABOVE: Tim Swannie of HOME HUNTS; originally from Harrogate in North Yorkshire and now based in the South of France, by way of Amsterdam…

BY NICKY SUMMER: For almost twenty years, Tim Swannie – the co-founder of leading property search company HOME HUNTS, has lived and operated from various idyllic locations on the French Riviera – first Mougins, then Valbonne and now Grasse, the international capital of perfume. Here we discuss how he helps his prestige clients find the home of their dreams plus the background to his highly successful business…

ABOVE: Left: Grasse; Right: A property overlooking the bay of Villefranche/Cap Ferrat

NS: ”Tim, you’ve carved out what most would consider to be an ideal lifestyle for yourself; how did it all come about, and why?”

TS: ”I’ve worked in property for most of my working life; first job was working for the Lloyds bank estate agents in my home town of Harrogate, and from that I developed a real taste for property from quite a young age. I subsequently became their youngest ever branch manager in Leeds when I was only 20; a few years later, I moved to work in Amsterdam and then I moved to the French Riviera in 2003, having visited a few times. I fell in love with the area and the weather immediately and I knew I had to find a way to make it my permanent home. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made ”

ABOVE: Francois-Xavier de Vial and Tim Swannie of HOME HUNTS; blue skies and lavender are classic features of Provencal life…

NS: ”How did you first meet your co-founder of HOME HUNTS, how did you start and how did you know you’d be successful?

TS: ”I was introduced to Francois-Xavier de Vial through a family friend within a month or two of moving to France; Francois was working in a different industry at that time, however he had experience of the immobilier world, he speaks four languages and has lived in many countries. We hit it off right away, we are quite similar people in many way and had a lot of the same ideas; we knew very quickly we could work together. We started doing our research online, contacting potential buyers to discuss ideas and contacting a small number of agents to find out how open they may be in working with us as a buyer’s agent – before long Home Hunts was born…”

“We saw a gap in the market for a ‘buyer’s agent’ on the French Riviera; I’d actually been looking for property myself – as had my parents and also some friends – and we all felt the same thing – that agents in France were more focused on the seller than the buyer and they also needed constant chasing. The Riviera is very international, but few agents spoke good English or other languages back then, so communication was difficult. Francois and I saw an opportunity to act on behalf of international buyers, proactively searching for properties on their behalf. We could really keep on top of the agents and developers and make sure the entire market was covered for clients, then guide them through the whole buying process…”

NS: ”Who was your first client? And where were they looking to buy?”

TS: ”Our first sale was with an English osteopath who is based on the Riviera; we helped her find a wonderful property in the hills between Cannes and Antibes. She went on to become a friend and has since then has referred many clients to us over the years…”

Discretion is key in our business, we work with clients from all over the world and from all sorts of backgrounds; they could be families, business people, high profile celebrities or even royalty…“

Tim Swannie, Director, HOME HUNTS

ABOVE: A traditional bastide with grounds and pool in Nans Les Pins, outside Marseilles…

The latest sale we agreed on the Riviera this past week was to a UK Rock star who is buying a farmhouse in the Riviera countryside; they’ll collect their keys in March and we’ll be assisting them with some renovation works required at the property…”

Tim Swannie, Director, HOME HUNTS

NS: ”How has the market changed since you started your company?

TS: ”The market is constantly changing and HOME HUNTS in constantly evolving in terms of areas we cover and so on, however our service has remained consistent throughout. We’ve expanded a lot over the past 18 years or so, and we now have a team of more than 30 property consultants in France who are each an expert in their local area. When we started HOME HUNTS, we covered the French Riviera – where we still have our largest team – and now we also cover Provence, Paris, The Alps, Occitanie and all the South West of France, we launched in Burgundy at the end of 2022 also; additionally, we cover Monaco and the Swiss Alps. We launched our service in Spain at the beginning of 2022, specifically on Ibiza, Mallorca and the Costa del Sol, we then also launched Catalonia towards the end of last year. As we’ve expanded, we have had to really focus on the local markets in each area to make sure we can offer the best service to clients…”

ABOVE: A contemporary mansion in the La Zagaleta community, southern Spain

We adapt our approach to fit the character of each client, but our process, our service and our goals are always exactly the same – we help to find our clients the best possible properties, for the best possible price, under the best possible conditions and we walk them through the buying process calmly and professionally from start to finish…”

Tim Swannie, Director, HOME HUNTS

NS: ”What would you say have been your biggest challenges in property over the years?

TS: ”We have challenges every day, this is one of the most exciting parts of our job; every client is different and every sale is different. We have to calmly guide our clients through each sale and deal with each situation as it arises – we’ve become experts at this! On a more general scale, we’ve been through major business challenges over the years, from the financial crisis, to Brexit and Covid, etc, but we do focus on the higher end of the market and have always found the higher end is less affected by these bumps in the road than the lower end of the property market. France has quite a stable property market historically, it’s not a ‘boom-and-bust’ market compared to some other locations, so even in 2008/9, prices didn’t drop dramatically and we were able to position ourselves as the market experts who could help elite clients to find the best deals which were available…”

ABOVE: Glamour on the Riviera; a white villa overlooks a typically picturesque coastal scene

“Brexit was a major challenge – once the vote came in on that fateful day in 2016, enquiries from the UK dried up almost overnight because people panicked. Luckily, we were still getting interest from clients from other countries, but we really had to boost our marketing in the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, USA and Russia to compensate for the lack of Brits. Within 6 months or so, the UK enquires were nearly back up to the same level as before the vote, but it certainly spooked a lot of people for half a year…”

ABOVE: A turreted French chateau with grounds available through HOME HUNTS

NS: ”Of the areas HOME HUNTS operates in, which is your personal preference, and why?

TS: ”That’s a really difficult one… I obviously love Grasse and the surrounding areas in which I live (the town of Valbonne is a big favourite); I also love Nice because it’s the only real city on the Riviera, so it is great for shopping, restaurants and so on. Nice is a really good all-rounder for our clients as residents have the Mediterranean Sea on their doorstep. Other favourite Riviera spots are Cannes, Villefranche sur Mer, Cap d’Antibes and Saint Tropez. A lot of my time is spent visiting our different teams and meeting clients so I’m lucky to travel around this beautiful country a lot; I love Paris and get to spend quite a bit of time up there, I also love Montpellier, but I would say my favourite French city is Bordeaux – it’s very cosmopolitan and has a great vibe all year round. Bordeaux is clean, it has beautiful architecture and fantastic restaurants and shops… you also get good weather in Bordeaux for much of the year; I just spent the New Year there and actually caught some sun…”

ABOVE: A villa on the French Riviera; a contemporary property on Mallorca

In addition to France, Monaco and Switzerland, we launched in certain parts of Spain early last year – Ibiza, Mallorca and the Costa del Sol; we’ve also recently opened Catalonia…”

Tim Swannie, Director, HOME HUNTS

“In Provence, I love the Luberon, the Alpilles and also the Var – where my parents had a holiday home for many years. I’m a big fan of Annecy in the French alps as well as the towns and villages around the French side of Lake Geneva; the quality of the air up in the Alps is hard to beat, it offers a great laid back lifestyle and you also have the ski resorts on your doorstep. Finally, I am a huge fan of Ibiza and I usually visit the island 2 or 3 times a year – now that we’ve launched our property service in Spain, I’ve more opportunities to visit, which suits me perfectly!”

HOME HUNTS: http://www.home-hunts.com

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