1. When buying a property in France, you must never pay any part of the purchase price direct to the seller. The full purchase price (less the deposit which may sometimes be paid to the estate agent) must be paid via the notary. You will be required to make a declaration in the Purchase Deed confirming that the price stated in the deed is the full price and you are warned that any breach of this can lead to substantial tax penalties. You should politely ignore any suggestions from a seller that "under the table" payments are common practice in the area. Put very simply, it is against the law.
2. Problems can arise when an unmarried couple have purchased a property together and then the relationship breaks down and the future of the property is something which has to be decided. For example, the couple may have contributed equally to the purchase price but only one partner was able to travel to France to complete and so the property was registered in his/her sole name. This shouldn’t arise as it is perfectly possible for a buyer who cannot travel to France, to sign a Power of Attorney in the UK authorising one of the notary’s clerks in France to sign on his / her behalf.
3. If you rent out your French property, you must declare any income received to the French tax authority. You are also required to declare overseas rental income to HMRC in the UK (if you are still a UK taxpayer). Many UK residents who let out their French property are either unaware of this requirement or choose to ignore it. Be warned! The French Tax Authorities are becoming stricter in dealing with such breaches and will come after you!
4. You can be fined up to 45,000 Euros if the swimming pool at your French property does not have an approved safety measure such as a fence, an alarm or a cover in place. The cost of installing an approved appliance is minimal compared to the potential fine for non-compliance with the rules. You must also ensure your property has at least one smoke alarm. Failure to install a smoke alarm could invalidate your insurance if there is a fire and you make a claim.
5. Think carefully about whether to commission and independent structural survey of the property you wish to buy. It is a myth that the French don’t do surveys. If you wouldn’t buy in the UK without a survey – why do it in France?
6. And finally, be wary of those in France who suggest it is not necessary for you to take independent advice from a UK based French law specialist when buying or selling in France.
Although many French notaries will try to explain the legal documents and concepts to UK buyers, the language is often a problem. The French notary will not necessarily be able to draw comparisons with the UK legal system which UK clients are used to. What is normal and obvious to a French buyer may be totally alien to a UK buyer. In addition, whilst estate agents may help with translation they are not impartial and are rarely qualified to provide legal advice.
A UK based French law specialist will be able to tell you what should be included in the contract and what should not as well as what additional investigations should be carried out in relation to the property and the documentation provided by the estate agent and / or notary.
Barbara Heslop is the Director of Heslop & Platt, a firm of solicitors and French law specialists, whose team of solicitors and paralegals have extensive knowledge and experience of French law, including French inheritance law, French property law, French wills and much more.
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.