Charlotte Macdonald is an associate solicitor in Stone King’s international and cross border team.

Over a new 12-part series of articles Charlotte answers legal and practical questions that are often asked by her clients in relation to France; whether that be buying or selling property in France, inheritance law, or how inheritance and capital gains tax are treated between the UK and France.

As discussed in previous articles, buying a property in France follows a different process to that of buying a property in England or Wales.

One of the noticeable differences at the beginning of the sale is who is responsible for the ‘searches’, known in France as the diagnostics.

If you are buying a property in England or Wales your solicitor will strongly advise you that a number of searches will need to be carried out. These are to ensure that you know about any potential issues with the property before you commit to buying it. Unless it is a sale by auction, the buyer will need to pay for these searches.

In France, by contrast, it is the seller that must carry out and pay for the searches/diagnostics. The seller must provide you with the following searches:

  • Asbestos: Compulsory if the house was built before 1997. The presence of asbestos does not mean that you cannot buy the house. However, you might need to do some work so that the house is safe to live in.
  • Lead in the paintwork: Compulsory if the house was built before 1949.
  • Termites: To check for the presence of termites or other wood insects or woodworm.
  • Gas: A check for abnormalities.
  • Electricity: A check for conformity. Abnormalities are reported on mentioning the degree of urgency required for repair.
  • Energy performance.
  • Security device on a swimming pool: All swimming pools must be equipped with a security device. It is also advisable to check if the swimming pool was put in place with planning permission.
  • Dry rot (only in some parts of France).
  • Natural risks: These can be as diverse as (but not limited to) mudslides, shrinkage of clay soils, floods, seismic risks etc.

If any abnormalities are revealed by any of the searches, the seller does not have to rectify them. Under French property law, a person buys the property as it stands. Unless the seller agrees to make any necessary repairs, you as the buyer will have to rectify the issues once the sale has gone through. However, you could ask the seller to reduce the price of the property.

Other issues which should be looked at include: rights of way, easements, whether correct planning permission has been obtained for modifications to the property, boundaries and whether there is connection to a sewerage network.

Although the searches/diagnostics provide some information, they will not tell you anything about the state of the property, for example the condition of the roof, supporting walls, or the overall structural condition. You may therefore decide to instruct a surveyor to provide a report on the property’s condition. As in England and Wales, the buyer would be responsible for the cost of such a survey.

It is important not to sign the preliminary contract (compromis de vente or promesse de vente) until you are satisfied with the results of the diagnostics, enquiries and survey.

For more information please contact Charlotte Macdonald, Dan Harris or Raquel Ugalde at Stone King LLP either by calling +44(0)1225 337599, or by email.

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