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PROPERTY

EXPLAINED: Time-frame for buying and selling property in France

Buying property in France can be complicated and time-consuming - here is a breakdown of the timeframe that you can expect, from first viewing to receiving the keys of your new place.

Two people looking at a property for sale in an estate agents' window
Stage one of the house-buying process in France... Photo: Gaizka Iroz / AFP

Let’s start at the beginning. 

House hunting

This takes as long as it takes, and depends on numerous factors, including what you’re looking for, where you’re looking and how exacting your requirements are. If you’re willing and able to do some renovation work, there are plenty of bargains to be found – but if you’re after something that’s ready to move into, you may find your search takes a little longer.

You’ll find properties advertised in French newspapers, property magazines, and online – but if you’re looking for something in a quiet village away from the rat-race, it’s possibly best to contact an estate agent (an agent immobilier) in a nearby town.

READ ALSO Five tips for dealing with real-estate agents in France

You’ll find estate agents vying for business on high streets in towns and cities the length and breadth of the country. But, if you don’t know the area well, you may want to start with a comparison site, such as seloger.com, which gathers selected properties from estate agents in your preferred town, village or department in one, single location.

Make an offer

Once you’ve found the ideal French home for you, gone away and thought about it, and decided that …  yes, it’s the one that you want, you need to make an offer – an offre d’achat. You do this via the estate agent advertising the property.

Usually, the agent will be the one to tell you whether your offer has been accepted. If it has, then the process moves onto the next step. Otherwise, it’s back to house-hunting.

You do not hand over any money at this point.

Notaire

At this point, you need to find a notaire. Your estate agent may be able to recommend one. Otherwise you can find one at the Notaires de France website. Directory searches can be filtered to include the official’s language skills, if you need an English-speaker.

A notaire is a legal officer with a mission of public authority who prepares contracts on behalf of clients.

Their main role is to complete the legal formalities on all sales and collect tax – it is not possible to complete a legal sale without involving a notaire.

Be aware, the ‘notaire fee’ – which is really a type of property tax similar to stamp duty in the UK – can add up to 10 percent to the asking price of a property.

READ ALSO How to calculate your notaire fee

There is nothing to stop you using the same notaire as the seller.

Two-step process

The actual process of the sale comes in two stages in France, with an obligatory cooling-off period.

The seller’s notaire will draw up the Compromis de Vente – a preliminary contract committing both the buyer and the seller to the deal, with a post-signing 10-day cooling off period known as the délai de rétractation

READ ALSO French vocabulary for house-buying

During this 10-day period, the buyer can withdraw from the purchase without penalty. Otherwise, they are considered to be committed to the purchase.

The Compromis de Vente contract includes all the conditions of the sale and specifies a completion date, usually around three months later.

It is contract is subject to certain conditions which, if not met, can annul the purchase. 

Deposit down

At the stage of signing the Compromis, the buyers are required to pay a deposit of between five and 10 percent of the asking price to the notaire, who keeps hold of it pending the final transaction.

If the buyer withdraws after the 10-day cooling-off period, the seller can keep the deposit.

Time to arrange the finances

In some countries you arrange the mortgage before you start house hunting, but in France it’s the other way round.

It can take a French bank up to two months to decide on a mortgage application. Once it has accepted the application, you must wait 10 days at least to accept the offer – that cooling off period again. The offer remains valid for 30 days.

If you’re buying without a mortgage, talk to the notaire about the process for transferring money.

What’s going on in the background

While you’re arranging your finances, the notaire is going through all the legal checks and administrative checks ready to prepare the second, formal stage of the contract process, the Acte Authentique de Vente – the document that finalises the deal.

Big signing day

A lot happens on the day the Acte Authentique de Vente is signed – it’s generally about three months after the Compromise, but it can be as short as two months or as long as four.

The money for the purchase must arrive in the notaire’s account, the seller pays any taxes as necessary – and, the contract is signed.

The custom is for everyone to meet in the notaire’s office, where the deed is read through – very quickly, as it can run to dozens of pages. Any changes are made at the time and then all parties sign all the pages of the document.

The combination of modern technology and the pandemic means that some notaires are now accepting virtual signings, so a trip to the office may be necessary.

Keys, glorious keys

Then you can pick up the keys to your new home, move in and start planning the pendaison de crémaillère (house-warming party).  

Member comments

  1. Notaires also have property for sale and know the local market, so it is a good idea to check their offices as well as going to immobiliers. Their commission is often cheaper too than estate agents. This can be of benefit to the buyer who, unlike in the UK, is liable for the fees, which should be factored in when buying a property.

  2. The experience of an English couple I know, suggests that the compromis de vente can be extended ad infinitum by the purchaser until he/she locates a satisfactory mortgage deal – namely by the actual sale date (acte authentique de vente = completion) being delayed by one unsatisfactory mortgage offer after another – with no recourse to establish if the delay is reasonable or even true. Therefore I’d describe the compromis as something like the purchaser’s general idea or wish to buy but without firm obligation to go through with it. The vendor can give notice but may have lost an alternative sale or missed an intended purchase, let alone having been inconvenienced for lack of certainty in the process. I think this situation may be unusual but “caveat vendor” applies, n’est-ce-pas!

    1. We’ve just bought and the compromis de vente had a drop dead date for completion with penalties for non-compliance applicable to both parties.

  3. ……..and then you wait for the deeds to your house to arrive. 2 years and 9 months after ‘completing’ on the house, mine should be arriving soon !!!

