So, you've found the perfect property in France and now want to invest? Unsure of your next steps? The following process outlines the general buying process for your French property. You must:
- Make an 'offer d'achat' (offer to buy)
- Sign an initial contract called the 'compromis de vente'
- Pay the deposit for the property
- Complete the sale
You put your offer to the owner in writing, either directly or via the estate agent, with any conditions of sale listed. It is important you are clear on any points that your offer depends upon, so there is clarity and no room for any misunderstanding further along.
The compromis de vente
The ‘compromis de vente' is signed by both parties and indicates the formal agreement to the sale of the property. Typically the document includes:
- Details of the purchase price
- A brief description of the property
- Terms and conditions
- Conditions suspensives (a break clause specific to the French process), where applicable
- The completion deadline
Although this is the preliminary contract, you should note that it is legally binding. Before signing, it is important to make sure:
- You understand and agree with everything in the contract
- The contract covers the full agreement of the house purchase
- Any important conditions you have specified with the vendor are included within
- You have sufficient funds available to pay the notaire the deposit for the property
The compromis de vente is the most common form of contract used when buying a property. Occasionally, sellers may elect to use the 'promesse de vente' contract. This offers the buyer slightly more flexibility with an additional ‘option period' to complete the purchase of the property or withdraw your offer altogether, forfeiting your deposit.
In French property law, once your offer is formally accepted there are strict contractual regulations that mean you are legally bound to the property purchase. This eliminates the procedure of 'gazumping' and counter bidding which are common to the British property market. In France there is a moral expectation that a buyer will not pull out of the deal once they have made their offer. If, after agreeing the sale price for the property you have some queries, you should make sure the signing of the compromis is subject to conditional clauses, known as ‘clauses suspensives'. Your queries may relate to the condition of the property, you may wish to find out whether you could obtain planning permission and/or you may simply wish to have a survey done. A clause suspensive will allow for the contract to be cancelled and your deposit refunded if any issues mentioned in the clause are uncovered during further investigations.
Before signing, check with your notaire what paperwork you are required to bring. In drawing up the compromis, the notaire may require you to provide official documentation such as your passport, marriage or divorce papers and your mortgage offer from the bank if relevant.
During the purchase process, the notaire is required to notify the Société d’Aménagement Foncier et d’Establissement Rural (SAFER). In certain circumstances, SAFER may intervene and reject the sale if they feel it is necessary to protect the land you are buying. In this instance, any deposit you have paid will be fully refunded. This type of incident is rare and generally only occurs where the property and land purchased are over 1 hectare (2.47 acres).
A non refundable deposit will be paid upon signing of the 'completion of sale' agreement. Included in both a compromis or promesse de vente is a ten day 'cooling off' period; during which time the buyer may withdraw from the contract without significant financial penalty. However, if after the ten days you decide to pull out of the deal, your deposit is non refundable. Your deposit is held by the estate agent or notaire until the final sale completion date.
Completion of sale
After the signing of your compromis de vente, the notaire will begin the legal process for the sale of the property. Completion of the sale can take between three to four months as the notaire has to carry out various searches similar to those done by UK solicitors. The notaire is responsible for checking existing property ownership, any outstanding debts on the property and other such matters.
The final contract is known as the 'acte authentique de vente' (deed of sale). After signing the acte de vente possession of the property formally passes to the buyer. Before the official signing of the acte de vente, it is important you have transferred the full balance of the purchase price, plus any notary fees and taxes, to the notaire’s bank account. As with the deposit, the notaire will hold the funds until the acte de vente has been signed and completed. Where the balance of your property is being paid for by the bank (ie. using a mortgage), you need to ensure that your bank is able to pay the outstanding funds directly to the notaire in sufficient time to clear before the signing date. The sale will not be completed unless the money has cleared the notaire's bank account, and money laundering laws mean that you can’t turn up with a briefcase full of dosh!
Once the deed of sale has been signed, the notaire will provide an ‘attestation d’achat’ or ‘attestation de propriété’ that proves ownership has been passed to you, until formal registration is complete. An exemplified copy of the purchase deed will follow some time later. You should also receive a receipt for the money paid to the notaire for the purchase of the property.