The following information is aimed at giving the potential purchaser an idea of the procedures involved when buying a property in France and, for the most part is based on personal experience with some additional information kindly supplied by a local friend who is a registered estate agent in our area.

Contrary to most people’s perception the buying of property in France is relatively straight forward. It’s not complicated and if problems do arise they can be generally sorted out.

The important thing when starting to look for a property be it house, farm, small- holding, apartment, parcel of land, whatever, is to choose the area where you think you would like to live. If there’s nothing that is tempting in the initial area then expand the radius and be flexible around certain aspects. Don’t be too rigid. If your list of criteria is too long then you’re never going to find a property that will meet exactly all your requirements. You will, eventually, have to compromise so prioritise your most important needs. Be prepared to do that. It’ll save a lot of stress, money in wasted visits and time in the long run.

Once you have found the property you would like to buy and at the price agreed between you and the seller the local Notaire (notary) is then informed and he/she prepares the relevant documents.

The notaire is a government official and he/she usually acts for both the buyer and the seller. The Notaire is responsible for checking that the seller is the bona fide owner of the property and any land included in the sale. Also to make sure that there are no new roads or motorways planned to go through any part of the property and to check if any rights of way exist across it. The notaire is repsonsible for drawing up the legal documents, the Compromis de Vente and the Acte Authentique and for registering the new owners on the cadastre (land register). The fees for the notaire’s services are based on a scale relative to the price of the property. Generally expect to pay an additional 7-10% of the purchase price. This includes registration fees and taxes. You can choose to have your own notaire to act for you it’s entirely up to you.

The Compromis de Vente is in effect a promise by the seller to sell and for the purchaser to buy. It is a bidding contract of the agreement made between both parties. There is then a 7-day ‘cooling off’ period during which the purchaser may withdraw without penalty. At the end of this time a deposit of usually 10% of the purchase price has to be paid to the notaire who will hold it in a client’s account until completion. During this period the seller has to produce a certificate from an official inspector with regard to any lead which might be in the pipes and paint work (expect to find some in very old property), asbestos, and insect infestation, in particular, termites, in the Dordogne (not yet mandatory in all departments). Do not be surprised to find noted on the inspection certificate that there are some lively little creatures living in the woodwork of your future dream home. This is quite common in France and especially so in old property with huge beams. The French have some wonderful paint, which when applied kills off everything and it’s advisable if buying an old property to have it professionally sprayed with insecticide before moving in.

If the property being sold has land currently designated as agricultural then the local department of agriculture has to be notified (SAFER). The local farmers are then notified and offered the opportunity to buy the land. If none take up the offer SAFER issue a confirmation that this has been done and the seller then has the right to sell the land to you. The notaire takes care of this procedure and any work in this regard is included in the fees. This normally takes around two months.

The Compromis de Vente is a basic contract which sets out the names and civil status of both the seller and the buyer, the amount that has been agreed together, and with details of the property together with the precise parcel numbers which are involved. Make sure that the parcel numbers on the casdastral plan agree with exactly what you have contracted to buy.

The completion date for the Acte Authentique will also be written into this contract with any suspensive clauses e.g. if the purchase is subject to obtaining a mortgage, or a planning consent.

Usually there is a degree of flexibility regarding the completion date. But if you want to change the date after the Compromis has been signed then make sure the notaire is notified well in advance so that the matter can be agreed amicably with the seller. If for any reason you decide not to proceed with the purchase then you will lose your deposit unless it is within the terms of a suspensive clause. If the seller decides not to proceed then he will have to refund you your deposit and pay a penalty.

The Acte Authentique is the final part of the contract to be signed by both parties on the agreed specified day. Usually the notaire likes all parties that are to sign to be present. If that’s not possible then you can nominate someone to do it for you by giving them a power of attorney. This has to have been agreed by prior arrangement with the notaire and the appropriate paperwork completed. Prior to this day the notaire must have already received in his bank account the balance due. At the time of signing you will also be asked to produce an insurance certificate for the property. After the signing, with immediate effect, you will be the new owner/s and will have full rights over the property. So it’s yours to move into straight away.

If you have any queries do not leave them until the day of the signing of the Acte. Make sure you have all the answers you need well in advance. This will avoid wasting everyone’s time.

Also remember to have with you a valid passport if coming from abroad, birth certificate/s and, if applicable, marriage certificate.

A point to note is that when agreeing to purchase also verify exactly what is being left in the property. If it’s not written down then the seller may be within his/her rights to take everything (including the light bulbs and it is not uncommon). For example, often a purchaser sees a wood burning stove in the property and naturally assumes that it is a permanent fixture, and will be left. And then after completion is more than surprised to see it has been removed. So list everything down, however trivial and put in writing any agreed prices for items remaining.

With regard to estate agents they normally will accompany you to view properties and generally speaking are most helpful . For a good majority of people there are difficulties around language and legal procedures. A good agent will help a prospective buyer around all these issues and set you up in the right direction.

If you should have any queries concerning boundaries, or obtaining permissions for a swimming pool or erection of fencing etc always go into the local Mayor’s office (Le .Mairie) and ask for guidance and take a look at the local map. In a small community more or often than not you will be able to speak with Mayor or certainly with the Mayor’s secretary. You will usually find them to be extremely helpful. In a larger town the Mayor’s office will be in the town hall.

The above are guidelines only and should not be considered a substitute for legal advice. It is highly advisable before signing any legal document that you make sure you have understood everything that is written in that document. If your French is not up to it, then pay for translation into your own language. It could save you a lot of money in the long run.

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