Buying French Property
This article has been written to give you a general step-by-step overview of the French property buying process. Please use the references and links contained in this article to find more information about stages of the process.
The French property buying process is fairly straightforward and well regulated. Each year many thousands of foreign buyers purchase in France without problems or complications. As with any property purchase there can be problems, but the majority of them are encountered because buyers have not understood properly what they need to do in advance and how the process works, especially if they don’t speak French. This guide is here to give you independent advice.
The most important issue to be aware of is that the sale becomes binding much earlier in the process than in the UK. Therefore providing you allow enough time for viewing, one can effectively secure a property you have seen on your visit and return to your home country knowing that no-one else can buy it.
Where to buy
French properties are sold in various ways, either privately, via notaires (public notary) or via estate agents (immobiliers). The majority of overseas buyers in France buy through estate agents, as this is a more familiar process and you are more likely to meet someone who speaks English.
When using an estate agent, make sure they are a member of a registered body such as FNAIM, SNPI or UNPI. This information should be visible somewhere in their office. Do not use an estate agent without first visiting the office and viewing their setup – don’t just arrange to meet in a car park somewhere.
An agent will usually ask you to sign a “Bon de visite” – this confirms to the vendor that they, the agent, are the ones who showed you a property; it prevents conflicts between agents!
The prices displayed in a French estate agent’s premises or on the internet should include the agent’s fees (anywhere between 4% and 10% of the property price). The price will be followed by the letters FAI if this is the case. However, it does not always include the notaire’s fee. When you are looking at a property, always ask what the price quoted includes. Ask for an assessment of any additional fees and don’t forget to add on 19.6% for TVA (VAT) on any extra fees.
Don’t be frightened to make an offer for a property just as you would in your home country. If you can find out how long the property has been for sale or the position of the seller, you may get some idea of their willingness to accept less than the selling price. You can of course look into this with the agent.
Surveys are not always undertaken in France, because the profession of surveyor does not occur in the same way that it does in Britain, for example. If you are worried about certain aspects of the construction of the property you are buying, or renovation concerns, you could contact one of the growing number of English speaking surveyors working in France, or you could arrange to visit the property with a local builder to get an opinion and idea of costs. If you are going to do this it is better to do it before you agree a price and sign any contract, particularly if you expect to be doing a lot of renovation. If you need a survey, but do not have time to have it performed before you sign a contract, you should ask the notaire to include a “clause suspensive” in the Compromis de Vente to ensure that your purchase is subject to a satisfactory survey (see below). For more information about independent surveys in France, see our item French Property Survey.
Other points to consider
Prior to signing sign anything, be certain to see the plans of the property and its land (ask for the cadastral plans from the agent or at the local mairie) – check that there are no private or communal plans to construct other properties, offices or agricultural buildings near to your house. For further advice, see our articles on how to obtain planning permission.
Once you have found a property and agreed a price, the actual contract process will be handled by a Notaire as they are the only people allowed by law to perform conveyancing in France.
There are two principle documents you will need to sign to buy a property in France. The Compromise de Vente and the Acte Authentique. See below.
The Notaire charges a fee – typically between 2% and 8% per of the ‘net’ property price (the cheaper the property, the higher the percentage). This may be included in the price if you purchase through an estate agent. However, confirm that the fee is included – it’s better to be safe than sorry.
The Notaire is required by law to act impartially and acts for both purchaser and vendor. This may seem foreign to UK buyers but the majority of transactions in France are handled this way, by one notaire. The estate agent should be able to suggest a local notaire. If you feel uncomfortable about this, you are entitled to appoint your own notaire. This will not cost you any more money, as the two notaires will split the fee between themselves, but it can be a less efficient way of handling the transaction. Furthermore, if you wish, you can take independent legal advice in France or in the UK to assist you with the purchase (e.g. from a non French solicitor) but you will be liable for their fees as well as those of the notaire.
See our article on the role of the Notaire for further information.
Although you may find a notaire who speaks some English it is important to understand that the legal documents will be in French and contain legal terms that may be unfamiliar. Some estate agents provide translations of the Compromis de Vente but this is not their principal role or responsibility. If you are not sure about any aspect of the contract you can get a professional translation, either in France or in your home country. In France there are officially registered translators qualified to translate legal documents. Ask the agent if they can suggest an independent translator and be aware, there will be a translation fee.
