French property law being very different from English law, it is advisable to take advice from specialists before getting legally bound. The following is a list of some of the points that purchasers of French property should consider:
Once your offer has been accepted, ask the estate agent or the Notaire to give you a copy of the draft Compromis de Vente (sale contract) so that you can have all its terms checked by a solicitor specialised in French property matters. A translation of the Compromis is not sufficient as only the terms that are in the contract can be translated. A translator cannot translate clauses that are not, but should be, included in the contract.
- Check the plan and the boundaries of the property, bearing in mind that the plan cadastral cannot be relied upon for accuracy. Only a plan de bornage drawn up by a land surveyor would be acceptable.
- Check the surveys supplied by the seller (lead, asbestos, termites etc as appropriate).
- Check the description of the property and in particular if building works have been carried out in the past 10 years.
- A solicitor acting for you will check the seller’s title deed for any discrepancies suggesting works having been carried out during the seller’s period of ownership.
- Check if the property is subject to rights of way or other easements.
- Make sure that all relevant conditions precedent are inserted in the Compromis de Vente, for example that you must obtain a mortgage.
- Discuss ownership structure with your solicitor. It is not recommended to seek such advice from a French Notaire (even if he can speak English) as Notaires are, generally speaking, not conversant with English law and your decision may affect your estate in the UK.
- Once you are satisfied that you have received all necessary information, you can sign the Compromis either in the UK or in France. There is no need to sign a Compromis by power of attorney but if you give another party (such as an estate agent for instance) authority to sign this contract on your behalf, you may lose control of the transaction.
- Make sure that you understand when your 7-day cooling off period expires. It does not start when you sign the Compromis.. It starts on the day after you receive a copy of the Compromis signed by all parties by registered post from either the Notaire or the agent. We have noticed that a number of agents send the Compromis signed by the seller only and then ask the purchaser to sign an acknowledgement of receipt on the understand that this will start the purchaser’s ‘cooling off’ period. It does not! The document received by registered post must be a copy of the Compromis signed by the seller and the purchaser. If you want to proceed with your purchase, you do not need to do anything but if wish to exercise your right to withdraw from the transaction for whatever reason, you must advise the agent and/or the Notaire of your decision by sending them a registered letter before the 7 day period expires.
- The Notaire will not carry out his searches until your cooling-off period has expired, hence the need to ensure that the Compromis contains all appropriate clauses.
- Make sure that the draft “Acte de Vente” (transfer deed) and its attachments are checked and explained to you prior to completion. Again, a translation is not sufficient to protect your interests.
- Instruct your bank to transfer the completion monies to the Notaire’s bank account sufficiently early so that the funds are in the Notaire’s account by the completion date.
- Completion can take place by attending the completion meeting at the Notaire’s office or by power of attorney, in which case one of the Notaire’s clerks will sign the Acte de Vente on your behalf. If you can attend completion, we advise that you view the property shortly before completion (ideally in the morning if completion takes place in the afternoon) in order to check that everything is in order.
- Once the transaction is completed, you should receive your copy of the signed Acte de Vente but you will need to be patient – it can take some months. In the meantime, you will receive an attestation from the Notaire confirming that you are the new owners of the property.
It all sounds a bit daunting and it really can be so but if you take care in choosing your advisers, it will pay dividends in the long term. You can probably enjoy a glass or two in celebration – I know I would.
•With thanks to Annie Guellec-Digby
For help with your purchase or any other French related matter, please contact:
The information in this article is provided for informational purposes and does not constitute legal, professional or financial advice. The content is intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current and accurate. We encourage you seek the advice of an attorney or relevant professional before acting on any of this information.