There are some compulsory diagnostic surveys that will need to take place when you buy a home in France. Knowing what they are and what they're looking for will help you to prepare.
These surveys are designed to check that a property is habitable, so they should be viewed as a way to protect your investment. Fortunately, the process has been simplified by the French authorities, as all of the mandatory surveys are now included in one report - known in France as the 'Dossier de Diagnostic Technique' (DDT).
A DDT is required by law whenever a property changes hands in France, and it is incumbent on the vendor to ensure that an up-to-date copy is attached to the 'compromis de vente' (the initial contract to buy a home). Although a notaire will ensure that legal due process is followed, it's always a good idea to know what is involved.
Diagnostic Performance Energétique (DPE)
The Diagnostic Performance Energétique (DPE) is a report into the energy efficiency of a home, so it will include details on the type and quality of insulation used, as well as average heating bills and carbon emission statistics. The report will rate the property's performance, and there will be suggestions on how energy efficiency can be improved.
This survey pertains to homes with septic tanks, and it ensures that waste drainage conforms to regulations laid out by the 'Services Publics d'Assainissement Non Collectif' (SPANC). Buildings that don't meet the requirements must be improved within one year, and there are subsequent inspections every four years.
If the house you are buying is particularly old, in an area that suffers from termites or is made predominantly from wood, you notaire may advise a survey for termite and fungal damage. Although this survey is only compulsory in a few areas of France, most notaires will recommend that the 'Etat Parasitaire' section of the report is completed for all houses that were built more than 25 years ago.
Gas and Electricity
Vendors are now legally obliged to provide electrical and gas safety information to buyers for homes that are more than 15 years old. Any gas system that was installed more than 15 years ago also requires a formal inspection and a safety certificate - referred to as an 'Un état de l'installation intérieure de gaz naturel' in France.
Unlike in the UK, there is no necessity to carry out a structural survey when buying or selling a house. There is a cultural attitude in France that assumes a house is structurally sound if it looks that way, which may be counter-intuitive to British expats buying a home in the country.
If you are determined to have a structural survey carried out on a home you're buying you may run into some difficulties in finding someone qualified in France to do the job. Surveyors don't practise in France, so there is a chance you'll need to employ one from England to compile your report. Geometric experts and architects will survey the land on which a home rests, but they won't look into the structural integrity of a building in any great detail.
As is the case in the UK, it's a good idea to order a structural survey before you commit to buying a property in France. However, that commitment is made far earlier in the house buying process than it is in Britain. Before you sign the 'compromis de vente' a survey will allow you to assess any cracks, subsidence and roof damage before agreeing to buy. If problems are found, your notaire can include a 'clause suspensive' in the contract - stipulating that certain repairs must be carried out before a purchase can be completed. Unfortunately, most homeowners in France won't agree to such a clause, as it just isn't something that is deemed important in the country.
Hiring an RICS surveyor in France
Whilst there are builders and various property professionals in France who may be willing to provide you with a structural report on a home, there are several RICS surveyors providing services across the country. However, they are not afforded the same legal status as they are in the UK, and the qualification they hold simply isn't recognised by the French authorities. Nevertheless, as long as they are employed before the signing of the 'compromis de vente', they can identify problematic issues that could affect the market value of the property you're trying to buy. Just remember that the lack of status an RICS surveyor holds in France means finding indemnity insurance is very difficult. You should ask to see a PII certificate before proceeding.
The rules and regulations surrounding diagnostic surveys in France are in place to protect the buyer's interests. Although they may be an unwanted distraction when you're starting a new chapter in your life, they ensure that your dream home in this beautiful country is habitable and in a good state of repair.