Un­der­stand­ing the buy­ing process in France is key to a suc­cess­ful French prop­erty pur­chase. Karen Tait out­lines what you need to know

Living France - - Contents -

Find out how to find and buy your dream home with our es­sen­tial guide

If you’re plan­ning a new life in France, find­ing and buy­ing a prop­erty will prob­a­bly be the key part of your move. The buy­ing process in France is very dif­fer­ent to that in the UK and, while French law works gen­er­ally in the buyer’s favour, it’s im­por­tant to make sure you un­der­stand what’s in­volved. Here’s what you need to know be­fore you em­bark on the jour­ney to own­ing a home in France.


There are many things to take into con­sid­er­a­tion when choos­ing where to live in France, from the prac­ti­cal as­pects such as travel op­tions to the sort of lifestyle you’re hop­ing to lead. Your bud­get will also de­ter­mine your choice of lo­ca­tion as your money will go much fur­ther in some parts of France than oth­ers. There’s a vast dif­fer­ence be­tween the aver­age price of a house in Dor­dogne (€120,000) and on the Côte d’Azur (€433,000), for ex­am­ple. These are just a few ques­tions you could ask your­self to help you nar­row down your search area: Do you want to live in a town or city, or in the coun­try­side? How close do you want/need to be to an air­port or lo­cal ameni­ties? How im­por­tant is easy ac­cess to and from the UK? What sort of cli­mate are you look­ing for? Will you need to be close to good schools? What sort of prop­erty do you want to buy – old or new? House or apart­ment? Ren­o­va­tion project or in move-in con­di­tion? Will you need to find work?


Prop­erty hunters have a lot of in­for­ma­tion at their fin­ger­tips, with the in­ter­net be­ing a use­ful source, as well as spe­cial­ist mag­a­zines such as Liv­ing France. Most pop­u­lar ar­eas in France have an English-speak­ing agent or you could con­sider us­ing the ser­vices of a prop­erty finder. There are var­i­ous ways you can go about your house-hunt and this in­cludes choos­ing who you get to help you.


The prop­erty in­dus­try in France is strictly reg­u­lated; to work as an es­tate agent you must hold a carte pro­fes­sion­nelle, which is only granted to those with con­sid­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence or pro­fes­sional qual­i­fi­ca­tions. Most French es­tate agents be­long to a pro­fes­sional body. The three main ones are the Fédéra­tion Na­tionale de l’Im­mo­bilier, the Syn­di­cat Na­tional des Pro­fes­sion­nels Im­mo­biliers and the Union Na­tionale de la Pro­priété Im­mo­bil­ière.

Agents charge com­mis­sion for their ser­vices. They are free to set their own charges but these are gen­er­ally around 5-10% of the sale price, and they must be dis­played in their of­fice. Nor­mally the buyer pays the fees, but check from the out­set who is li­able. In ad­verts, frais in­clus (FAI) means the fees are in­cluded, as does com­mis­sion com­prise, while net vendeur means they’re not.

It is com­mon prac­tice for an agent to ask you what your re­quire­ments are and then to present you with the prop­er­ties they think will suit you. When it comes to view­ing prop­er­ties, agents will al­most al­ways ac­com­pany you. You may be asked to sign a bon de vis­ite; this form proves that you were shown the prop­erty by the agent and en­sures they will still get their com­mis­sion if you sub­se­quently went di­rect to the ven­dor or ap­proached another agent. It is es­sen­tial to make ap­point­ments. You’re un­likely to be able to view a prop­erty at short no­tice or by just turn­ing up at the agency’s of­fice while on hol­i­day, for ex­am­ple.


You can­not buy or sell a prop­erty in France with­out us­ing the ser­vices of a no­taire. In many ways they are sim­i­lar to a UK so­lic­i­tor, but they are in fact a pub­lic of­fi­cer who en­sures prop­erty sales are above board and col­lects the rel­e­vant taxes on a sale. They are also al­lowed to sell prop­erty, in ef­fect to act as a sell­ing agent, and although not all by any means take on this ex­tra role, in some ru­ral ar­eas no­taires still ne­go­ti­ate on the ma­jor­ity

of prop­er­ties. If you buy a prop­erty through a no­taire, in ad­di­tion to no­taire’s fees which you al­ways have to pay on a prop­erty pur­chase, you also pay com­mis­sion to the no­taire, which may be less than agency fees.


There is, of course, another way to buy a prop­erty and that is to go di­rect to the ven­dor. Pri­vate sales are very com­mon in France. You can browse ad­verts on­line and in publi­ca­tions such as the weekly De Par­ti­c­ulier à Par­ti­c­ulier.

The main ben­e­fit of deal­ing di­rect with the seller is that you avoid agency fees. How­ever, as you won’t have an agent or prop­erty finder to help and ad­vise you, it’s es­sen­tial that you fully un­der­stand the French prop­erty buy­ing sys­tem as well as the area and its prop­erty mar­ket.


Buy­ers need to bud­get for agency and no­taire’s fees, usu­ally around 10-15% of the sale price. A no­taire must be used when­ever a prop­erty or land is sold in France; buyer and seller can use the same no­taire or ap­point their own. No­taires’ fees ( les frais de no­taires) are on a slid­ing scale of 7-10% (depend­ing on the prop­erty’s value). No­taires are em­ployed by the French gov­ern­ment to en­sure a prop­erty sale is above board and that all taxes are paid.


Once an of­fer has been ac­cepted, both buyer and seller sign a le­gally bind­ing con­tract, usu­ally the com­pro­mis de vente, which in­cludes the names and ad­dresses of buyer and seller, the ad­dress of the prop­erty for sale, the agreed price and so on. You can in­clude con­di­tional clauses, for ex­am­ple, that the sale is de­pen­dent on plan­ning per­mis­sion or a suc­cess­ful sur­vey. The com­pro­mis can be a stan­dard doc­u­ment used by the es­tate agency or an in­di­vid­ual con­tract drawn up by your no­taire.

A 10-day cool­ing-off pe­riod fol­lows the sign­ing of the com­pro­mis, dur­ing which time you can change your mind with­out penalty. Af­ter this, if you pull out, you will lose your deposit. This is usu­ally 10% of the sale price, and can be paid to the no­taire or into the agent’s es­crow ac­count (never di­rectly to the ven­dor).


You can choose a mar­riage con­tract or nup­tial agree­ment that de­ter­mines how the prop­erty is dealt with on your death. The main mat­ri­mo­nial regimes in France are as fol­lows: Sé­pa­ra­tion de bi­ens – The de­fault regime for a Bri­tish cou­ple mar­ried in the UK. Un­der this regime each spouse holds their own as­sets sep­a­rately from the other. Com­mu­nauté ré­duite aux ac­quêts – The de­fault regime for a cou­ple mar­ried in France where no mar­riage con­tract has been con­cluded. Un­der this regime, as­sets owned by the spouses be­fore the mar­riage re­main their re­spec­tive as­sets, and as­sets gained dur­ing mar­riage be­long to the cou­ple. Upon the first death the as­sets in com­mon own­er­ship are di­vided in two and the de­ceased’s share will pass un­der their suc­ces­sion. Com­mu­nauté uni­verselle – All the as­sets owned by the spouses on the day of mar­riage and any as­sets they may sub­se­quently ac­quire are brought into com­mon own­er­ship. The mar­riage con­tract can in­clude a clause

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