SAFER in France: Buying and Selling Property with Land


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SAFER in France: Buying and Selling Property with Land

Vast swaths of land in the French countryside are a joy to behold, and future buyers looking for privacy and seclusion will often set their goal on acquiring a country cottage surrounded by fields and forests. But whether you are a buyer or a seller of a property with land in France, you need to know about a particular government agency that will be part of the acquisition process—SAFER. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is SAFER in France?

The SAFER (pronounced SAFFAIR) or la Société d’Aménagement Foncier et d’Etablissement Rural (SAFER) (Land Development and Rural Establishment Society) is a government agency set up by both the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Finance. It dates back to the early 60s when a young farmers’ union, seeing vast strips of land being sold to developers at an alarming rate, pressured the government to act.

Today, the SAFER not only aims to protect precious farmland from speculation, but helps farmers acquire land they could not otherwise afford on their own. More recently, its powers have been expanded to encompass regulations to protect the environment and its rich biodiversity.

The Role of SAFER in French Property Purchases and Sales

If you are purchasing or selling a property in France on agricultural land (such as a farmhouse, vineyard, or many other rural properties) SAFER will become involved at the stage of signing the compromis de vente.

The SAFER has pre-emptive purchase rights and the notaire is under obligation to notify this government body of any sale of farmland.  In the notary’s jargon, the notaire “purges” the SAFER’s right to exercise its droit de pré-emption (right of first refusal).  The SAFER then studies the file and can, in some cases, choose to object to the sale.  Le droit de pré-emption may sound harsh, but, contrary to what one may think, the SAFER cannot expropriate nor can it purchase any property piecemeal.

How long does this process take?

The SAFER has two months to notify the vendor of its decision to purchase or not.  For a fee, the vendor has a right to ask the procedure be expedited but there is no guarantee that the SAFER will accede to this request.

What if SAFER wants to purchase the land?

Should the SAFER be interested in the land, it will make an offer at market value.  The vendor can either refuse this offer to purchase and withdraw the sale of his property or negotiate the asking price. If the parties cannot come to an agreement, the vendor may bring the case to court, but he must be aware that such litigation can drag on for years.

What land does SAFER have pre-emptive purchase rights to?

The Préfecture (Administration) in each département (territory) determines the minimal land area below which the SAFER cannot intervene.  Over the years, that threshold has been downsized to the point at which an area of just one hectare can now become subject to the pre-emptive process.

Buying and Selling Property With Land: Protecting Your Rights

During a sale, there are ways for both the purchaser and the vendor to protect themselves from any pitfalls. The purchaser can, for instance, ask that an objection on the part of the SAFER be included as a clause suspensive (escape clause) in the offer. That way, should the SAFER wish to exercise its right to purchase, the buyer has a right to cancel the sale and his deposit will be returned without delay.

Although the SAFER is ever-present in the purchase of farmland, you shouldn’t let this put you off a rural property purchase. The vast majority of transactions go through without any interference from the government body.

It should also be noted that at times, the SAFER`s goals can fall short of its promise to safeguard farmland. The SAFER has limited resources and when it comes to keeping vast estates and prestigious vineyards in the French fold, it simply cannot compete.

Can SAFER prevent me from selling my property?

Despite the fact that farmland has become a precious commodity, the SAFER can rarely intervene should an owner choose to sell for purposes other than agriculture. By adding value to said land, he may be able to fetch a higher price and the requisite planning permits can be granted if the project is deemed useful to the general population. A vendor can, for example, offer to sell his land for agro-tourism purposes.  His land could be turned into an equestrian centre or, a zone artisanale where locals and tourists alike can buy a variety of local produce.  The farmland could also be converted into a base de loisirs (leisure park) with outdoor activities.

Potential buyers can find more about the SAFER on their English website.

Buying Property or Land in France?

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. Want to make your French property dream a reality? 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.

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