5. Property Surveys in France

  1. Statutory Surveys
  2. Building Surveys
  3. Land Surveys

5.2. Building Surveys in France

Whilst those from the UK will be familiar with a building survey prior to purchase (if only for valuation purposes), there is no such tradition in France.

Indeed, if you are hoping to sign the preliminary contract on the basis of a 'subject to survey' clause it is unlikely that either the seller or notaire will accept it. In France, such a clause does not have a lot of meaning.

So, if you want a survey undertaken then best to organise it prior to signing the sale and purchase agreement.

If you do decide on a survey you may well also have a problem finding someone to do it as there is no building surveying profession in France, in the same manner as in the UK.

There are professionals who undertake diagnostic technique immobilier, but these are generally firms who specialise in the more limited statutory surveys that must be carried out, not a structural building survey.

You could also choose to use a local French architect or engineer to undertake the job.

Unfortunately, the training of architects in France does not necessarily qualify them to be able to undertake this task, as their professional expertise relates primarily to architectural design. An engineer will also lack suitable expertise in building surveying.

Another professional who would be able to help would be a building professional called a maitre d’oeuvre, or building contracts manager.

There are also professional building surveyors from the UK working in France, whom you can find by visiting RICS.

Many of the RICS building surveyors operating in France are expats from the UK. A small number of French building professionals are also members of the RICS.

No doubt they are experienced and competent in this role, but there is a question mark about their legal status in France. This is because, at the present time, the RICS qualification is not recognised by the French regulatory authorities.

In the event of professional negligence, it is possible you would not be able to successfully sue them in the French courts.

Accordingly, to minimise any risk, you should make sure that the RICS surveyor is registered as a business in France, and that they carry professional indemnity insurance (PII) for building surveys in France.

Due to the lack of qualification recognition, UK surveyors find it difficult to obtain professional indemnity insurance, so make sure you ask to see their PII certificate (not be be confused with general public liability insurance).

We would also recommend that you ensure the RICS surveyor is actually a specialist and qualified building surveyor, and not a general surveyor from one of the other divisions of the RICS.

Whether carried out by a French or foreign surveyor, one of the regrettable features of many professional building survey reports is the extent to which many seek to limit the liability of the surveyor.

Thus, you may need to read the small print to discover those matters that the surveyor is not prepared to warrant, either because they have not been able to obtain access, or because of the need for additional testing or survey work to be carried out. We have seen some reports and contracts that have so many caveats in them that they are of very limited value.

Conversely, there are sometimes difficult judgements to make and, so concerned have become many professionals of being sued for negligence, they may well exaggerate the risk or defect in the property, leading you to either withdraw from the purchase or carry out unnecessary work.

If you do not want to pay the fees that one of these specialists is likely to charge you for this service then you could also contact a local builder (or electrician, plumber, etc), who might be willing to take a look at the property for you, with the prospect that you might later engage them in the work.

Clearly, if you adopt this approach you are not going to get the professional guarantees that would come with engaging an architect or surveyor. You may also consider it lacks the independence you need, but that is a choice you need to make.

Despite our misgivings about the limitations of a building survey, we do consider international buyers do not always take seriously enough the need to fully understand the condition of the property and, as a result, often pay over the odds and seriously underestimate the costs of renovation.

A good survey is the best way of minimising risks attached to buying a property abroad, and can be used in price negotiations. It is also useful in giving you an idea of renovation costs and conversion options.

In arranging for a survey you should:

  • Ask the surveyor about their professional indemnity insurance, obtain a copy of the policy, and request information on its scope;

  • Discuss and agree with the surveyor beforehand what the survey will cover and what it will not cover; remember the seller is required to provide some limited survey reports so do not pay twice;

  • Tell the surveyor about plans you may have for alterations, extensions or demolitions etc;

  • Try to find a surveyor local to the property you want looked at as they will have a better understanding of local problems and construction types, property values and building prices.

You might find it useful to read about hidden/latent defects clauses in sale and purchase contracts at Contract Conditions.

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