Beginner's guide to buying a property in France

Part 1 - where to buy?

The French property-buying process is more straightforward than that in the UK, but it can still be nerve-wracking because of its unfamiliarity, especially if you don't speak French. The most important issue to bear in mind is that the sale becomes binding much earlier in the process than in Great Britain - gazumping is not generally a problem.

Where to buy

French properties are sold in a variety of ways: privately, via notaires (notary public) or via estate agents ( immobiliers). The majority of British buying in France buy via estate agents, as this is a more familiar process and you are more likely to encounter someone who speaks English, but you should be aware that estate agents handle only about 50 per cent of all property transactions in France. If you want real bargains, you'll need to go through a notaire, auction or private sale, but in these cases, it's a good idea to take independent legal advice.

Prices

The prices displayed in a French estate agent's window should include the agent's fee of around 4-10 per cent of the property price (the price should be followed by the letters FAI if this is the case). However, it may not include the notaire's fee. If in doubt, ASK!

The prices displayed in the notaire's window will not include the notaire's fee, so you need to add on an extra 2.5-8 per cent (see below).

When you are considering a property, always ask if the price quoted includes all fees and taxes and if it does not, ask for an estimate of how much extra you might expect to pay. When you are quoted a fee separately rather than as part of the total cost, don't forget to add on 19.6 per cent for TVA (French VAT).

Estate agents

When you choose an estate agent, make sure they are a member of a registered body such as FNAIM (www.fnaim.fr ), SNPI (www.snpi.com ) or UNPI (www.unpi.org ). This information should be visible somewhere in the office. Do not use an estate agent without visiting their office and viewing the setup - don't just arrange to meet in a carpark somewhere.

Estate agents are allowed to charge what they like in terms of fees, but it is likely to be between 4 and 10 per cent of the 'net' property price (the cheaper the property, the higher the percentage). ASK what the fee will be and whether the property price includes both estate agent's and notaire's fees. It is usual among estate agents familiar with British buyers that the price you are quoted for the property includes ALL fees and you will not be hit with anything extra, but you MUST make sure of this before you sign anything.

The notaire

About 15 per cent of property sales in France are handled directly by notaires, but even if you are buying through an estate agent or privately, the actual conveyancing will still be handled by a notaire as they are the only people permitted by law to perform conveyancing in France.

The notaire charges a fee - usually between 2.5 and 8 per cent of the 'net' property price (again, the cheaper the property, the higher the percentage). You must add this fee on top of the property price if you are buying directly through the notaire, but it may be included in the price if you buy via an estate agent. However, CHECK that the fee is included - it's better to be safe than sorry.

The notaire is is required by law to act impartially, and acts for both buyer and seller, but if you feel unsure 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 them. Alternatively, you can take independent legal advice - although a lawyer cannot actually handle the property transaction for you, he or she can certainly act as an advisor. If you appoint a lawyer, you will have to pay their legal fees on top.

Go to part 2

By Patricia Mansfield-Devine

Freelance journalist and web editor 
www.webvivant.com 

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