Buying a property in France is not hugely complicated; in fact it can and should be a joy. The most important thing to know at the outset is that a sale of property in France becomes binding earlier in the process than in the UK. This, in my view, is a good thing: it means that should you find a property and put an offer in which is accepted, you can pretty much return home in the safe knowledge that no-one else will be able to buy it.

As far as the legal process goes, my view is that this is clearer, safer and more straightforward in France than in the UK. Here is a brief timeline for you of how it works plus some of my own tips on how to make sure you have everything in place.
If you are buying through an 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.

After the first contract the buyer has a 10 day “cooling off period” in which time they can walk away from the purchase.

The “Compromis de Vente” is the first contract, equivalent to our Exchange of Contracts and is signed by both buyer and vendor committing you both to purchasing/selling the property. Upon signature, the vendor is bound to go ahead with the sale. The buyer, however, has 10 days “cooling off period” in which time he can walk away from the purchase. After the 10 day period is up, he too is bound to go ahead with the purchase. At this stage 10% of the agreed purchase price is paid and will be kept in a separate account by the notaire. There will be a target date for signature of the “Acte de Vente” included in the Compromis but this can be changed any time to suit both parties.

If there are any conditions of sale, these will be included in the “clauses suspensives”. These deserve some thought since 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 since you will not be obliged to go ahead with the purchase if your mortgage is turned down.

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.

Buying process - Peaceful canal

The vendor is bound to the sale following the Compromis de Vente, leaving the buyer safe in the knowledge that the sale will go through.

On signature of the Compromis de Vente 10% of the purchase price must be paid. At this stage you should be in touch with a currency provider as you will need to consider what the sterling/euro rate is from here on in. It is important to realise that fluctuations in currency may affect your purchase price. A good currency provider will explain this and you will if you wish be able to take advantage of a forward contract so that you know exactly how much you will have to pay on completion. Smart Currency Exchange offer a fantastic safe service.
This is equivalent to our Completion. As a rule it takes 2-3 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 pay the balance of the purchase price.

Surveys are rarely carried out in France and are not compulsory under French law, one reason possibly being because so many properties have been standing for hundreds of years, the French may not deem a survey to be necessary! Many people do wish to have the security of knowing the property is in reasonable shape however and we can help you with finding a good surveyor.

If you are happy to do it “the French way” you can do quite a bit yourself to allay any fears about the structure of your property

If you are happy to do it “the French way” you can do quite a bit yourself to allay any fears about the structure of your property. Check the boundaries of the property and any pipes or cables, look at the walls from afar to see that they stand vertical, check for any obvious cracks and take a look at the pointing. Your agent should be able to advise on the history of the property and a good local builder should be able to give a valuable opinion which will cost far less than having a full structural survey carried out which in France can cost anything from £1,000 to £1,500.

Remember also that you can place a “subject to survey” clause in your Compromis de Vente under “Clauses Suspensives” if you do decide to have one carried out.

Diagnostic reports including asbestos, lead paint, termites, electrical and gas systems, natural risks will be provided by law and are paid for by the seller.

Your Guide to Successfully Buying Property in France

Inside the France Buying Guide

The France Buying Guide covers every stage of the property buying process, sharing our experience and knowledge to ensure a safe and successful property purchase. The guide will help you to:


  Ask the right questions
  Avoid losing money
  Avoid the legal pitfalls
  Move in successfully

Download your free guide to buying abroad

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