Beginner's guide to buying a property in France

Part 2 - closing a deal

Beginner's guide to buying a property in France

Buying the house

  • Once you have decided on a property you like, contact the agent.
  • Double-check the fees and pricing.
  • If you need professional translation, remember to add the fees on top.
  • Draw up your clauses suspensives (see below) - criteria under which you might be able to withdraw from the sale.
  • Make an offer, following your estate agent's advice - they should be able to tell you how low you can go without causing offence.
  • Make sure you see the plans of the property and its land (ask to see the cadastral plans) before you agree to make an offer - you must be sure of your boundaries, rights of way across your land, etc. A competent agent or independent legal adviser should be able to handle this for you.
  • The agent will now contact the vendor and submit your offer.
  • You will need to provide your passport, marriage papers and divorce papers. If you're borrowing money you will also need paperwork with details of the loan.

How long does it take?

The whole process should take three or four months from making the offer to signing the final contract.

The compromis (first contract)

The compromis (often called the compromis de vente) is usually the first document you will sign, though you may also come across the 'promesse d'achat' if you are making an offer below the house price. The 'promesse' shows the vendor your commitment to buying at the offered price.

The compromis sets out the main terms of the agreement between the buyer and the seller and has to be signed by both parties.

You may need to obtain reports on termites (depending on the area), lead and asbestos (depending on when the property was built). If the reports are mandatory, the seller usually pays; if they are your choice, the buyer usually pays.

Once you have both 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 seller cannot.

Once the cooling-off period is over, the contract becomes binding on both parties. Therefore it is CRUCIAL that you do not sign the compromis lightly.

You now pay your deposit - usually about 10 per cent of the net purchase price. From this point on, if you withdraw from the sale, you could lose your deposit, unless it is for one of the reasons listed in your 'clauses suspensives'.

Clauses suspensives

'Clauses suspensives' permit you to withdraw from the purchase under certain circumstances. Typical reasons might include: not being able to obtain finance, or having a request for outline planning permission refused. You need to discuss these clauses very carefully with your agent or lawyer at the time of making the offer, otherwise withdrawing from a prospective purchase could cost you your deposit.

Searches and surveys

Once the compromis is signed and the deposit is paid, you will need to transfer your money into Euros. Then begin the searches on the property, including ownership, land boundaries and rights of way.

Surveys are not usually undertaken in France, although surveyors do exist. Discuss the options with your estate agent.

You will need to take legal advice on French inheritance law, which is radically different from British law. You cannot, for instance, just leave your house to whomever you please - surviving relatives are legally entitled to shares of the property in descending order and the tax implications can also be painful for anyone who is not an immediate relative.

The final signing

You need to transfer the balance of your payment to the notaire's account in plenty of time for the signing date. Missing the deadline CAN mean you lose both the house and the deposit.

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 expect it to be, and not with floors, walls or windows missing!

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.

Further reading

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