The Property Contract

The most important thing to know at the outset is that a sale of property in France becomes binding earlier in the process than here in the UK.
 

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Buying a property in France is not hugely complicated; it can and should be a joy. The fact the sale of a property becomes binding earlier in the process means that should you find a property and put an offer in which is accepted, you can pretty much return home in the safe knowledge that no-one else will be able to buy it.

As far as the legal process goes, in many ways it is clearer, safer and more straightforward in France than in the UK. The France Buying Guide has put together a brief timeline of how it works, along with some top tips to making sure eveything is in place. 
 
Bon de Visite and making an offer
If you are buying through an agent, you will be asked to sign a Bon de Visite. This is normal practice in France and simply means that should you decide to proceed with a purchase, you will make the offer through them and not go off with another agent or privately approach the vendor. It is no commitment to an actual purchase. You can make an offer just as you would in the UK and the agent must put that forward to the seller. 
TIP: Be guided by your agent, if you have one, but it is always worth taking at least 10% off the advertised purchase price. You can always up it later if necessary.
 
Compromis de Vente
This is the first contract, equivalent to our Exchange of Contracts and is signed by both buyer and vendor committing you both to purchasing/selling the property. Upon signature, the vendor is bound to go ahead with the sale, but you are given a 7 day 'cooling off period' and can walk away from the purchase in this time. After the 7 day period is up, you too are bound to go ahead with the purchase. At this stage, you must pay 10% of the agreed purchase price, to be kept in a separate account by the notaire. There will be a target date for signature of the Acte de Vente included in the Compromis but this can be changed any time to suit both parties.
TIP: It is a good idea to have the Compromis translated and better still, looked over by a bilingual solicitor, so that you can read it carefully and ensure you understand it during your 7 day cooling off period. Once it is signed, you are legally bound to complete.
 
Clauses Suspensives
These deserve some thought since they may permit you to withdraw from the purchase under certain circumstances. For example, if you are taking out a mortgage, the notaire will include this fact as a conditional clause. This safeguards you since you will not be obliged to go ahead with the purchase if your mortgage is turned down. Other examples of clauses you might want to include are ensuring you are able to get planning permission or ensuring certain works are carried out. 
TIP: It is VERY important to make sure you have all your Clauses Suspensives in the Compromis so the advice of a bilingual solicitor is very important.
 
Searches
Once the Compromis de Vente has been signed, the notaire will start carrying out searches on the property including Land Registry rights to ownership, boundaries and similar. In France the searches don’t include looking at any private planning permissions that may be in existence close to your house. 
TIP: It's a good idea to visit (or ask your agent to visit) your local Mairie to find out what, if any recent planning applications exist.
 
Funds
On signature of the Compromis de Vente, 10% of the purchase price must be paid. At this stage you should be in touch with a currency provider as you will need to consider what the sterling/euro rate is from here on in. It is important to realise that fluctuations in currency may affect your purchase price. A good currency provider will explain this and you will if you wish be able to take advantage of a forward contract so that you know exactly how much you will have to pay on completion. Click here to contact our partner Smart Currency Exchange today and open an account today or simply for advice and guidance.
 
Acte de Vente
This is equivalent to the Completion in the UK. As a rule it takes 2-3 months to get to this final stage when you become the proud owner of your new French property. The Acte is signed at the notaire’s office and the buyer must pay the balance of the purchase price. 
 
TIP: The notaire’s fees, inclusive of an estimation of the 2 French taxes (taxe d’habitation and taxe fonciere), must be paid at the same time as the property price at this time. These should have been documented in the Compromis. After the sale of the property has been lodged with the French Government, the exact amount of taxes will be calculated and the purchaser will then either receive or have to pay a small sum of money.
 
Further points to be aware of:
Surveys are rarely carried out in France and are not compulsory under French law; possibly because so many properties have been standing for hundreds of years and the French may not deem a survey to be necessary! Many people do wish to have the security of knowing the property is in reasonable shape however and we can help you with finding a good surveyor. 
 
If you are happy to do it 'the French way', you can do quite a bit yourself to allay any fears about the structure of your property. Check the boundaries of the property and any pipes or cables, look at the walls from afar to see that they stand vertical, check for any obvious cracks and take a look at the pointing. Your agent should be able to advise on the history of the property, and a good local builder should be able to give a valuable opinion which will cost far less than having a full structural survey carried out which in France can cost anything from £1,000 to £1,500. 
 
Remember also that you can place a “subject to survey” clause in your Compromis de Vente under Clauses Suspensives if you do decide to have one carried out.
 
Other reports, as below, are compulsory however and are paid for by the vendor.
 
Reports: Asbestos, Lead paint, Termites, Electrical system

  • Any property for which planning permission was granted before July 1997 must have an asbestos report.
  • A lead paint survey needs to be carried out for any property built before 1949.
  • Many areas in France are declared as possibly affected by termites and in these cases a report must be prepared.
  • The safety of the electrical system is a new law which is required on any property.
  • The good news here is that all of the above can be carried out by one registered professional (there are several in every area who will do it all). 

Further reading for Buying In France

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Viewing Guide

Finding the right property and can be a challenge. What do you need to think about early on?
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Legal Matters

Buying a property in France has very different legal requirements to the UK. 

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Hidden Costs

Spending tens and even hundreds of thousands of pounds on a property in France is a HUGE decision.
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Currency Zone

Did you know that you could save thousands of pounds when emigrating by using a currency specialist?
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When purchasing property legal hold-ups can be disastrous. You need to make extra sure that you have an English-speaking, impartial solicitor looking out for your best interests from the very start.
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We can put you in touch with a trusted agent in your desired area, who will immediately send you example properties so that you can clearly define what you are looking for in a property.
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