A simple guide to buying in France
All property purchases in France are conducted by an officer of the state, the notaire. Depending on the size and nature of the transaction, you may well want your own legal representation, and two notaires can sit at the heart of the transaction: one for you, one for the seller.
As with any professional adviser, do some homework to satisfy yourself you are dealing with a reputable specialist with good local knowledge.
Step 1: Agreeing to buy
When you have agreed your purchase in principle with the vendor, an initial agreement is drawn up by the notaire. This is usually called a compromis de vente, although you may encounter others names (such as promesse unilatérale de vente, or a promesse synallagmatique de vente). They can have different protections/liabilities if the sale does not conclude successfully, so make sure you ask what you are committing yourself to.
As well as the sales details, the compromis de vente should note any mortgage you may be planning to take out. If later you find you cannot raise the finance, you should normally be able to withdraw without losing your deposit. The compromis will cover a cadastral (property boundary) plan, reports on energy and asbestos, and any preceding conditions (‘clauses suspensives’).
With the compromis signed, it’s time for you to stump up your deposit, which is usually 10% of the purchase price.
Step 2: Cooling off or pressing on
Now there’s a brief cooling-off period. You can at this point have a change of heart and still withdraw, with your deposit. It’s a narrow window of 7 days, and if your purchase was conceived over rather too good a lunch, this could be the cold water you need. Also, this can be a good time to get a full survey done, should anything untoward be lurking.
Otherwise, as the window shuts, it’s time to commit. Your deposit is now non-refundable.
Preliminary contracts are now drawn up and exchanged, and all the necessary searches are carried out: notably, land registry, local authority and planning permission.
Step 3: It’s all yours
With all the searches complete and the paperwork agreed, you and the vendor are summoned to the notaire’s office to sign the acte authentique de vente. All outstanding fees and charges, including the notaire’s, are settled – and the property is yours.
As the purchaser, you will need to allow for various fees, charges and taxes. These are given as a very rough guide, as a percentage range of the purchase price:
Registration fee 0.60% - 4.89%
Notary Fees 3% - 10%, + 20% VAT
Land registry 0.10%
Estate agent’s fee 1.50% - 5% (+ 20% VAT) (with a similar cost to the seller)
Please note: This article reflects Aylesford’s current understanding of property legislation in France. It is offered for general guidance only; specialist legal and tax advice should always be taken for any property transaction.