In the vast majority of cases, the French house buying process is a relatively simple and straightforward one, with clearly prescribed stages.
Here is a simple stage by stage guide to the process:
On acceptance of an offer, the Seller must remove the property from the market. A contractual commitment arises between the parties which the Seller is bound by, but the Buyer may withdraw from.
The Notaire is a public legal official authorised by the State to ensure that a property transaction is carried out as prescribed by the law and all charges relating to the transaction are paid in accordance with the law. Contrary to popular believe, he represents neither the Buyer nor the Seller’s interest. Thus both parties may use the same Notaire without fear. Strictly speaking, there is no need for a Buyer to appoint a separate Notaire to safeguard his interest but he may do so if he so wishes, especially if he has complicated personal circumstances or isn’t comfortable with a French speaking Notaire. It is the Buyer’s prerogative to appoint the Notaire but it is usual practice to appoint a local Notaire or one who is familiar with the property already.
Under French law, the Seller is obliged to carry our certain statutory surveys on the property in order to sell (Dossier de Diagnostics Techniques -DDT). These relate to energy efficiency, asbestos, lead, termites, natural or industrial risks, gas installations, electrical wiring and septic tanks. The Seller should instruct a surveyor to carry out these surveys as soon as the offer is accepted and normally, the surveys will be done within a week. The DDT will be annexed to the sale contract and the final sale deed. Building/structural surveys are not usually carried out in France, but the Buyer may, if he so wishes, arrange for one to be done at his own cost.
The Compromis de Vente is a bilateral agreement between the Buyer and the Seller for the sale and purchase of the property, which should be drawn up by a Notaire. It is a lengthy document that sets out in detail the parties involved in the transaction, the exact property being sold, any fixtures and fittings included, sale price including estimated conveyancing fees payable, deposit and cooling off period, conditional clauses (clauses suspensives) including the obtaining of a mortgage, details of the DDT and the anticipated completion date. Normally, it takes between 2 – 3 weeks from the acceptance of the offer for the Compromis to be ready. The Notaire is under a legal obligation to explain the terms of the Compromis to the parties (in French). If language is an issue, choose a bilingual notaire or ask a bilingual estate agent to act as a translator.
The parties can sign the Compromis at the Notaire’s office, either in person or by proxy. Alternatively the Notaire can send out the contract by post to the parties for signing, which will take a little longer than signing in person.
On signing the Compromis, the Buyer is obliged to pay a deposit, usually 10% of the purchase price, to the Notaire to be held in his escrow account until completion. The Buyer has a 7 day ‘cooling –off’ period, in which to withdraw, calculated from the date of receipt of the signed Compromis. The Seller does not have a similar right. If the Buyer wished to withdraw from the sale, he must give notice of his withdrawal by recorded delivery letter to the Notaire. After the cooling off period, the Buyer is bound to complete, unless a conditional clause cannot be fulfilled.
Once the Compromis is signed, the Notaire will carry out all obligatory searches, including pre-emption rights of the local Mairie (Town Council) and local planning issues. These usually take around two months. The period between exchange and completion may be further extended if a mortgage is required for the purchase of the property. In general, the Buyer has 45 days in which to obtain a mortgage offer, after which the contract will lapse, unless an extension is agreed between the parties.
On completion of the searches and once all conditional clauses have been fulfilled, the parties will be in a position to complete the transaction.
The Sale Deed
The Acte de Vente or Acte Authentique is the final sale deed, drawn up by the Notaire, which guarantees legal transfer of the property. Once all conditions are fulfilled, and the Notaire has received the completion funds, the parties will be invited to the Notaire’s office to sign the deed. If a party is unable to attend the signing, it is usual to give the Notaire ‘Power of Attorney’ to sign on the Buyer’s/Seller’s behalf.
On completion, the Buyer will be given a certificate of purchase, called the Attestation, which is required to set up utility accounts, open bank account etc immediately after purchase. The Acte Authentique will be sent to the Buyer after all registration formalities have been dealt with by the Notaire, normally around 3 months after purchase, together with a statement of fees and charges paid by the Notaire in respect of the transaction.
* This guide is meant to explain to a prospective Buyer the various stages in the house buying process in France. It is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to the entire process nor is it meant to be taken as advice given.