In this step-by-step guide, we outline the purchasing process.
* Once you have decided on the house you want to buy, contact the selling agent.
* Make sure you do your sums correctly. In France it is usually the buyer who pays all the fees. On top of the ‘net’ purchase price of the property, there will be notaire’s fees (including stamp duty), which are usually about 6-8 per cent of the net purchase price. You will also have to pay the French agent’s fees and these can vary from 4-15 per cent, though 7-8 per cent is more common. 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.
If you are using your own legal representative, you’ll also have those fees to the total. When looking at websites, as well as through your French agent’s books, always ask exactly which fees are included in the prices.
* Take your agent’s advice on making the offer. For instance, in the UK it’s usual to offer considerably less than the asking price but this can cause offence in France. Your agent should know the lie of the land.
* Make sure you see the plans of the property and its land (plans cadastres) before you make an offer.
* The compromis de vente is usually the first document you will sign, though you may 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.
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 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. Ideally, you should take this documentation with you on your search trip, as that will allow the process of drawing up the compromis to begin immediately. You should expect the compromis to take 3-4 weeks to arrive.
* If you haven’t already, you should definitely seek professional advice once you receive the compromis. It is written in French, so it is wise to have it professionally translated – you must be sure of what you are signing.
* Once the compromis is signed by both parties, it is returned to you, the buyer, and you then have a ten-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 and then the deposit is due (very occasionally, deposits can be required sooner but this is rare – consult a French property specialist if you are asked to pay before this time). 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 could lose your 10 per cent deposit.
* Once you have signed the compromis, the searches on the property begin. These might include ownership, land boundaries, rights of way, termite checks, lead and asbestos surveys. 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 our directory 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 signing in France is held in the notaire’s office and it’s usual for the buyer 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 house 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 house is now yours!
[Note from the editor: The cooling off period was extended from 7 to 10 days by the Loi Macron on August 8, 2015]
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