Buying Property in France Made Easy
Early on in my career as an estate agent here, I was explaining the buying process to a couple of clients - father and son. When I’d finished, the son looked at his father and said, ‘Let’s face it, Dad. We’re like virgins in a rugby scrum here!’
The following is written in the hope that you may never feel like that and is dedicated to the above-mentioned father and son…
Agents immobiliers: Or Estate Agents…Most estate agents in France work on a commission-only basis. Therefore competition is tough and, if you’re thinking of spending a reasonable amount of money on buying a property, most of them will be on a mission to sell you something at all costs. This could involve being shepherded into a car and driven round the French countryside looking at any number of unsuitable properties until you’re so exhausted and confused that you’ll buy anything.
English-speaking estate agents in France
Unless your French is particularly good, try to find an English estate agent or at least someone who speaks good English. The more your estate agent can find out about you and your requirements, the better able they are to match a property to your specification - thus avoiding afore-mentioned days in the French countryside.
Bon de visite:This is a document you will be expected to sign before being taken to see any specific properties. It simply states that you acknowledge that this particular estate agent has shown you the property and you undertake neither to approach the vendor directly nor to buy the same property from a different agency - even if you see it cheaper elsewhere. As any one property may be with a number of agencies and as competition is fierce, French estate agents are loath to tell clients the exact situation of properties. You may, therefore, be asked to sign a bon de visite just to be able to go and look at the outside of a house.
Commission ranges from 6% to 10% (remember most estate agents are not salaried and rely on a share of the agency’s commission) and varies from agency to agency - which is why, before engaging yourself to visit a property, it’s worth checking that it’s not in another agency’s window at a cheaper price. Unlike England, in France it is the buyer who pays the agency’s commission and the price you see houses advertised at will include this.
These are special conditions which can be put into a sous-seing privé or compromis de vente (see Vente) and, if they are not met by the time of the signing of the acte final, then the whole deal becomes null and void. Such conditions might be that the sale is subject to the Mairie agreeing to allow you to install a swimming pool on your land. It could be subject to a loan, although this condition can only be included if the loan is to be sought in France; a loan from an English bank is deemed to be a cash transaction.
‘Subject to survey’ is not an acceptable clause suspensive in France since having a survey on a property before buying is not normal practice here. However, these days, there are a number of English surveyors and architects working in France who will survey your property for you during your seven days thinking time (see Vente) so ask around the English community in the area you are buying. French estate agents, generally, will be loath to offer this service in case they lose the sale.
These are the details you will receive about a property. Expect the descriptions you’re given about properties to be somewhat economical with the truth. Try to ask the right questions - again to avoid unnecessary mileage. Accès facile à l’autoroute could mean your dream home abuts the péage kiosk. Rénové could mean that it has doors and windows but little else. It’s also worth asking how long it’s been on the market - and wondering why if it’s been some considerable time.
This word will become crucial to your vocabulary once you become a home-owner in France. It is a written quotation for any work you may want to be done on your new acquisition and, as such, is what you ask for before engaging any builder, plumber or electrician.
Outbuildings. A property with dépendences is well worth having since, no matter how dilapidated your outbuildings are , you can rebuild them without recourse to full planning permission. These are particularly useful for people thinking of running gîtes or chambers d’hôtes.
Droits de Préemption:
Right of pre-emption to buy. The local mairie must by law be advised of all sales in the commune and has a right to buy, if they so wish. (See Vente and SAFER)
These are surveys which, under European Law, have to be carried out before a house can be sold in France. They are carried out at the expense of the vendor and the buyer receives a full report. Currently there are five areas which are surveyed: for termites in woodwork, lead in paintwork, asbestos, energy consumption and any natural risks in the commune, such as being in a flood area.
Frais de notaire:
Notaires fees (see Notaire). If you see a house for sale in an estate agency, the only extras you will have to consider are the notaires fees. These are calculated on a sliding scale (the higher the cost of your property, the lower the percentage of notaire’s fees), normally between 6% and 10%. This percentage does not all go to line the pockets of the notaire but also covers such fees as land registry and government taxes.
Reduced notaire’s fees. In an attempt to encourage new building in France, conveyancing fees are 3 to 4 per cent rather than 10 to 15 per cent for houses under 5 years old.
Attic. Most old French properties will have an attic and, since the French are keen to use up as much living space as possible, the grenier is often seen as an important selling point. Your grenier will be in one of three states: aménagé means it has already been converted into a living area; aménageable means you can stand up in it and it could therefore be converted; and non-aménageable means you can’t stand up in it but it’s probably useful for storing suitcases.
The French inheritance laws are a real minefield and the appropriateness of the different formulas to avoid these laws varies, I’m afraid, from notaire to notaire.
