French property buying process is straightforward and simple, even if you know little of France, provided you follow these Best French Mortgage guidelines.
It is very common for people who have been visiting France for many years to decide to buy a property in France. They may wish to buy a French property as a French holiday home, a French main home or as a French retirement home.
The French conveyancing system and associated body of law are as safe as the English system. Because the legislation and practices are slightly unfamiliar many newcomers to the French property market find the prospect of the purchase of a French property intimidating.
For everybody this can be a stressful time due to the fact that they are not only dealing with a foreign legal system but also working in a foreign language.
Beginning The French Property Buying Process
If you are not sure where to start or where to look and perhaps have limited knowledge of the French language these Best French Mortgage guidelines may help.
If you already own a house in England and are familiar with the English conveyancing system then you should not expect too many surprises.
If you’ve had experience of the Scottish conveyancing system so much the better because the French and Scottish systems share many ideas in common.
Step 1 – Planning The Project
The first step will be to find a French property that you like enough to buy.
To save time it’s worth doing some “desk research” before you travel to France and Best French Mortgage recommend you do the following before you even leave home:
Choose A Location In France
For many the search for their French property can be the most exciting part of buying a French property. Do however take the time to think through ALL the factors relating to the area where you wish to buy and don’t let yourself be overly influenced by the beautiful pictures of French dream homes in estate agents’ windows.
Best French Mortgage recommend that you widen the focus of your property search and you seriously consider at least the following additional practical factors, that are easily missed in the first flush of enthusiasm to buy a French property, before you jump in with an offer on your French dream home:
- Could you live in and manage the property long-term, including if your health changed and/or if you decided to drive less or give up driving?
- Is the area seeing a changing population pattern, perhaps becoming more industrial or perhaps declining as the young people move away to seek work in the towns?
- If you needed to sell the property in the future, is the property market in the area sufficiently active to allow you to sell in a reasonable time, say within 2 years?
- If the French property needs renovation, can you be sure that the money you spend on renovation will add equivalent value to the eventual sale price of the property?
Get A Pre-Approved French Mortgage
If you intend using French mortgage finance to help you buy your French property it is a good idea to get a pre-approved French mortgage offer in your hands before you start your French property search.
There are three reasons for this:
- It takes longer to get a French mortgage (typically up to 14 weeks) than to establish a binding French property purchase contract (7 days).
- If you have a pre-approved French mortgage in your hands you will be in the position of a cash buyer and so you will be able to negotiate harder and achieve a better price for the purchase of your French property.
- It is only by getting French mortgage pre-approval that you will be sure that you can actually get a French mortgage.
Best French Mortgage are happy to arrange your French mortgage for you and remember, we charge no fees so by using Best French Mortgage you get the best service and the best value for money.
Research Your Estate Agent Options
Properties in France are mainly marketed by estate agents but a surprising number are sold privately: To research the private sales market copy and paste the following into your chosen search engine particulier à particulier .
In France estate agents are professionals who must be registered and hold a certificate to practise.
It is important to check that the person who introduces you to a seller and visits a property with you is fully registered as an estate agent because, in France, it is a criminal offence to be act as an estate agent if unlicensed.
The estate agent’s fees are not regulated and can vary from 5% to 8% so you may well find the same property offered through different estate agencies at different prices.
The vast majority of French estate agents are reputable, honest and extremely helpful, but there are inevitably a few bad apples preying on the unwary. A particular problem is the increasingly common practice for estate agents to use commission only sales people who may not have sold a property for months and may be desperate for income. It never hurts to check on how the agent operates, so do ask some searching questions.
Notaires in France also have the right to market properties on behalf of their clients. Not all notarial offices have a sales department but if they have their fees are lower than estate agents as they are regulated by French law. Currently Notaires fees for sale are 2.5% plus VAT for sales above €45,735 and 5% plus VAT for sales below that.
It is important to make sure that the person you deal with has a copy of the relevant sections of the title deeds so that you can check for any restriction or easement applying on the property. It is also a reasonable way to find out if the description of the property when it was purchased corresponds with the property as it is today and incidentally how much the property last sold for.
Research Comparative French Property Prices
In France, property pricing is more open than in the UK and it is much easier to establish a “fair price” for a French property.
This is partly because the French prices tend to be set as a per Sq. M. price at the level of each commune so it is relatively easy to establish whether the price you are being offered is reasonable for the commune in which the property is located.
Surprisingly, in France the price differential between “good” and “less good” locations is very small as is the difference between a property needing much restoration and a fully restored property in the same commune.
A useful source of reference for the correct per Sq. M. price for French property in all French communes is this French website.
Step 2 – Viewing French Property
French estate agents like to recommend, based on what you tell them of your preferences and needs, what they believe to be the right property for you then show you their top 3 matching properties – typically you should allow half a day per agent for visits.
