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EXPLAINED: The real role of a notaire when buying a house in France

The Local France
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EXPLAINED: The real role of a notaire when buying a house in France
Photo: Chretien/Depositphotos

French notaires are crucial figures when it comes to buying and selling property in France. But their role - which can be slightly mysterious - is often confusing to newcomers. Here's a look at exactly what they do and how people get it wrong.


Most foreigners in France associate the French notaire with property buying and while there is much more to their role, this is when you are most likely to come into contact with them. 
Unlike in other countries where having lawyers involved is merely advisable, buying property cannot be done in France without a notaire as they are the only ones who can register the transfer of ownership with the French land registry.
But if you are expecting them to act like a property lawyer then you are in for a shock.

The reasons why you'll need a notaire in FrancePhoto: AFP

This misconception is no doubt partly due to the fact that even in dictionaries solicitor is often given as the definition of notaire.  
But that isn't quite accurate. 
"The role sits somewhere between a notary and a solicitor," Christophe Dutertre, a qualified notaire from the company France Tax Law, told The Local. 
The notaire - unlike a conveyancing solicitor or lawyer - does not act on your behalf, he or she is simply there to make the signing of the contracts and registering of deeds a legal process, as well as collecting acquisition fees and taxes (more on that below). 
They act on behalf of the State - not the client - and are appointed by the Minister of Justice. 
This can be confusing to property buyers in the UK and US, where your lawyer is instructed by you and acts on your behalf.
In these countries the lawyer will go through all the documentation about the sale and point out any potential problems to you - for example if the access is not clearly defined or if you about to buy a house in the path of a new motorway.
But in France the notaire will simply check the contracts are correctly signed and registered - whether or not you get a good deal on the house is no concern of the notaire.
This means that buyers in France need to be a lot more careful to either check the paperwork themselves, or hire a separate notaire to go through all the deeds with you and ensure there are no nasty surprises.
"When people are buying a property, they think that the notaire should provide more helpful information about the property but that isn't their role," said Dutertre.
"In fact it is unlikely you will speak to your notaire at all, you are much more likely to speak to their clerks." 
Another problem area is the matter of the notaire's fees, with foreigners often assuming they are being overcharged for the service. 
Ten things to think about when buying property in France
Photo: AFP
This is partly because real estate acquisition are essentially composed of taxes paid to the State yet they are often referred to as “French notaire's fees”.
The reason is that French notaires have the responsibility of collecting these "fees" on behalf of the State and delivering them to the public treasury. 
"Newcomers often fall into the trap of thinking that the entire sum they pay a notaire goes into their pockets but their job is to deliver the fees," said Dutertre. 
So, what should you do if you need help?
In order to make the business of buying and selling property in France easier, you can employ the services of a second notaire to work exclusively on your behalf or use an advisor. 
Though the cost will not be negligible it may be worth it to have someone you can turn to during what can be one of life's more stressful, not to mention complicated and confusing, processes. 


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