The Compromis de Vente (Initial Contract)
The Compromis will contain a date when it is expected that the Acte Authentique (the main contract – see below) will be signed. Note that this date is not legally binding and is really a target at which both parties aim.
For the notaire to create the agreement you must provide your passport, marriage papers and divorce papers. If you’re borrowing money you will also provide details of the loan.
See also our French legal processes for buying property in France FAQ.
Clauses suspensives (conditional clauses)
‘Clauses suspensives’ allow you to withdraw from the purchase under certain circumstances, so it important to give this some thought before you sign the Compromis de Vente. You can add any clauses you wish to the contract (provided the vendor is willing to agree to them). If you are obtaining a mortgage the notaire will automatically note this fact as a conditional clause in the agreement, which means if your mortgage provider turns you down or refuses to lend against the property you are not obliged to proceed with the purchase. Other normal provisions you might include: ensuring that you are able to get planning permission, ensuring that certain works or repairs are performed. You should discuss these clauses very carefully with your agent and the notaire at the time of making the offer.
Numerous problem purchases or disputes could have been avoided if the purchasers had introduced clauses to protect themselves at this stage.
Lead, asbestos, termites and energy reports
These reports are grouped in a single report known as the DTT (Dossier de Diagnostic Technique). The DTT is required by law and is the obligation of the vendor to commission and pay for up-to-date reports to be attached to the compromis de vente; the notaire will ensure that this is so. Termite reports are subject to the area of France. Property vendors with swimming pools are obliged to provide a report on the safety aspects of the pool.
Once both parties have signed the Compromis, you the buyer have a seven day cooling-off period. During this time, you can withdraw from the sale without incurring a penalty, but the vendor cannot.
Once the cooling-off period has elapsed, the contract becomes binding on both parties. It is important that you do not sign the Compromis lightly.
During this time, assuming you intend to proceed, you will need to arrange transfer of funds to pay the deposit (in Euros €).
Your deposit is most often 10% of the net purchase price. From this point, if you withdraw from the purchase you may lose your deposit, unless it is for one of the reasons listed in your ‘clauses suspensives’.
This article describes the purchasing process for re-sale properties. Leaseback and New Build properties may have different pay schedules and contract conditions.
For more information about French Mortgages, visit our mortgages section.
Local Authority Searches
Once the compromis is signed the notaire will start the legal process including the searches on the property, land registry rights to ownership, boundaries and rights of way.
It is important to note that in France the searches do not include looking at any private planning permissions that may exist close your house. To establish whether your neighbour is about to construct a new house next to your boundary, visit the local Mairie and ask to see the “plan communale” (any recent planning application) or ask the agent to get this information.
How long does it take?
The complete process should take three or four months from making the offer to signing the final contract.
Tax and Legal matters
Besides the purchase contracts, you may have concerns about your situation regarding inheritance law, residency issues, income and capital gains tax or other legal and tax issues, in which case you may wish to consult an English speaking legal adviser who specialises in French property law.
The final signing – Acte Authentique (Acte de Vente)
At some juncture your agent or the notaire will advise you of the expected date to sign the full contract – the Acte Authentique or Acte de Vente.
You should be present for the signing of the completion document if at all possible. If you aren’t able to attend, you can arrange a power of attorney.
Arrange to view the property on the day of the signing. The final contract has a clause saying ‘sold as seen on signing date’, so you need to know that the property is exactly as you anticipate and not with floors, walls or windows missing!
You should plan ahead in order to transfer the balance of your payment to the notaire’s account in plenty of time for the signing. The property will not be yours until all the funds required (including mortgage funds) for the property purchase and all associated fees have been sent to the notaires bank account.
Once you have signed the Acte Authentique, retire to the nearest bar and enjoy a glass of champagne.
If you are buying a gite complex or another property for investment purposes such as a buy-to-let in France, please visit our French investment property zone. We have lots of information about owning a holiday homes in France.
This guide is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice regarding any aspect of purchasing a French property. If in doubt you should consult your estate agent, legal or tax adviser. Franco Files cannot be held responsible for the consequences of decisions or actions you may choose to take in connections with viewings trips or a property purchase.