The history of Immogo

Being the first of a new concept in property advertising, Immogo had to surmount quite some opposition, namely from the french property agents. The founder, gregor Hakkenberg, had to fight a law suit, suffer a defeat, get back up for the subsequent appeal to finally celebrate the victory. Gregor described his tribulations in an old blog that he just took offline. This gives us the opportunity to republish this interesting story here:

Lundi 17 mars 2008

Immogo forbidden

Today, the judge has taken the advise of the prosecution ( 2 months parole plus 7.500 euros) and added 2 moths plus 2.500 for the plaintifs: the agence immobilières. This means Immogo must pay 10.000 euros and cease all illegal activities immediately. Exactly which activities are illegal is not clear yet untill we read the details of the judging. To be continued…

Vendredi 21 mars 2008

Asking for appeal and creating new site!

The French court closed down Immogo. We are appealing to a higher court. Maybe one day the Immogo system can function again. But this may take years. And even if I win, an inactive Immogo will be worthless in two years. What’s more, lawyers are expensive. So it is all hands on deck for saving Immogo. In the mean time I need to make money to finance my defence. That is why I’ve decided to offer the well-appreciated Immogo service for a fixed fee on a new site. Existing Immogo clients can move their ad to the new site for the modest sum of 10 euros. After paying these 10 euros  for the work already done, the old clients have no other obligation to Immogo. Even if they sell through the new site, they do not have to pay anything more.

For new customers the fee will be higher, of course. But the system of the new site will also be innovative. And – I hope – completely legal!

UPDATE March 24: working hard on the new site, quickly taking shape. Alle existing clients will soon be informed.

Update April 5: It takes longer than hoped. But in the mean time, ideas about shape and form of new site change. Something’s cooking!

Lundi 7 juillet 2008

New! No news.

It is very annoying, but the only real news is the absense of news. I’ve been waiting for the official written judgement for almost three months now. But so far there is no fine or invoice. Which bothers me, because the sooner I get the ‘signification de jugement’, the sooner I can start seriously working on my appeal. But allas, nothing is happening.

So I still don’t know what motivated the judge in doubling the amount of probation asked by the general attorny. Giving me 4 months in stead of the 2 asked. Plus the 7500 euro fine. Plus the 2500 euro damages for the FNAIM.

What are her arguments? I can but guess. And every month my loss increases, because every month with Immogo offline is beneficial to the FNAIM.

Samedi 7 mars 2009

IMMOGO WINS!

Press release

French Estate Agents lose appeal against No Cure No Pay advertising site

Burgundy (France): Dutch internet professional Gregor Hakkenberg has won his appeal against the Fédération Nationale des Agences Immobilières (FNAIM). According to the FNAIM, Hakkenberg’s housing site Immogo was breaking the law for charging 1% for publications leading to a successful sale.  This would constitue a commission, which is only allowed for officially registered real estate agents. In March 2008, Hakkenberg was sentenced to 10.000 euro and 4 months suspended imprisonment. This sentence has now been revoked in the appeal. Immogo can go back online in its original shape.

Guilty on three counts

In March 2008, the penal court of Chalon-sur-Saône decides that the methods of Immogo are an infraction of the ‘Loi Hoguet’, the law regulating the profession of the real estate agents.

Immogo operates on a No Cure No Pay basis. The seller only has to pay for his multilingual presentation if it actually leads to a transaction. In that case, the seller would pay 1% of the published price. The judge rules as follows:

1. earning a commission on a real estate transaction is only allowed for agents with an official ‘Carte Professionnelle’.

2. a fee of 1% is to high a price for a simple web advertisement, which leeds to the conclusion that other – illegal – services were rendered.

3. establishing a contact between buyer and seller equals ‘intermediary services’, also allowed with an official permit.

Appeal court

Hakkenberg, attacked personally, has to pay a total sum of 10,000 euros and is sentenced to 4 months with probation.

This unexpected heavy sentence left Hakkenberg with no choice: appeal.

Through the internet, het finds ‘Maître Buis’, a Parisian lawyer specialized in commercial, communication and internet law. Together, they prepare a new defence. With succes!

The appeal court is sensitive to their arguments and acquits Hakkenberg of all charges. There will be no punishment, no criminal record.

From today, two weeks after the final judgement, Immogo is back online: www.immogo.com

Vendredi 13 mars 2009

The state of affairs

The euphoria of being found ‘not guilty’ and putting Immogo back on line has used off. Time for a sober look at the situation. As a matter of fact, it is not a pretty sight. The trial – which was aimed at me personally – has left me stressed and deflated. And depleted, because lawyers are very expensive and Immogo as a supplementary source of income was closed down.

Looking back, this whole affair has cost me about 10.000 euros in direct lawyer fees. In addition, I should probably count the loss of turnover. Since 2004, Immogo has made about 28.000 euros (gross turnover), of which 17500 in the last year. It was just really warming up, growing faster and faster, when they shut me down.

So if I make a conservative estimate, the housing market turning sour and all, I’ve probably lost another 15000 euros between 02/2007 and 02/2008. This adds up to total estimated damages of 25.000 euros. According to my lawyer, this cannot be claimed anywhere.

The strong arm tactics of a big Federation

What it boils down to, is that a big organisation like the FNAIM, who have an enormous budget and lawyers on fixed retainer, can just go around sending the police after anyone they even vaguely suspect is doing something that might slightly infringe upon their famous ‘Loi Hoguet’. If the public prosecutor sees a case and decides to persecute someone in court, the FNAIM steps forward as ‘public party’ (partie civile) in order to claim damages.

