Cross-border legal specialist Charlotte Macdonald explains how some aspects of buying and selling property in France differ from the process in the UK
How the property buying process differs in the UK and France
When a property is purchased in England or Wales the buyer is generally expected to pay for all searches to ensure that there are no nasty surprises once the sale has completed. This can be very frustrating for the buyer if the sale falls through after they have gone to the trouble and expense of obtaining the searches.
In contrast, in France it is the seller who must pay for and provide the following searches ( les diagnostics): asbestos, lead in the paintwork, termites (in some areas of France), gas, electricity, energy performance, dry rot (in some areas), security devices on pools (if applicable) and natural risks.
In France, a notaire must carry out the legal transaction of transferring a property between buyer and seller. The notaire’s fees are generally paid for by the buyer.
If you use a solicitor too, both in France and the UK the buyer and seller will each pay for their own solicitor.
Exchange and completion In England or Wales, when you purchase a property the steps are, broadly speaking, as follows: The buyer finds the property that they want to buy. The buyer makes an offer and, when the offer has been accepted by the seller, the buyer carries out their searches with regards to the condition of the property (eg a survey). Only when the buyer is satisfied with the results of this, will the buyer and seller ‘exchange contracts’. Once contracts are exchanged they are both bound to the transaction. The final stage is to complete the sale. This can take place on the same day as exchange of contracts but is usually a few weeks later.
In France, when you purchase a property the steps are, broadly speaking, as follows: The buyer finds the property that they want to buy. The buyer makes an offer and, if it is accepted, the preliminary contract (a compromis de vente or promesse de vente) is often signed at this stage. It contains the results of the diagnostics, which have been paid for and provided by the seller. Once the contract is signed, the buyer and seller are generally bound to the transaction (with the exception of a 10-day cooling off period for the buyer). Sometimes the buyer will delay signing the preliminary contract until they are satisfied that they have checked all the searches and carried out any additional enquiries. The final stage is to complete the sale with the signing of the acte de vente. This takes place at least six weeks after the preliminary contract has been signed.
It is important to note that the signing of the French preliminary contract usually takes place far earlier in the process than you would exchange contracts in an English property transaction.
It is not unusual for the estate agent to draft the preliminary contract and ask the buyer to sign it once they have seen the property and decided that they like it.
It is generally preferable for the notaire to draft the preliminary contract, however, as they can draft conditions into the contract that the parties may need.
Because of the binding nature of the preliminary contract it is vital that the buyer knows what they are signing.
Meeting the seller/buyer In France it is common for the buyer and seller to meet. It can be a good opportunity for the buyer to ask questions about the property. Both parties will usually be present at the notaire’s office when the sale documentation is signed.
In contrast, in England and Wales the buyer and seller may never meet. The solicitors will usually arrange the completion of the sale over the telephone once the parties have signed the necessary paperwork.
If you live in the UK and are buying or selling a property in France, and cannot be present in France for the signing of the documentation, your UK solicitor, working with your notaire, can arrange for you to sign a power of attorney in England, which authorises an employee of the notaire to sign on your behalf.
Wills In France, as in the UK it is important to make sure that you have wills in place to make sure that property passes as you wish on your death.
A UK solicitor familiar with the French sale and purchase process and an expert in cross-border succession law can assist you with this.
Because of the binding nature of the preliminary contract it is vital that the buyer knows what they are signing
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