The Role of the Notary in France's Property Market

Thousands of British people make the decision to move to France every year. Tempted by the climate, beautiful countryside and sedate way of life, many of these people decide to buy a home in the country. France has one of the most tightly regulated property markets in the world, and the process of buying a property differs significantly from the process in the UK. The added complication of a language barrier can further complicate a property transaction, so people need to be in full possession of the facts before making such an important financial commitment.

Notaries - or notaires in France - are public employees. There are around 5,000 offices throughout the country which are home to more than 7,000 notaires. This role is pivotal in the buying and selling of houses in France, as all 'actes' and contracts go through the notaire during the process. The office reports directly to the Minister of Justice, and the use of a government-appointed notaire is compulsory in any property purchase in the country.

What Does a Notaire Do ?

A notaire is basically a property lawyer. In the UK, property solicitors work for private organisations, yet in France they are appointed directly by the government. A notaire is responsible for the creation, execution and administration of contracts and all of the essential legal checks. However, the role includes other tasks such as the execution of divorce proceedings. Referred to by French law as an impartial arbitrator of contracts, a notaire will verify that the valuation of the property in question is a just and fair one.

The Various Stages of the Buying Process

The notaire takes full responsibility for the preparing of the deed of sale and the organisation of the relevant searches. The notaire will also perform some background checks to ensure that all parties are legally entitled to complete the transaction as stated. These checks are designed to ensure that the property is fairly valued - any problems relating to the searches could result in the notaire recommending a change to the asking price, but this decision is always taken on a completely impartial basis.

The next stage of the notaire's involvement in the process includes legal checks aimed at ascertaining whether or not the property has an existing mortgage associated with it. A series of planning checks will then be completed, followed by a series of searches aimed at finding any potential problems that could alter the value of the property at some point in the future. At this stage, the notaire will verify that all rights of pre-emption have been waived. The local authority will need to be contacted for much of this information, and the relevant bank will need to verify the details of any outstanding loans associated with the property.

The notaire will conduct much of this preparatory work without the need to meet either the vendors or the buyers. However, completion day requires that both parties meet in order to peruse the contracts and sign them. A 'Compromis de Vente' is then signed - a binding contract that makes the phenomenon of 'gazumping' impossible. The contract dictates that a deposit is paid, and that the transaction will complete if all the checks and searches are satisfactory. After a period, all parties must return and sign the 'Acte de Vente'. At this meeting, funds are transferred and keys are exchanged. The notaire is responsible for drawing up both contracts and ensuring they are signed in a legally binding manner.

Notaire's will charge anything between 2% and 8% for their services, so this should be factored into the buyer's budget beforehand. All of the associated taxes will be paid directly to the government by the notaire, and the title deed will be registered with the Land Authority on the day of completion. However, it can take up to two months for the registration process to complete.

It is both the vendor's and buyer's right to choose a notaire of their own, and many transactions include two different notaires working on behalf of each client. Although some estate agents will have their own preferred notaires, both parties can choose a completely impartial notaire - from any administrative region of France and even then use the same notary should they so wish which can help speed up the process.

The French property market is set up to protect all parties from dishonest and unscrupulous behaviour. And although it is tightly regulated, it is one of the most secure real estate markets in the world, and it is there to protect your dreams of owning property in France.

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.