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Heslop & Platt are specialists in the field of french planning law.
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The team of lawyers at Heslop & Platt regularly produces articles for a variety of websites and specialist publications.
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Please ensure you contact us for specific advice as the information contained in our articles is of necessity general and must not be relied upon without additional guidance from a French Law Specialist firm such as ours.

The Connexion - Legal Notes - Off-Plan Purchase

Question

I have just spent a week skiing in the French Alps. Whilst there I enquired about the purchase of an off-plan apartment. I am now being bombarded by the developer’s agent who wants me to sign a contract. As this is the first time I will have purchased a property abroad I am nervous about the process generally.

Can your legal expert please outline what the potential pitfalls are and how I should protect myself so I do not make an expensive mistake?

I have some cash funds but will need to get a Euro mortgage for approximately 50% of the purchase price.

Answer

Well obviously, I am going to say that of course you should use a UK based French Law specialist to advise you! But let me explain why…

Firstly, the buying process in France, although well regulated and safe, does involve a lot of paperwork – all of which is in French. It is not safe to simply use an internet translation tool to translate legal documentation into English. The translation will not tell you what is incorrect with the French document or what is missing from it!

Secondly, when you buy through an estate agency, very often it is the estate agency who produces the sale contract. The Notaire does not become involved in the transaction until after the contract has been signed and is binding. So you will not obtain any independent legal advice before becoming tied into the purchase.

You may be told that the Notaire speaks good English and so you don’t need to appoint a UK based specialist to advise you however the vast majority of French Notaires do not provide buyers with any written explanation of the French contract and sale deed. Many Notaires will insist on the presence of an interpreter at the final completion meeting but it is rather late to start asking questions about the property at that stage.

It is crucial you understand what you are signing before you commit to the purchase.

Planning issues are a regular problem. We often find that works carried out to a property have not been authorised or if authorised have not been signed off correctly so there is no confirmation of conformity. How would you check that there is not an existing breach of planning regulations which could lead to problems for you in the future?

Similarly, if you only want to buy the property if you can extend it or have a swimming pool built, you will need to ensure the contract includes a condition whereby if you don’t obtain the necessary authorisation before completion, you can withdraw from the purchase.

Planning issues are just one example of where the involvement of a UK based specialist can add invaluable assistance to buyers. Another important aspect is advice on the most suitable ownership structure for you and guidance as to what would happen if either of you dies whilst still owning the property.

Prudent buyers will use a UK based solicitor and French law specialist. We see every day the fall out when people try to go it alone!

Barbara Heslop
Director

This article first appeared in The Connexion - Legal Notes - May 2017.

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