4. Contract Conditions when Buying Property in France

  1. Conditional Clauses
  2. Cooling Off Period
  3. Options to Buy
  4. Deposit
  5. Statutory Disclosures
  6. Local Rates
  7. Fixtures/Fittings

4.2. 'Cooling Off' Period

The buyer is entitled to a ten-day cooling off period, following the signing of the sale and purchase agreement.

Article L.271-1 of the Code de la construction et de l’habitation states:

'Pour tout acte ayant pour objet la construction ou l'acquisition d'un immeuble à usage d'habitation, la souscription de parts donnant vocation à l'attribution en jouissance ou en propriété d'immeubles d'habitation ou la vente d'immeubles à construire ou de location-accession à la propriété immobilière, l'acquéreur non professionnel peut se rétracter dans un délai de dix jours à compter du lendemain de la première présentation de la lettre lui notifiant l'acte.'

The option to withdraw from the contract is only available to the buyer; once the seller has signed they are legally bound by the contract.

The 'cooling off' period is also only available for the purchase of a house or flat and any other buildings or land which may be associated with the residence, at the time of the purchase.

It is not available for the isolated purchase of any other land, including a single building plot, or a garage, or other ancillary buildings. So if you are buying a single building plot (other than within a housing development), there is no cooling off period available to you.

Neither is it available if you are buying through a Société Civile Immobilière (SCI), or if you are a registered property professional in France, engaged in the buying and selling or development of property. However, although the law does not offer right of a cooling-off period to an SCI or a professional, the parties can agree between them that a right of retraction be included in the sale and purchase agreement.

The starting point for the ten-day cooling off period commences when you receive the contract.

If you sign in front of a notaire you may be given a copy of the contract, and the ten-day 'period of reflection' commences the following day.

The notaire is required to provide you with the following statement, which you need to sign:

"remis par (name of notaire)... à (place)... le (date)..." : "Je déclare avoir connaissance qu’un délai de réflexion de sept jours m’est accordé par l’article L. 271-1 du code de la construction et de l’habitation, et qu’il court à compter du lendemain de la date de remise inscrite de ma main sur le présent projet, soit à compter du...".

The statement certifies that you are aware of the ten-day cooling off period.

If you are not handed the contract by the notaire, then they are obliged by law to send you the contract by recorded delivery letter, and the start of the cooling off period begins the day following signed receipt of the contract. Increasingly, however, the contracts are being sent out by registered email, so provided the notaire acts quickly, buyer and seller should still receive it without delay.

If the next day is a public holiday or weekend, the cooling off period starts from the first working day.

If you sign the contract through an estate agent, an estate agent with responsibility for selling the property can hand the contract directly to you, but is required to get you to sign a statement in the following form, similar to that of the notaire:

"remis par (name of estate agent)... à (place)... le (date)..." : "Je déclare avoir connaissance qu’un délai de rétractation de sept jours m’est accordé par l’article L. 271-1 du code de la construction et de l’habitation, et qu’il court à compter du lendemain de la date de remise inscrite de ma main sur le présent acte, soit à compter du...".

In the same manner as with the notaire, the ten-day cooling off period starts the day after you received the contract in your hands.

A change in the law effective from 1st January 2023 requires that where the property is located in a 'risk' zone (and there are many of them, the cooling off period does not start until the the statutory survey report on the risk of natural disasters (l'état des risques) has been presented to the buyer. It states:

Lorsque l'état des risques n'est pas remis à l'acquéreur au plus tard à la date de signature de la promesse de vente ou du contrat préliminaire, le délai de rétractation (…) ne court qu'à compter du lendemain de la communication de ce document à l'acquéreur ».

The decree can be found at Décret n° 2022-1289 du 1er octobre 2022 relatif à l'information des acquéreurs et des locataires sur les risques.

Our strong recommendation would be that you do not sign the sale contract until you have seen all of the statutory survey reports (Dossier de Diagnostic Technique DDT) that must be presented to the seller. You can read more about these reports in Chapter 5 of this guide.

At the end of the cooling off period the contract becomes binding on both parties, subject to any conditions that may have been included in the contract.

If you wish to withdraw from the sale prior to the expiry of the ten-day period the notaire/agent is obliged to provide you with clear information on how to do that. Normally, prior to expiration of the ten-day period, you need to send a recorded delivery letter to the estate agent or notaire giving notice of your withdrawal. You might be well advised to also send an e-mail, seeking confirmation of receipt and/or to telephone the notaire/agent. You are not obliged to give reasons.

The French Supreme Court, the Cour de Cassation, has also ruled that buyers who sent an email sent to a notaire, notifying the notaire that they wished to withdraw, was valid, provided the email had been acknowledged by the notaire.

In practice, if you signed in front of a notaire, it normally sufficient for you to visit their offices, at which time they can provide you with an appropriate letter of withdrawal for you to sign.

Next: Options to Buy

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