Buying property in France – the procedure
Although purchasing a house in France can seem like a long drawn out bureaucratic
process it is in fact a much surer and structured procedure than in many other
European countries. One is nearly always compelled to use the services of a state-appointed
notaire (public Notary) who works for a fixed fee and more or less
guarantees a fraud-free transaction.
The first stage is to find and visit the property. A second visit should be more
thorough, in the company of a knowledgeable builder if possible. Surveyors are thin
on the ground in France: builders usually give advice on the state of a house and will,
if necessary, call on an ‘expert’ for technical advice. The vendor must pay an expert to
certify the absence of termites, asbestos, radon gas etc before he can sell. Once you
have agreed on a price the next step is a ‘compromis de vente‘ or ‘sous-seing privé‘.
Promise to buy
This is drawn up by the estate agent (or the notaire) and signed in his presence –
accompanied by the purchaser paying a 10% deposit. (Today, most estate agents
prefer not to handle these deposits but to lodge them directly with the notaire. In this
way the purchaser’s money is totally secure and there’s no danger of being duped by
a wily agent. The estate agent is then paid his commission – by the notaire – at the
very end of the proceedings.)
This is an extremely important document: it is in fact the final sales contract which
outlines the whole transaction and the duties and obligations of the two parties. In
general, before the contract can be concluded the State (and the vendor) must carry
out a number of searches and controls: is a motorway planned to run through the
property? Has the neighbouring farmer rights on the land for agricultural use?
(possible if more than a hectare of land), has asbestos been used in the construction?
etc. For his part, the purchaser should write into this document his ‘clauses
suspensives‘ (clauses relating to events which, if not realized, render the contract null
and void), the most important being the granting of a mortgage. Without such a
clause the purchaser will be expected to conclude the deal just as soon as the official
searches are finished.
Need a mortgage? Write it into the promise
This compromis de vente is drawn up by the agent in collaboration with the purchaser
(and, if requested, the notaire). Specific clauses relating to the mortgage or to other
events (possibility that the buyer be moved abroad by his employer in the meantime,
that his spouse or himself be incapacitated in the meantime) are incorporated. A
mortgage request must be fully detailed: what portion of the purchase price will be
paid in cash and what portion through a mortgage? What is the maximum interest
rate (including insurance) that the purchaser will accept? Which banks will be
approached?. And most importantly, by what date should all this be sorted out? The
vendor will be pushing for a maximum two month delay before the compromis takes
effect: purchasers usually ask for three months.
Finally the big day arrives, the notaire summons both parties to her office, checks the
results of the different ‘searches’ and proceeds to read the whole contract aloud. Then
both parties sign .. and you become – instantly – the owner with full powers of
possession. Assuming, of course, that you have made arrangements for the balance of
the monies to arrive at the notaire’s office in good time. No money = no deal and you
lose your deposit. Be warned!