  4. I don’t wish to be boring but here’s another buyers’ glitch I’ve remembered, long before Brexit. Situation: Brit buyer of a rural property out in the sticks, badly in need of up-dating/refurbishing etc. etc. Sale went through, lots of money spent on improvements, Brits settled in happily – then after about 4 or 5 years (as I recall) came a NASTY SURPRISE. A claim was received from a nearby farmer to buy the property. As it was technically “agricultural”, he had had the right to buy it when originally for sale, provided he’d been informed of its availability – which he wasn’t. After a legal squabble, it turned out the Brits had to sell on to the farmer – wait for it – at their original purchase price with NO RECOMPENSE for the cost of all the improvements. So who failed to inform the farmer? Not sure but it must have been the Notaire (presumably the vendor’s) or the Brits’ agent or Notaire or the local authority concerned with registration of property sales. Don’t know. And here’s another glitch: local urban authorities have the power to force the sale to themselves of an urban property inside their limits within a month of the Compromis de Vente, even if the sale had been agreed elsewhere.

    1. As I remember it when we bought a piece of land, the notaire has to do a thorough background check on all kinds of possible claims. They went back at least 3 generations of owners and their spouses to see if there was a mortgage anywhere along the line; they also checked if there was any kind of agricultural claim on the land that could give any farmer preference if he could enlarge any neighbouring lands that they owned, the notaire also checked if any kind of water board could claim preference and the commune.
      Because we were foreigners, at the signing, the notaire did not breeze through the acres of legal text, but explained each paragraph and article to us. To me it would seem that the notaire was guilty of gross negligence, but trying to grt that through the courts is a chore. Best to take out legal insurance also.

      What buyers should be aware of is that there is an advantage given by the French state and the notariat when you sign the promesse de vente. For a tiny sum you can buy an insurance from the notaire that pays for the property should the buyer die after signing that first document and before signing the final document. This means that the seller does not have to put the property on the market again, and the family of the buyer gets the house/property without having to pay for it themselves, and are not homeless. This is a protective measure put in place in Napolean’s time, and is the practice in Walloon Belgium also.

  5. to tonyalcock. Great news for getting a two-way penalty clause. My referred couple had a firm completion date which was sidelined. I’m not being nosy but how did the penalty clause come to be in the compromis – this is of interest as it adds commitment and I’ve not heard of it before.

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EDUCATION

Fees to class sizes – what you need to know about private schools in France

In many countries, private schools are the preserve of the wealthy elite, but France has a wide network of private schools that are well within the financial reach of ordinary families - James Harrington explains more.

Fees to class sizes - what you need to know about private schools in France

The education system in France has its problems – at the start of the new school year some 4,000 teaching posts were unfilled and the government has launched an ‘emergency plan’ for English language lessons – but there’s no doubting there are wonderful schools and wonderful teachers making every effort to ensure children from aged three to 18 get the education they deserve.

However the country also has a sizeable network of private schools and around 15 percent of French children go to a private school. While some are undoubtedly expensive and elite, others are surprisingly affordable and provide an extra option for parents when deciding on  a school for their children.

Here’s what you need to know; 

Different types

There are two types of private school – sous contrat and hors contrat.

Sous contrat schools, of which there are about 7,500 in France, are part-funded by the state – teachers are paid by the Department of Education, for example – but also charge fees. France’s numerous Catholic schools, or regional language schools are usually sous contrat.

Hors contrat schools – which number about 2,500 – must still meet general education requirements but can choose their teaching methods and have no state funding. Private international schools found in most big cities, such as the American School of Paris, are hors contrat, but still follow mainstream teaching methods.

For comparison, there are around 60,000 state schools in France.

Prices

Yes, there are expensive private schools in France. Sending your child to the exclusive Ecole des Roches Private Boarding School, for example, will set you back more than €12,000 a term – not quite Eton or Winchester-level fees, but still well out of the reach of a large portion of the population. But, like Eton and Winchester, they’re not the norm. 

On average, fees for a day pupil – one who goes home at the end of the school day, rather than one who boards at the school – are in the region of around €2,250 a year. Meals are not included, and are generally charged at a slightly higher daily price than at state schools.

Financial aid, including scholarships, may be available for less well-off families.

READ ALSO French school canteens to cut cheese course as inflation bites

Boarding and hours

A large number of state and private schools offer Monday-Thursday boarding. It is not uncommon for pupils who excel at certain subjects or sports to attend collèges or lycées some distance from home, and board during the week.

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Daily school hours, meanwhile, are broadly similar, with children generally starting their school day at around 8am and finishing soon after 4pm on school days. Collège and lycée pupils also go into school on Wednesday mornings, and some may have classes on a Saturday, too.

Popularity

Smaller class sizes and a reputation for “better” results means that private schools are increasingly popular. The number of French private schools has increased steadily over the last decade, and now 15-20 percent of pupils go to a private establishment of some form. 

On the whole, private schools tend to do better in results league tables – perhaps in part because of the additional investment from parents, but also because class sizes tend to be smaller, which allows for more one-to-one education. Smaller class sizes and more individual attention mean they may also be a better option for children who struggle in big schools.

READ ALSO What kind of school in France is best for my kids?

Qualifications

State schools and sous contrat schools teach to the national curriculum, which leads, in turn, to brevet and baccalaureate qualifications.

In contrast, some hors contrat private schools offer different qualifications, including American High School Diplomas and SATs, British GCSEs and A-Levels, or the international baccalaureate.

Religion

Although many sous contrat schools are Catholic, most readily accept non-Catholic children and are not allowed to indoctrinate the Catholic faith. Hors contrat schools, on the other hand, may include a religious element to their teaching.

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