If you’re looking to purchase a property in France—in fact, if you’re looking to undertake almost any legal procedure from getting married or PACSed to handling French property inheritance—you will need to use a French notaire. But what exactly is the role of the notaire in France, and what part will they play in your property purchase?
Who Are the French Notaires?
Notaires are public officers who act on behalf of the State and are appointed by the Minister of Justice to assist with legal procedures and draw up legal contracts. The institution of the notaire dates back hundreds of years, and notaires in France are present in most of the important moments in life.
In France, the fact that a legal instrument is drawn up by a notaire is a guarantee of its legality and authenticity. This means that notaires are vested with prerogatives of official authority, which they receive from the State.
The Role of the Notaire in France
A notaire is a public officer who operates in every area of law, including family, property inheritance, assets, corporate, rural law, local authorities, and others.
Under the terms of Article 1 of the Order dated 2 November 1945 regarding the status of notaires: “Notaires are public officers authorised to record any instrument or contract to which the parties are obligated to, or may wish to, invest with the type of authenticity associated with public instruments”.
The notaire is empowered to authenticate instruments by affixing his seal and signature. By doing so, they officially witness the wishes expressed by the signatories and gives their personal guarantee regarding the content and date of the instrument. Such instruments then have the legal status of a final judgment. As such, the notaire is an amicable judge and dispenser of out-of-court justice.
Although they have public authority, the notaires operate on a self-employed basis and are responsible for their own office. The rationale behind this system is to provide a modern type of public service at no/low cost to the state. Notaires are self-employed professionals who are mostly paid by their clients (and not the taxpayer public funds) on the basis of a rate fixed by the state for the services they provide.
The Role of the Notaire When You Purchase a French Property
During a French property purchase or sale, the notaire ensures that all the proceedings comply with French property law. 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.
Whether the property is bought directly or through an Estate Agent (Agence Immobilier), a notaire still has to oversee the legal aspects of the sale. They are also responsible for receiving all contracts and checking their authenticity. When you buy a property in France, the notaire will be responsible for many all of the key legal proceedings, including the signing of the Compromise de Vente and the transfer of funds.
Buying a French House: What Will the Notaire Do?
So, what exactly will a notaire do when you buy a property in France?
- They will check each party’s rights to buy or sell the property.
- They will conduct a search in the land registry to see whether there are any third parties with a claim on the property.
- They will ensure that there are no pre-emptive rights on the property.
- They will attend the signing of the Acte de Vente and usually the initial Compromis de Vente as well, although the involvement of a notaire in the latter is not mandatory.
- When signing the final contract or Acte de Vente, the notaire will read out the terms of the contract aloud to all parties. After completion, they will give a copy of the contract to both buyer and seller but keep the original deed, along with the mortgage registry.
- They will oversee the transferring of funds and ensure that all the taxes and fees are paid in full, including the buyer’s first mortgage and insurance payments.
Using a Notaire With Your French Property Search
Notaires not only have in-depth knowledge of the French real estate market, but they are involved in the sale of all local properties, which puts them in an excellent position to offer advice. Private sellers often also advertise their properties directly with the notaire.
If you are searching for a French property, particularly in country towns and rural areas, contacting a local notaire is a good idea. As well as aiding in your property search, they can also advise on local areas, any drawbacks or proposed changes in the area (plans to build a new transport link or school, for example), and the background and history of the property in question.
Choosing a Notaire to Handle Your Property Purchase
When purchasing a property, you can choose to use the notaire chosen by the seller or appoint your own notaire. 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.
Some buyers feel uneasy about having a single notaire and appoint a legal adviser, others appoint a second notaire. In this case, the two notaires will share the fees, and therefore, the costs for the buyer are not affected, although it can be a less-efficient way of handling the purchase.
When purchasing a property through an estate agent, they will often recommend a local notaire. However, you can also appoint your own notaire.
The Notaires of France (available in English) allows you to search the directory of more than 15,000 notaires throughout the country. It also lists languages spoken, which is a big help if you’re searching for an English-speaking notaire.
Notaires Fees When Purchasing French Property
Notaires charge a fee for their role in the property sale, and it is the buyer that pays the Notaire’s fees, stamp duty and land registry fees. These fees are regulated by French law and vary according to the sale price and location of the property. Still, they are typically between 6 and 8 per cent of the ‘net’ property price (the cheaper the property, the higher the percentage) on a re-sale property.
The Notaires of France website has an online calculator to help you work out the real estate purchase fees. Note that there are some additional fees when the buyer takes out a mortgage. Value added tax (TVA) is payable on the total amount of the fees.
Notaires fees may be included in the price if you buy via an estate agent, but be sure to check this in advance. Don’t forget to account for this when setting your budget.
Buying a Property in France?
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Want to make your French property dream a reality? Start by reading our Beginner’s Guide to Buying French Property, then follow our step by step articles detailing every stage of the purchase process.