Property in France

New to the French property market? Our comprehensive guide will help you find your bearings…

The process of buying property in France is fairly straightforward and well-regulated. Every year, thousands of overseas buyers purchase new homes in the Hexagon without problems or complications. The most important thing to be aware of is that the sale becomes binding much earlier in the process than in the UK. Therefore, if you allow enough time during your viewing trip, you can effectively secure a property you’ve just seen and return to the UK knowing that no-one else can buy it – gazumping doesn’t exist in France.

Properties for Sale

French properties are sold in a variety of ways: privately, via notaires (public notaries) or agents immobiliers (estate agents). The majority of overseas buyers in France use estate agents as this is a more familiar process and you’re more likely to encounter someone who speaks English. Make sure your estate agent belongs to a registered body, such as the Fédération Nationale de l’Immobilier (FNAIM), Syndicat National des Professionnels de l’Immobilier (SNPI) or Union Nationale de la Propriété Immobilière (UNPI). This information should be visible somewhere in an agent’s office – which you should always visit, to check out their setup, before using them. An agent immobilier will often ask you to sign a bon de visite, which confirms to the vendor that they, the agent, are the ones who showed you a particular property.

Pricing

The prices displayed in an estate agent’s window or on the internet should include the agent’s fees, which are anywhere between 6 and 10 per cent of the property price. If this is the case, the price should be followed by the letters FAI (Frais d’Agence Inclus) or HAI (Honoraires d’Agence Inclus). However, the price shown doesn’t include the notary fee. Ask for an estimate of any additional fees and don’t forget to add 20 per cent for VAT or TVA (Taxe sur la Valeur Ajoutée) in French, if you’re buying a new build.

Making an Offer

Don’t be afraid to make an offer at the earliest opportunity. But try to find out about the vendor’s situation. This will give you an idea of whether they’d accept less than the asking price. Don’t hesitate to ask your agent for advice.

Surveys

Unlike in the UK, property surveys aren’t usually undertaken in France, because the profession of surveyor doesn’t exist in the same way. But it’s always best to get a property checked out for structural issues before agreeing a price and signing a contract – especially if it looks like renovations might be needed. Luckily, there is a growing number of English-speaking surveyors working in France. Alternatively, arrange to visit the property with a builder to get their opinion and a quote. It’s by far the best and cheapest option. If you don’t have time to do it before signing the contract, don’t panic. Just ask the notaire to include a clause suspensive in the Compromis de Vente, stipulating the purchase should be subject to a satisfactory survey. Before you sign anything, make sure to check the plans of the property.

The Notaire

Once you’ve agreed a price, the purchase process is handled by a notaire – a government-appointed official and the only person permitted by law to perform conveyancing in France. The notaire charges a fee of around 8 per cent of the net property price. Note that the lower the property price, the higher the notaire’s fee. The notaire is required by law to act impartially, and acts for both buyer and seller. This may seem strange to UK buyers but the vast majority of transactions in France are handled by a single notaire. The estate agent should be able to recommend a local notaire but if you feel unsure about this, you’re entitled to appoint your own. The latter option won’t cost you any more money, as the two notaries will split the fee between them; but it can be a less efficient way of handling the purchase. You can also pay for additional independent legal advice, either in France or the UK.

Translation

Although you may find a notaire who speaks English, they are not professional translators. Some estate agents offer translations of the Compromis de Vente but this is not their primary role or responsibility. If you are unclear about any part of the contract or struggle with the legal jargon in a foreign language, we strongly recommend hiring an accredited translator, either in France or the UK.

The First Contract

The Compromis de Vente is the first key document you’ll sign. It sets out the main terms of the agreement between the buyer and the seller. The buyer will usually pay a 10 per cent deposit upon signing, which is held by the notaire. The Compromis de Vente must be signed by both parties and is legally binding – the only ‘get-out’ is if one of the clauses suspensives isn’t met. The Compromis will include a date when you’re expected to sign the Acte Authentique. This date isn’t legally binding and is really used as a target date which both parties can aim for. For the notaire to draw up the Compromis, you’ll need your passport, marriage and/ or divorce papers, and if you’re borrowing money, the paperwork for the loan/mortgage.

Clauses Suspensives

These conditional clauses can be added to the Compromis de Vente by the notaire and allow you to withdraw from the purchase under certain circumstances; so it’s important to give them some thought. You can add any clauses you like to the Compromis, as long as the vendor is willing to accept them. If you’re getting a mortgage, the notaire will automatically include this as a conditional clause in the contract; so if your provider turns you down or refuses to lend on the property you won’t be obliged to go ahead with the purchase. Though you’ll have to provide proof, in the form of an official letter from the bank. Other typical clauses include ensuring that you’re able to obtain planning permission or that certain repairs are carried out prior to purchase. You need to discuss these clauses very carefully with your agent and the notaire at the time of making the offer. Many problematic purchases or disputes could have been avoided or settled with the right conditional clauses and safeguards.

Lead, Asbestos, Termites & Energy Reports

These reports are all required by law and grouped together in a single document known as the DTT (Dossier de Diagnostic Technique), the equivalent of an Energy Performance Certificate. It falls to the vendor to commission and pay for these up-to-date reports to be attached to the Compromis de Vente – the notaire will ensure that the law is complied with. Termite reports are dependent on the area of France the property is located in. Vendors with a swimming pool are also responsible for commissioning a report on all of its safety features.

Cooling-off Period

Once you’ve both signed the Compromis de Vente, the buyer has a 10-day cooling-off period. During this time, you can withdraw from the sale without incurring a penalty, but the seller cannot. Once this period is over, the contract is binding for both parties.

Transfer of Funds

Assuming you intend to go ahead, you’ll need to arrange a transfer of funds, in Euros, to pay the deposit. You’ll find advice about currency transfers from our expert Mar Bonnin-Palmer, senior key account manager at foreign exchange specialist moneycorp, in our currency zone. The deposit is usually 10 per cent of the net purchase price. From this point on, if you withdraw from the sale, you could lose your deposit, unless it’s for one of the reasons listed in your clauses suspensives.

Local Authority Property Searches

Once the Compromis is signed, the notaire will begin the legal process, including the searches on the property, such as the land registry, ownership, boundaries and rights of way. It’s important to note that, in France, these searches don’t include looking at any private planning permissions that may exist in the vicinity of the property. So to ensure your neighbour isn’t about to build next to your boundary, visit the local mairie and ask to see the plan communal (recent planning applications). Alternatively, ask the agent to obtain this information.

How long does it take?

The whole buying process should take three to four months, from the moment you make an offer on the property to the signing of the final contract.

Exchange & Completion

At some point, your agent or the notaire will advise you of the proposed date to sign the full contract – the Acte Authentique or Acte de Vente. You should be present for the signing of the completion document, if at all possible. If you aren’t able to attend, you can arrange a power of attorney. Arrange to view the property you’re buying on the day of the actual signing. This is because the final contract has a ‘sold as seen on signing date’ clause; so you need to make sure that the property is exactly as it should be, and doesn’t have doors missing! You need to plan ahead in order to transfer the balance of your payment to the notaire’s account in plenty of time for the signing date. The house won’t become yours until all the money required (including the mortgage funds) for the purchase, and all the associated fees, have been sent to the notaire’s bank account. Once you have signed the final contract, retire to the nearest bar and enjoy a celebratory glass of Champagne!

DISCLAIMER: This guide is provided for general information purposes only and isn’t intended to be a substitute for professional advice regarding any aspect of purchasing a property in France. FrenchEntrée cannot be held responsible for the consequences of decisions or actions you may choose to take in connection with viewing trips or a property purchase.

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