French Property Law: Your Step by Step Guide to the Purchase Process


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French Property Law: Your Step by Step Guide to the Purchase Process

Buying a property in France is no small undertaking and even if you have already bought a house in your own country, there will undoubtedly be differences in French property law and the buying process. That’s why it’s essential that you understand the legal process and requirements before you make any decisions—and definitely before signing anything!

The Property Purchase Process in France

Ready to invest in French real estate or buy a house in France? From making an offer and signing contracts, to understanding French inheritance law—this is your step-by-step guide to the purchase process.

Step 1: Make an Offer on a French Property

You’ve found a French property and are ready to move forward with a purchase. The first step to take is to contact the selling agent and make an offer. Do your homework first—make sure that you have accounted for agent’s fees, notaire’s fees, and other expense before deciding on a price that you are happy with. This stage of the proceedings is also the time to ask to see the plans of the property and its land (plans cadastres).

When it comes to making your offer, it’s worth taking the agent’s advice. Making an offer considerably less than the asking price (which is typical in many other foreign property markets), can cause offence in France. Your agent should be able to advise you if your offer is viable or not.

For more information, be sure to consult our guide to The Cost of Buying a Property in France: Negotiating, Taxes, & Fees.

Step 2: Sign the Compromis de Vente

Once your offer has been accepted or you have agreed on the sale price, the next step is to sign the Compromis de Vente. This is the first legal document you will sign in when buying your French property, so be sure to understand what you are signing. The Compromis de Vente is signed with a notaire, who is responsible for the legal proceedings of all French property sales. Under French property law, it’s typical for one notaire to represent both the buyer and the seller during the property purchase.

This is the time to raise any conditions you require that would enable you to withdraw from the sale, for instance: your failure to obtain a mortgage, negative results from termite surveys, or failing to receive planning permission to convert outbuildings. Such conditions should be inserted in the Compromis de Vente as ‘clauses suspensives’.

Step 3: Pay the Deposit

Once the Compromis de Vente is signed by both parties, it is returned to you, the buyer, and you then have a 10-day cooling-off period. During this time, you can withdraw from the sale without penalty, but the vendor cannot. Once the cooling-off period is complete, the contract is binding on both parties and then the deposit is due (very occasionally, deposits can be required sooner but this is rare – consult a specialist in French property law if you are asked to pay before this time).

The deposit is usually 10% of the net purchase price but can sometimes be less. The Compromis de Vente is now a binding contract (subject to the clauses suspensives) and if you withdraw, you could lose your 10% deposit.

Step 4: Building and diagnostic surveys

Once you have signed the Compromis de Vente, the searches on the property begin. These might include ownership, land boundaries, and rights of way, as well as the compulsory Diagnostic Surverys (DDT) which include termite, lead, and asbestos surveys. The notaire is responsible for ensuring that these take place and you do not need to pay separately for them.

Building surveys are not usually done in France but surveyors do exist and you can have a full UK-type survey done (see the classified pages our directory for details of English-speaking surveyors in France). Many French buyers do not bother with a survey but may take out a registered builder’s opinion on the property. You should discuss the available options with your agent when first deciding to buy the property. Surveys can be carried out before signing the Compromis de Vente, or you could insert a ‘clause suspensive’ to give you the option to back out of the sale if it doesn’t meet certain requirements.

Step 5: Decide on your inheritance provision

Before moving onto the final steps in the purchase process, you should take advice on your inheritance provision. Whatever your nationality, the inheritance of your property is subject to French law and the provision made has to be included in the house-buying contract at the time of purchase. It is wise to consult a legal representative on this because French inheritance law is extremely complex and you don’t want to find a surviving partner paying unnecessarily high death duties if the worst should occur.

Step 6: Transfer the payment

You need to transfer the balance of your payment to the notaire’s account in plenty of time for the final signing date. This date should have been agreed with the vendor, via your agent or legal representative, and it is important that you meet the deadline. If you miss the completion date, you can lose both the house and your deposit. This transaction may also involve your mortgage lender, who must ensure that the money for completion is in the notaire’s account in plenty of time. No transaction will be complete until all payments have been cleared in the notaire’s account.

For foreign buyers, the exchange rate and transfer fees will likely have a big effect on the final price that you pay—visit our Currency Exchange zone to learn more about how to get the best rates.

Step 6: Sign the Acte de Vente

The Acte de Vente is the final legal step in your French property purchase. The signing in France is held in the notaire’s office and it’s usual for the buyer to be there, but if you can’t be, you can arrange a power of attorney for it to be signed in your absence. Your agent should arrange for you to view the house on the day of the signing because the final contract has a clause saying ‘sold as seen on signing date’, so it’s important that you know what state the property is actually in! It’s not unknown for problems to arise even at this late stage with regard to fixtures and fittings.

Buying a Property 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 and create an account to receive property alerts and insider tips from our experts.  

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. 

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