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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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LIVING IN FRANCE

How and when to send Christmas presents from France

If you want to send Christmas presents to friends and family overseas you need to know the deadline dates and how to avoid being hit with extra charges - here's what you need to know.

How and when to send Christmas presents from France

Deadlines

First things first, you need to make sure your parcel arrives in time for Christmas, which means sending it before the deadline.

The French postal service La Poste has the following deadlines;

In Europe

If you’re sending a parcel within France, the deadline to have it delivered by Christmas is December 23rd. 

If you’re sending to the UK or Bulgaria, Cyprus, Spanish islands (eg Tenerife), Croatia, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Malta, Norway, Portuguese islands (eg Madeira) or Romania you have until December 16th.

If you’re sending to Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden or Switzerland you have until December 17th.

If you’re sending to Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands or Portugal you have until December 19th.

Outside Europe

If you’re sending to the USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand or Hong Kong you have until December 10th. Likewise if you’re sending to most French overseas territories, the deadline is December 10th.

For most other countries the deadline is December 3rd, but you can find the full list here

Private couriers like Fed-Ex and DPD have their own deadlines, although they are broadly in line with La Poste, and if you’re buying online each company has its own deadline on when it can guarantee a Christmas delivery.

Fees and customs declarations

If you’re sending parcels to another EU country then it’s pretty straightforward – just pay the delivery cost (you can check how much it will be to send via La Poste here) and make sure you send it before the deadline.

If, however, you are sending to a country outside the EU (which of course now includes the UK) then you will need to fill out a customs declaration form explaining what is in your parcel and whether it is a gift or not.

In addition to standard postal charges, you may also need to pay customs duties, depending on the value or your parcel and whether it is a gift or not. 

Find full details on customs duty rules HERE.

Banned items

And there are some items that are banned from the post – if you’re sending parcels to the US be aware that you cannot send alcohol through the mail as a private individual, so don’t try a ship some nice French wine or a bottle of your local liqueur. 

Most countries ban firearms and fireworks, not unreasonably, although be aware that this includes items like sparklers.

Sending food and plants is also often restricted with countries including Canada and Australia having strict rules and most other countries imposing restrictions on what you can send.

This also applies the other way and France bans any foodstuffs containing animal products (eg chocolate) sent from outside the EU. 

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