Look­ing for an apart­ment in France? Ro­main Can­dela out­lines some of the is­sues you should be aware of be­fore you sign a sales con­tract

French Property News - - Contents -

How to buy a French apart­ment

When buy­ing an apart­ment in France, the main les­son is to take ac­tion early on if you feel things are ‘not right’ or you have any con­cerns. Be sus­pi­cious if a prop­erty is an ob­vi­ous bar­gain as this can mean there is a prob­lem in wait­ing!

Lo­cal in­for­ma­tion It is a good idea at the out­set to make en­quiries at the lo­cal mairie re­gard­ing any plan­ning mat­ters or ad­min­is­tra­tive dis­putes which might af­fect the prop­erty. Re­mem­ber, how­ever, that replies ob­tained can­not nec­es­sar­ily be re­lied upon for com­pen­sa­tion pur­poses if later found to be in­ac­cu­rate. The key is to ask the right ques­tions in writ­ing as there is no stan­dard en­quiry form.

In the UK a lo­cal search is ob­tained be­fore ex­change of con­tracts but in France the rough equiv­a­lent is ob­tained af­ter the pre­lim­i­nary con­tract (such as a promesse de vente or com­pro­mis de vente) has been signed. The best ap­proach is not to be pres­surised into sign­ing any doc­u­men­ta­tion by the es­tate agent and to make all your en­quiries at the mairie be­fore you sign any­thing.

Af­ter sign­ing the con­tract you will have the ben­e­fit of a 10-day cool­ing-off pe­riod dur­ing which you can with­draw from the sale and be re­funded any de­posit with­out hav­ing to give a rea­son. It is best to avoid hav­ing to go down this route though.

Pre-emp­tion rights The most com­mon pre-emp­tion right is in favour of the mairie, which ap­plies to many prop­er­ties. If this ex­ists, the no­taire has to give no­tice to the mairie that the prop­erty is to be sold and ask the mairie if it wants to buy it at the same price (and con­di­tions). This right is rarely ex­er­cised in prac­tice. Completion of the sale can­not take place ear­lier than two months or be­fore the no­taire has been in­formed that the mairie does not wish to pur­chase the flat. If the mairie de­cides to pur­chase, you will re­cover any de­posit paid to the es­tate agent or no­taire.

Vices cachés If a French flat is more than 10 years old, you will ac­quire it in its ex­ist­ing state and con­di­tion at the date of the con­veyance and you will have no re­course against the seller re­gard­ing the state of the build­ing or fixtures and fit­tings. The seller gives no guar­an­tee as to hid­den de­fects, which are known as vices cachés.

Af­ter completion of the pur­chase, you may be able to claim against your seller for hid­den de­fects but it is a slow and ar­du­ous process as you would have to prove that, among other things, the seller knew of the de­fect (so it was there­fore not a hid­den de­fect) but did not dis­close it to the buyer, and/or acted in bad faith.

Typ­i­cal sit­u­a­tions where this may arise are when the seller has built the house him or her­self or un­der­taken ma­jor ren­o­va­tions and is aware that the works do not con­form to the cor­rect norms or that the ma­te­ri­als used were sub-stan­dard; or that the apart­ment and its ap­pen­dices were con­structed il­le­gally. This guar­an­tee does not ex­tend to the usual sur­veys, as de­scribed be­low, and you only have a pe­riod of two years from the date of the dis­cov­ery of the de­fect to take ac­tion.

Loi Car­rez The Loi Car­rez (named, not for the unit of mea­sure­ment, but for the min­is­ter of hous­ing who in­tro­duced the law) is a pro­tec­tive mea­sure for buy­ers of apart­ments in France (it doesn’t ap­ply to houses). The con­tract re­lat­ing to the pur­chase of a prop­erty must state the sur­face area of the flat, in square me­tres.