If the attacked person or company is found ‘not guilty’, at least they have slowed him down and made him spend a lot of money on lawyer fees. The FNAIM does not have to pay him any damages. However, if the attacked person is found ‘guilty’ he does have to pay the FNAIM’s lawyer fees, sometime with addition to a fee for damages.

I myself was originally sentenced to pay the FNAIM 1,000 euros lawyer fees plus 1,500 euros in ‘damages’. For what, I don’t know, but I guess they use it for funding other lawsuits.

When I was later found ‘not guilty’ after all, no damages were rewarded to me. I was left empty-handed. I guess I should count myself lucky for being able to reopen Immogo. Unfortunately without any money left for advertising.

Cassation… it’s not over yet!

So far, so bad. But it might get even badder! The FNAIM have asked the court to consider a ‘cassation’. This means a new court is asked to ‘break’ the appeal ruling and send the case back to appeal court. The appeal case will have to be done all over again. So far, only the FNAIM has asked for this. If the public prosecutor does not join them, I will at least never be able to be punished or fined. But I do have to hire a new lawyer again. One of the f=sixty select lawyers allowed to handle ‘cassation’ affairs. My own attorney told me this will set me back another 2500 to 3500 euros.

Then… in the unhappy event the appeal has to be done all over, I’ll have to again pay my defence. I see another 5-10.000 euros in costs coming towards me. Again without possibility to claim damages.

There is a strong possibility that in the end of all this, after 5 years of going in and out of court, I find myself entirely innocent. But broke. Now where’s the justice in that?

Mardi 31 mars 2009

Thank you, FNAIM. Now I have two real estate sites!

It is almost ironic, but amusing as well. Because the French realtor federation FNAIM has lodged a complaint against me in 2005, now I have not just one real estate advertising site, but two! When the judge outlawed Immogo, I’ve succeeded in convincing a part of the sellers to move their ad to a new site: Property for Sale in France. And after having won my trial in an appeal court, I’ve put Immogo back on line as well.

Property for Sale in France

This is a rather straightforward traditional housing site. Offering classified home presentations for 50 euros each. If the owner wants to publish in more languages, he pays a modest 7 eurocents a word for translations. Property for Sale in France does quite well. And this is important, because the income from this site helps paying for my revived Immogo, where I have to pay translations out of my own pocket.

How about IMMOGO?

Immogo surprises me. The site has been offline for a year, which of course is very bad for its Google ranking. Fortunately, my victory in the court case against the mighty FNAIM has resulted in a lot of publicity and external links to the site. Immogo is back among the best with a lot of search keywords. It actually scores better in the English and French market than it ever did.

Chances for every seller

The houses that were originally published on Immogo and were not sold yet, could return to the ‘No Cure No Pay’-site. And of course they can stay on Zorro Immo as well.

Now I see new houses coming in on both sites. Different houses, because in the case of Zorro Immo the sellers prefer to invest 50 euros in advance, whereas with Immogo the owners like to take the chance of putting their house for free with the ‘risk’ of having to pay about 1% after a successful sale.

Advantages for house hunters

Of course for those looking for a house in France, the advantage is clear: on the two sites they find more houses from private owners. With good presentations, lots of pictures and clear, well-translated descriptions. I promise to stay critical when accepting new ads. I need a minimum of 3 photos and will keep hounding the sellers for more info, better pictures, and clearer descriptions. Exactly what buyers are looking for.

Direct contact

On both sites, the reaction form under each presentation sends a message straight to the owner. So you can do business without passing through a real estate agent or other expensive intermediary.

UPDATE: Zorro Immo had to change names under pressure of the owners of the brand name ‘Zorro’. You can now find the site under the name ‘Property for sale in France

Jeudi 21 mai 2009

Immogo regaining strength

Immogo has been online for a couple of months now and we’re doing great! At the moment, about one home a day is added by its owner. Unfortunately there are not many actual sales, but well, this is probably just a matter of biting the bullet for a while. I should count myself lucky. I may not make any money, but there are also people with double mortgages, unable to sell the house they have already left.

Bargains galore

It’s hard to say wether the market is pulling itself together. It should, because I see a lot of houses coming in with real bargain prices. A sizeable farm in a wonderful location in South-Burgundy for less than 150.000. A big fixer upper that is already inhabitable and ideal for dog breeding or pension… only 85.000! That is not expensive at all. If you like to keep abreast of what’s coming in… the lates homes added are here.

A new devellopment is that Immogo has a Twitter Account: http://twitter.com/immogo. If you register with Twitter you can ‘follow’ @Immogo to be kept in the loop for all new houses added.

Dimanche 2 août 2009

Almost 250 houses in France for sale by the owner

On august 1st 2009 we’ve translated and published house number 247 on Immogo. The cheapest house is now a village home of 15,000 euros, whereas the most expensive property has a price of 7,000,000 euros! But then, this is a luxury hotel, restaurant, bar, dancing at the foot of the ski slopes in a populair area. Brand new, turn key, ready for business.

So Immogo has a wide and varied offer. Still, every client gets the same treatment.

We do our best to motivate the private sellers to give us a great description and as many pictures as possible. We go after them with questions, stalk them for more pictures and will even go and steal photos from their private site! Anything to get the best possible presentation of their real estate offer.

This is an important advantage for buyers, who can study the offer online before embarking on a tour to visit. Especially important because Immogo caters to an international audience, with translations in German, French and Dutch. Many potential buyers have to travel quite a distance to visit an object for sale.

Anyway, Immogo tries – together with sellers and buyers – to create a positive atmosphere in the real estate business, suffering from a gray mood, lately. There are still some very lovely homes for sale out there and many houses have become quite affordable lately. If you use Immogo to do business directly with the vendor, there is no real estate agent fee to be paid. So everybody wins!

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