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How to live the Good Life in France | Buying a French property

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You’ve found your dream home in France (see part 1 of how to live the good life in France: the search)! You’re over the moon and raring to go.

But first – you have to buy that property.

There are several stages to go through and this being France it involves copious amounts of paperwork.

Making an offer on a French property

It can help to have your finances sorted before you get to the making an offer stage. It may save time, and if there’s room for negotiation on the price, may put you in a strong position.

Some people want to apply conditions to their offer. For example if you need to get a mortgage, or you only want to go ahead with the purchase if you’re able to put in a swimming pool. Make sure your agent and notaire (public official authorised to handle matters relating to purchases, sales, exchanges, mortgages etc) are aware of your requirements.

Once your offer has been accepted, generally speaking, the property is no longer shown to prospective buyers and the Compromis de Vente is issued.

What is a Compromis de Vente?

The Compromis de Vente is the first legally binding document of two which complete your property purchase. It’s a contract of sale agreement which binds the seller and the buyer. It may be drawn up by your agent or a notaire (or a combination of the two). And in France, it’s usual for the same notaire to support both vendor and purchaser on an impartial basis. This often surprises non-French buyers, however in France it’s completely normal

The Compromis de Vente includes

  • Full details of the ‘civil status’ of both purchaser and seller. It includes full names, date of birth, place of birth, marital status etc.)
  • Description of the property and details of the plot including buildings. You can get details of the cadastraux, plan of boundaries and land parcels held by the Cadastre (the land registry in France). The local Mairie (town hall) holds copies and you can also get details on line at cadastre.gouv.fr/scpc/accueil.do
  • Confirmation of ownership of the title deeds
  • The agreed price, full estate agency fees and estimated notaire’s fees. Notaire fees vary slightly by region but are usually around 7-10% of the purchase price of the property. The notaire also collects and pays land taxes on your behalf.
  • Deposit – this is usually 10%. It’s paid in advance to the notaire who holds onto it until the sale goes through.
  • Circumstances in which the deposit may be forfeited, obligations of the purchaser and declarations from the vendor.
  • Provisional conditions (Clauses Suspensives) to your offer (eg getting a mortgage) which can protect you from forfeiting your deposit if you are unable to complete the purchase.
  • Results of the DDT (Dossier de Diagnostic Technique)
  • Target completion date – this is not definitive and can be amended if buyer and seller agree.        A list of any furniture, fixtures or fittings included in the purchase.
  • Details of penalties should either side fail to complete the contract.

It’s important that you understand all aspects of the compromis de Vente. If you don’t speak French, and your agent can’t translate it into English for you, you might consider paying to have it translated so you know exactly what you’re signing.

Ten Day Cooling-Off Period

The buyer has an option for a ten day “cooling off” period. At the end of it, the deposit must be paid and the Compromis de Vente returned and received. During the ten day period, the buyer can withdraw from the purchase without penalty. If you change your mind after the ten days,  you’ll pay a penalty.

The ten day period includes bank holidays and weekends. The time period starts the day after the fully signed Compromis de Vente is delivered – whether by post or email.  If you want to withdraw your offer, you must send written confirmation to the notaire before the end of the ten days.

Paying the deposit

A 10% deposit is normal in France. It needs to be transferred to the notaire’s bank account at the end of the ten-day cooling off period.

The Compromis de Vente is then signed by the vendor who is then legally bound to sell the property to you. If the vendor wishes to withdraw after this, they must pay you damages equating to 10% of the property price – and you will also have your deposit returned.

You are legally bound to purchase the property at this stage. If you wish to withdraw you will have to pay damages equating to 10% of the property price (or your 10% deposit). You may also have to pay a portion of the estate agency fee.

However, you may not be liable to pay penalties if any of the suspensive clauses listed in the Compromis de Vente aren’t fulfilled.

Acte de Vente

Usually it takes at least three months from the signing of the Compromis de Vente to get to the Acte de Vente, the final document in the buying process, and a minimum of two months.

Much of the same information listed in the Compromis de Vente is repeated in the Acte de Vente.

The balance of funds to complete the purchase of the property must be paid into the notaire’s bank account. This includes mortgage funds. You cannot pay on the day by cheque or cash.

You also need to have property insurance in place on the day of signing.

The signing of the Acte de Vente takes place at the office of the notaire who prepared it. The buyer, seller and notaire must be present at this meeting, although if any of the parties is unable to attend, a power of attorney can be granted (though not to an estate agent). You can also organise to sign the document in the presence of a solicitor in the UK, who will mandate and stamp the document which you must then scan and send to the notaire, and send the original, stamped document by recorded delivery. The notaire has the power to halt the sale if the original document is not received.

Once the Acte de Vente is signed (and if sent by recorded delivery, accepted) – you become the legal owner of your French home…

More on the Acte de Vente

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