Compromis de Vente: The First Step to Purchasing Your French Property
Once you’ve found and made an offer on your French Property, it’s time to make it official. Which is where the Compromis de Vente comes in. This is the first legally binding document that you will sign on the road to completing your French property purchase.
Here’s everything you need to know about signing the Compromis de Vente.
What is the Compromis de Vente?
The Compromis de Vente is typically the first document you will sign when buying a property in France. It’s a written contract of the sale agreement, the purpose of which is to set out the main terms of the agreement between the buyer and the seller.
The Compromis de Vente is a legally binding document, for both the seller and the buyer. That means it is imperative you understand what you are signing and are sure about your purchase before you sign.
When Do You Sign the Compromis de Vente?
The Compromis de Vente is signed by both the buyer and seller once an offer has been made and accepted, and the sale has been agreed by both parties.
The notaire (who acts for both parties under French law) is responsible for drafting the Compromis de Vente, although the agreement can also be drafted by the estate agent handling your sale. A Compromis de Vente prepared by the estate agent will need to satisfy the Notaire of its legal validity in any event.
Signing the Compromis de Vente: Understanding the Contract
The format of a Compromis de Vente may vary, but all Compromis de Ventes should state clearly the key points of the agreement including:
- Details of the purchaser and seller (you will need to provide “Civil Status” information including your full names, contact details, professions, birth and marriage certificates, passport copies, and details of ex-husbands and wives)
- Confirmation of the name and ownership “Title” details of the property
- A description of the property including the map and reference of the plot as it is recorded in the Land Registry of your local the Commune
- The price agreed (sometimes furnishings and fittings may be negotiated as a separate amount)
- The deposit agreed (usually 10% to be held typically by the Notaire or in some cases the agent)
- The circumstances under which the deposit may be forfeited
- Some declarations by the vendor about the property
- Some obligations of the purchaser in buying the property
- Arrangements for surveys or inspection of lead, asbestos and termites
- Provisional conditions (Clauses Suspensives) – these will include certain standard conditions which will be inserted by the person drawing up the agreement (e.g. that there are no other claims to the Title or that the searches conducted by the Notaire’s office do not reveal any problems). Note that the purchaser can request and negotiate the insertion of additional provisional conditions before the Compromis is signed e.g. vendor to service the electrical equipment or provide additional guarantees, complete building work, obtain a mortgage or planning approval. See the section below on adding a Clause Suspensive.
- Full details of the estate agent’s fees and provision for legal fees
- Various declarations by both purchaser and vendor about their ability to complete the contract
- Statements describing what happens if either side fails to complete his part of the bargain, e.g. penalty clauses
- The target completion date (note this is not definitive or guaranteed and can be changed by agreement between purchaser and seller, or if the notaire has not completed his work for any reason)
- Inventory of items to be included in the price
Adding a Clause Suspensive or Conditional Clause to the Compromis de Vente
‘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 with 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. You may also wish to seek independent advice from a legal advisor who specialises in international property purchases.
What’s the Difference Between a Compromis de Vente and a Promesse de Vente?
In some situations you may come across a Promesse de Vente (or a Promesse Unilatérale de Vente). This is quite a different contract as it is only the seller who enters into an obligation, not the buyer.
As the property buyer, you are effectively acquiring an option to buy the property at an agreed price and it prevents the seller from selling to any other party for a period of time, usually between two to three months. As the buyer, you pay a sum in consideration for this “freeze”. You can then decide whether or not to exercise this option and you can just let the time elapse.
If you decide against proceeding with the purchase of the property, the seller gets to keep the money paid to reserve the property, but you as the buyer are under no further obligation in regards to going ahead with the purchase or compensating the seller.
If there was a conditional clause included in the contract that was up to the seller to fulfil and hasn’t been achieved, then you as the buyer are entitled to get back the money that you paid for the option.
In theory, a Promesse de Vente is enforceable and obligates the seller to sell the property at the agreed price if the buyer decides to exercise the option, but in practice, the court is rarely, if ever, going to force the sale and will rather demand compensation in the form of a lump sum plus interest from the seller to the buyer. In all other respects such as the cooling-off period and conditional clauses, the Promesse de Vente is similar to the Compromis de Vente.
Before you sign the Compromis de Vente
Buying a house in France is a big step and this is the first legally binding document that you will sign, so it’s important to sure of what you are signing. As well as being sure of the purchase, it’s essential that you understand every aspect of the Compromis de Vente as it sets out all the key terms of your purchase.
Don’t hesitate to ask the notaire to explain any details that you are uncertain of. However, while the notaire is legally required to represent both parties impartially, you maintain the right to appoint another legal advisor or an English translator. While some notaires do speak English, the contract you will sign will be in French, so it’s recommended that you see an English translation or have the services of an English-speaking adviser. Consult our directory to find a French-English translator or legal representative.
All points within the agreement are important but particular attention should be focussed on the price and costs, the details regarding the Title and Land Registry information, the Provisional conditions (if these cannot be met you may be entitled to withdraw from the purchase), and the declarations made by the vendor.
What if I’ve made a mistake signing the Compromis de Vente?
Note that under La Loi SRU, you will be given a ten-day cooling-off period during which time you can withdraw from the purchase without penalty. This period runs from when you receive a copy of the signed Compromis de Vente and you should be given instructions about this period and the date before which any change of mind must be communicated in writing to the Notaire.
After Signing the Compromis de Vente: What Happens Now?
Once the Compromis de Vente is signed, the Notaire will carry out the process of checking records and documentation regarding the property and land. Two to three months is generally allowed for this process but it is possible to move more swiftly if both parties are agreed and the Notaire is able to conduct documentation searches without delays.
The completion date shown in the Compromis de Vente is a target date that will allow you to plan removals, funds transfer, etc. However, the date will need to be re-confirmed as completion draws nearer. The completion date is the date when both parties will attend the Notaire’s office to sign the Acte de Vente or Acte Authentique (foreign buyers can also nominate a proxy, an alternative person, to sign on their behalf).
During the period between signing the Compromis de Vente and signing the Acte de Vente, it is advisable to keep in touch with your agents and the notaire to keep a check on progress. Don’t rely on them to keep you informed about what is happening.
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