A Beginner’s Guide to Buying French Property


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A Beginner’s Guide to Buying French Property

Whether you are looking to invest in French real estate, aspire to own a holiday home in France, or plan to move to France in the future—this beginner’s guide covers everything you need to know about buying French Property.

What considerations do you need to make before moving forward with a French property purchase? How do you arrange a property visit, make an offer, and get the best rates on currency exchange? What do you need to know about French property law, taxes, and mortgages?

Use this guide to get a general step-by-step overview of the property buying process, then follow the links to learn more about each stage of the process.

Buying French Property: The Basics for Foreign Buyers

Buying a property in France is actually quite a straightforward process, but it’s important that foreign buyers fully understand the procedure and the potential pitfalls before moving ahead. Buying overseas means that you not only need to consider the price, location and property itself, but also the legal procedure (which may differ from that of your home country), currency exchange rates, and the language.

Buyers should bear in mind that the sale becomes binding much earlier in the process than in countries such as the UK or the United States. The upside to this is that if you allow enough time during your viewing trip, you can effectively secure a property you have seen on your trip and return to your home country knowing that no-one else can buy it—gazumping is not generally a problem. However, it also means that you need to be sure of what you’re signing before you put pen to paper.

Your French Property Search

French properties are sold in a variety of ways: privately, via notaires, or via estate agents (immobiliers). The majority of overseas buyers in France buy via estate agents as this is a more familiar process and you are more likely to encounter someone who speaks English. FrenchEntrée has carefully selected a number of estate agents throughout France that will be happy to help you to find your dream property.

When you choose an estate agent, make sure they are a member of a registered body such as FNAIM, SNPI or UNPI. This information should be visible somewhere in the office. Quite often an independent Agent Co will work from home and not have an office. Or sometimes it’s just more convenient to meet an agent near the property rather than in the office. In either case, it’s still a good idea to check their credentials.

An agent will often ask you to sign a “Bon de visite” – this confirms to the vendor that they, the agent, are the ones who showed you a particular property. It prevents conflicts between agents and is standard procedure in France.

Ready to start house hunting?

Read our guides to Searching for French Property and Property Viewing in France, then browse the FrenchEntrée property listings.

French Property Prices: How Much Does Buying a House in France Cost?

The prices displayed in a French estate agent’s window or on the internet should include the agent’s fees (anywhere between 4 and 10 per cent of the property price). The price should be followed by the letters FAI if this is the case. There are no fees payable on private sales.

Another notable addition to factor in are the notaire’s fees—every sale must be made through a notaire, so there is no way around paying them. These fees are typically between 6% and 8% depending on the property’s value and are also subject to VAT/TVA at 20%. This can be a substantial addition, especially on high-value properties, so be sure to account for it in your initial budget.

When you are considering a property, always ask what the price quoted includes. Ask for an estimate of any additional fees and don’t forget to add on 20% for VAT on any extra fees. Speaking of VAT, it is not payable on properties over five years old, but it is payable on new-build properties.

For more on this read our guide The Cost of Buying a Property in France.

Buying French Property: Your Step-by-Step Guide

So, you’ve worked out your budget, organized your viewing trip to France, and found your dream property. Here’s everything you need to know about the buying procedure.

Making an offer on a French property

Don’t be afraid to make an offer for a property just as you would in your home country. If you can find out how long the property has been for sale or the situation of the vendor, you may get an idea of their willingness to accept less than the asking price. You can of course discuss this with the agent.

Do You Need a French Property Survey?

Surveys are not usually undertaken in France, because the profession of surveyor does not exist in the same way that it does in the UK or United States, for example. If you are concerned about certain aspects of the structure of the property you are purchasing or renovation issues, you could contact one of the growing number of English-speaking surveyors working in France (see the FrenchEntrée Directory of surveyors in France). You could also arrange to visit the property with a local builder to get an estimate on renovation costs and times.

If you intend to do this, it is better to do it before you agree on a price and sign any contract, especially if you anticipate doing a lot of renovations. If you need a survey, but do not have time to carry it out before you sign a contract, you should ask the notaire to include a “clause suspensive” in the Compromis de Vente to ensure that your purchase is subject to a satisfactory survey (more about this below).

