Having a broader idea and a better understanding of the process of buying in France makes the purchase more enjoyable. We can divide the process into four different phases:
Phase 1 : The Search and Offer
Finding a property in France is the first stage of your process and can be done in various ways, either with an Estate Agent, a Notaire, or directly with the seller.
When visiting properties, it is essential to remember to ask the Agent or the seller about several significant issues. Points to raise should involve any recent work that has been or is being carried out at the property; the drainage system, any fixtures and fittings that will remain in the property and where the boundaries lie.
We would also recommend that you make enquiries through the local Mairie and Direction Departementale de l'Equipement in relation to new developments; roads to be built or extended in the surrounding area and any planning regulations applicable to the property and its environment.
The offer is the next step and can be made verbally or in writing. In theory a written offer, which has been accepted, commits both parties and becomes a binding agreement. Should one of the parties decide that they no longer wish to proceed there would be a breach of agreement. In this case a French court may eventually allow damages if the court is convinced that there was an agreement and a loss had been incurred.
Phase 2 : The Signing of the initial contract
Whether you have an Estate agent or Notaire preparing the contract, they will both have to explain to the parties that this contract can take the form of a unilateral promise of sale (promesse unilaterale de vente), or that of a binding contract (compromis de vente). The question will be the opportunity for the parties to choose the most adapted form to their transaction. Indeed, in the presence of different circumstances, the parties may prefer one form rather than the other.
If both contracts prepare the sale of the property, they each have advantages and most of the time, the form of contract that you sign depend on the conviction of the estate agent or Notaire to use one or the other. We all know that estate agents will only use the compromis de vente, mainly with standard document already available. The particularity of the promesse unilaterale de vente is that it is an authentic deed, and thus, can only be completed by a Notaire.
Phase 3 : The Structure To Be Put In Place
Buyers should then investigate the options available under both English and French Law with their legal representatives. This might include considering the structuring of the purchase through such schemes as en indivision, en tontine, with a marriage contract, a life interest in possession, with a company, or through the setting up of French or UK Wills etc..).
These issues may be addressed before signing the initial contract as in some circumstances buyers may not be in position to achieve their goals and may therefore reconsider their investment in France before finding themselves committed to the purchase. However it is important to remember that the appropriate structure does not generally need to be actually put in place until final completion (phase 4).
With a substitution clause added to your contract it will give you the option to designate another party (ie. a UK or a French company for example) to purchase the property. This may be useful if the buyer decides to purchase the property in the name of a company or any other person at a later date.
Phase 4 : The Final Completion
Final completion is generally organised at the French Notaire's office once the searches have been carried out. When one of the parties cannot attend the meeting a proxy can be signed and authority given to one of the Notaire's clerks.
A proxy can be signed and witnessed in the UK in front of a French Consul, a Solicitor or a Notary Public. The transfer of ownership takes place in addition to the transfer of the purchase price. The balance of the purchase price, plus the Notaire's fees, will need to be transferred to the Notaire's account prior to final completion if it is to be sent by international bank transfer.
Payment can be made on completion with a banker's draft issued from a French based bank. The Notaire or one of his clerks will read the title to the parties or their attorney. If the parties have no comment or queries, the Notaire will ask the parties to sign the final deed (both buyers and sellers will initial each page and sign in full on the last page).
The Notaire will register a certified copy of the title through the French Land Registry (Service de la publicite fonciere) During the meeting the buyer will be shown the original of the local searches such as the one through the local Land Registry or at the local Mairie.
The buyer will have to arrange for the property to be insured from this date. The services will also need to be transferred into the buyer's name. The original of the title deed will remain in the Notaire's office for 100 years. The buyer will be provided with a certified copy only (Expedition/copie authentique). It takes several months before receiving the title in addition to any funds held in excess from the Notaire's fees.
The general practice of the Notaire is to quote fees (frais de notaire) slightly above the actual figure required. Any funds remaining after the payment of the fees will then be refunded to the clients without interest.