GUIDE TO BUYING A PROPERTY IN FRANCE
Understanding the buying process in France is key to a successful French property purchase. Karen Tait outlines what you need to know
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.
CONTRACTS AND COOLING OFF
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).
STRUCTURING A FRENCH PROPERTY PURCHASE MATRIMONIAL REGIMES
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