For further information see our article on French property surveys.

Property, land, and cadastral plans

Before you sign anything, make sure you see the plans of the property and its land (ask to see the cadastral plans from the agent or at the local Mairie). You should also check that there are no private or communal plans to build other properties, office or agricultural buildings close to your house. If you plan to rebuild or renovate the property, you should also enquire about planning permissions on the property and land. Don’t just assume that it won’t be a problem, especially in the countryside, where land is often designated as agricultural and therefore unlikely to be granted building permission.

For further advice, see our article on how to obtain planning permission.

The Role of the French Notaire

Once you find a property and agree on a price, the actual contract process will be handled by a notaire as they are the only persons permitted by law to perform conveyancing in France. The notaire charges a fee – usually between 6% and 8% of the net property price (the cheaper the property, the higher the percentage). Ask your estate agent for an estimation of the fees before you make your offer.

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 this way, by one notaire. The estate agent should be able to recommend a local notaire. If you feel unsure about this, you are entitled to appoint your own notaire. This will not cost you any more money, as the two notaires will split the fee between them, but it can be a less efficient way of handling the purchase.

Additionally, if you wish, you can take independent legal advice in France or in the UK to help you with the purchase (e.g. from a non-French solicitor) but you will be liable for their fees as well as the notaire’s fees.

Learn more about the role of the notaire in France or consult our directory of legal advisors and solicitors.

French to English Translation: Navigating Language Difficulties When Purchasing French Property

Although you may find a notaire who speaks some English, it is important to realise that the legal documents will be in French and will likely contain unfamiliar legal terms. Some estate agents do offer translations of the Compromis de Vente, but this is not their primary role or responsibility.

If you are uncertain about any aspects of the contract you can obtain a professional translation either within France or in your home country. Within France, there are officially registered translators qualified to translate legal documents. Ask the agent if they can recommend an independent translator or use the FrenchEntrée directory to find a French translator. Don’t forget to factor the translation fees into your budget.

Buying a French Property: The Buying Process

There are two key documents you will sign to buy a property in France—the Compromis de Vente and the Acte de Vente (or Acte Authentique). The whole process should take three or four months from making the offer to signing the final contract.

The Compromis de Vente (First Contract)

The Compromis de Vente is usually the first document you will sign and sets out the main terms of the agreement between the buyer and the seller. Normally the buyer will pay a 10% deposit on signing the agreement, which is held by the notaire. The agreement has to be signed by both parties and is a legally binding agreement – the only “get out” is if one of the obligations in the conditional clauses is not met (see below).

The Compromis de Vente will include a provisional date for signing the Acte de Vente (the main contract – see below). Note that this is not legally binding and is really used as a target date which both parties aim for. It’s a good idea to keep in touch with your notaire throughout the process to ensure that the sale is moving to schedule.

For the notaire to draw up the agreement you will need to provide your passport, marriage papers and divorce papers. If you’re borrowing money, you will also need paperwork with details of the mortgage.

See our guide to French Property Law: Your Step by Step Guide to the Purchase Process.

Clauses Suspensives (Conditional Clauses)

‘Clauses suspensives’ permit you to withdraw from the purchase under certain circumstances, so it is important to give this some thought before you sign the Compromis de Vente. You can add any clauses you like to the contract (provided of course that the vendor is willing to accept them).

If you are obtaining a mortgage, the notaire will automatically include this fact as a conditional clause in the contract. This means if your mortgage provider turns you down or refuses to lend on the property, you are not obliged to go ahead with the purchase. Other typical clauses you might include are ensuring that you are able to obtain planning permission, or ensuring that certain works or repairs are carried out.

You should 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 if the purchasers had introduced clauses to protect themselves at this stage.

