Property purchase in France is generally a straightforward process, but you may be surprised by the following aspects of the procedure:
All property purchases must be carried out by a notaire (not exactly equivalent to a notary public in the UK), whose fees are fixed by the government and who ‘represents’ neither the seller nor the buyer but merely ensures that the law is observed. You’re therefore advised to engage a lawyer to ensure that your interests are served.
Fees associated with a purchase can add up to 15 per cent to the cost (estate agents’ fees are especially high, although in theory these are paid by the vendor), which means that in spite of high price rises and the apparent potential for making money from buying and selling property, you need to own a house for at least three years simply to recover the associated fees.
The first step in buying a property is to sign a contract (un compromis de vente) and pay a deposit (generally 10 per cent of the price). If you don’t complete the purchase (unless this is because you’re unable to obtain a mortgage) you will lose the deposit.
Once you’ve signed a contract, you’re tied to a purchase date, irrespective of whether you manage to sell an existing property or not by that time; if you don’t, you must take out a bridging loan (un prêt relais), which is common practice in France. There’s no ‘chain’ of buyers and sellers which can be broken if anyone is unable to sell or pulls out of a purchase for any other reason (as in the UK), which means that gazumping is practically unknown in France.
You will be told that a survey ‘isn’t necessary’ or simply ‘isn’t done’ in France. The latter may be true, but not the former and you should always have a property (particularly an old one) surveyed or at least inspected by a good builder who you trust.
Completion usually takes place 10 to 12 weeks after the signing of the initial contract.
There are no title deeds as such in France and proof of ownership is provided and guaranteed by registration of the property (titre de propriétaire) at the land registry (cadastre).
A bank transfer can take a week or more to ‘arrive’ in the notaire’s account.
It’s common for vendors to abscond with appliances, cupboards, curtain rails, lampshades, light bulbs and even plants from the garden (although some leave all these things), so make sure everything you think you’re buying is listed in your contract.
All new properties carry guarantees of between one and ten years.
Excerpted from “Culture Wise France ” which can be purchased from Survival Books