Property buyers in France benefit from a number of obligatory surveys that the seller is required to have carried out.
However, these surveys fall well short of a full building survey, so do not fall into a false sense of security about the amount and quality of information you will receive.
On this page we review the statutory surveys that the seller is required to supply, and in later pages we consider the wisdom and process of organising your own building and land surveys.
There are an increasing number of professional surveys that must be provided by the seller as part of the sale process.
These surveys are collectively referred to as the Dossier de Diagnostic Technique (DDT).
The survey reports are provided to the notaire for annexation to the sale and purchase agreement and, ultimately, the deed of sale. If the surveys are not carried out at the time of exchange of contracts they must be carried out before completion takes place.
You would be well advised not to sign the sale and purchase agreement without the survey reports being in place, although it is possible for completion to be subject to, for instance, a clean bill of health for termites.
Some contracts provide that if termites are found then treatment should be carried out at the cost of the seller, but unless this clause also includes replacement of timber damaged by the termites, then it is of dubious value.
The survey requirements are becoming an increasing burden for sellers, both in terms of the cost and the supply of information on the property to the survey technician. They are also a substantial legal responsibility.
In the absence of valid surveys being carried out the seller can be held liable for remedial works under legal rights relating to 'hidden defects'. Indeed, in the absence of the report on 'natural or technological risks', the buyer is entitled to withdraw from the contract, or demand a reduction in price.
In practice, the notaire will insist on the surveys being carried out but if they do not you must raise the issue! At completion of the sale all survey reports must be within the date of their expiry period.
There have been concerns about the control and professional competence of those who undertake these surveys.
In other cases, concern has also been expressed about the lack of independence of some firms, allied as they may be to estate agents, or construction companies, to whom they pay a commission.
As a result, the government has tightened regulations on the training and accreditation requirements of those who undertake the surveys. The technicians are now also forbidden to have any formal links with notaires, and the use of retro commission payments to estate agents is no longer permitted.
All survey technicians must have received a certificate of competence through a certification body accredited to the Comité d’accreditation français (COFRAC), which should ensure some degree of professional competence and independence.
There is also a professional association called Chambre Syndicale des Experts Immobiliers de France (CSEIF) to whom any reputable survey company is likely to be affiliated.
The main surveys that are now in operation, or in the process of being introduced, are as follows:
A report on the presence or otherwise of products or materials containing asbestos, called amiante. This rule only applies to properties granted planning permission earlier than 1st July 1997. The period of the validity of the report is not regulated.
A report on the presence or otherwise of paintwork that contains lead, in a report called the constat de risque d'exposition au plomb - CREP. This survey requirement applies to all properties built before 1949.
The report cannot be dated earlier than one year from sale completion. If lead is not found to be present, or to be so low as to not be a risk to health, then no further survey is necessary on a subsequent sale of the property.
The survey requirement also applies to the communal areas of a block of flats and to all rental properties let after 1st August 2008. In relation to rental properties the survey must have taken place within the last six years, and where lead is not found, no further survey is required.
Where the large-scale presence of lead paintwork is found the technician undertaking the survey is required to inform the préfecture and the owner can be made to undertake remedial work.
There is no requirement to seek out and to report on the presence of lead piping in the property.
A report on the presence or otherwise of termites (termites) and other similar destructive pests in the property.
The survey is called the etat des risques parasitaires.
It is only required within designated areas of the country. The local mairie will be able to advise you whether the property is located in one of these areas.
If a survey is required it cannot be dated earlier than six months from the sale contract.
If termites are found the owner is obliged to inform the mairie.
A report on the energy performance of the property is required to give the future owner some idea of the likely level of energy consumption and heating costs.
The report is called the Diagnostic de Performance Energétique - DPE.
The report must be carried out prior to advertising of the property, so must be shown in the property advert.
Provided it was carried out prior to advertising of the property and shown in the advert the report has only information value. If not, it is possible the report could be used by the buyer as a reason to withdraw from the contract or seek a lower price. The law on this point is currently untested.
The report will grade the level of energy efficiency using the European standard energy efficiency rating scale - A (economical) to G (high consumption) - in terms of the annual level of consumption of energy and greenhouse gas emissions.
The period of validity of the report is ten years.
A report on any natural or industrial risks to which the property may be prone, together with a declaration by the seller on any previous insurance claim(s) on the property relating to a natural disaster.
The report is called L’état des risques naturels, miniers et technologiques (ERNMT)
It is required in those communes where there a risk prevention plan (un plan de prévention des risques naturels) in place or in preparation, or in those areas classified as at risk of seismic movement.
The report must stipulate, for instance, whether or not the property is located in a flood zone, an area prone to earthquakes, major storms, avalanches, subject to ground movement, near a dangerous factory, or in proximity to major lorry routes where dangerous materials are being transported. Since July 2017 it has included a report on exposure to radon.
The report cannot be dated more than six months prior to the signing of the sale contract and must be updated if there has been a change in the designation of the area prior to completion.
Basic responsibility for providing the risk report lies with the préfecture, in collaboration with the local mairie.
They will be able to provide the seller/surveyor with the standard ERNMT form, which you can find by visiting Geo Risques.
You can also find out more about the risks in the commune you propose to buy on the same site.
The seller must also state separately whether they have previously received compensation from their insurer on a claim resulting from a natural or ‘technological’ disaster on the property, e.g. claim for subsidence, flooding, or storm damage. There should be a form to complete for this purpose.
Where the risk report is not provided a buyer has the right to seek recourse in the courts for cancellation of the sale contract, or a reduction in the sale price.
A report on a natural gas installation (installations de gaz) in the property. It applies to those properties where the gas installation has been installed for at least fifteen years.
The period of validity of the report is three years.
A report on the condition of the electricity supply in the property, where the wiring is over 15 years old. A survey is valid for three years.
No survey is necessary where a certificat de conformité can be produced as evidence that the property complies with the regulations, provided the certificate is less than three years old.
A report on the condition of a septic tank for those properties which do not have mains drainage.
This requirement has been applicable since 1st January 2011.
All mairie are now required by the government to set in place an inspection of all septic tanks in their area, and to require owners to bring them up to standard if they do not comply.
A large number of local councils have yet to undertake the surveys, so you may find that one is not available for the sale and purchase contract.
Accordingly, if the survey has not been carried out, it needs to be arranged by the seller and at their cost.
The survey report must also have been carried out no later than three years prior to signature of the deed of sale.
The law also states that if the septic tank is found not to conform the new owner must bring it up to standard (or at least commence works to bring it up to standard) within one year.
It is highly unlikely that this is a clause that will be enforced with any rigour (lack of resources to monitor systems and a lack of sanctions), but it does need to be borne in mind by the purchaser.
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