Diagnostic Surveys on your French Property

All French properties must undergo a series of lead, asbestos, termites, and energy surverys, which are paid for by the seller. These reports are grouped together in a single report known as the DTT (Dossier de Diagnostic Technique). They are all required by law and it is the obligation of the vendor to commission and pay for up-to-date reports to be attached to the Compromis de Vente. The notaire will ensure that the law is complied with. Property vendors with swimming pools are also obliged to commission a report on the safety features of the pool.

Read our guide to Property Surveys in France: Diagnostic, Building, and Structural Surveys.

Cooling-off Period

Once you have both signed the Compromis de Vente, you the buyer have a 10-day cooling-off period. During this time, you can withdraw from the sale without incurring a penalty, but the seller cannot.

Once the cooling-off period is over, the contract becomes binding on both parties. Therefore it is crucial that you do not sign the Compromis de Vente lightly.

Paying for your French property

During this period, assuming you intend to go ahead, you will need to arrange a transfer of funds to pay the deposit (in Euros).

Your 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 is for one of the reasons listed in your ‘clauses suspensives’.

It’s a good idea to set up a currency account before you start the search for your French property—you don’t want to risk holding up the sale or losing out on a property because you don’t have your deposit ready. Similarly, you don’t want to make a loss on exchange rates and transfer fees just because you didn’t think to plan ahead. Head to our Currency Exchange Zone to find out everything you need to know.

Note: This article describes the buying process for resale properties. Leaseback properties and New Build properties may have different payment schedules and contract terms.

Getting a French Mortgage

Visit our French Mortgages zone, where our FrenchEntrée mortgage brokers will be happy to help.

Local Authority Searches

Once the Compromis de Vente is signed the notaire will begin the legal process, including searches on the property such as land registry rights to ownership, boundaries and rights of way.

It is important to note that in France the searches do not include looking at any private planning permissions that may exist near your house. To ensure your neighbour is not about to build a new house next to your boundary visit the local Mairie and ask to see the “plan communale” (any recent planning application) or ask the agent to obtain this information.

French Property Ownership and Inheritance

Before signing the final Acte de Vente, it’s important that you seek advice on how you would like to own your French property. There are three ways that two or more people can own property in France—En Indivision, En Tontine, and Société Civile Immobilière (SCI)—and which one you choose can affect your inheritance and the inheritance tax applicable to the surviving owners. French inheritance laws are notoriously complex and the decision you make at the purchase phase cannot be changed, so seek advice from a legal advisor before making your decision.

Read our guide to French property ownership and Inheritance: Indivision, Tontine, and SCI for more information.

Tax and Legal Matters

Aside from the purchase contracts, you may have concerns about your situation with regards to inheritance law, residency issues, income and capital gains tax, or other legal and tax issues. In this case, you may wish to consult an English-speaking legal adviser who specialises in French property law. Visit our French tax zone or consult our directory of legal advisors and solicitors.

The Final Signing – Acte Authentique (Acte de Vente)

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 on the day of the signing. The final contract has a clause saying ‘sold as seen on signing date’, so you need to know that the property is exactly as you expect it to be, and not with floors, walls or windows missing!

The balance of your payment will need to have been paid into the notaire’s account in plenty of time for the signing date. The house will not become yours until all the funds required (including mortgage funds) for the house purchase and all associated fees have been sent to the notaires bank account. Our Currency Zone has practical advice and tips on buying euros.

Once you have signed the contract, it’s time to crack open the champagne! You’re now the proud new owner of your very own French Property!

Head over to our Owning Property zone to learn everything you need to know as a French homeowner.

Buying French Property through FrenchEntrée

From planning your property-hunting trip to collecting the keys—FrenchEntrée is here to guide you, advise you, and hold your hand through the entire process. Ready to get started on your property search? Browse our property for sale in locations all over France. About to make an offer on a potential buy? Read our step by step articles on every aspect of the purchase process then check out our property articles for the latest news, insider tips, and expert FAQs.

Disclaimer: This guide is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice regarding any aspect of purchasing a French property. If in doubt you should consult your estate agent, legal or tax adviser. FrenchEntrée cannot be held responsible for the consequences of decisions or actions you may choose to take in connections with viewings trips or a property purchase.

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