Expat's guide to buying a property in France

16th February 2017
Expat's guide to buying a property in France

Buying a house in France is a popular investment for many British people, particularly expats. Rather than renting, the favourable market means that more people are choosing to own a little slice of French heaven.

There are some areas that are always popular with expats, such as Brittany, Aquitaine and Languedoc-Roussillon, where traditional homes in pretty little villages offer good value for money and are popular with expats retiring to France for a quiet, laid-back lifestyle. However, there has also been a rise in UK property buyers in the more urban areas, like Paris and Lyon, as workers flock to the city for the grand career opportunities and to lay down residential roots.

Getting started

The property buying system in France differs from that in the UK, but it is fairly straightforward. However, it’s important to understand each step of the process and having some French-speaking assistance on hand is incredibly useful. After picking the region to relocate to, find a property agency locally. This could be via an online search, or use word of mouth to ask around for recommendations. An agency can then go through requirements on size, area, style and so on, before sharing a selection of relevant listings.

Having a budget is crucial, and also being aware of what is and isn’t included in listed prices. Usually, the price includes agency fees, but not the notaire’s fees, which can be 7-8% of the property price. Ask the agency for an estimation of the final price of a property to ensure it stays within budget. A ‘notaire’ is a legal specialist who is self-employed but has public authority, and they are the only body legally empowered to handle the process of purchasing a property. The notarie will arrange the transfer of the title and deeds, and payment of all duties owed. The notaire is impartial, to oversee the proper sale, and solicitors are not used like they are in the UK.

The contracts

Making an offer on a property may need to be made as a formal written offer, called an Offre D’Achat. This is where it is important to have a French-speaking professional dealing with the sale, as it’s key to ensure that the written offer is not unconditional – it should state that the offer is conditional on preparation of a detailed sale and purchase contract that outlines all the conditions.

Just like in the UK, there are two parts to the transfer of a property to a new owner. The first is the Compromis de Vente, the initial draft of the contract with all the purchase conditions, mortgage details and checks to be undertaken – otherwise known as a sale and purchase contract. A deposit is usually required at this stage and there is a short cooling-off period. One of the conditions that could be written in to the contract is that the sale is subject to the result of surveys. There are some obligatory surveys, but they are not as in-depth as the full buildings surveys in the UK. It is worth investing in some specialist surveys for peace of mind.

The Acte de Vente or Acte Authentique is the final deed of sale, signed after the enquiries are completed and all monies have been transferred. It guarantees the legal transfer of the property. These contracts are usually in French, but it is possible to have an interpreter at the signing (this may carry a fee).

For more in-depth information on buying a property in France, the website French-Property.com is a useful resource.

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