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Question

What are the different stages of the legal process of buying a property in France?

Answer

The starting point is the viewing of the property. It is likely that an estate agent will ask you to sign something called a bon de visite, (proof that it was he or she who showed you the property). Properties are often marketed by several different agents and there can be fierce competition. It is perfectly acceptable for you to sign this bon de visite.

Once you make an offer, and assuming it is accepted, the agent may then ask you to sign and offer d'achat or an offer d 'acquisition - essentially an offer to buy. In our view, you should resist signing such a document as it may constitute a binding contract, although at this stage you will not want to be committed to the purchase.

Once your offer is accepted you need to consider whether or not you wish to have a survey of the property. If you require a loan to assist with the purchase, you will need to collate your personal information to submit to the bank, whether in France or the UK. The mortgage application process in both countries can be time consuming and you should be organised.

Larger estate agencies have their own contracts which they will prepare and send to you for signature. Smaller agencies often instruct a notary to prepare the contract for them. A buyer should take independent legal advice on the contents of the contract, rather than signing it without fully understanding what is included and, equally importantly, what is omitted.

Following this, the parties will sign and the buyer is then required to pay a deposit, normally 10% of the purchase price.

The buyer then has a 7 day cooling off period during which they can reflect on the decision to buy. If the buyer changes his mind, it is possible to withdraw from the purchase and recover any deposit paid. Assuming the buyer does not withdraw, there will be a lapse of approximately 2 months before the entire process is completed. During this time, the notary will carry out various pre-completion searches and other formalities.

This time should be used to consider how best to structure the purchase from an estate planning perspective. There are various ways in which property can be purchased jointly in France and it is crucial that buyers obtain accurate advice so as to make an informed decision and communicate the decision to the notary who will then reflect the buyers decision in the documentation signed on completion.

Once all contractual conditions have been met and the notary has received the results of his searches and enquiries, he will ask the parties to agree on a completion date. The parties need not attend completion in person and it is quite common for one or both to give the notary's office Power of Attorney so that the deed of sale can be signed on their behalf in their absence.

A buyer may take possession of the property immediately upon completion and just as in the UK, the seller must give full vacant possession of the property.

This article first appeared in Issue 82 of French Magazine – September/October 2010

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