9 ways to simplify your property purchase in France

    1. You're thinking about buying a property. How can you make sure your purchase goes ahead without any problems or delays? Here are our top tips.

      1. Get your paperwork in order!

    2. Buying a house is no exception to the usual French love of paperasse so you can expect to be asked for ID all the time - by the agent, the notaire, the bank. Getting your file ready with your birth certificate, marriage certificate, passport, bank statements, tax statements, and so on, will help you sail through the process. It is probably best to have a few copies made and a scan on your hard disk, too.

      2. Remember to include fees and taxes when you set your budget

    3. Generally allow around 10% on top; small budgets are hit harder. If you're buying a 'bargain' EUR 29,000 property in Corrèze, for example, you'll end up paying EUR 3,900 in costs (there's a useful simulator). There will be additional fees if a mortgage (pret hypothécaire) is involved.

        1. On a Paris apartment at EUR 750,000 the notaire will claim EUR 53,600 (over EUR 45,000 of which is tax).

Note particularly whether, as is now increasingly normal, the sale is made FAI (Frais d'Agence Inclus), or whether as buyer you'll have to pay estate agents' charges on top of the notaire's fees.

3. Don't forget you can buy off-plan

    1. While many buyers, particularly foreigners and retired people, are looking for a cute country cottage, large villa or rambling farmhouse, if you want a city apartment or suburban villa consider buying new. Major developers like Nexity or Bouygues, as well as smaller local firms, sell off-plan apartments which benefit from up-to-date energy efficiency and a ten year guarantee.

      VEFA (vente en état future d'achèvement) appeals to both owner occupiers and long term investors. If you pay a high rate of tax, investing under the Loi Pinel can make sense. You'll usually find these developments just outside the centre of a city, or sometimes conversions of old schools, convents, or even courthouses.

      4. Thoroughly research your agent

    2. The larger estate agents include Century 21, Guy Hocquet, ORPI, and LaForet, but smaller, local specialists can be worth considering. Agents represented on Properstar, for instance, handle loft and ex-industrial spaces, architect-designed houses, and other unusual properties, start your research to view all available offers.

      All agents should display their professional certificate in their office, as well as the amount of insurance they have (which should definitely exceed your deposit).

      Many agents will ask you to sign a bon de visite saying you visited the property, and if you buy it, you'll do so through them. This is perfectly normal. But it's worth checking the portals, as sometimes different agents advertise the same property at different prices. And do be quite clear that what you're signing is a bon de visite and not a pre-printed offre d'achat.

      5. While on that subject - don't make an offer by accident

    3. A verbal offer can be held to be binding.

      On the other hand, an offer at the asking price must be accepted by the vendor. It's worth knowing this if you have found exactly what you're looking for and the price is right; once you've made your offer, you've got the property!

      6. Be prepared to wait

    4. In many towns the mairie has a right of first refusal on properties, and in the countryside agricultural commission SAFER also has first refusal. They have two months to decide, and they almost always take the whole time - even though the answer is 'no thanks' 99% of the time. In general, it can take between three and six months to complete, depending on the complexity of the transaction (if a property is jointly held by different family members, for instance, or if copropriété paperwork is slow to arrive, it may take longer to get all the right paperwork done).

      7. Remember to make sure that the diagnostiques are up to date

    5. Some sellers try to save money by using a report done several years ago. They cover electrical and gas installations, asbestos, lead, termites (in some areas), natural and industrial risks (eg contaminants on brownfield sites or old farms), and septic tanks.

      But remember that diagnostiques are not a full structural survey. You could have a house that scores 100% on the diagnostique and falls down thanks to a big crack in the masonry tomorrow. They don't cover the roof (which can be expensive to replace), either. If you're buying an older property, your best bet is to find a respected builder or architect (ask around) to take a look and warn you what may need doing and what it might cost.

      8. Clauses suspensives are marvellous things

    6. These are conditions under which the sale will not proceed. The finance clause is usual - if despite your best efforts you're unable to secure finance, your offer lapses and your deposit will be refunded. But this is tighter than it used to be - you may need to specify exactly how much finance you're looking for, and you'll be expected to apply your best efforts to secure it. It's not a clause that will just let you change your mind.

      Other clauses suspensives are also sometimes found. For instance, an owner may be required to make the septic tank for a country house compliant with the delightfully named* SPANC rules before the sale can be concluded. If you are buying old agricultural or industrial buildings for conversion you should either ensure the local plan will permit residential use, or add a clause suspensive to your offer. The same could apply if you're buying a town house with a commercial floor and want to make that into residential space.

      9. Save the date! It's usual for the buyer and seller to attend the signing of the acte

    7. It's also normal to visit the property on the morning of the signing, to check its state - you are buying in its current state, so if deterioration has happened since you visited, that needs to be checked out.

      If you can't be there for any reason, you may need to give the notaire your power of attorney.

      One last piece of advice, from personal experience. August is holiday time as we all know, but that doesn't stop agents and notaires planning for the contract to be signed in August. And they will tell you, definitely, it will be August. They'll give you a date, even. So if you had something agreed for August, don't worry it wasn't done, it'll get done during September.

    8. * to an Anglophone, anyway (spank = fessée!)


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