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Buying in France

The system of buying a property in France is not so different from the one in the UK. They both have their unique features, but one is not better or worse than the other. In England, an exchange takes place after the formalities have been carried out, whereas a French exchange (signing of initial contract) takes place prior to carrying out the searches. This article aims to give you an indication of the process of purchasing a property in France and professional advice on the matter.

1. Looking For a Property

The first step is to seek a property you like. Estate agents are the main property marketers in France. They are professionals who are registered and hold certifications allowing them to practice. They usually take instructions from sellers who need to sell their property. The Estate agent's fees are not regulated and are subject to change. French Notaires also have the right to market properties on behalf of their clients. Not all Notarial offices have a sales department. Their fees are lower than estate agents and are regulated by French Law. 

It is important to take a look around the entire property and to ensure there are no areas of concern. Good questions to consider are, do you have direct access from the main road? Is there any recent work that would require authorisation and insurance? Can you see any visible easement? And most importantly, is there planning permission for the property? The list is not exhaustive, but it gives you an idea of where to start.  

It is difficult for an agent or Notaire to provide the purchasers with a diagnostics report on the property because some diagnostics are only valid for a limited period. Nevertheless, if the current owner purchased the property recently, it should provide some indications. You can also discuss fixtures, fittings, and contents with the agent or Notaire. They will be able to determine what will be left in the property and whether or not it is included in the original price.

2. Making an Offer

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum Once the property has been located, you will usually be requested to make an offer to the vendors. An offer can be made verbally or in writing. It is difficult to accept an oral offer because it will not necessarily bind the person who makes it to a contract, and it could be complicated for the other party to prove that the contracting party wishes to proceed. This is why the estate agent or vendors always request written offers.  

Since the contract law reform in 2016, the Code Civil has introduced articles regulating offers. Without going through the whole process of making an offer, you should always remember that once an offer is accepted, you enter into a contract which could lead to several issues or problems if it has not been drafted properly to protect your interests. 

It is often assumed that making an offer is the preliminary step to signing the initial contract. However, any vendor could still force the sale with an accepted offer. It will be important for the purchasers to seek legal advice to help them make the offer (if they have not received a pre-standard form from the estate agent). It is also important to be careful with the wording to avoid binding them to the purchase before signing a contract or agreeing on the terms and conditions. has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book.

3. Signing of the Initial Contract

When an offer is accepted and parties have agreed to sign an initial contract, the Notaire should be appointed to draft it. This is one of the most important moments of the transaction because the contract will determine the agreed conditions of the sale. 

There are several forms of contracts used in France, all of them with different particularities: 

  • Promesse unilaterale
  • Promesse synallagmatique de vente (also known as Compromis de Vente)
  • Vente autonome 
  • Vente conditionnelle (mainly used by estate agents with their pre-format contract)

The most common are the promesse unilaterale, mainly used by Parisian Notaires, which will commit one party only, or the Compromis de Vente, which will bind both parties to the transaction under conditions.

Compromis de Vente

A Compromis de Vente is a common sale agreement used by Notaires and estate agents. Contrary to the promesse unilaterale, the parties, i.e., the seller and buyer, will be bound by the sale. The sale is agreed upon, but the transfer of ownership is postponed until the Notaire carries out the searches and any let out conditions are fulfilled.  

A deposit of 10% is usually payable by the purchaser. The sum of which will be offset from the price should the transaction go ahead or be allocated to the seller should the purchaser withdraw without any valid reason. The failure of one party to complete will not exempt them from being forced to complete by the court. The deposit paid by the purchaser will be used as compensation to the seller, but he will still have the right to continue the procedure and request the purchaser to complete. 

As far as the conditions of the contract are concerned, the purchasers can request suspensive conditions such as obtaining a mortgage, property sale and planning permission for work to be carried out. Be aware that the conditions above are only given as an example, and each must be drafted and comply with European or French law. You can add any condition you would like providing that it is permitted or feasible as per the law.  

The contract will also determine a completion date. Please remember that unlike in England, where parties are committed to completion dates, in France, it is more of a provisional date subject to change. This can happen if one of the searches has not been received by the Notaire, the mortgage of the purchaser is delayed, or planning permission is not granted.

4. Cooling Off Period & Local Searches

Terms of the contract are agreed upon and signed by both parties. The next step is the cooling off period that benefits the purchasers. Under French law, the purchasers have 10 days to withdraw from the contract without losing their deposit or being compelled to complete. The cooling off period will start the day after the contract is notified to the purchasers either by post or e-mail (most used notifications). 

However, the court has rendered important decisions regarding cooling off periods for the past few months. Notaires and estate agents should know them before sending any registered post to the purchasers. The Notaire will then conduct searches with the local authorities and land registry (you can find more information on this matter on our News page). 

Depending on your chosen buying area, your property may be subject to different searches that delay completion. For instance, the sale of the property may be subject to the right of pre-emption of the agricultural body (SAFER). A delay of two months will be required to complete (unless you are willing to pay a fee that can vary from 100€ to 600€) to have a response from the body within a couple of weeks. 

5. Completion

The final step is completion at the Notaire's office. The Notaire is responsible for drafting the final deed, which will be the purchaser's title deed. Before completing, purchasers must pay the amount covering their transaction fees and stamp duty (please refer to my recent article on Notaire's fees on Facebook). 

After reading the contract to the parties, with the assistance of a translator, if required, they will provide the parties with a certificate of completion. The document will enable the vendor to terminate his insurance contract and switch utilities. It will have the same purpose for the purchasers. The title deed will be registered at the land registry, and a certified copy returned to the purchasers within a few months.   

During the process, clients are reminded that they also have to consider their estate planning. Buying a property abroad does not necessarily mean you can do whatever you want regarding estate planning. There is always a solution, and sometimes it is wise to discuss it before completing a sale.

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