Tips and advice for purchasing in France
Once you have found a suitable property
Do not sign anything other than perhaps the ‘bon de visite’* proffered by the Estate Agent which simply shows that you first saw the property through the Agent in question.
*This is a standard form the French estate agent requires you to sign before viewing a property. You are agreeing that you saw the property for the first time through this particular estate agent and therefore he/she will receive a commission if you buy that property, even if you were to see it again with the owner directly or through another agent.
Check on local prices
Is the house manifestly overpriced compared to French prices in the local area? – Estate Agent’s shop windows are a good source, but have a local map at the ready.
Carefully inspect the property yourself
In France generally “what you see is what you get” and you should not be afraid to visit every nook and cranny more than once and to ask direct questions of the vendor and/or Estate Agent. If you have doubts, you might want to consider instructing a local architect or qualified UK surveyors resident in France to give you a written report on the property’s condition, although you will be aware that a survey prior to purchase is not the norm in France.
Ask for a draft of the ‘compromis’ or other preliminary document (such as mandatory reports)
Do not allow yourself to be pressured into signing it – but instead take it away with you and talk to an English speaking French lawyer and ask him or her to explain to you what it commits you to doing before you sign – remember this document is usually binding and not subject to contract in the manner encountered in the UK. Therefore, once it is signed you are committed to completing the purchase by the date set down in this agreement if the other conditions in it are met.
This is also the time to think about inheritance and tax issues; you need to ensure well in advance that the completion document is made to your measure.
Be wary of pressure from Estate Agents and other intermediaries
It is sometimes better to be prepared to lose a property than to sign up to commitments you do not understand – some Estate Agents will insist that there are other buyers ready to close the deal ‘that very day’ and tell you that if you do not sign the ‘compromis’ at once then you will lose the property. This is rarely the case.
Others will tell you that you have a statutory seven day cooling off period and can withdraw – but letters can take three days to reach you and a further three days for the return to the sender which leaves little time in real terms for you to pull out and the onus is upon you to show that you complied with the time frame in question.
Do not hand money to intermediaries
Unless you are absolutely sure they are bona fide.
However, it would be perfectly normal to pay 5% or 10% for example to a Notary upon the signing of the preliminary binding agreement (‘compromis’ etc). He or she would then hold this sum to your order on his or her client account. However if you fail to complete and all the conditions set down on the preliminary agreement are met, then you risk losing this sum and might sometimes also have to pay damages.
Ask for a copy of the draft completion document (“acte authentique”) well in advance
Many buyers discover the document upon arriving at the vendor’s Notary’s office on the day of completion (and it will virtually always be available only in French), but you should insist on having a draft well in advance of the completion meeting. Then take whatever time you require to consult an English speaking French lawyer and ask him or her to explain it’s full content to you.
Ensure that funding is in place well in advance
If a loan is envisaged and it is raised in France, the lending institution will generally transmit the funds directly to the vendor’s Notary. If the funds are not in his or her client account several days before the completion meeting, then he or she will generally refuse to complete, regardless of the fact that you may driven over 1,500 kilometres to be at the meeting!
If you are shipping the funds – eg from the UK or Ireland, the onus is upon you to ensure that the funds have arrived in the Notary’s client account in good time prior to completion. It is not enough for you to show the funds have left your own account.
At the completion meeting
It may sound self-evident, but the completion will take place in French and all documents will be in French (and what is more – legal French)! You should ensure that you are aware of what is happening even if it means engaging an interpreter (for whose services the buyer will generally be charged).
Also the funds will often be paid over by the Notary to the vendor and the keys handed to you. You will immediately then become liable for the house and its contents and should make absolutely sure that these are insured from that same moment.
You will not usually be given a copy of the signed conveyance document on the day of completion, however you should normally receive a copy of the signed document some months later, together with a final account from the Notary.
Make sure that you advise the utilities (water, electricity, gas etc), town hall and tax people of the change of ownership. Do not assume that they will learn about it from other sources.
Then, finally, enjoy a glass of cool French wine on the doorstep of your new French home and congratulate yourself on having avoided or overcome at least some of the obstacles to buying property in France!
This information has been kindly provided by Sophie Lagayette of Triplet & Associes – E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and quote SLC/LFR