3. Sale and Purchase Contract for Property in France

  1. Types of Sale & Purchase Contract
  2. Preparation and Signing the Contract
  3. Role of Notaires
  4. Use of Legal Advisors
  5. Pre-Contract Enquiries

3.4. Use of Legal Advisors

Some buyers choose to use a specialist solicitor in their home country or a French avocat to provide them with advice and act for them in the buying process.

Although neither a solicitior or avocat can undertake formal conveyancing of a property, they are able to assist with pre-contract enquiries, setting up a property company and advise on French taxation or inheritance matters.

We do not consider the use of a home based solicitor is routinely necessary for most buyers, as the use of your own notaire in France should meet most needs.

Nevertheless, one shoe does not fit all, and on the evidence of many cases that have come to our notice it is clear the purchasers would have benefited from legal support from a home based solicitor. As we stated in the previous page on the Role of Notaires, the searches they undertake are not as extensive as are those ordinarily undertaken by a solicitor in the UK, and they occur after signing of the sale and purchase contract.

Moreover, if the transaction or your circumstances are 'complex', we recognise that you may well need additional support. This may particularly be the case where there are planning issues to consider, or you are proposing to buy through a French property company (SCI). It may also be important in the process of inheritance planning.

Many buyers engage home based solicitors simply because they do not speak or understand the French language. Although a cheaper solution may simply be to engage a local interpreter, the problem here is that it is frequently the clauses not contained in the contract that are more important than what the contract itself contains. An interpreter cannot tell you what should be included, only what the contract itself contains. A certified translator is also likely to cost you several hundred euros.

However, solicitors from your own country operate outside of the jurisdiction of the French legal and other regulatory authorities.

They would only be within French jurisdiction if they actually had a base in France and had accreditation by the French authorities as legal and/or taxation advisors.

You might be able to successfully sue them in your home country, although no English court of law can modify or annul a French property transaction. For this, you would need to pursue a separate action in the French courts.

Accordingly, in the event of professional negligence or breach of duty of care you would need to pursue separate actions in the French and UK courts.

There are various international codes of conduct for solicitors acting in cross-border activities and we do not doubt that you would be able to bring a complaint to their professional body (e.g. Law Society), but this is not going to bring about full restitution of your case.

We also consider that the charges imposed by many international property solicitors to be excessive, particularly for the level of the service they offer. Accordingly, do not be swept away by the need to appoint a home solicitor; consider firstly whether it would be better to use your own notaire.

If you use a solicitor use a reputable practice and make sure they hold professional indemnity insurance (PII), which covers the provision of legal/taxation advice on French property transactions.

In the case of UK solicitors, make sure also that they have a practice certificate issued by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). We are aware of one French property legal advisor who makes extensive use of social media to obtain clients, but who does not hold such a certificate. Indeed, they are expressly barred by the SRA.

You should also make sure you obtain a statement of the services they will provide to you, and keep written records of all meetings, and/or ensure your advisor confirms their advice in writing.

Thus, establish from them the pre-contract enquiries they will undertake. If all they are proposing to do is effectively act as a glorified translator then maybe all you need is a translator!

As an alternative to a home advisor you can use a French avocat, where you clearly have the possibility of recourse to the courts in the event of professional negligence.

However, we do not consider it normally necessary to take legal advice from an avocat, so you need to weigh carefully if it represents good value for money.

In particular, if you seek advice from an avocat about the relationship between French laws and those of your own country you are likely to be disappointed.

If in doubt, try out a consultation meeting with an avocat specialising in property and/or inheritance matters, and see if you learn more from that meeting than you got from the meeting with your own notaire. It may also be worth trying the same approach with a home based solicitor.

Next: Pre-Contract Enquiries

Back: Role of Notaires

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