Buyers of a property in France get the peace of mind of a cooling off period, known as délai de rétractation, of ten days* before the contract becomes binding.
The entitlement for a cooling off period comes from article L 271-1 of the French Code de la Construction et de l’Habitation. It relates to the purchase of a residential property or a building plot. It does not apply to a parcel of bare land which is not intended to be built on.
Only the buyer gets a cooling off period; the seller is committed as soon as he signs the contract. The entitlement is only for individual buyers and does not apply to companies or other legal entities which may be purchasing the property or building plot.
Where the sale and purchase contract has been prepared by an estate agent, the agent is required to serve a copy of the fully signed contract on the buyer and must do this be sending it by registered post to the buyer’s usual address. If the contract has been prepared by a notary and both parties sign the contract at the notary’s office, it used to be common practice for the notary to serve the cooling off notice on the buyer in person, immediately following signature. However this practice has become less frequent and in our experience most notaries, like estate agents, now serve the cooling off notice on the buyer by registered post. This protects the notary from any future claim that the cooling off notice was not properly given by the notary.
On receipt of the cooling off notice the buyer has ten days* running from the day after receipt in which to withdraw from the purchase without reason. If the buyer is happy to proceed, he should complete the slip which normally comes attached to the outside of the envelope enclosing the cooling off notice and should then return the slip to the agent or notary (depending on who sent out the notice). The buyer should then arrange to transfer his deposit.
Alternatively, if during the ten days cooling off period, the buyer decides he does not wish to proceed, then immediate action is required. To be effective, the withdrawal by the buyer requires certain formalities. The buyer can’t simply phone the agent or the notary and say he is pulling out….Withdrawal must be in writing and should be sent by registered post from the UK (or from wherever the buyer is resident) to either the estate agent or the notary depending on what is set out in the relevant clause in the contract. If the buyer has already paid his deposit, the agent or notary is then required to refund the deposit (normally within 21 days of receipt of the notice of withdrawal).
The ten day period is strictly enforceable and so if you were to try to pull out eleven days after receiving your cooling off notice, there is a risk that the seller would seek to claim your deposit. We have dealt with many instances where a buyer has got into difficulty due to a failure to fully understand and appreciate the detail of the cooling off procedure. If in doubt – seek advice as early as possible!
[*The cooling off period was extended from 7 to 10 days by the Loi Macron on August 8, 2015]
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal, or other professional advice. We would advise you to seek professional advice before acting on this information. With thanks to Barbara Heslop, Principal, Heslop & Platt.