We have in our previous articles explained the different stages in the French property buying process. We will now look at what happens on completion day.
Please consult our new Guides section on Buying a property in France: Completion of the Sale
Completion usually takes place some two or three months after signing the Promesse de Vente or Compromis de Vente. This is clearly different from the situation in most countries where the normal time between the exchange of contract and legal completion is much shorter.
You should bear in mind that in France the signing of the first contract takes place very quickly and the Notaire has between contract and completion day to make all relevant enquiries and searches; draft the final deed and deal with the mortgage deed if appropriate.
Both the vendor and the purchaser are required to be at the Notaire's office to sign the acte authentique (final deed). This document will have been drawnup by the Notaire who is a public officer appointed by the French State.
However it is not essential that the purchaser attend in person at the Notaire's office. He can give power of attorney to someone else to act on his behalf.
Often it is not convenient to go to France to sign the final deed and more and more people do not wish to attend the final completion of the purchase of their property in France. This is no surprise as the French vendor is not always present; the reason is that this event happens on a working day and often it is too far away from their actual property, as well as having to book travel arrangements.
It is perhaps understandable that people therefore prefer to avoid completion and to go to France when they finally own the property of their dreams. For that purpose it will be necessary to organise a power of attorney to be given to one of the Notaire's clerks who can sign the deed on your behalf. The Notaire himself cannot act as the attorney.
This power of attorney will have to comply with French requirements. It is a detailed document including the complete parties' details; a description of the property and the price agreed. This power of attorney has to be signed before a Notary Public in the country where the Purchaser is resident who will then authenticate the document.
In England, the Notary Public is an officer of the law appointed by the Court of Faculties whose public office and duty is to draw, attest or certify underhis official seal, for use anywhere in the world, deeds and other documents, conveyances of real and personal property and powers of attorney.
By virtue of his office, his signature and seal are recognised as being the evidence of a responsible officer in most countries of the world.
It is important to follow the right procedure and to have the power of attorney notarised. Otherwise the Land Registry, (Bureau des Hypotheques) where the deed needs to be registered, will not accept it and will declare the sale null and void.
If you do not understand French fluently, using a power of attorney may be a good alternative. Indeed on completion day, the Notaire usually reads the deed through and it may seem quite embarrassing when one does not understand French.
The Notaires are supposed to seek the assistance of an English translator but this does not always happen. However, assuming that one wishes to experience the excitement of signing the document which will finally confirm that one is the owner of a property in France, a personal attendance will be required.
One of the most important things on completion is that the purchase money is transferred to the Notaire's account. In default the Notaire will not be authorised to have the deed signed and completion will have to be postponed. Therefore you need to organise well in advance for the funds to be transferred. There are several ways of achieving this.
You can proceed by means of a SWIFT transfer which is probably the most commonly used method. You have to ask for the Notaire's bank account details. Your Bank will then do the necessary transaction for the money to be transferred and converted into Euros. This takes about five days.
Another possibility is by means of a banker's draft. This is a draft from your bank drawn in Euros. This has the advantage for the French Notaire of giving him the guarantee that the money will be secured by the draft. However it is more advisable to open a French bank account.
This option is essential when a French mortgage is involved. It will also mean that once you have completed you will be able to pay all the bills in connection with the house (tax, electricity, gas, water etc) more easily. Lastly, provided that both purchaser and seller are of English nationality, another possibility is to organise for the purchase price to be paid in Sterling.
For this you will need the agreement of the French Notaire which is not always forthcoming. If this method is used the money will thus be held by a Lawyer in England who will be acting as a stakeholder. This can avoid additional expense.
Being in possession of the money the Notaire will be able to deal with the signing of the final deed. He will read through the "acte authentique" and both the vendor and the purchaser will have to initial each page and sign the last page after writing in French "Bon pour accord".
This means that you have understood the terms of the document and that you accept it. The Notaire should then give you a receipt for the money transferred together with an "attestation de propriété" which certifies that you are the owner of the property conveyed. You will also be given the keys.
The acte authentique will then be sent by the Notaire to the Local Land Registry. It will certainly be some two months before registration is completed.
When it is returned the original document will be kept by the Notaire but a certified copy called "expedition" should be handed over to the purchaser. The vendor and purchaser then usually retire to the nearest bar to celebrate and discuss the transfer of various services!