How to buy real estate in France

All You Need to Know About Buying a Property in France

Buying property and real estate abroad can be fraught with danger, but 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 buyers 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 British system.

How to Find the Property of Your Dreams in France

The process of finding suitable real estate in France has become far easier during the last 15 years. The Internet gives people quick and easy access to thousands of properties from across the country, 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 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 a French Property Purchase

Unlike the British system, 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.

Dealing with Local 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 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.

The Purchasing Charges Explained

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 Property Purchase 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.

Mortgages are subject to acceptation by BNP Paribas Personal Finance. For all mortgages the borrower has a 10 day reflection period. If the sale is subject to mortgage acceptance any sums already paid must be reimbursed by the seller if the mortgage is declined. Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on a mortgage or any other debt secured on it. Changes in the exchange rate may increase the Sterling equivalent of your debt.