Since January 2003, an asbestos test has been required before any building can be sold. It must be carried out by an expert en techniques du bâtiment and be paid for by the vendor (it costs around €500). A test for the presence of asbestos can be done at the same time as a termite inspection (see below). The report is around ten pages long and contains detailed plans of the property and any areas where asbestos is present. You should keep the report in a safe place, as you may be required to show it to contractors and tradesmen before they will undertake any work on the property. If there’s asbestos on the premises, its removal must be carried out by a specialist (and certified) company.
Lead (plomb) was present in paint until the mid-20th century and a lead check (by the Direction Régionale ou Départementale des Affaires Sanitaires et Sociales or the Direction Régionale ou Départementale de l’Equipement) is required by law in certain communes and for all properties built before 1st January 1948.
Radon (radon), a radioactive gas emitted by granite, is found in significant quantities in parts of Brittany, Corsica, and the Massif Central and Vosges mountains, and some 300,000 homes are reckoned to have dangerous levels of radon. A radon test isn’t compulsory but, if you’re worried about radon levels and want a property checked, contact the Agence Nationale Pour L’Amélioration de l’Habitat (ANAH), whose regional and departmental offices are listed on http://www.anah.fr.
Termites (termite) or white ants are found in over 50 departments – particularly in the south-west but also in most other parts of France (their presence has spread in the last decade). The worst-affected departments being Landes (where there are termites in all departments), Gironde, Charente-Maritime and Lot-et-Garonne in that order. In certain communes, an inspection is required (known as un état parasitaire). Details of areas affected can be obtained from your regional Observatoire de Lutte Xylophages (look in the phone book or ask at your town hall) or via the internet (e.g. http://www.xylophages.com) and a list of recognised treatment companies from your local Direction Départementale de l’Equipement (DDE), the Centre Technique de Bois et de l’Ameublement/CTBA (01 40 19 49 19, http://www.ctba.fr or http://www.termite.com.fr, where there’s also a map showing affected areas) or the Union Nationale des Experts et Techniciens en Parasitologie Immobilière.
Although not as widespread as deathwatch, furniture and capricorn beetles, termites are the most invasive wood-boring insects. (Note that these may not be discovered by a termite inspection.) Termite treatment costs around €4,500 to €5,500 and, even if a property is only mildly affected, you must usually pay for a complete treatment, which consists of replacing damaged wood and chemically treating remaining wood.
Note that a certificat de non-infestation is valid only for three months, so in the average purchase procedure the inspection cannot be carried out until after you’ve signed the compromis de vente, in which case you must keep your fingers crossed that the result is positive. If it isn’t, you can withdraw from the sale and have your deposit returned, negotiate a reduction in the selling price to allow for termite treatment, or ask the seller to have the treatment done before proceeding with the sale.
Further information about termites and other wood-boring insects is available (in French) from the Union Nationale des Experts Certifiés et Techniciens en Parasitologie Immobilière (UNECTPI, 05 56 43 63 00) and from the website http://www.termites-info.com.
Since November 2006 most existing property sold in France must be assessed for energy efficiency by a registered inspector and a copy of his report (diagnostique de performance énergétique) provided to prospective buyers. The only exceptions are temporary structures, properties of less than 50m2 and certain agricultural, commercial and historic buildings. The report must cover the condition and efficiency of all heating, cooling and ventilation systems (including, from November 2007, gas installations) and provide an estimated annual energy bill and recommendations for improving the efficiency and reducing the environmental damage of such systems. This requirement will be extended to new and rental properties in July 2007. Although the cost of the inspection, around e250, must be borne by the vendor, it will inevitably be ‘included’ in the purchase price. Further information on this subject can be found on the website of the Ministry for Employment, Social Cohesion and Housing (http://www.logement.gouv.fr).
You should also check whether a property is a listed building (monument historique) or within 500m of a listed building or in a conservation area (zone de protection du patrimoine architectural urbain et paysage). If it is, find what restrictions exist, particularly regarding renovation. In neither case are you likely to be able to make significant alterations to the facade, for example, and you may be severely limited in your choice of materials, finishes and even colours, which may affect not only your concept but also your budget. On the other hand, grants or tax relief may be available to reduce the cost of restoration (although you may have to wait a LONG time before receiving a grant!).
If a property is close to a listed historical monument or site, an organisation called Bâtiments de France may restrict the extent to which it can be renovated or altered, in some cases specifying materials and colours to be used. If there’s an old church nearby, it’s likely that this is the case and you should check with the town hall.
If you’re considering buying a property covering more than a hectare (2.47 acres), note that the purchase can be opposed and even blocked by the Société d’Amenagément Foncier et d’Establissement Rural (SAFER), which has a right of pre-emption in order to preserve land which it feels should remain in agricultural use. Although SAFER rarely exercises this right, the notaire handling the sale is obliged to notify the organisation of the impending sale. Should SAFER object, any agreement is null and void and your only consolation is that you’re entitled to the return of your deposit.
You should receive a written report (within ten days of the survey) on the condition of a property, including anything that could affect its value or your enjoyment of it in the future, and an estimate of its current and possibly future value. Some surveyors will allow you to accompany them and they may produce a video of their findings in addition to a written report.
You may be able to make a ‘satisfactory’ survey a condition (une clause suspensive) of the preliminary purchase contract, although this isn’t usual in France and a vendor may refuse or insist that you carry out a survey before signing the contract. If serious faults are revealed by the survey, a clause suspensive should allow you to withdraw from the purchase and have your deposit returned. You may, however, be able to negotiate a satisfactory compromise with the vendor.
Discuss with your surveyor in advance exactly what will be included in his report and, more importantly, what will be excluded (you may need to pay extra to include certain checks and tests). A home inspection can be limited to a few items or even a single system only, such as the wiring or plumbing in an old house.
The report should first identify and establish that the property and land being offered for sale are, in fact, in the vendor’s name and that the land ‘for sale’ matches the land registry plan; it isn’t unusual for the area of land stated in an agent’s details to be substantially different from what’s set out in the relevé cadastral. Although this is normally the role of the notaire, your valuer or surveyor has a duty to check it carefully, as a greater or lesser amount of land can affect a valuation. The surveyor should also check the cadastral plan on the ground.
Second, the surveyor should also check the location of the property in relation to the local plan local d’urbanisme. Both steps in the checking process should be made by the notaire handling the sale, but invariably by this stage you will be well down the road to concluding a purchase and will have almost certainly agreed a price.
The surveyor should then consider any rights of way (servitude) over the property. Having this information at the valuation stage can have a significant bearing on the price before your pen is poised in the notaire’s office! You should also ask your surveyor to check that there aren’t other restrictions such as buried electricity lines or water pipes that may affect renovation or building work.
In the case of an old property, perhaps the most important part of a valuation and survey is to ensure that, once any necessary repairs have been done, you won’t be spending more than the property will be worth if you need or want to sell it. This involves determining what essential work needs to be carried out, the likely cost of such work and the estimated value of the property once it has been done; the difference between the two figures is the correct purchase price for the unrenovated property. (If no essential work is necessary, the valuation is made on the property as it stands.)
Needless to say, unless you use an English-speaking builder or surveyor, the report will be in (technical) French and you may need to have it translated, although some architects and surveyors in popular parts of France will provide bi-lingual reports.
This article is an extract from Buying a home in France. Click here to get a copy now.