Sometimes this works wonderfully well, if the estate agent is on your “wavelength” but often the properties are not what you really hoped to see and the visiting schedule becomes frustrating for both you and the agent. However, if you’ve done some good desk research and thoroughly reviewed the agents property details on their website you should be able to arrange a visiting schedule that is very effective in getting to the French properties you want to see.
When visiting a property and before making an offer you need to look at the property in detail. Look for at least:
- Any recent work on the existing structure or an extension and when was it carried out. If there is any ensure you see the builders 10-year certificate of guarantee for the work.
- Check out for any planning permission obtained for the work.
- Establish the nature and exact position of the boundaries to the property along with any rights of way. If in doubt, and should you be inclined to make an offer on the property, you should go to the Mairie after the visit and request a cadastral map of the property unless it is available via the agent or Notaire.
- Check for any access to the property.
- If you are in any doubt as to the condition of the property, for example subsidence, get an expert’s report on the property. Surveys or structural reports are currently optional and relatively unusual in France.
- Depending on the location of the property it may not be provided with main drainage and you will need to confirm that the drainage arrangements work correctly and accord with current French legislation. In the future, drainage will be less of a concern because a recent law obliges sellers to provide a report of any septic tank from 1 January 2011 in addition to the existing termites, asbestos and lead reports.
- Discuss fixtures, fittings and contents with the agent or Notaire to be clear what will be left in the property and whether or not it is included in the original price.
Step 3 – Purchase Contract Structure
Firstly, Best French Mortgage strongly advise you to discus the contract thoroughly with a Notaire before taking that irrevocable step to purchase.
It is particularly important that you understand the French inheritance position and you should consider the impact of the French inheritance rules even before committing to a French contract.
The French rules of inheritance provide statutory inheritance rights for children and it is important to ensure that you will be able, if needed, to transfer the property in the way that you would like.
Step 4 – Formalising The Offer To Buy
Having found your French property and had your initial offer accepted by the vendors, the next step is to formalise the offer to buy.
Typically the vendor or the estate agent will instruct a local Notaire to prepare the legal contract. However, estate agents often have a draft contract document that they use for their clients and it is sensible for buyers to have a copy sent to their Notaire for review before they sign it. This is one of the most important moments of the transaction because the contract will fix the conditions of the sale including those agreed by the parties.
There are two contractual forms that can be used for the sale of a property in France:
Promesse Unilaterale De Vente Ou d’Achat
This is a contract that will commit only one of the two parties to the transaction.
Under a promesse unilaterale de vente, only the vendor commits to the transaction and undertakes not to sell his property for a limited period until the purchaser makes a decision.
Under a promesse unilaterale d’achat only the purchaser commits to buy the property for a limited period of time provided the vendor agrees to sell.
In many respects the position is similar to the UK process of taking an option to buy or sell a property.
The sale becomes binding for both parties when the uncommitted party confirms to the other party that the transaction can be completed – this is called the levee d’option.
The is a relatively little used contractual form and normally only applied in special circumstances.
Compromis de vente
This is the usual form of a sale agreement, used in preference to the promesse unilaterale because it binds both parties to the transaction equally.
Under the compromis de vente both the parties, buyer and the seller, will be bound by the sale which is deemed to be agreed but the actual transfer of ownership is postponed until the searches are carried out by the Notaire and any let-out conditions (clauses suspensives) fulfilled.
The main difference with this contract is that neither party has the right to withdraw from the contract unilaterally, except as provided for by any included clauses suspensive.
Should one party default the other party may seek a Court Order requiring the defaulting party to complete and either pay damages or complete the transaction.
The French Mortgage Clause Suspensive
If you notify the seller or the estate agent that you will finance the purchase with a French mortgage, under French law a clause suspensive must be added to the contract so that you can withdraw from the contract if you can’t obtain a French mortgage.
The French mortgage clause suspensive sets out in details the conditions of the mortgage required including the amount, the duration, the maximum rate of interest rate, the time allowed to lodge the application and obtain the French mortgage.
Signing the French Way
Why is signing the French way so important?
Signing a French document may be different to what you’re used to because it requires more than just your usual scribble.
The basic requirement for signing anything French is to put your signature, the date and the place where you were when you signed.
On French mortgage application forms you will frequently also be asked to put une mention (an affirmation) above your signature such as «Lu et Approuvé» (Read and Approved) or «lu et approuvé, certifié sincère et véritable» (read and approved, certified honest and true).
When an artisan sends you un devis (an estimate) you should add the mention “Bon pour accord” before your signature, date and place.
Most multiple page documents such as the Compromis de Vente should also be initialled (paraphé) on every page.
Even if your French isn’t very good yet, always look for the words “mention” and “parapher” before signing the French way.
French Property Buying Process – A Clear and Simple Process
As you will have learnt as you have read through these notes on the French property buying process, the process itself is a relatively clear and simple process. You do however need to ensure you do understand the process and, if any point is unclear, ensure you take some competent and unbiassed advice.