It is the dream of many of us to buy a beautiful French rural property with some land, not least because property is just so much cheaper in France than in the UK. However, if it is your intention to buy a property with land, you need to learn a little about “Safer”.
France is a large country with a lot more space than the UK, of course. So, it is normally easier to find a lovely detached rural property with some land and wonderful views here in many areas of the country. There is a huge amount of choice of properties from farmhouses, cottages, old houses needing some renovation and of course chateaux.
What does “Safer” mean?
When buying a property with agricultural land, it is important to know about “Safer”. Not heard of this? Safer (Société d’aménagement foncier et d’établissement rural} is a large body in France concerned with land development. Essentially, this body has an overriding right to buy most rural property in France. Safer has the right of first refusal on the purchase of many rural properties, similar to the local mairie being given the right to offer to buy any property in France. This is called the “droit de pre-emption”. It was established in 1960 by the creation of the Farm Bill in order to protect the environmental value of land in France.
How does it work in terms of the property buying process?
The notaire, who handles all property sales in France, and who works for the Government to ensure the process goes through according to law and thus is unbiased, will deal with Safer. It is not something to be overly concerned about, simply something to know about.
The notaire has a duty to contact Safer to ask them if they want to buy a rural property with land. From the day of receipt of this request, Safer have 2 months to decide if they wish to buy the property. You can pay for an express service if you prefer not to wait as long. However, most property purchases take around 3 months to complete, so it may be sensible to simply wait out the 2 months. Often, their response comes in before the 2 months is up anyway.
Each department has its own minimal area of land, below which there is no right of pre-emption. Beware, however, that in some areas the limit is very low and so a house with, say, an acre or so of land could still be subject to this. The actual threshold in terms of size of the land has been going down over the last few years.
An important point to note also is that Safer must pre-empt at the sale price. Another important (and somewhat reassuring) point is that in the majority of sales, Safer do not decide to purchase the property and the sale goes through seamlessly to you, the purchaser. In other words, do not allow this rule to put you off buying your dream rural property in France. Simply think of it as part of the French buying process.
What do I need to do in order to safeguard my purchase?
All French notaires will be fully aware of the Safer rules and will explain everything to you in full. However, for peace of mind, we do advise employing the services of a British solicitor to oversee any purchase of rural property in France.
A good piece of advice is to plan for a minimum of 3 months between any offer being accepted on a property in France and actually getting the keys of your new home in your hands. The wheels of French bureaucracy can grind somewhat slowly, which may be frustrating. On the other hand, some people say this is all part of the French charm: no-one is in a hurry! The French countryside is absolutely stunning and a property purchase in most areas of France with land is something many of us yearn for. Suffice to say that your patience will pay off in the end!