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Top Tips for Buying Property in France

By Professional Support Lawyer, Commercial Property

Bonjour! If you are considering moving to France it’s time to brush up on the lingo and look at the differences between buying a property in the UK and buying one on the continent.

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Any EU citizen can buy a property in France but it’s wise to get a French speaking lawyer on board straight away with expertise in French property law. This way any contracts or documents that you need to sign can be looked at by an independent lawyer who is not connected to the estate agent in any way and has your best interests at heart. If you do use the services of a firm of UK lawyers with such expertise, you also benefit from their professional indemnity insurance. Independent valuations and surveys can also be worth thinking about.

What to Consider When Buying A Property in France

  • Who is going to be purchasing the property? Is it you and your spouse, are you going to involve your children or are you going to buy it with an independent person? It can have important financial consequences - see below. 

  • What will happen when the owner dies? French inheritance laws are very different to those in England. You should always take advice in advance about how the inheritance laws in France might affect your loved ones when you are gone. 

  • Do not assume your English Will is sufficient or that the laws in France are the same – they are not! However, there are steps you can take to improve your position if these could be problematic. This can affect how you decide to structure the ownership of your property. Consider inheritance laws and tax before you decide in whose name(s) your property should be held. 

  • Prepare in advance. Obtain copies of any identity documents that might be needed in France such as birth, marriage and death certificates. 

  • Never sign any document (or add a statement to one) that you do not fully understand together with its implications and obligations.

  • Make sure you receive your home information reports and surveys before you sign anything. These are not the equivalent of a full survey in the UK but give you a good basis from which to start. If you feel the property needs a full structural survey, make sure you arrange it before you sign the contract or have a contract that is worded to say that you can pull out of it if the survey is unsatisfactory. Once the contract is signed, a binding agreement normally exists from which neither party may withdraw without incurring liability for breach. The bargain struck between a buyer and a seller is fixed once the contract is signed and cannot subsequently be changed by one party without the express agreement of the other. This includes the price to be paid, the date of completion and other terms such as the position on fixtures and contents. 

  • Take your time. Do not allow yourself to be hurried by estate agents or builders. This is a big step and you must make sure you understand and are happy with all the aspects of the contract before you sign. You must ensure that the contract, planning consents and any bank guarantees (where applicable) are independently checked by your own lawyers; they are working for you alone and in your interest.

  • Make specific enquiries about the local area by writing to the agent or notary about the property’s surrounding area. Visit the town hall to view current planning applications and plans. In France the standard searches are not as thorough as they are in the UK so you need to ask specifically, for example, if there are any proposed developments, road construction or any other changes to the areas around the property if you have any particular concerns.

  • If you are planning on renovation or construction work, make sure that this is allowed by checking local planning restrictions. You could even request a condition in the contract that if the required permissions aren’t granted, you can pull out and have the deposit refunded.

  • Consider visiting the location at different times of day to see if it suits your lifestyle. Be clear what you want and what you need.

  • If you have any concerns about the parties involved in the transaction, carry out an internet search on the individual, company or development. An enormous amount of information is available and, often, problematic agents or developments are mentioned in on-line blogs.

  • Make sure the property is worth the asking price. Prices may be negotiable, so don’t be afraid to ask. Try to check if there seems to be a price for locals and a price for foreigners. It may sound obvious, but make sure that you can afford the property without relying on anticipated rental income. No rental income can be guaranteed despite the promises made by some. Ensure that your current income, without any additional input, can cover the purchase price, taxes, fees and on-going management charges and utilities. Make sure that you have a contingency fund for any unforeseen extras.

  • Do not pay anything in cash. This is completely illegal in France but some sellers, estate agents, builders, etc., still try to go down this route, insisting that this will cut down on time and costs. Don’t do it; you must only make legitimate payments through established banking channels and your lawyer will be able to advise. 

  • Be patient. It can take over two months between signing the contract and completion. You must make sure that any payments to the notary’s client account take place in good time to arrive at least 2 days before completion to make sure the funds clear on time and the deed can be signed.

It’s essential that you get legal advice from a specialist who is not connected to the property in any way. Slater and Gordon have expert International Property lawyers with expertise in both the French language and French property law. Call us on freephone 0800 916 9083 or contact us online and we will call you.

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