Question: We would love to buy a property in France, but have no idea where to start or what the process involves. Can you give any guidance on how the French system works?
Answer: Conveyancing in France must, by law, be conducted by a notaire who must act impartially for the buyer and the seller. Notary fees and taxes are set by the government and calculated on a sliding scale according to property value.
A buyer can appoint a separate notaire who is no more expensive, as the notaires split the fee and will often also instruct an English lawyer to arrange translations of the French documents and liaise with the notaire.
Once a price is agreed, the first stage is the compromis de vente (the first contract), which contains the terms of the agreement between the buyer and seller. It must be signed by the buyer and seller and, generally, a 10 per cent deposit is payable. After a cooling off period of seven days, the contract is binding, but the buyer can withdraw if any of the conditions in the compromis de vente are not met.
During the seven-day cooling off period, the buyer can withdraw without penalty, but the seller cannot. Once the compromis de vente is signed, the notaire carries out searches and investigates the title to the property. The purchase is completed when the final or full contract, known as the acte de vente or acte authentique, is signed and the purchase monies paid to the notaire.
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These answers can only be a very brief commentary on the issues raised and should not be relied on as legal advice. No liability is accepted for such reliance. If you have similar issues, you should obtain advice from a solicitor.