Disclaimer: This page does not set out to give anything other than a glimpse of certain aspects of this area of French Law and professional advice should always be sought from a duly specialised French practitioner prior to undertaking any steps whatsoever.
Buying/Selling A Property in France - French Property Law
In a sale or purchase of a residential property in France, the following points might usefully be borne in mind :
The first step is usually the signature by both parties of a preliminary contract by the purchaser and payment of deposit - usually between 5% and 10% which is held by a Notaire or sometimes by an Estate Agent (Agent
This document is called variously a 'compromis', 'promesse unilatérale' etc but note that these expressions all have different legal meanings in French and often very different consequences for the parties.
It should also be noted that this document is binding and not 'subject to contract' as in many common law jurisdictions and it thus obliges the parties to complete the acquisition of the property once the conditions precedent have been satisfied.
It should moreover be noted that surveys are not usually carried out in France (although some UK building societies with subsidiaries in France sometimes request a valuation which should not be confused with a survey) and completion is not generally subject to any condition which might flow from such a unilateral survey in any case.
A search on title and other relevant matters is though usually carried out by the acquirer's Notaire, but once again this should not be compared to the searches which are undertaken by, say, Solicitors in England.
The price of the property is held at French Law to be the sum asked for by a willing vendor which a willing purchaser agrees to pay and it would be difficult to claim after the event that a property was overpriced.
The completion document is usually drafted by the Notaire acting for the vendor who will often suggest that he is able to act objectively for both parties.
It would nevertheless be a more realistic approach to instruct a second separate Notaire (or Avocat specialising in this field) to act for the purchaser in order to insure that the interests of both parties, especially if one of them does not speak French, are properly looked after.
Completion is virtually always carried out at the vendor's Notaire's office in the presence of both the vendor and the purchaser, very often as well as the Estate Agent who will be there to receive (on the spot) his commission.
The formal conveyance document ('acte authentique' in French) is often read in full and in French and very often the first time the purchaser has had sight of this document is at the Notaire's office during the completion meeting.
There is no standard format for such written documents, which means that a careful purchaser should examine it thoroughly and
arrange for an interpreter if his own lawyer does not speak English well.
Legal terminology can be particularly difficult to translate as very often there is no directly equivalent concept/procedure in another jurisdiction - attempts simply to superimpose the dictionary definitions of another language can lead to fundamental misunderstandings of the true legal position.
It is always advisable to seek professional advice from an English speaking French law practice well prior to this stage because once this 'acte authentique' is executed it is generally too late to do anything about a problem.
Upon the signature by the vendor and the purchaser of the acte authentique the purchaser hands a
banker's or certified cheque for the full amount to the Notaire who in turn hands the him the keys to the property and the ownership thus passes to the purchaser.
The purchaser should be aware that from this moment in time, it is his responsibility to insure the property and failure to do so could bring about catastrophic consequences in the event of the property suffering damage thereafter.
Finally prior to even envisaging the acquisition of property in France, the ramifications in regard not only to one's tax situation but also the question of France's (very different) inheritance rules should also be carefully considered.
Recommended lawyer(s) for advice
on buying/selling a property
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