French property buying process

We are often asked 'how does the process vary from the UK if I wanted to buy a property in France?'

It is very important that you take independant legal advice when buying a property as each persons circumstances will be different and the 'one size fits all' approach does not always work.

We hope that this will be useful:

Owning a property in France can be great fun, painless and can provide genuine pleasure.  Conversely buying one can be a stressful, painful and sometimes a very costly experience.  To ensure that it becomes the former rather than the latter requires a little luck, some perseverance but above all good advice.  The luck needed is in finding the right property at the right time, not always easy.

Rural France offers a more tranquil environment, more space, lower local taxes, lower land and property prices together with other attributes sought by those wishing to escape the hectic English life style.  It is understandable, therefore, that the tendency amongst the British buying in France is still towards rural properties.

There are major differences between the U.K. and France in the purchase process not least of which is that the purchaser normally meets all costs relating to a property transaction. The major legal costs are levied upon completion.  These are calculated on a sliding scale and vary according to the net sale price i.e. the higher the price the lower the percentage.

I have prepared the following step by step guide to the purchase process, which we hope will be of interest and informative.  It is not; however, to be seen as definitive and variations in working practice will be encountered.  A more detailed description of the Key Players involved in the transaction is provided later in this document.

Where to Buy
Where to buy is probably the most important decision you will make, as owning the right house in the wrong place can prove disappointing and costly.  As with all property purchase the ideal house or location is down to personal preference and criteria.  The choice will depend greatly on whether a holiday or permanent home is being sought.

House Hunting
Make appointments in advance to see Estate Agencies.  Remember that working practices in France differ from those in U.K.  Many rural Agencies will be closed on Mondays and most close at midday for a two hour lunch break.  Watch out for those Bank Holidays too, especially in May.  Allow at least half a day for visiting.  The process of selection can in itself take a long time.  Time well spent, however, as too long can often spent visiting properties that could have been eliminated at the Agency’s office.  To facilitate this, try to give the Agent as much detail as possible regarding your requirements.  Don’t let the Agent merely put you in his car, whisk you off to visit as many properties as possible.  This can cause great frustration when time is limited.  We believe that visiting more than 4 or 5 properties per day can be tiring and counterproductive.

Make written notes, a good Agent should also be able to give you good background information and to provide local knowledge.  Take photographs or video properties on your shortlist.  Check the aspect of the property for example south facing properties are usually bright but make sure that in hot areas some shade is available.

The Offer   
When you have identified the property of your dreams, almost certainly with a dash of compromise, it’s time to make an offer.  This should be made via the Agent who will give an opinion on its merits.   Remember to ask the Agent what the overall cost will be including their fees and the legal costs.

It is accepted that in most cases offers are less than the asking price.  The French have an expression to coupe la poire en deux (literal translation to cut the pear in half), which means to agree a figure midway between the asking price and the offer.  In our experience this is often the outcome of negotiations providing that the original asking price and offer were reasonable.

The Compromis de Vente

Having agreed a purchase price the Agent will arrange a rendezvous with the vendor either at his office or at the office of the Notaire.  The Notaire is a lawyer and public officer whose role differs from that of the Solicitor in that he is effectively an impartial observer there to ensure that the sale is legally completed.  In most circumstances a mutually binding preliminary contract called a *Compromis de Vente, is signed by both the purchaser and by the vendor and a 10% deposit placed.  The contract will outline the terms and conditions of the purchase and will include:
A detailed description of the property including total area of land included in the sale.  Make sure a plan of the site is made available to you and that it coincides with your understanding of what is being purchased.
The purchase price.
The full identity of the purchaser and of the vendor.  Passports are sufficient.
 Details of any mortgages that may be required for purchase and or restoration.

A date for completion before which the Notaire will carry out all the necessary legal formalities together with the equivalent of searches.  A period of 3-months is normally fixed but the final signing can take place earlier by mutual agreement and subject to the formalities being completed.  
A mention of the Estate Agency fees (Payable on completion).
Details of special conditions or escape clauses known as Conditions Suspensives which if not met would render the contract null and void, thus allowing the purchaser to withdraw and to reclaim their 10% deposit.  An example of Condition Suspensive would be the inability to obtain the necessary mortgage.  Bear in mind, however, that the Notaire may require evidence in the form of written refusals from potential lenders.
Details of any pre-emption rights that may exist.  In certain cases local farmers or authorities may have been accorded what amounts to first refusal on property.  The Notaire is obliged to purge these rights. In the case of farmers, it is often the amount of land being purchased which often determines their right to pre-empt (in most cases areas over 5000m2 although this can vary between Departments).  The farmers association that deals with this aspect is known as the S.A.F.E.R. In the unlikely event of these options being taken up the farmers or local authorities are considered to have taken the place of the purchaser and the general terms and conditions of the sale remain unaltered.  The 10% deposit is then refunded to the purchaser.      

