Guide to Legal Process of Buying Property in France

1. Top Tips

  • The legal process is fairly straightforward and the land registration system is secure.
  • However, as a general rule, it proceeds without the appointment of your own solicitor or an avocat, so you need to have your wits about you.
  • A limited knowledge of French may be worse than none at all, as it may give you a false sense of security, so consider getting some assistance with translation. However, translation cannot cover what is not included in the contract, which is often more important.
  • The legal fees and taxes in connection with purchase are not inconsiderable, so you need to ensure you budget for them in the total purchase costs.
  • In addition, you may be asked to pay the estate agent's commission, but if you accept to do so consider an offset by negotiating on the total purchase price of the property.
  • Take care on the content of written offers. Ensure they state that the offer is subject to such conditions to be elaborated in a sale and purchase contract.
  • Do not under-estimate the importance of the initial sale and purchase contract, which will be the legal basis on which the transaction will proceed.
  • Authorised estate agents can undertake preparation of the sale and purchase contract, but as they are engaged by the vendor there is no guarantee it suits your needs and fully protects your interests. Our STRONG advice would be to only sign in front of a notaire, on a contract prepared by them.
  • You can appoint your own notaire to act for you in the transaction, rather than using a single notaire on a shared basis with the vendor, which we also strongly recommend. Alternatively, or in addition, appoint a specialist solicitor from your own country in a supporting capacity.
  • The notaire is not going to verify everything you need to know about the property, so it is imperative you make your own pre-contract enquiries.
  • If you are unsure whether you are paying over the odds or you have concerns about other issues ask your own notaire for their opinion. They will be familiar with the selling prices in the area and they have a legal obligation to provide advice.
  • If you are seeking a mortgage to buy the property it is imperative you include a conditional clause in the sale contract.
  • You should also include conditional clauses relating to planning and other matters as necessary.
  • The vendor is obliged to make a number of statutory disclosures, which you should verify in front of the notaire and ensure an appropriate clause is included in the contract e.g. major defects, tenancies, easements, local developments.
  • Obtain clarity on the boundaries of the property, including ownership of boundary walls/fences and maintenance liabilities.
  • Check whether there are any neighbour disputes, seeking clarity from the seller in front of the notaire and including in the contract.
  • The same applies to planned major developments in the area, which are not always flagged up by the estate agent or notaire, even if they are in proximity to the property.
  • Confirm important verbal assurances from the seller and the estate agent within the terms of the written contract.
  • The vendor is obliged to provide a number of statutory survey reports. These surveys fall well short of a full building survey, so do not be over-reliant on them.
  • Endeavour to exclude from the contract any clause that exonerates the seller from hidden/latent defects.
  • If the owner has undertaken major changes (facade, extensions) to the property ensure via the notaire/solicitor that planning consent was obtained for such changes.
  • Verify with your notaire/solicitor that the planning status of the property allows you to undertaken any changes you may be considering, eg swimming pool.
  • Determine responsibility for sharing of the rates bill for the year and specify within the contract.
  • Ask if the seller owns additional land or buildings adjoining the property not included in the sale, and endeavour to include a clause in the sale contract granting you the right of first refusal in the event of future sale of the property.
  • A 10% deposit is not obligatory, as a lesser sum is equally valid, so you may be able to get away with offering a lower deposit.
  • Establish with the vendor, and confirm with the notaire in the sale contract, the fixtures and fittings that are to remain in the property.
  • If you are an unmarried couple it is imperative you buy on a joint basis in order to protect the interests of each party.
  • If you are married, and you wish your surviving spouse to inherit all of your estate, you need to undertake appropriate steps, such as a French marriage contract or other inheritance planning measures, such as use of European Succession Regulations.
  • If you are not married, or you are buying as an unrelated group of people, then you should consider buying through a property company, called a Société Civile Immobilière (SCI), although it is not a panacea.
  • Be vigilant in ensuring that the deed of sale accurately restates the terms of the sale and purchase contract, particularly as regards easements, conditions and obligations.
  • On the day of completion, or the day before completion takes place, if possible visit the property to ensure all is as it should be, particularly in relation to fixtures and fittings.

You will find a discussion of all of these points, as well as other important considerations, in the main pages of the guide.

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