5. French Property Surveys
Property buyers in France benefit from a number of obligatory surveys and reports that the seller is required to have carried out.
However, the 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.
5.1. Statutory Surveys
There are an increasing number of obligatory surveys and reports that must be provided by the seller as part of the sale process.
These surveys and reports are collectively referred to as the Dossier de Diagnostic Technique (DDT).
The documents 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 reports being in place.
That said, it is possible for completion to be subject to, for instance, a clean bill of health for termites and septic tank.
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 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.
There are now ten surveys or reports that are now in operation, as follows:
- Energy Efficiency
- Natural or Industrial Risks
- Gas Installations
- Electrical Wiring
- Septic Tanks
- Geotechnical Survey
5.1.1. Asbestos Survey
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.
5.1.2. Lead Survey
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 since 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.
5.1.3. Termites Survey
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 estate agent or notaire will know if it is the case, but in the event of any doubt the local mairie will be in a position to advise.
Accordingly, buyers need to take care about the risk of an infestation if the property is not located in an area where an obligatory survey is necessary.
If termites are found the owner is obliged to inform the mairie.
The problem of termites is widespread in France, although it is most severe in the South West.
The cost of remedying a termite infestation is substantial. Not only will you pay thousands of euros for the treatment itself, but there is also the cost of repair, removal and replacement of the affected timber.
The treatment can be done on a DIY basis, but as it requires injection into main timbers and walls (spraying is not sufficient), without a proper understanding of what you are doing there is no guarantee it will be successful.
If a survey is required it cannot be dated earlier than six months from the sale contract.
The quality of these reports is of a generally high standard.
However, errors do sometimes occur, which can be most serious where the technician has failed to properly pick up on the presence of termites in the property.
Where a technician has been found to have been professionally negligent French courts have made divergent judgments on the nature of the compensation to the seller.
In some cases the seller has been merely compensated for the loss of the opportunity to have purchased as a lower price; in several cases the sale itself has been annulled; in other cases the compensation has been limited to treatment being carried out; in yet other cases the surveyor firm has been required to pay for timber treatment, remedial works and damages to the buyer.
The issue of the nature and level of the award becomes particularly difficult where, although the surveyor has found no current activity they cite evidence of past infestation. If subsequently a re-infestation occurs, what is the liability of the surveyor?
That question arose in a legal case with a buyer who had acquired a property for renovation and later found that it was infested with termites.
In the survey report that had been carried out the technician had mentioned traces of termites infestation from the past, without the current presence of termites, but concluding that it was impossible to exclude the possibility that there might be a re-infestation.
When the case reached the court of appeal the judges took the view that the damages payable to the buyer should be limited to the cost of new termite treatment. In coming to their decision they stated that the buyer was aware they had purchased in an area prone to termites, and that they had been informed of the past infestation and the risk that it might occur again in the future.
The purchaser appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, the Cour de Cassation, who ruled that in stating there was no termite infestation in the property the technician provided a guarantee against the risk, stating:
«le dossier de diagnostic technique annexé à la promesse de vente ou à l'acte authentique de vente d'un immeuble garantit l'acquéreur contre le risque»
Accordingly, they ruled that the survey company was obliged to pay for termite treatment, remedial works, and damages to the buyer.
5.1.4. Energy Efficiency
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.
5.1.5. Natural or Industrial Risks
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). Since January 2018 it has been retitled Etat de servitude Risques et information des sols (ESRIS).
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, if there is exposure to radon, or in proximity to major lorry routes where dangerous materials are being transported.
From June 2020 it must also state if the property is located in designated 'noise' zone - zone de bruit, - as defined by a plan d'exposition de bruit (PEB). Such zones are those located near an airport, so do not be misled by the scope of the designation.
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.
5.1.6. Gas Installations
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 survey is called un état de l'installation intérieur de gaz.
The period of validity of the report is three years.
5.1.7. Electrical Wiring
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.
The survey is called un état de l'installation intérieure d'électricité.
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.
5.1.8. Septic Tank Survey
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.
Some 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.
The cost of a new septic tank installation varies by type and size of installation, but can be anything from between €6,000 and €15,000.
In those areas covered by a plan de prévention des risques or an area where, as defined by regulation, a potential radon risk is present, the buyer must be informed of the existence of the risk. This requirement has been in place since 1st July 2018.
5.1.10. Geotechnical Study
In relation to the sale of building land there is a requirement for a geortechnical study (étude géotechnique) to be carried out, but only in those areas considered of high risk from ground movement.
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