Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
France remains one of the most popular destinations for Brits tempted to leave these shores for sunnier climes and a more relaxed way of life. Many of us feel comfortable with the idea: we’re likely to have visited on holiday, and also likely to have learnt a little of the language at school. However, when it comes to buying a property, they do things very differently across the Channel, so be prepared!
1. The importance of the Notaire
The use of estate agents is becoming more widespread, but the predominant force in French property sales remains the Notaire
. These officials (there are about 7,500, plus roughly 40,000 assistants) have a virtual monopoly when it comes to all contracts relating not only to property but also to marriage, inheritance etc. The Notaire
carries out much of the work a conveyancing solicitor
would in the UK. Therefore it will be the Notaire
who will draw up leases, form companies and arbitrate in disputes. You will certainly come across one when buying a home in France.
2. Inside information
You can appoint your own Notaire, and it is worth seeking one out. For one thing, properties advertised through estate agents and aimed specifically at foreign buyers are likely to be relatively overpriced. Furthermore, with the Notaire being involved in so much of local life, he will be in a position to advise you about issues which could affect your decision, for example if there is planned development nearby. Indeed, he could know who might welcome an offer for a property not yet officially on the market.
3. The contract
Make sure you know what you are buying and have investigated the property thoroughly. In France, you buy ‘en l’état’ (which means ‘as is’) and if you later discover any defects, you will have no legal come back.
4. Inheritance issues
French inheritance law is different to that in the UK. If you are spending half the year or more in France – ie. fiscally resident there – and you die without a will, your estate (worldwide assets except for real estate abroad) will be dealt with according to French law. Thus your children are specifically protected from being disenfranchised, while your living spouse is not. If you are not resident in France, French law will apply to all real estate you own in France. It is possible to increase the rights of the surviving spouse, but steps must be taken in advance, so take legal advice and make a will.
5. Extra costs
On top of the property price itself (as in the UK) there will be additional charges, so remember to budget for them. The Notaire will have a fee, there will be costs for preparing legal documents, and there is VAT.
Even if you are planning relatively minor renovations to your property you will need a building permit. In most cases, this will involve a great deal of paperwork and will take a long time. Documents will have to be submitted by a registered architect or building supervisor to the local town hall.
7. Take time and plan
Clearly, a move to France and the process of buying a property is not to be rushed into if you can, take your time. Improve your French – this will help with the bureaucracy and builders as well as with making friends. Get to know the area (perhaps by renting) and do your research before you commit. This way, you are more likely to settle happily into your new life.