What are the legal aspects of buying property in France?
There are a number of complexities and potential legal pitfalls when buying property in France – ensure you don’t get caught out by having the right legal representation when it comes to buying your French home.
One of the first things you will notice about legal processes in France is that there is considerable paperwork involved; this applies to all important transactions, such as buying a house, purchasing a car, getting married, making a will, and so on. The sheer amount of paperwork used in transactions in France will mean there is always a lot of signing to do! We recommend that you have copies of your passport, birth and marriage certificates and proof of address with you on your property viewing trips; all these documents are required for legal transactions in France, and having them to hand will save time.
Many British buyers in France have lost out on their dream property thanks to a lack of legal representation and knowledge of the different legal requirements.
A different set of rules
France still very much lives by the Napoleonic Code, so it is possible that some rules may seem slightly archaic. When it comes to making your will, for example, you have what is called “reserved heirs”, who must inherit at least part of your estate; this basically means that you cannot disinherit your children. However, it is now possible to apply British law to your will. Whatever you decide, though, never underestimate the importance of instructing a bilingual solicitor qualified in French law to act on your behalf and to draw up all the documents required.
The importance of a trusted solicitor
You will find that it’s worth finding this reputable, independent solicitor before you view any properties, as this will place you in much better position if you find the right property and want to move fast to secure the property. Your solicitor should be independent of any developers or other interested parties, so they are representing you throughout the property buying process and can be assured that they are acting in your best interests.
The property buying process in France can be difficult to understand when you are unable to speak the language. We recommend finding an impartial, English-speaking solicitor with expert knowledge of the local area and the buying process, both in that region and throughout France. Many British buyers in France have lost out on their dream property thanks to a lack of legal representation and knowledge of the different legal requirements, so it’s highly recommended to have a bilingual, experienced solicitor on your side that you can trust, to guide you through the various legalities.
Ensure legal support for complicated transactions
Employing your own solicitor to act for you during the property purchase is particularly helpful if the transaction is especially complicated – for example, if there are specific clauses suspensives (conditions) within the compromise (first contract). You will need to take careful note of all specific conditions stated; if these are not met, you will be entitled to walk away from the purchase. A bilingual solicitor who is well versed in French law will be able to advise you on this.
The role of the notaire
French law dictates that all property transactions MUST be overseen and quite literally rubber-stamped by a notaire, a legally trained representative of the French government. The notaire oversees the transaction for both parties and ensures that the correct documentation goes to the relevant authorities; unlike your solicitor, they are not there to represent your specific requirements throughout the buying process. The institution of the notaire dates back hundreds of years; essentially they ensure that all proceedings comply with French property law and assist all parties so that the selling process runs smoothly.
To find out more about the important role of the notaire and how the property buying process works in France, download your free France Buying Guide
The property contract
There are several steps to completing the legal and contract processes when purchasing property in France, and your solicitor should be able to discuss this with you. The France Property Guide has put together a summary of how it works and what you need to do to successfully complete the process:
- Bon de Visite
If you are buying through an agent, you will be asked to sign a Bon de Visite. This is normal practice in France and simply means that, should you decide to proceed with a purchase, you will make the offer through them and not another agent – or privately approach the vendor. It is not a commitment to an actual purchase. You can make an offer, just as you would in the UK, and the agent must put that forward to the seller.
- Compromis de Vente
This is the first contract, equivalent to the Exchange part of the process in the UK, and is signed by both the buyer and vendor to commit you both to the property transaction. Once this has been signed, the vendor is bound to go ahead with the sale, but the buyer is given a seven day ‘cooling off period’, and can walk away from the purchase in this time. After this seven day period is up, the buyer is also bound to go ahead with the purchase, and you must pay 10% of the agreed purchase price as a deposit to the notaire.
- Clauses Suspensives
These deserve some thought, as they may permit you to withdraw from the purchase under certain circumstances. For example, if you are taking out a mortgage, the notaire will include this fact as a conditional clause. This safeguards you, because you will not be obliged to go ahead with the purchase if your mortgage is turned down. Other examples of clauses you may want to include could be to do with planning permission, or ensuring certain works are carried out.
- Property Searches
Once the Compromis de Vente has been signed, the notaire will start carrying out searches on the property, including Land Registry rights to ownership, boundaries and similar. In France, the searches don’t include looking at any private planning permissions that may be in existence close to your house, so it can also be a good idea to visit (or ask your agent to visit) your local Mairie (Town Hall) to find out what, if any, recent planning applications exist.
- Having your funds in place
We recommend speaking to a currency provider to transfer your deposit over to France. It’s a good idea to be in touch with one from the very beginning, so that you can keep an eye on the sterling/euro exchange rate, which can be very volatile – and these fluctuations may well affect your purchase price. Don’t get caught out by fluctuating exchange rates during the property purchase process, which can take three months or longer in France. Exchange rate movements can dramatically alter the price of your property and any deposit you have to pay. By staying on top of exchange rates and knowing how this affects both your deposit and purchase price, you can plan ahead and budget more effectively. There are specialist currency products available that allow you to set the exchange rate at a time favourable for you, so you will know exactly how many euros you will receive for your sterling; this is particularly useful for the large payments required for a property purchase and a good way to protect the price of your home in France.
- Acte de Vente
Equivalent to Completion in the UK, it can take two to three months to reach this stage, as a general rule. The Acte is signed at the notaire’s office and it is at this point that the buyer must pay the balance of the purchase price. The notaire’s fees, which include an estimate of the two French property taxes (taxe d’habitation and taxe fonciere), must also be paid at the same time. After the sale of the property has been lodged with the French Government, the exact amount of taxes will be calculated, and the purchaser will then either receive a rebate or have to pay a small sum of money.
For additional help with the legal process of buying in France, we can put you in touch with a trusted French-Anglo law firm.