Buying property in France
We understand how confusing it can be when trying to buy a property in a foreign country. Here at LBVImmo we aim to simplify the process, whilst still making sure you fully understand it: and ensuring you know that we will be safeguarding your interests every step of the way.
It’s best to split the buying process into two parts: the procedure before you find the right property, and secondly from that point to the day you complete the purchase and become the owner. So here, then, are the two parts:
The early days…the basics - bedrooms, budget and base – the search is on!
What are you looking for? Or more importantly what are you not looking for? Are you planning to rent it out commercially to paying guests to cover some of your outgoings – if so then that might impact on some of the choices you make and therefore your answers to these initial questions...
Love old houses? Prefer light and modern? Countryside versus village life…the choice can be bewildering.
Holiday home or permanent move?
Upkeep costs – more expensive if you have land which of course is affordable to buy here: but do factor in the upkeep of that space.
Location, first region (so much choice!) but then whittling it down: small town centre: large village outskirts: rural middle of nowhere, essential ‘must haves’ (nearby cycle path).
The more information you can give us, the more we can refine your search, alternatively a blank canvas gives us a host of possibilities – and don’t hesitate to ask our opinion. You may well be surprised how early in your search, you find us on the phone to you, searching for a convenient time for us to quiz you so that we can match you to our properties. Whilst we work to your requirements, the fact that our agents live in the area where they have property for sale, means they can tip you off as to hidden gems not just of the properties themselves, but of local amenities as well as transport links, schools, and where to find the nearest bar!
Locally to our central office is a small beautifully landscaped lake: two minutes by car from the centre of a tiny town with all amenities (doctor, dentist, small general shop, hairdresser, bakers, pharmacy, bank, post office, restaurant, cafes) an idyllic setting where you can watch herons swoop through the sky and mother ducks leading the babies out to play…your agent being able to showcase the property AND the surroundings is just the start of the all-round assistance we provide for our prospective purchasers.
We delight in matching your criteria. Recently an over-worked London barrister looking for a French retreat near a cycle track, couldn’t believe it when shown a property whose garden ADJOINED an 82-kilometre cycle track. Talk about meeting expectations then!
Need a loan?
It is important to know what your budget is and how you will finance your purchase. Without proof of income in France it can be difficult to obtain a French mortgage, so you may wish to consider raising finance in your country of residence or alternatively talking to a mortgage broker. We can put you in touch with people who will study your requirements and do their best to find a solution.
We should say – we don’t mind where you are in your ‘journey’ when you view with us: we know everyone must start somewhere and sometimes actually stepping across the threshold of some properties helps you readjust that wish list and hone your requirements. Our team work weekends and bank holidays: and will be delighted to help you plan your trip: we know that you need to maximise your time during your stay.
If you consult us about your visit, we will advise you to limit how many properties you plan to see in a day - they can all start to look the same and you can end up more confused with the choice than when you started, if you don’t give yourself time to really think about what you have seen. Build in some stopping time during the day, a cup of coffee and some reflection, rather than a hectic road race to get to as many properties as possible in the shortest possible time.
If you have indicated you’d like assistance organising accommodation for your visit, let us know and we can recommend places to stay: and we would plan then to either come to the accommodation to talk through the choice in the area, which can sometimes help shape the day: or we will meet you at an easily recognisable central point – normally the church in the village closest to your first viewing.
If you prefer, and the route planned is a circular one, our agent will drive you to the properties giving you time to concentrate on what you are going to see and not the route – entirely up to you. As you look (and learn!) your agent will begin to refine what you might see, and it’s perfectly possible they will as a result to listening to you, throw in a wild card of a ‘mystery house’ which they know might be right for you but which from the particulars, you had overlooked. We have many satisfied owners who chuckle on the day of their final purchase and admit without our input, they would never have looked at that particular property and how glad they are that we pointed them to it.
And what is it they say – repeat as necessary – you may not find ‘the one’ on your first trip but will have cemented your requirements and your area of search. Our agent will have made personal contact with you and keep you in mind as they take on new properties: able to tip you off when what they suspect IS ‘the one’ comes on their books.
Let us take care of you – welcome to the world of LBVImmo.
The next step – offer to final purchase
Once you have found the perfect property for you, then the negotiation process begins which will be handled by your agent, who will be happy to advise you about your starting offer. Beware blanket advice from well-meaning strangers who think that an initial offer can be as much as 30% less than the asking price. If the agent has done their work right – and we pride ourselves on having properties for sale at the right price reflecting market conditions – then there probably will not be room for that much manoeuvre and an initial very low offer can offend the owner to such an extent that it affects any subsequent revisiting. Your agent can and will guide you: if there has been a recent reduction in the asking price, then there will be little room for manoeuvre – but we will do our absolute best for you.
