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Buying Property in France

The Legal Process





The Notaire


The notaire is the conveyancing solicitor, ie. a solicitor specialising in the sale of land and property.



Make sure you do your sums correctly. In France it is usually the buyer who pays all the fees, agent and notaire (both of which are much more expensive than the UK). On top of the 'net' purchase price of the property, there will be notaire's fees (including stamp duty), which are usually about 4-6 per cent of the net purchase price. You will also have to pay the French agent's fees and these can vary from 6-10 per cent. The price displayed in a French agent's window should include the agent's fee (the price will be followed by the letters FAI, if this is the case). However, it will not include the notaire's fee, so you'll need to add this in.

Signing the Contracts

There are two signings, with both parties present at the notaire's office. Sometimes the first signing can be arranged by correspondence. The first signing is the 'compromis de vente' which is a legal promise to buy and to sell, which is binding. The next signing is the actual contract. The second signing usually takes place 2 months after the first signing - which gives the town the right to claim purchase of the land, which rarely happens. At the time of the first signing, the buyer pays a deposit of about 10% (sometimes 5%). The seller keeps this deposit if you (as the buyer) were to back out of the sale.

The 'compromis de vente' (promise to sell) is the first document that you will sign, usually at the notaires office in France, although sometimes the signing can be arranged by correspondence. You may also be asked to sign a promesse d'achat, especially if you are making an offer below the mandated house price. This shows the vendor your commitment to buying at the offered price. The compromis is legally binding and is therefore a very important document.

Translation of the Contract

If you do not speak French, then the notaire may well insist on the presence of a registered interpreter to be present at both signings. The buyer pays the cost of the interpreter.

The Compromis de Vente

The first signing is the 'compromis de vente' which is a legal promise to buy and to sell, which is binding. The next signing is the actual contract. The second signing usually takes place 2 months after the first signing, which gives the town the right to claim purchase of the land, which rarely happens

The compromis is like the first draft of the final contract. Basically, it sets out the details of the purchase (what you are buying) and those involved in it (the seller and the buyer) as well as showing how much you are paying (including the fees). It has to be signed by both buyer and seller.

This is the time to raise any conditions you require that would enable you to withdraw from the sale, for instance: your failure to obtain a mortgage, negative results from termite surveys, or failing to receive planning permission to convert outbuildings. Such conditions should be inserted in the compromis as 'clauses suspensives'.

In order to have the compromis drawn up, you will need to provide to the notaire, your passport and relevant marriage and divorce papers. If you're borrowing money to purchase the property, you'll need paperwork with details of the loan.  You should expect the compromis to take 3-4 weeks to be drawn up from the time of expressing your wish to purchase.

Once the 'compromis de vente' is signed by both parties, you then have a seven-day cooling off period. During this time, you can withdraw from the sale without penalty but the vendor cannot. Once the cooling off period is complete, the contract is binding on both parties - if you change your mind, you will certainly lose your deposit. The deposit is usually 10 per cent of the net purchase price but can sometimes be less. The compromis is now a binding contract (subject to the clauses suspensives) and if you withdraw, you would lose your deposit.

Once you have signed the compromis, the searches on the property begin. These might include ownership, energy surveys, land boundaries, rights of way, termite checks, lead and asbestos surveys, sewer checks, etc. The notaire is responsible for ensuring that these take place and you do not need to pay separately for them.

Building surveys are not usually done in France but surveyors do exist and you can have a full UK-type survey done (see the classified pages of French Property News for details of British surveyors working in France). Many French buyers do not bother with a survey but may take out a registered builder's opinion on the property. You should discuss the available options with your agent when first deciding to buy the property.

You also need to take advice on your inheritance provision. Whatever your nationality, the inheritance of your property is subject to French law and the provision made has to be included in the house-buying contract. It is wise to consult a legal representative on this because French inheritance law is extremely complex and you don't want to find a surviving partner paying unnecessarily high death duties if the worst should occur.

You need to transfer the balance of your payment to the notaire's account in plenty of time for the final signing date. This date should have been agreed with the vendor, via your agent or legal representative and it is important that you meet the deadline. If you miss the completion date, you can lose both the house and your deposit. This transaction may also involve your mortgage lender, who must ensure that the money for completion is in the notaire's account in plenty of time. No transaction will be complete until all monies have been cleared in the notaire's account.

The final signing in France is held in the notaire's office and it's usual, once again, for both parties to be there, but if you can't be, you can arrange a power of attorney for it to be signed in your absence. Your agent should arrange for you to view the property on the day of the signing because the final contract (projet) has a clause saying 'sold as seen on signing date', so it's important that you know what state the property is actually in! It's not unknown for problems to arise even at this late stage with regard to fixtures and fittings.

Congratulations - the property is now yours!








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