Floodable. Many French properties are classed as being in zones inondables. This does not mean that every time it rains the streets will become Venetian-style canals and that your carpets will regularly be ruined. It simply means that this area is on a plain or near a river and has, at some time in the past, flooded. At this point, it is worth a trip to the local Mairie to enquire how often it has flooded, when was the last time and what the chances are of it happening again. If possible, also talk to neighbours about recent weather patterns in the region. Don’t take the word of your friendly estate agent who, in order to get their commission, has to sell this property to somebody.
Sorry, this is an English word but vital when you’re house-hunting. France is a very big country. Before you start looking at houses, make sure you’ve seen enough of it to make an informed judgement as to where you would like to live. Try to visit your chosen area during the winter months: it may be scorching hot in the summer but it may well be cold and wet in the winter.
Work out whether you’d like to be in a town or a village. If you’re buying a holiday home, it’s wise not to buy anything too isolated in case of burglaries or even squatters. Far better to get in with the locals and ask a friendly French neighbour to keep an eye on your property for you.
Consider the accessibility of airports operating low-cost flights back to the UK. Is it important to be near the sea? Or near the mountains for ski-ing?
(As far as the other sort of location (rental) is concerned, it is inadvisable to buy a house with sitting tenants. French law makes it very difficult to evict.)
Mayor. Even the smallest village will have one and he is all-powerful. Introduce yourself to him and make him a friend!
Town Hall. All villages have one although they may only be open once a week. Find out when.
If you begin to show more than a passing interest in a particular property, most French estate agents will tell you that ‘Il y a du monde dessus’. This broadly means that hordes of people are after it and is, of course, seldom true but simply a ploy to panic you into buying it. Just smile sweetly and take your time…
The equivalent of an English solicitor but is a government employee. As such, he is impartial and can act for both parties in a sale. (See Frais de notaire)
Offer. Offers are not the norm as in England. Often sellers have pitched their price correctly (see Prix) and that is what they expect. However, it is always worth putting in an offer on a property rather than paying the full price immediately. It will then generally depend on how long the property has been on the market and how quickly the vendor wishes to sell as to whether the offer is accepted or not.
Price. The fixing of the price of a property is a fairly arbitrary matter. Since the immobilier business is still, to a certain extent, in its infancy in France and the people working within it are seen as a sales force rather than as professionals who might have some idea of property values, it is often the vendor who puts a price on a property. This could be for any number of reasons: they think the British, Germans and Belgians can afford any exorbitant price they dream up, or they come up with a nice round figure which will divide neatly amongst their children, or perhaps their cousin in the next village has just sold a barn for twice as much… But rarely because it has been assessed against market values. This is both good and bad news. Bad news because some properties are outrageously overpriced and the owner refuses to believe it’s worth a euro less. And good news because it can often lead to wonderful bargains because a vendor has a certain price in their head and that’s all they want for it!
This word is not used lightly in respect of old French property. ‘Rebuilding’ could sometimes be a more accurate term.
Société d’Aménagement Foncier et d’Etablissement Rural. Or Agricultural Commission. If you are buying a property with more than half a hectare of land then local farmers have a right of pre-emption to buy your property. It is very rare that this happens since they must buy the entire property at its asking price just to have the agricultural land but the law says that they must be informed. (See Droits de Préemption)
This is one of the two taxes to be paid on a property (see below) and is roughly equivalent to our Council Tax. It is calculated according to the value of a property and is paid annually.
This is the second of the property taxes and is levied according to the number of people in the house, whether it’s a second home, etc.
Terrace. We English don’t come down here to sit in a village house - no matter how pretty - if it has no outside space. If a village house has no outside space, estate agents will often tell you that it’s possible to create a roof terrace. It is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain planning permission for these, so check with the local Mairie
Sale. Once you decide to buy, you will normally sign an offer to buy (offre d’achat ) and the vendor will sign this in acceptance. The next step is to sign a sous-seing privé or compromis de vente. Some estate agents are qualified to do this themselves (usually members of FNAIM), or else it is done at a notaire’s office. This is a legal statement of intent to buy and, at the time of signing, a deposit of 10% of the purchase price is paid to the notaire. Once both parties have signed the sous-seing privé , the buyer has sept jours de réflexion - seven days to think about it. During these seven days, the notaire will do no work on the sale but the property is taken off the market and cannot be sold by other agencies or by the vendors themselves. Meanwhile, the buyer has the right to withdraw at any time before the end of these seven days, without giving any reason, by sending a lettre recommandée (registered letter) to the notaire’s office. The deposit is then refunded in full. (In the case of English buyers, notaire’s usually only require the deposit to be forwarded at the end of the seven days in order to avoid messy money transfers.)
If, by the end of the seven days, the sale is to go ahead, the notaire will begin to conduct the necessary searches on the property. He should find out about any rights of way across the property, any planned changes to road layouts, etc. In every commune in France, the Mairie has rights of preemption over every property within its boundaries. This simply means that the Mairie is first asked if they would like to buy the property in question. This rarely happens but if, for example, your dream home is next door to the village school and the birth rate has recently gone up in the village, then it could be possible that the commune might buy your property as a school extension.