When a Frenchman buys a house, particularly in rural reas, he will, traditionally, hear about the house by word of mouth, go to a notaire’s office, or look through private ‘for sale’ ads in his local paper. Although estate agents (known as agences immobiliers, or just immobiliers for short in France) have long existed in the larger towns, and specialised in up-market properties, agencies dealing with the sort of country properties beloved by British buyers seem to be a more contemporary development.
Can you do it the French way?
So isn’t it best to do as the French do? The answer to that question is yes – as long as you speak the language fluently and know the house-buying process as well as a Frenchman (it works rather differently from the systems you may be familiar with in your country of origin). Among the snags of buying privately you may find that you are completely on your own – even though a notaire has to be involved in the sale to handle the legal processes – and that visiting a notaire’s office to select a house is usually an uphill struggle for a non-French potential buyer. This is further explained in the role of the notaire.
Once you have picked a house, or houses, from the agents’ lists, you will be taken to view them. It’s often said that, because several agencies are usually instructed to sell a house, agents can be very possessive about their clients. There’s a certain truth in this, but the real reason is that accompanying potential buyers on viewings is the norm in France; in fact it’s a requirement. Some, but not all, agents will ask you to sign a document before any viewings take place. This is known as a bon de visite or mandat and ensures that once that agent has shown you the house, you can’t reduce costs by dealing direct with the seller or going to another agency.
Making an Offer
If you decide you want the house, you will make an offer. You still hear reports of houses selling for way below the asking price – this may still happen in a few as-yet less popular regions, but it seems far more common – at least when houses are selling well – for buyers to insist on the price they are asking and not to consider lower offers. When an offer is made at the asking price then the seller is legally bound to accept it. There’s nothing to stop a buyer offering less, but beware: because houses are on the books of several agents it’s not uncommon for a higher offer to come in while your lower offer is being considered, and before you know it the seller has agreed to sell at that higher offer.
Contracts See also Compromis de Vente and Promesse de Vente
When an offer is accepted, the seller and buyer will then sign the first formal contract (some agents get you to sign a preliminary non-binding agreement at this stage confirming your offer). After signing this contract – known usually as the compromis de vente , though there are variations in the type of contract in some areas – you are committed to buy. If you change your mind you will forfeit a penalty of 10 of the price (it is common to pay this as a deposit when signing the compromis). But the seller will also be bound by similar terms, and at least you, as buyer, have a cooling-off period after signature in which you can withdraw without penalty. There is anexpectation in France that once the buyer has made an offer then he will continue with the transaction, unless something happens outside the buyer’s control. So it is important that any questions about the condition of the property, the planning status, getting a mortgage, etc. are resolved before signing the compromis, or are subject to condititonal clauses (“clauses suspensives“).
Getting the Money There on Time
Note that it is the buyer’s responsibility to make sure that the money, including all professional fees but less any deposit paid, reaches the notaire’s account in time for clearance of funds before signature. Variable exchange rates can have quite an effect on the actual sum required, so many people use a currency exchange company. French money-laundering regulations mean that you won’t be able to turn up with a handful of Euros or a personal cheque. But however you intend to pay for your house – by bank transfer, banker’s draft, French or British mortgage, or via a currency exchange specialist – it is important to ensure that all parties are aware of the date by which the notaire requires the money and arrange for the funds transfer ahead of time.
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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal, or other professional advice.