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Buying a Property in France

After all the excitement of searching, you find the house of your dreams in France and its time to go ahead and buy.

In France, buying a property can mean paying quite high fees – anything from 4% to 10% and more often than not its the higher figure. There are also the legal fees to pay for the Notaire who acts as solicitor in France, and we’ve found that they vary significantly so ask up front what the Notaire’s charges are.

Once you’ve agreed a price with the seller and/or the estate agent (immobilier) it will be the Notaire who arranges the paperwork and in the first stage of the sale you will sign a commitment to buy – failure to do so may mean you pay 10% in compensation.  You then have some time to sort out the finances before a second stage of paperwork makes the deal final. If a buyer is not able to obtain a mortgage or loan sufficient to make the purchase the original sale promise is cancelled.

The details for all these stages are explained below:

The Notaire in France

Under French law, notaires are the only professionals legally qualified to handle conveyancing. There are two parts to the contract to buy – the Compromis de Vente and the Acte Authentique.

It is important to make sure that you understand exactly what you are buying, as sometimes things get missed in translation (especially if its oral) and certainly we didn’t find the same level of English language skills with our notaire.

We had much of the contract to buy translated into English – it wasn’t expensive and you can easily find a translator on the internet. It is critical to make sure that you understand what you’re signing up to before you’re sitting in front of the notaire in his office – in France the deal is binding early on in the buying process and you will lose money if you pull out because you realised too late that the land you bought to build your dream house doesn’t have planning permission to build on.

The Compromis de Vente

Usually the first document involved in purchasing and often this will be all be taken care of between your agent (if you have one) and your notaire in the first instance. If you have any specific clauses you want included, e.g. concerning survey results you must make the agent and notaire aware.

This document this will set out the main terms of the agreement between the buyer and the seller and on signing this the buyer will usually pay a 10% deposit which is held by the notaire. The agent and/or notaire will provide you with the bank details to arrange a bank to bank transfer if this is your preferred method. The agreement needs to be signed by both parties and it is legally binding – if the buyer pulls out after the document is signed, the seller may keep the deposit.

The only allowed get out from this document is if one of the obligations in the conditional clauses (clauses suspensive) isn’t met, such as not being able to get a mortgage which is a standard clause your notaire should include. You can put in any clause as long as the seller accepts it, and things to consider carefully should be getting planning permission or repairs to be carried out. We had a clause in our Compromis that stated that the seller should clear all of the (amazing amount) of rubbish in the garden including old caravans and car parts!

The Compromis will state a date when you are expected to sign the Acte Authentique (the second part of the process and the main contract). Although not legally binding this provides a target date which both parties will aim for but we have heard many stories of the date being amended (occasionally several times).

If the date is critical to you, for instance if you need to get a day off work to go to the notaire’s practice to sign the Acte Authentique as is common practice, you should let your agent and notaire know. We completed our Compromis de Vente via post and  the internet and provided copies of passport, marriage papers etc. as required – your agent or notaire will provide you with details of what is relevant and required.

If you are taking out a mortgage or borrowing money you will also need to provide details. Once the compromise de vente is signed, the notaire will begin the legal process including the basic searches on the property, such as land registry rights to ownership, boundaries and rights of way.

Acte Authentique

The last part before you can get your keys and take ownership. It’s important you attend the meeting at the notaire’s office to sign this document in person if at all possible to make sure that everything is in order. You can appoint a power of attorney if this is not possible.

You should view the property you are buying immediately beforehand to ensure that everything is as expected (e.g. in our case rubbish removed) because when you sign the final document it will state that you are buying as seen and it may cause problems for you later – a neighbour of ours did not do this and told us that she was very surprised to find that several internal doors had been moved out along with most of the light switches!

Make sure the money is transferred on the right day to ensure everything goes smoothly; allow an hour or so for the meeting with the notaire – often a formal affair conducted with an air of great seriousness and much signing and initialling of pages.

Congratulations on becoming a French home owner!

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