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French Entrée Magazine - Purchase Pitfalls

Question

I am considering buying a small house in France but am nervous about the pitfalls.

Could your legal expert please outline the sort of things which can go wrong during the purchase of a property in France?

Answer

Firstly let me reassure your reader. Most of the time the purchase process goes smoothly and there is lots of protection built into French law for the buyer. That said there is still plenty of scope for things to go awry!

The first hurdle for all buyers is that the documentation will all be in French and since any purchase is a major investment it is essential that you understand what you are signing. Failure to understand the documentation is the first potential pitfall and can lead to serious problems.

Second is the issue of finance. If you tell the agent or notary that you are a cash buyer then you really must have the cash readily available. If in fact your funds are coming from a divorce settlement, inheritance, UK remortgage or sale or some other source but the money is not yet sitting in your bank account then you should not sign a contract which states that you are a cash buyer.

On the other hand, if you tell the agent or notary you need to obtain a French mortgage then you must observe strictly the various provisions and deadlines which will be included in the finance condition contained in the contract. Failure to do this can lead to you losing your deposit if you subsequently fail to secure the finance you need.

Issues relating to planning and drainage tend to cause a lot of problems in our experience. It is crucial to check the planning history of a property thoroughly to ensure that the construction and all subsequent alterations or extensions have been carried out with the necessary authorisations in place and with all declarations and certificates of completion and conformity lodged. If you fail to check these things out before you commit to the purchase you could find yourself owning a property which has been built or altered in breach of planning rules. In such a situation you may have little or no recourse against the seller.

The sudden illness or death of a buyer or one of joint buyers will obviously cause a huge problem and it is therefore important to make sure that the contract provides that in the event of the mental or physical incapacity or death of the buyer or one of them before legal completion, the joint buyer, survivor or the deceased's heirs must be able to withdraw from the purchase and recover the deposit previously paid.

These are just a few of many issues which can cause a purchase to become a nightmare rather than the dream which it started off as… It is impossible to foresee or prepare for every eventuality but by being prudent and by taking advice from experts hopefully the chances of something going wrong will be greatly reduced.

This article first appeared in French Entrée Magazine issue 93 JULY/AUGUST 2012.

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