Property: Buying Property in the Languedoc:
Property sales are strictly regulated in France. The key
player is the notaire, a government official and tax collector
corresponding roughly to the Public Notary in English speaking
jurisdictions. The notaire is not a solicitor. He does not
represent either the buyer or the seller, just the interest
of himself and the state. Some are much more efficient than
others, but their fees should be the same as they are regulated
The agent immobiliere or the notaire will draw up a document
called a compromis de vente, identifying the parties and recording
their agreement to buy and sell. It also gives details of
the property (including cross references to a local map called
a cadastre), the agreed price, details of the deposit
required, legal encumbrances (such as rights of way), any
additional fees, and the completion date. A standard clause
will state that the vendor is not responsible for any defects
in the property - so the onus is on the buyer to check every
possible detail. Pulling a fast one on innocent Brits is something
of a sport in France. If a new clause appears in your draft
compromis de vente the day before signing, then you
are probably being had.
A deposit of 10% is normal - paid to the notaire. The purchaser
will lose his deposit if he fails to complete the sale. Fortunately
it is normal practice to minimise the risk of this happening
by inserting get-out clauses (conditions suspensives)-
for example if clear title cannot be proved, if the boundaries
are disputed or if their turn out to be undisclosed restrictions
on the property. Better still from the purchasers point of
view it is normal to insert a condition suspensive to the
effect that if the purchaser cannot obtain a mortgage then
the sale of off and the deposit must be returned. Since obtaining
a mortgage is entirely in the hands of the purchaser, this
is effectively a way of calling off without losing the deposit.
The notaire conducts various searches with the local authorities
and the French counterpart of the Land Registry. These searches
concern only the property itself. It is entirely up to you
to find out about the skyscraper to be built next door, the
pig farm to be sited just up-wind, the rubbish tip to be created
at the end of your garden, the motorway that will pass your
front door, or the wind turbines planned for the mid-ground
of your glorious view.
Bizarre as it sounds, you should make sure that you have
a right to get to your property. It is not unknown for properties
to be sold off without a legal right to get to them. Even
if you can get to your house over someone else's property,
do you have a right to drive to it? Do you have a right to
lay electricity cables and drainage?
Both parties sign the compromis de vente, generally in person
in the Languedoc, in the presence of the notaire, though procurations
can be arranged by which one person can sign of behalf of
another. After signing the compromise there is a 7 day "cooling-off"
period during which the purchaser can change his mind without
The details of the compromis are transcribed by the notaire
onto another document called an Acte de Vente. Signing this
document corresponds to "completion" and the balance of the
purchase price is due immediately - which means that banks
will have to be primed ahead of time. The notaire will need
to establish that you have third-party insurance for the property
Some sales are executed using a promesse de vente rather
than a compromis de vent. With a promesse de vente the vendor
sets out the sale conditions. Once the buyer agrees, the effect
is much the same as in a normal compromis.
The purchaser is responsible for legal costs and for taxes
relating to the sale. For new buildings (less than 5 years
old) the notarie's fee will be 2% to 3% of the purchase price.
For older properties you can expect to pay 7% to 9%, but this
covers the French equivalent of legal fees, conveyancing,
stamp duty, and land registry.
After all the formalities are completed the buyer is issued
with an attestation - a certificate proving ownership of the
property. The notaire keeps the title deeds, but the transfer
is registered with the land registry, and the notaire should
send you an official copy within three months.