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Statutory Property Surveys Under Question in France

Monday 16 June 2008

A French consumer's organisation has published disquieting results of a study into the statutory property surveys undertaken prior to the sale of a property.

Over the past few years there has been an exponential growth in the number of surveys that must be carried out by the seller as part of the property sale process.

Since the first survey requirement for asbestos was introduced in 1997, six further statutory surveys have been added, for termites, lead, electrics, natural and industrial risks, energy efficiency, and gas. A survey for septic tanks will also be obligatory from 2013.

Those who let French property are also required to have some surveys undertaken.

These new property survey requirements have, in turn, spurned the growth of a completely new industry of property survey companies, known as diagnostics immobiliers. There are now around 9000 technicians who operate in this lucrative market, worth around €350 million a year.

The study found that there were significant differences in the prices offered by the companies and that the quality of some of the surveys was unsatisfactory. The relationship between some survey companies, estate agents and notaries was also considered to be a little too cosy.

Que Choisir, the consumers association, found a price difference of up to 51% for the same survey on the same property. For surveys undertaken at La Rochelle Que Choisir received prices ranging from €395 to €560, whilst at Besançon the prices varied from €271 to €410.

Neither did the price bear much relation to the quality of the survey that was undertaken, as not all surveys detected the presence of asbestos, or a gas defect, whilst some technicians did not use sound equipment to detect the presence of termites in wood. In relation to the test of energy performance, none of the reports came to the same conclusion.

Whilst some surveys took two hours to complete, others were wrapped up in 30 minutes.

They also found that some companies were remunerating estate agents and notaries for business they passed their way, with the clear implication that this could lead to a lack of objectivity in the report, so as not to hinder a prospective sale.

In response, the professional association for property survey technicians (FNECI) did not deny that commission payments were made, but stated that they were unlikely ever to be at a level that they would influence the judgement of the technician.

They also claimed that the survey sample used by Que Choisir was too small to be wholly representative, and that some differences in results were due to the different type of equipment used by the technicians.

Nevertheless, there are clearly some warning signs in this report. The advice to sellers is, therefore, a simple one – choose your own survey company, and get quotations from several suitably certified companies. You also need to note that the prices quoted above were not for all the survey reports. If you need to undertake all seven surveys, then it could cost around €750.

Property buyers in France should also look more carefully at the content of the survey reports, and question the buyer as to how they choose the survey company.

Read more about statutory property surveys in France.

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