How to buy a property in France
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Written by Chris Nye

31st May 2022

Buying a property in France

Ready to start hunting for your perfect home in France? People can get nervous about buying property in France, with a different legal system and currency, but there is nothing to fear. Here is how to buy a property in France.

Compared to buying property in some countries, buying a French home is a doddle. For a start you avoid such issues as lease-vs-freehold or gazumping.

There are a couple things to bear in mind, however. One is the higher buying costs. Another is the fact that the contract becomes binding earlier in the process than in the UK. This means that should you find a property and put an offer in which is accepted, you can be fairly certain that you won’t be gazumped. It also means that you should seek to protect the exchange rate at the time you agreed the purchase, in case the euro gains in strength before completion and the property costs you more.

Bon de visite

Another difference is that the agent may ask you to sign a bon de visite. This is normal practice and simply means that, having viewed the property with that agent, you will make the offer through them. It’s to avoid buyers going behind the agent’s back to make an offer to the seller privately.

It is not a commitment to buy. You will make an offer in the usual way, with the agent putting it forward to the seller.

Purchase contracts and currency protection

Once the price is agreed, the first contract is the Compromis de Vente. It’s equivalent to the exchange of contracts and is signed by both buyer and vendor.

Upon signature, the vendor is committed to the sale. The buyer, however, has 10 days cooling-off period, during which time he or she can walk away from the purchase. After the 10-day period is up, the buyers is also committed.

At this point it becomes extremely sensible to secure your exchange rate with a forward contract. Why? Because the price you’re paying in euros is now fixed, but if you’re calculating whether you can afford it in pounds or dollars, the exchange rate is almost bound to change over the several months of the legal processes. You can agree with a currency company to buy that number of euros at a set exchange rate, and then you won’t have to worry about currency movements taking the price out of your budget.

The buyer now has to pay 10% of the agreed purchase price. It will be kept by the notaire in a separate account.

Surveys

Although not as regular a part of the process of buying property in France as it is in the UK, buyers can ask for a survey to ensure that the property is of good quality.

Many buyers take a few precautions themselves – or ask a builder – with some basic investigations. Check any visible pipes or cables, ensure walls are vertical and have no cracks. A full structural survey will generally cost from €1,000, although that varies according to the size of the property. And there are a lot of chateaux for sale in France right now!

If having a survey, you can add a “subject to survey” as a Clauses Suspensives.

Diagnostic reports including asbestos, lead paint, termites, electrical and gas systems, natural risks will be provided by law and are paid for by the seller.

Conditional clauses and completion

With the Compromis de Vente signed, the notaire will start carrying out searches on the property including Land Registry rights to ownership, boundaries. In France the searches don’t include looking at any private planning permissions that may be in existence close to your house.

There will be a target date for signature of the Acte de Vente included in the Compromis but this can be changed any time to suit both parties.

If there are any conditions of sale, these will be included in the clauses suspensives. These deserve some thought since they may permit you to withdraw from the purchase under certain circumstances. For example, if you are taking out a mortgage, the notaire will include this fact as a conditional clause. This safeguards you since you will not be obliged to go ahead with the purchase if your mortgage is turned down.

It generally takes up to four months to reach completion. When all is ready you will attend the notaire’s office to sign the Acte de vente, while paying the balance of the purchase price.

Buying costs

The costs involved in buying property in France generally amount to between 7 and 10% of the value of the house.

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