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Buying Property in France: An expert guide

This guide contains a detailed explanation of all you need to know about buying a property in France.

Written on 25 August 2023

Buying property in France is a very attractive proposition for people considering moving to France or purchasing a holiday home to use or rent.

However, buying property abroad can be fraught with danger and many people can be put off by a number of factors, including lack of familiarity with the processes abroad, language and exposure to international markets.

Buying property in France is particularly attractive for homeowners and investors alike as the French system, in particular, has a number of in-built safety mechanisms designed to protect both the buyer and the vendor from unfair treatment.

Despite these safeguards, however, it is important that people buying property in France approach a purchase with all of the facts at hand. Whilst the French property market is stable and legally sound, it is quite different from the system in other countries, particularly the UK.

How to find the best property in France

The process of finding properties in France has become far easier since the turn of the century, and specifically, since the advent of the Internet. The Internet gives people quick and easy access to thousands of properties across France, and a French property specialist can assist a buyer in deciding which investments make business sense.

Despite the unprecedented access to the French property market that the Internet provides, buyers who want to live in their new property should first visit the area extensively. As with most countries, cultures and customs can vary depending on which area of France you choose to live in.

Speaking with a French property expert will provide you with a rough guide on where to start your property search in this vast and beautiful country.

The initial stages of buying a property in France

Unlike other property buying systems (for example, the UK), a real estate transaction in France becomes legally binding at a far earlier stage in the process. The system gives buyers more protection from so-called 'gazumping' - a situation whereby vendors pull out of agreements to sell in favour of higher or more beneficial offers.

After a purchase price has been agreed, the vendor and the buyer must sign an initial contract - known locally as the Compromis de Vente. In some cases, this document will be a standard contract held by a French estate agent; however, it can also be drawn up by an official of the government - referred to in France as a Notaire.

It is possible to insert a number of additional clauses into a Compromis de Vente, including clauses that make the final purchase dependent on factors such as satisfactory surveys, the granting of planning permission or a mortgage.

French estate agents and the French legal system

French estate agents are subject to a far stricter system of regulation than those in Britain, and buyers should only use agencies with the appropriate insurance and a carte professionelle.

Once the Compromis de Vente has been signed by all parties, a seven-day cooling-off period commences - during which time the buyer has the opportunity to withdraw from the purchase. After the cooling-off period has ended, the transaction becomes legally binding, and significant penalties are payable if either party should withdraw from the sale.

Where a French mortgage is required, a conditional clause will be added to the Compromis de Vente stating that the purchase is subject to the funds being released from the loan provider.

A deposit of at least ten percent of the purchase price will normally be required - although it will remain in escrow with the notaire until the transaction completes successfully.

What is the role of the Notaire?

The involvement of a notaire in real estate transactions is a legal requirement in France.

The role of a notaire is similar to that of a property solicitor in the UK, but it is a role performed by a legal professional employed by the French government. One notaire can be appointed to oversee the entire transaction; however, both the vendor and the buyer can appoint their own if that is the preferred course of action.

The notaire will oversee all aspects of the sale to ensure all applicable laws are adhered to and all taxes are paid in full.

Fees and charges to consider when buying property in France

A typical property purchase in France will incur combined charges from a notaire and estate agent of between ten and fifteen percent of the final purchase price.

Estate agents are commercial entities, so they will set their own sliding scale of fees - which can be anything between five and ten percent of the sale price. It is strongly recommended that these fees are agreed on in advance - something a French property specialist can assist with.

A notaire will typically charge between six and eight percent for their services, and all fees are payable on completion of the sale.

The final stages of a buying property in France

The average timescale for completion of the various searches and legal checks - undertaken by the notaire - is three to four months.

A meeting will then take place between the buyer and vendor - or parties nominated to represent them. The final deed of sale - known in France as the Acte de Vente - will be signed during this meeting, and the property's ownership will finally pass to the buyer.

Buying a house is always an important commitment - usually the largest anyone will make during a lifetime. However, purchasing a property abroad is fraught with pitfalls and potential for financial loss when the proper precautions and legal steps are not taken.

By seeking advice from experts in the French property system, you can rest-assured that your investment in the French property market is a wise one.

5 simple steps to buying a property in France:

1.      Request a free introduction to a mortgage broker to discuss your finances and mortgage options

When you request an introduction to a French mortgage broker using our free introduction service, we will arrange for a French mortgage specialist to contact you to discuss your project and help you establish how much you can borrow.

2.      Find the perfect property in France

During your consultation, the expert will discuss the best sites and potentially recommend an estate agent to help you find the right property in France, ensuring you have made the right choice.

It is essential that, if the project involves renovation works, do you should contact professionals (such as architects, electricians and plumbers) in the area to get an understanding of potential costs, barriers and general guidance.

3.      Sign the preliminary sales agreement and appoint a notary

Once you have signed the preliminary sales agreement no-one else can buy the property you have chosen. You also have seven days to change your mind if you wish to do so. Be sure to check that the agreement is subject to mortgage acceptance. By so doing you will ensure that you do not lose your deposit if your mortgage application is refused.

4.      Submit your mortgage application

Once all is agreed you will need to return the completed mortgage application forms and supporting documents to your personal mortgage adviser. Once your application has been approved you will be sent your mortgage offer along with a copy to the notary. By law, you must wait at least 10 days before accepting the mortgage offer.

5.      Completion

Once all the above steps are done, all that is left to do is complete the purchase of your new property in France. It’s worth noting that in France completion may take from two to three months from the moment you sign the preliminary sales agreement to the moment you sign the final deed of sale.

If you require a mortgage, your notary will then request the mortgage funds from your mortgage provider and will prepare the deed for your signature.

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