Once all the parties have agreed the price then a written offer will be produced for your signature: completed by you and the vendor, this ties in the vendor such that the property is taken off the market whilst we begin the administrative process to take you to the stage of the initial ‘pre-sale contract’, or ‘compromis’. We would hope to gather information from all parties within a couple of weeks and to have the pre-sale contract signed within a month, depending on availability of documents required and whether it’s August. Just beware, if it’s August then everything in France slows down.
There will be times during the buying process when you must hang on to your sense of humour and realise you are buying in France because of the laid-back ambiance here. We will do our best to help you keep your cool!
Although we hope to give the appearance of serene swans gliding across smooth water, at this stage we will be working very hard to tie up all loose ends and meet the administrative demands of the legal process you are about to enter. If you would like to make an offer on a property but would like to know if it would be possible to make some changes for example add a swimming pool or build a garage then a conditional clause can be added to the offer document on the understanding that if these requests cannot be met then the sale does not proceed. We work with the uniquely qualified team at French Plans, which offers a unique planning and design service throughout France. With French-registered architects they can deal with all types of planning applications - Residential (renovation, conversion or extension) and can give you an early ‘heads-up’ on whether your plans are feasible.
It is at this stage that your agent will start to gather all the information together for the Notaire (solicitor) who will prepare the contracts. You will be asked to provide information such as full names, (please note women will be referred to by their maiden name) marital status and occupation as well as us needing copies of passports, certificates (birth, marriage, perhaps divorce), you name it – we need it at this stage as without this information, the work on the initial contract cannot begin.
At the same time as you are finding those for us, the vendor is then obliged to organise a full range of tests carried out on the property by an approved expert, who will produce a report – commonly referred to as the ‘diagnostic’ reports. The vendor will receive one as will your agent who will then go through it with you before any signing of paperwork. The tests carried out include
- The Energy efficiency: (DPE) Prior to the property being advertised a test is carried out to assess the greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency of the property.
- Gas (fixed only) and Electricity: If gas or electricity was installed or renewed in the property more than 15 years prior to the property being sold, both installations are checked.
- Lead and Asbestos: Paint is tested for lead content on all properties built before 1949; and all properties built before 1997 are tested for asbestos.
- Natural risk: All properties are evaluated for natural risks (for example flooding) and to ascertain if there are any risks posed by industry in the area. Properties in areas affected by parasites which can damage buildings, are tested to see if these parasites are present.
- Termite Survey: to check for the presence or otherwise of termites and other similar destructive pests in the property. It is only required within designated areas of the country if there are problems uncovered by the termite survey then these will need to be addressed.
- Swimming pool security: If the property has a swimming pool (which is embedded in the ground by more than one meter) the security features will be tested.
- Sewerage: Many rural properties in France are not on mains drains and have a 'fosse septique' (septic tank.) If this is the case, the system will be subject to a test to ascertain whether this septic tank conforms to current norms – many don't. Where properties are connected to mains drains equally a certificate confirming this will be provided by the local Mairie (town hall).
- If the septic tank does not conform, this will need to be addressed by the purchaser. Should the test on the fosse septique highlight that the system does not conform, the purchaser of the property is obliged to have it brought up to a conforming level within a year of purchasing the property. This can involve having a new system installed.
In the same way that you want the most property you can get for your money, you also want the best exchange rate for your currency if you need to exchange that into euros for your purchase, which most of our purchasers do need to do. We have therefore brokered a partnership with Global Reach, who will be pleased to guide you through the simple registration process such that you can transfer currency to them and they will effect an exchange often getting you several percent more in the process than if you were to use your bank.
One member of their team is bi-lingual French and English which is an enormous help to you in the final stages, as they can communicate with the Notaire should that be necessary, in their language.
As well as the price of the property, which will have been quoted to you including Agency fees, there are also the legal fees to take into consideration. In France, the solicitor is referred to as a Notaire and the system is very different to what you may have been used to. The Notaire is a public official who normally works for both the purchaser and the vendor in any sale: and is responsible for drawing up the sales contract, undertaking local searches and paying all necessary land taxes.
Notaire’s fee vary slightly from region to region but are usually around 8% - 10% of the price of the property. These fees are normally payable by the purchaser: there are a few areas in France where this is not the case, but your Agent will have told you if that applied where you are buying.
You may if you so wish, have a separate notaire from the vendor with no addition to the fees: whilst initially this may seem not only a good idea but preferable do think twice about adding an additional layer of bureaucracy to the process. Notaires are completely impartial and work equally for vendor and purchaser, safeguarding both interests and within a tightly regulated legal and government framework. In LBVImmo we have a local Notaire with whom we work on a daily basis and we would always recommend that your purchase goes through that office where we can steer the file through the process with the minimum delay for you.
A quick word about contents of the property by the way – your agent will always have confirmed if the property is being sold with contents included: if this is not the case, you may wish to purchase some items from the vendor directly and you can speak to your agent about this. At the very least, make sure you are clear about what contents ARE included in your purchase and which items might be available, but at an extra cost.
