By Claire Garber
It was epic. Your last winter holiday in the French Alps. The snow was awesome; the après wild; you ate enough fondue to legitimately call yourself the human cheese-version of SpongeBob SquarePants. But what if you want more? What if infrequent breaks to your favourite ski resort no longer cuts your French mustard? What if the only conceivable option is for you to actually buy your very own French property?
As a long time resident in the beautiful town of Morzine I can tell you it’s happened to the best of us. Our annual winter holiday was suddenly as inadequate as a small piece of wilted celery when all your mates are feasting on a gigantic roast dinner. We needed roast potatoes, with gravy.
Take the leap
So if the dye has been cast and you’ve come to accept your French property-owning destiny then what’s the next stage? The French system for house buying is a little different from the UK, so it’s worth a bit of pre-planning and research to make sure you enjoy the property-buying ride.
The process, in 7 easy steps….
- The search
Register with a reputable estate agent or property search agent. Tell them exactly what you are looking for. Research your market. Get to know property values. Go out and view some properties. Find one you love.
- Make an offer
And do so cautiously, because in France offering to buy a property is a really big deal. Only offer if you truly intend to buy as placing multiple offers, as we often do in the UK, is a big non non in France.
- Offer accepted!
At this stage, a Compris de Vente (or Reservation Contract) is drawn up, either by your estate agent or by a Notaire (a Notaire is a solicitor who acts for the vendor, the buyers and the state, and is involved in all property sales). You will be asked to provide all your details (contact details, place of birth, occupation, marital status and so on) and you will need to provide details of how you intend to fund the purchase, including proof of any mortgage or loan you’ve agreed. Your dream home will still be on the sales market until you and the vendor have signed the Compris de Vente.
- Signatures at the ready
Both you and the vendor will be sent three copies of the Compris de Vente. When these documents have been signed by both parties and returned to the Notaire you will then be sent your fully signed copy. This copy will be sent to you by recorded delivery. Then a countdown begins …
- Cooling Off
In the French system the day you receive your fully signed Compris de Vente you begin a 10-day cooling off period. During this time you can still pull out of the property purchase penalty free. If however you are très sure about your new home you must transfer a deposit to the Notaire’s bank account before the 10 days are up. The deposit is normally around 10% of the property purchase price. At the end of this cooling off period, deposit paid, the property is officially removed from the sales market and you are both legally bound to complete the sale. If anyone pulls out at this stage there would be penalties, and they would be financial!
- End in sight
The last stage of the process is signing the Acte de Vente, which in England would be the Deed of Sale. This normally happens about three months after your offer is initially accepted. During this time the Notaire will be completing all the necessary investigations and gathering together all relevant sales documents. The signing of the Acte de Vente is actually a very personable affair and normally requires you to visit the Notaire’s office*. Before this visit you must ensure that the full balance of funds required to complete the purchase has already cleared in the Notaire’s bank account. Once the Acte de Vente has been signed you will then be handed the keys to your very own French property. You will also find yourself at the top of ALL your friends’ Christmas card lists because no one is as popular as the owner of a ski pad.
*it is possible to sign by proxy
Congratulations! You are now a homeowner in the land of cheese, wine, Vin Chaud and ski slopes. Which means it’s celebration time, and in France that always includes Champagne.
Top Tips, Big Pitfalls
So in this system of apparent simplicity, where can it all go wrong? I asked two of Source Magazine’s local property experts to help me see the wood from the cheese. Here are their Top Tips for anyone embarking on the big buy.
Joanna MacGover, Geranium 74
- Be open-minded! Always try looking outside the main ski areas. You’ll find substantially bigger properties and some great bargains.
- Get your funds organised before you start looking. There is nothing worse than finding your dream property then losing it due to lack of preparation. Get an agreement in principal from your mortgage broker before you travel. That way you are in a strong position to make an offer when you find your dream property.
- Forward buy your currency to ensure you protect yourself against any exchange rate fluctuations that occur between exchange and completion.
- Know ALL the costs. Fees differ from in the UK so get your agent to give you the exact stamp duty and Notaire fees involved in your sale. If you are taking out a mortgage the Notaire will also charge a fee for drawing up the contract between you and the bank. This is not an insignificant amount! Your agent can give you these fees, so have these conversations early on.
Nicky Wye, Leggett Immobilier
- Make sure you give your agent lots of information about what you are looking for – property type, preferred location, any ‘must haves’ – but be prepared to compromise and be open minded.
- Choose a local estate agent who actually lives in the area where you want to buy. It will make all the difference at every stage of the property purchase.
- Give yourself adequate time. A lot of buyers don’t allow themselves enough time for their trip out to view properties. Buying a property is often a once in a lifetime investment. It merits your time and your focus, and often your search develops as you go along.
- Be aware that France does not require a structural survey prior to sale. It is possible to have a structural survey done (preferably before you sign a Compris de Vente) but the vendor is not obliged to pay for this and offers are not subject to survey.
So it seems that with a good estate agent by your side, some preparation on your part and my seven-step guide, buying in France has never been easier. So go on, become the most popular kid on the block.
Did you know?
Prior to the sale of a property in France, the vendor must have a series of tests carried out by approved experts. These tests are called the Dossier Technique Immobilier. These may include lead and asbestos testing, also gas and electrical installation testing, natural risk assessment, energy efficiency testing, sewerage assessment (septic tank or mains conformation), smoke alarm installed, swimming pool security (if applicable), property surface area confirmation (for flats and apartments). These tests are to provide information for purchasers only.