New laws introduced in June 2001 have provided purchasers with a seven-day cooling-off period after signing the Compromis de Vente. If you should change your mind you should notify the Notaire and Agent by registered letter which they must receive before the end of the cooling off period. The vendor is not accorded this option.

The Acte de Vente

The Notaire will prepare the Acte de Vente (Deed of Sale) once the formalities are complete.  The purchaser and vendor will then be asked to attend his office for the final signing.  The Notaire must be in possession of the balance of the purchase price including the legal and administration costs ahead of this meeting.  Ownership is exchanged upon signing, although a copy of the Acte de Vente is not normally made available for several weeks as the Acte is presented to the Land Registry Office (Bureau de Conservation des Hypotheques) for registration.  However, if proof of ownership is required the Notaire may provide a formal Attestation.

It is of course desirable and advisable, given the importance of both transactions that the prospective purchasers and vendors physically attend both the signing of the Compromis de Vente and the Acte de Vente.  However, should this not be possible power of attorney (Procuration) can be prepared allowing a representative to be appointed to attend and sign on their behalf.  Often the Notaire’s clerk or secretary is chosen obviating the need for someone to travel from the U.K.

Keys are now handed over and the property in new hands.

 The Key Players

Agent Immobilier (The Estate Agent)
The role of the Agent Immobilier in France is similar to that of his U.K. counterpart.    Their knowledge relating to property values, local life and proposed future developments should help in guiding purchasers to the right decision.  In our view prospective purchasers should make the most of time spent with the Agent by asking as many questions as possible.  Making up your own checklist will help and purchasing a local, large scale, map can be worthwhile.  Unaccompanied visits are rare in France especially in rural areas and for the reasons mentioned above should be avoided. 

The Sales Commissions payable to an Agent Immobilier upon completion vary, depending on the sale, price between 4 and 10%.  The cheaper the property the higher the percentage.

The Notaire     
As previously mentioned the Notaire is a Public Officer with no particular allegiance to either party in a property transaction.  In our experience using the vendor’s Notaire can have certain advantages in speeding up the sales process as he will in most cases hold the original deeds and often will know the vendor’s family history and sometimes the property itself.  However, since the purchaser is paying all the legal fees they sometimes feel uneasy about this and can choose to employ a second Notaire.  The Notaires fees are then divided between the two lawyers.

The Geometre (Land Surveyor)
In most rural areas of France it is commonplace for the purchase to include relatively large amounts of land.  Often physical boundaries are not clearly defined, despite plans being available.  This is a situation that can prove a little alien to those from countries where land is at a premium.  In certain cases it may prove necessary or desirable to redefine the boundaries of the property being sold, a task carried out by the Geometre (Land Surveyor).  This work includes physically confirming existing boundaries displayed on the plans and/or creating new boundaries and updating the land registry.  The vendor, purchaser and any neighbouring landowners are often required to attend in an attempt to avoid future disputes.

As to who pays the Geometre, we have come across various theories, as no universal rule seems to exist.  Our view is that this depends on the circumstances behind the request for the Geometre’s intervention.

We believe the information contained in this document to be correct at the time of printing. The detail given is to be seen as a summary of the house buying procedure.  We therefore cannot be held responsible for errors and omissions in respect of the law relating to the purchase of a property in France.

Foreign Currency

We work with the Foremost Currency Group who aim to save you money on the transfer and conversion from sterling to euros and vice versa.  The current mid market rate is shown on the counter below.  If you would like further information on their services, please click on their counter or call Callum Wiper at Foremost on 01442 892060.

  Based on live rates from
  The Foremost Currency Group

French Mortgages

We have partnered with Charles Hamer in Oxford who are able to provide financial advice on the intricacies of buying property in France and for further information, please speak to Chris Ellis in the first instance on 01884 218957 or visit their website at

'As far as we are aware, Charles Hamer are the only specialist financial consultants professionally authorised to provide mortgage, life insurance, investment and tax advice in both the UK and France. In the UK we are Independent Financial Advisers, regulated by the Financial services authority. We are also IMD ( Insurance Mediation Directive ) passported into France to provide life assurance advice . ( You will find us on the ORIAS register). Having specialised in French financial planning for the non French national since March 1988, our expertise lies in being able to both obtain competitive mortgage interest rates and to design financial solutions that marry the best French strategies with those of your country of residence in order to obtain optimum tax efficiency during ownership. Accordingly we are able to offer a comprehensive financial planning service specifically relevant to the French property owner - a service that cannot be provided by the banks alone who are limited solely to the arrangement of a mortgage.'  Taken from Charles Hamer website.