The final hurdles
As a French property owner, you will need to pay taxes on your property no matter if it is a holiday home or permanent residence. There are two main taxes:
Tax Foncières: this tax is paid by every property owner and the bills are normally sent out in September: you as the purchaser will pay an element of this tax on the day of purchase to cover your ownership for that year, so a purchase on 1st July would mean you pay 50% of the Tax Foncières for that year.
Tax d’habitation: This tax is paid every year by the person that has ownership of a habitable/furnished property on the 1st January and is not divided pro-rata between purchaser and vendor.
The Notaire will ask to see proof that your new property has been insured, unless you have a contact via whom you prefer to arrange this, it will be organised for you by your LBVImmo agent and is only applicable from the day of your final signing for purchase of the property.
All costs will be listed in the paperwork produced at the stage you are about to enter – the pre-sale contract stage.
We work directly with a local notaire to draw up the initial sales contract referred to by several names – for our purposes we will refer to it, as the pre-sale contract. This is the first formal and legally binding stage in the property purchase process in France. It is a written contract of sale agreement which legally binds together the seller and purchaser, and it is at this point that a deposit is paid normally 10%, into the Notaires holding account at least 3 days before the date of signing.
This document will contain most of the information which will also be in the final Acte de Vente, the document you sign on the day you become the owner of the property.
Information contained within the pre-sale contract will include
- Details of purchaser and seller (you will need to provide “Civil Status” information we have previously referred to).
- Confirmation of the name and ownership “Title” details of the property.
- A description of the property including reference and map of the plot (this is called the Cadastral reference) as it is recorded in the local Land Registry.
- The price agreed (remember any furnishings and fittings may be negotiated as a separate amount).
- The deposit agreed (usually 10% to be held by the Notaire: this can be less by prior agreement) and can be arranged via our partner currency exchanger, Global Reach. A small fee to cover notarial costs thus far, of a maximum of €400 is required to be paid to the Notaire at this point: it will be deducted from the final Notaire’s fees.
- Provisional conditions (Clauses Suspensive) – these will include certain standard conditions which will be inserted by the person drawing up the agreement (e.g. that there are no other claims to the Title or that the searches conducted by the Notaire’s office do not reveal any problems).
- The purchaser can request and negotiate the insertion of additional Provisional conditions before the Compromis is signed e.g. vendor to service the electrical equipment or provide additional guarantees, complete building work, obtain a mortgage or planning approval etc.
- Full details of the estate agents’ fees and provision for legal fees.
- Various declarations by both purchaser and vendor about their ability to complete the contract (that they are of sound mind and not bankrupt for example).
- Statements describing what happens if either side fails to complete his part of the bargain, e.g. penalty clauses.
You can choose to be present for the signing of the pre-sale contract (compromis) or alternatively if you are unable to be in France there is a simple solution. We can arrange for a Power of Attorney (procuration) can be drawn up listing pertinent details and in both languages. We can send that to you (by email normally) and you can attend a solicitor’s office near to your home to have your signature on that witnessed and stamped by them.
We will guide you through that process: and on receipt of initially the scanned version and then the original posted back to us, one of the Notaries clerks, can sign the purchase documents on your behalf. This power of attorney can also be used for the final Acte de Vente but is only valid for the purchase of the property – you are not signing any other rights away.
10 day cooling off period
The buyer is entitled to a 10-day cooling off period, following the signing of the pre-sale contract, and it is within this time that they can withdraw without losing their deposit. Do note: the option to withdraw from the contract is only available to the buyer; once the vendor has signed, they are legally bound to sell the property to the purchaser named in the contract.
Following the signing, whether that is you in person or via a power of attorney, the Notaire is obliged by law to send you the contract by recorded delivery, and the start of the cooling off period begins the day after signed receipt of the documents.
At the end of the cooling off period the contract becomes binding on both parties, subject to any conditions that may have been included in the contract.
If you wish to withdraw from the sale prior to the expiry of the ten-day period then, prior to the expiry of the cooling-off period, you need to send a recorded delivery letter to the estate agent or notaire giving notice of your withdrawal. You are not obliged to give reasons but talk to your agent first.
Bank account and Insurance
It is a good idea to have a bank account set up prior to the completion, and the Notaire will also require proof at the time of final signing that your new property is insured. Both will be arranged by your LBVImmo agent as will the transfer of any utilities after completion.
Acte de Vente
The time between signing the pre-sale contract and the Acte de Vente is normally between 2-3 months, (although remember our comment about August!) allowing the Notaire enough time to complete all the relevant documentation and searches. This is a period of relative in-activity for you as the purchaser, although the legal process will be constantly monitored by LBVImmo to ensure it is reaching the required conclusion.
The remining balance for the purchase needs to be with the Notaire in plenty of time for the signing as the property will not be yours until all the funds have been paid. If you are using currency exchange company or using funds from a mortgage provider make sure you talk to them to ensure they understand the time scales. You will not be able to pay on the day with either a cheque or cash due to money laundering laws – it must be by bank transfer.
Your property purchase is complete! Sit back, open a bottle and enjoy!