Buying a French Property

The process to buy property in France is quite straightforward if you do your homework and know what to expect.

1. Determine your budget

If you plan to buy with a French mortgage, obtain a decision in principle upfront. Be prepared and know your budget so you are ready to make an offer.

2. Find your French property

There is no central listing database for real estate in France. The reality is that several agents may list the same property at different prices, especially in Paris. The lack of centralised information makes it very difficult to find a property. Expect estate agents fees to be from 5 to 6% of the purchase price - even up to 10% for small properties. Ordinarily this fee is included in the list price for the home. 

3. Choose a French notaire to represent you

A French notaire is a publicly appointed official who is responsible for correctly executing contracts in an impartial manner. Be aware that the notaire is not responsible to proactively advise you like a lawyer might do (although a good one will do so.) You can use the seller’s notaire to complete the sale however you have the right to have your own French notaire to represent you at no additional expense. 

4. Sign the preliminary purchase agreement

This agreement, called the “promesse de vente” or “compromis de vente”, binds the seller to the sale upon signing, while the buyer gets a 10-day period of reflection in which they can pull out of the purchase without penalty. It can be signed at an estate agency or at the office of the buyer’s French notaire. At the signing, the buyer makes a deposit of 5 to 10% of the purchase price into a safe, regulated account belonging to the notaire, like an escrow account. This deposit will count toward your final down payment and closing costs. The notaire is in charge of dispersing all funds to the correct parties at the final signature of sale. Most buyers opt to include “clause suspensive” – a contingency clause -- to allow them to cancel the sale if they do not find French financing on the stipulated terms.

Once the contract is signed, your notaire must verify regulatory and legal formalities for the property and arrange for payment of your property purchase taxes (like stamp duty) to be paid. For example, the notaire verifies that the seller is the free and clear owner of the property, that the home is termite- free, and that the home has the requisite urban-planning approval. Plan to allow at least 3 months after the date of signature of the initial agreement for the final sales transaction to give the notaire time to acquire all the necessary documents.

5. Arrange your French mortgage

As soon as you have signed the promesse de vente, it’s time to apply for your French mortgage. If you have opted for a "clause suspensive" in your purchase contract, you will normally only have 30 to 45 days to prove you have a mortgage offer or produce at least two French bank rejections. Beyond that date your deposit is at risk if you are unable to obtain your French mortgage. 

6. Complete the act of sale

Once you have accepted your written French mortgage, a copy will be sent to your French notaire. You can then contact your notaire to set the date for signature of the final act of sale. You can either go to the notaire’s office to sign on the closing date or give the notaire a power of attorney to sign for you. Be sure to wire the funds needed for closing to the notaire's office in advance. The title for your property will be posted to you three to six months after the act of sale once all taxes have been settled. You will sometimes also receive a refund check from the notaire's office if the legal fees paid at closing were more than the final tax bill.


S. Stewart, Senior VP Marketing, Allied Domecq, Purchase of home in Paris

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