In 1996, a law was passed es­tab­lish­ing a stan­dard way of mea­sur­ing that size, defin­ing what is and is not ‘live­able’ sur­face area. If, af­ter you pur­chase the flat, you dis­cover that there is more than a 5% dif­fer­ence be­tween the stated sur­face area in­di­cated in your pur­chase con­tract and the ac­tual sur­face area of the prop­erty, you have up to one year to con­test the sale. The seller is legally bound to re­im­burse you for the dif­fer­ence and if the sur­face was cer­ti­fied by an ex­pert, they are sim­i­larly li­able for the er­ror.

Sur­veys In France, the pro­fes­sion of sur­veyor as un­der­stood in the UK does not ex­ist. You can still ask per­mis­sion from the seller for their apart­ment to be in­spected by an ar­chi­tect or other build­ing pro­fes­sional prior to mak­ing a de­ci­sion to pro­ceed with the pur­chase, at your own ex­pense.

There are var­i­ous ‘di­ag­nos­tic searches’ in France. These are manda­tory al­though some do not have to be un­der­taken de­pend­ing upon the age of the flat. If the flat was built be­fore 1 Jan­uary 1949, the di­ag­nos­tic searches cover lead, ter­mites, as­bestos, en­ergy per­for­mance, gas, elec­tri­cal risks and ‘nat­u­ral, min­ing and tech­no­log­i­cal risks’. The di­ag­nos­tics are car­ried out by spe­cial­ist com­pa­nies that pro­duce re­ports which are ob­tained by the seller, not the buyer.

Ser­vice charges In 2014 a new law came into force (Loi ALUR) to pro­tect own­ers and buy­ers re­lat­ing to an apart­ment sale. When the con­tract is signed, your seller is obliged to pro­vide you with cer­tain doc­u­ments and in­for­ma­tion about their apart­ment, in­clud­ing the rè­gle­ment de co­pro­priété (rules and reg­u­la­tions of the co­pro­priété), which was of­ten not pre­vi­ously pro­vided un­til the day of completion of the sale.

In a small co-own­er­ship or co­pro­priété, it is im­por­tant to

French apart­ments are owned in ‘co­pro­priété’ – you own a ‘lot’ (unit) of the apart­ment block, which in­cludes your pri­vate liv­ing area to­gether with a share in the com­mon parts of the block

es­tab­lish that the co-own­er­ship is cor­rectly func­tion­ing with no dis­putes, that the build­ing is in­sured as a whole and that the co-own­er­ship man­ages this type of ex­pen­di­ture for all own­ers.

Com­mon parts

Apart­ments are al­ways owned in

co­pro­priété. This mean that you will there­fore own a lot (unit) of the apart­ment block, which will in­clude your pri­vate liv­ing area ( par­tie pri­va­tive) to­gether with a no­tional share in the com­mon parts of the apart­ment block. On completion of the pur­chase, you will be­come a mem­ber of the

co­pro­priété, along with the own­ers of the other units, and will be en­ti­tled to vote on mat­ters af­fect­ing the flat. If it has been re­cently ren­o­vated, we rec­om­mend you check whether the rè­gle­ment de co­pro­priété has also been up­dated to take these changes into ac­count.

Rent­ing rights In Paris, the mayor is tak­ing an in­creas­ingly tough stance on short-term lets (lim­ited to 120 days per year if the flat is your main res­i­dence). French law gives the mayor the power to re­quire a land­lord to pay com­pen­sa­tion for the loss of a per­ma­nent home. The amount varies ac­cord­ing to the lo­ca­tion of the flat. The obli­ga­tion on land­lords to pay is widely ig­nored in Paris, but the maire has re­cruited in­spec­tion staff to con­trol abuse. In­fringe­ment of the law is sub­ject to a fine of up to €25,000. Be­fore sign­ing a con­tract, we rec­om­mend you check whether or not the rè­gle­ment de co­pro­priété au­tho­rises short-term lets.

Ro­main Can­dela is a Di­plômé No­taire at Sykes An­der­son Perry Solic­i­tors Lon­don Tel: 0203 794 5959

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