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As UK based solicitors and French law specialists, Barbara Heslop and colleagues at Heslop & Platt are often asked what intending buyers of a property in France need to be wary of when they embark on the purchase process…

Well, firstly let me reassure you that the French conveyancing system is very well organised and secure. There is no equivalent of reported problems with non existent title deeds (such as in Cyprus) or invalid planning permissions (such as in Spain).

However, there are certain potential pitfalls and these vary according to the type, age and location of the property in question. Here are a few aspects to consider:

• When visiting a property that you may consider buying, take time to walk around the boundaries. Are they clearly marked by fences, hedges or walls? Is there any evidence of a well worn track leading across the land? This could indicate the existence of a right of way in favour of a neighbouring property or farm.

• Look at access to the property. Is the access to the property directly off a public road or is there a private track over which you may need a right of way? If unsure, this should be checked.

• Always ask questions about the foul drainage system especially in rural areas. If the property is not connected to mains drainage, a seller is required to produce a report giving details of the individual drainage system and whether it complies with current requirements. The report must be no more than 3 years old when the property is sold.

• Has the property been extended or is it a conversion from a former agricultural building? In either case, it is important to check what planning permission was required for the work and whether all requisite consents and certificates of conformity were obtained.

• If the property is less than 10 years old, there should be an insurance guarantee in respect of the structure and major works. You should seek confirmation that there is a valid insurance policy (or the remaining portion of it) available for you to claim against in the event of a defect arising linked to the construction.

• Another question which it is often useful to ask is why are the sellers selling? Is there some hidden or undisclosed reason for the sale such as noisy neighbours, a nearby factory that you weren’t aware of or perhaps clay pigeon shooting takes place on the neighbouring land every weekend! If the previous owner has died or if the current owners are divorcing, this can lead to delays in the transaction and so it is best to know all the facts at the outset.

• If the property you are considering buying is an apartment or is part of a complex with shared facilities, there will be a legal structure in place known as “une copropriété” (a co-ownership). All owners have voting rights and are entitled to attend an Annual General Meeting of the co-owners. It is essential to request a copy of the minutes of the last year’s AGM as this will give a good indication as to whether the block or complex is well managed or alternatively is fraught with problems.

These are just a few pointers. There are plenty more… The best advice is to ask lots of questions and if possible, revisit the property on several occasions so as to have time to carry out a close inspection before signing on the dotted line!

Barbara Heslop, Principal, Heslop & Platt
© July 2013

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal, or other professional advice. We advise you to seek professional advice before acting on this information.

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