There are just under four months to go until the Brexit deadline, and, while your right to property ownership won’t change afterwards, if you do want to be registered in France on 31 October, there is still time enough – as long as you’re prepared. Follow our ten steps to buying a house in France before the UK leaves the EU.
1. Find your estate agent
You need to get started as quickly as possible, and you don’t want to waste time looking at homes that ultimately don’t suit you. That’s why we’ve built up a network of tried and tested (and award-winning) estate agents throughout France, who have decades of experience helping British buyers like you find their perfect home. Simply fill in our enquiry form with what you’re looking for and we will be in touch with recommendations and introductions. With a bilingual property expert who can immediately send you suitable properties, you can shave weeks off the timescale.
2. Speak to your currency specialist
One of the most common questions we’re asked is ‘how can I send thousands of pounds to France safely?’ The answer is not with a bank, who will just send it on the day, but with a currency specialist. We are partnered with Smart Currency Exchange, voted #1 on Trustpilot nationally for money transfer and the leading specialists in currency for property purchases. Exchange rates constantly move, and can change the price of your house by thousands of pounds, so speak to them about ways to secure a fixed exchange rate, instead. This simply means that you have the same exchange rate for a year, no matter how much the markets lurch around.
Finances – transfers, mortgages and the like – are one of the biggest delayers in an international property purchase. Speak to Smart today so that you have already set up your strategy for sending money by the time you go to France to view properties. That way, when you see one you like, you can immediately make an offer and pay your reservation deposit. Otherwise, you have to go back home, sort everything out and may well come back to find someone else has offered on that perfect property. In the French system, there’s no gazumping, because you sign a reservation contract, so once another offer’s accepted, that’s it.
3. Find your lawyer
Just as with sorting out your currency, we recommend you find your lawyer right from the start, if you want one. In France, the notaire will help you and the seller. However, a bilingual lawyer who knows both English and French law will be so helpful with advice on taxes and inheritance. For example, did you know that even after the UK leaves the EU, Brussels IV will still apply, so you can still opt to use UK inheritance law in France? A lawyer will be able to explain all this and more to you.
It’s also important to note that property searches (see point eight) don’t typically include planning permissions – so it can be helpful to have a lawyer to instruct to do this. We have a number of trusted, bilingual contacts in the industry, whom we can provide you with an introduction to. Simply fill in our enquiry form with your requirements or give us a ring on +44(0)20 7898 0549.
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4. Head out on your viewing trip
As soon as you’ve got your list of properties narrowed down, it’s time for one of the most exciting steps: heading out to see them on a viewing trip. Take our free viewing trip worksheets with you to tick off as you go, and make sure you’ve got all decision-makers with you. It’s all about being able to act fast! You want to be able to make an offer as soon as you see the right place. Try and see up to seven properties a day, oherwise they’ll start to blend into one. Take the chance to go around the area yourself, too, at different times of the day to see how it is.
5. Sign your bon de visite
If you are buying through an estate agent, you may 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 go off with another agent or privately approach the vendor. It is no 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.
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6. Compromis de vente and the notaire
Once your offer has been accepted, a notaire must be appointed to take care of the legal process. The buyer can choose their own notaire and the seller may have his own too, but the buyer pays the notaire’s fees. Note that where two notaires are involved, the fees are no greater; they are shared by the two notaires in this case. You can find out more about these costs in our dedicated article on the role of notaires.
If you’re going to purchase in France soon but still have questions, make sure you get your tickets to Your Overseas Home. It’s the property show intended specifically for serious buyers, with expert exhibitors on hand to answer your queries.
The notaire will draw up the compromis de vente after obtaining all personal information from both parties, the diagnostic reports and if applicable, a list of furniture. This is signed by both parties. You do not have to be present in France for this; the notaire can prepare a “procuration”, power of attorney, to enable him to sign on your behalf. The ten day cooling off period then starts. If the buyer does not pull out of the sale, he must pay normally 10% deposit which is kept in the notaire’s client account. After the ten day period is over, the buyer would forfeit this deposit if he pulled out of the sale.
There are usually three months between the compromis de vente and signing the sales act, so it’s important to get to this point relatively quickly. You can often cut the timescale down if you’re a cash buyer or your notaire is quite speedy.
7. Decide on clauses suspensives (suspensive clauses)
These are clauses inserted into the contract to cover the buyer in case they are unable or unwilling to proceed in certain specific circumstances. The most common are related to the buyer’s finances. However, they could include a clause stating that the purchase will only proceed if building improvements will be allowed, or if the buyer is applying to put a swimming pool in the garden, for example.
8. Land Registry searches
Once the compromis de vente is signed, the notaire will start carrying out searches on the property including Land Registry rights to ownership, boundaries and the like. In France the searches don’t include looking at any private planning permissions that may be in existence close to your house. Every property is offered first to the local Mairie, who has to respond within two months. You can ask at the local Mairie about any regional planning applications that may exist near the property you are buying.
9. Starting planning removals and decoration
While you wait, why not use this time period to start planning removals? We can introduce you to specialist removals firms, who can help you get your possessions over to France with a minimum of hassle and cost. Take the chance also to start imagining how you want everything to look inside (and doing a bit of preliminary planning for renovations, if necessary).
10. Acte de vente (completion)
It usually takes two to three months to get to this final stage when you become the proud owner of your new French property. The acte is signed at the notaire’s office and the buyer must ensure the full funds are in the notaire’s client account at least three days ahead of the date of the signing. Again, if you are unable to be present, a procuration (power of attorney) can be prepared for you. Your estate agent will arrange for the transition of the utilities to your name, read the meters on the day of signing and safeguard the keys.
Note that regarding the two property taxes, taxe d’habitation and taxe foncière, the former is paid by the owner of the property on 1st January so if you are buying a property at any time after this, you will only be liable to start paying this the following year. The taxe foncière is paid around October each year for the following year and this means you will reimburse the seller from the day you buy the property. The notaire will handle this and give you a final account for your file. (NB The taxe d’habitation is likely to be abolished after 2020).
You will receive an “attestation” of purchase which proves you are now the owner of the property. The actual deeds will be sent to you several months after the purchase.
This is the final part of our serialisation of Buying in France. If you missed a section, be sure to check them out below: