How to buy in France

As the process of buying real estate in France differs quite a good deal from the one in other countries such as the UK or the USA, the following article is designed to give a brief overview over the most important aspects of the property purchase process in France.

The acquisition process

Acquisiton process luxury estate in France
The acquisition process in France does not consist of a simple exchange of letters, but is structured in various stages. At the beginning of the process stands usually a "promesse d'achat", a written offer by the potential buyer. Although this step is not mandatory, it is usually undertaken in case the initial asking price is not matched by the potential buyer.

After the parties have reached an agreement about the main parameters of the sale, they sign a "compromis de vente". The "compromis" already contains the terms of the sale, and constitutes, in general, a binding contract for both parties. The signing of the compromise is accompanied by a deposit, the "indemnity d'immobilisation", of usually approx. 10 % of the purchase price. The buyer has a seven day "cooling - off" - period during which he can withdraw from the contract (by registered mail and confirmation of receipt) without incurring any legal disadvantages. The seller, however, cannot withdraw from a written "compromis" without cause.

After this cooling - off - period has expired, the contract becomes binding for both parties. At this stage, the buyer cannot withdraw from contract without losing his deposit. The deposit is, of course, fully accounted against the purchase price upon the realisation of the sale.

However, the "compromis" may contain a number of suspensive conditions ("clauses suspensives") upon which the validity of the contract is made dependant. For the most part, these conditions concern the ability of the buyer to secure (mortgage-) financing for the purchase through a lender. However, other conditions may include the ability of the buyer to obtain building permission. In case such a condition is not fulfilled, the buyer has the right to abstain from the acquisition without contractual penalties.

The signing of the final contract, the "acte de vente" or "acte authentique", takes place in a notary's office. In France, a "notaire" is not mere "notary public" in the US - sense, but a highly regarded, qualified lawyer who acts in the capacity of a government official. He is required by law to act impartially, i.e. for both the buyer and the seller, ensuring that the sale conforms to all legal requirements.

Reports, surveys & verifications

Sales expert luxury estate Sotheby's
A property survey is not automatically done before a sale; however, it is, of course, possible and often advisable for the purchaser of an important property to obtain a report about the state of the property from an independent surveyor, an architect or other.

Certain mandatory reports have to be supplied under certain circumstances. For example, a report on the possible existence of lead must be provided by sellers of properties which have been built prior to 1948 and which are located in a so-called "risk areas". Other mandatory reports that may have to be supplied include reports on asbestos, termites, natural gas, and "natural and technological risks".

The seller must provide in any case the deeds of the property confirming his or her title. Other necessary documentation may include co-owner regulations in the case of an apartment (co-op or condo).

In general, it is advisable for buyers to always check such parameters as building - and property - surfaces, property boundaries, building permits or annual ownership taxes and - charges. If in doubt, buyers should consult their real estate agent who will be able either to assist directly or recommend a local specialist such a lawyer, an architect etc to clarify those points.

Fees

Fees of a real estate sale
The published sales price usually includes the commission of the real estate agent; in France, the sales commission is paid by the seller. However, the negotiation process will of course determine the structure of the final deal.

In addition to the agreed – upon purchase price, the buyer pays in any event the notary’s fees as well as the registration fees (transfer tax, registration costs, etc.) which usually are amount to around 10 % of the purchase price.

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