Essential Details for Buying a house in France
Buying property in France might seem like a daunting prospect, especially if you’ve never done it before and you don’t speak French.
Don’t worry, this guide will explain every step of the process in simple terms so you understand exactly what will happen and when. It’s quite simple really, and we’ll help you every step of the way.
Below is a simple infographic explaining the purchase process for buying property in France. If you scroll down, you can read about what each step means. Otherwise, use the quick navigation to jump to specific sections.
At the foot of this page, you’ll see guideline information on how long each step can take.
Learn More on Each Step of the Purchase Process
- Buyer's Offer is Accepted
- A Notary is Chosen
- Sign Preliminary Contract
- Buyer Arranges the Deposit
- Buyer's Ten Day Cooling Off Period
- Buyer Arranges Full Purchase Funds
- Notary Draws up Final Deed - “Acte Authentique de Vente”
- Funds Moved into Notary's Escrow Account
- Final Deed Signed by the Buyer and Seller
- Seller Pays Capital Gains Tax (if any)
- Buyer Collects the Keys to the Property
- Celebrate with Champagne
- How Long Will All of This Take?
Step one of buying a French property is the seller accepting the buyer's offer. This can happen in person, over the phone or via email. Normally the agency will get in touch to give you the good news.
It’s not yet time for champagne as there is more to do before you seal the deal, but you can have an early celebration.
A notary, or “notaire” as they are called in French, is a public officer. A legal specialist acting on behalf of the State and appointed by the Minister of Justice in order to draw up authenticated contracts on behalf of the buyer and the seller. The seller can also choose their own notary if they wish, so in some cases, there can be more than one notary.
Sounds daunting, but with the right notary, you’ll be in safe hands.
The fact that a deed is drawn up by a notary is a guarantee of its legality and authenticity. A notary is under a legal obligation to provide the buyer with complete information on the nature and the content of the signed agreement and its consequences. Their main role is to secure the transaction, to ensure a non-disputable title of ownership and to collect all taxes due to the State.
Obviously despite the large number of notaries in France, not all of them will speak English. To help you find one who does, we've compiled this list of notaries on the French Riviera. Otherwise, this site lets you search for notaries by area. You would then have to enquire if they offer the services you require.
Once the notary has done their bit, it’s time to sign on the dotted line.
How much does a notary cost?
The amount paid for the notary depends on the age of the property.
- Existing Property - between 7% and 10% of the purchase price, excluding estate agency fees.
- Recent/New Property Developments - 2% in conveyancing fees and registration taxes, plus VAT at the rate of 20% on the purchase price (except for sales between private individuals), excluding estate agency fees. Even though many refer to these fees as ‘notary fees’, the notary only receives around 1% of the property sale price.
Even though many refer to these fees as ‘notary fees’, the notary only receives around 1% of the property sale price. The remaining amount goes to the government to pay stamp duty and registration tax disbursements.
The government regulates notary fees which vary according to property sale price.
This cost is paid by the buyer. If there is more than one notary, the cost to the buyer is still the same and that amount is split 50/50 between the two notaries.
Note: The notary costs do not take into consideration the cost of a mortgage or setting up a company if that's how you intend to purchase the property (more on that in step 6).
This is known as the “Compromis de Vente” in French.
Step three in the property purchase process in France is the signing of a preliminary contract. This is a promise to sell and to purchase the property.
This is drawn up by the notary once they receive the following paperwork from the seller:
- Title of ownership
- Confirmation that the building conforms to all legal regulations
- Report on asbestos, electrical wiring, natural risks, etc.
This contract includes all the conditions of the sale and specifies a completion date. The contract is subject to conditions which, if not met, can annul the purchase:
- Justification that the property belongs to the seller in question and that there are no impediments to him or her selling it.
- Refusal by the Town Hall based on its right to pre-empt the sale.
- Any suspensive conditions, for example:
- The buyer getting a bank loan at a preferred rate
- The buyer selling their own home first
- Planning permission to make structural changes to the house/land
- Anything else agreed between the buyer and seller
Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s time for the first financial transaction.
The buyer and seller have agreed on the price. The preliminary contract has been signed. At this point, the buyer has to transfer a deposit of 5 to 10% of the agreed property price to the notary. This sum will be held in an escrow account until the final transaction.
The transfer is done by bank transfer.
The buyer benefits from a 10 day cooling-off-period after receiving a copy of the preliminary contract. The seller doesn’t benefit from this cooling-off-period; it only protects the buyer.
If the buyer decides to withdraw during this period, they must be refunded 100% of what they transferred into the escrow account. At this point the purchase process is terminated.
The buyer can change their mind for any reason and does not have to justify it in order to receive a full refund of the deposit during this ten day cooling off period.
What happens after the 10 day cooling off period?
Besides the conditions outlined in step 3 (Sign a Preliminary Contract/Compromis de Vente), if the buyer decides they no longer want to go through with the deal after the cooling off period, the seller has the right to keep the deposit of up to 10% of the property sale price as compensation.
Now’s the time to think about the right way to purchase the property and to arrange funds. You have the opportunity to decide whether you are going to make the purchase as an individual or as a company.
Trusts are not recognised in France. Often, if the buyer is the shareholder of a company in France or Monaco, the purchase is made through their company.
There are other more sophisticated payment structures which can be used with the help of a specialised lawyer.
If a bank loan is required, it will take up to two months to get a reply from a French bank. You will then have to wait a minimum of ten days to accept the offer. The bank’s offer remains valid for 30 days. You have to make use of the loan within four months of accepting it.
Once these steps are completed, and the notary’s office has done all the necessary administrative checks, the final deed, which is called the “acte authentique de vente”, can be drawn up. There is generally a delay of three to four months between the signing of the preliminary contract and the final deed.
Note: Steps 8, 9 and 10 all happen at the same time.
On the day the final deed is signed, the balance of the property price (90% to 95% depending on the deposit paid) must be paid through the notary’s escrow account.
A few weeks later, the funds are transferred to the seller’s account by the notary.
As explained in step 2, the buyer must pay fees which are generally 7% of the overall property price. This includes the notary fee of 1% on the total price, the purchase tax of roughly 5.89% on the price and the admin costs.
If a company is used to purchase the property, the buyer who signed the preliminary contract with their own name will substitute his/her company which means that the contract is free of any tax.
Once all the formalities have run their course, the notary will close the accounts for both parties.
Note: This happens at the same time as steps 8 and 10.
This final deed is signed in the presence of all parties. The seller and the buyer meet with their respective notaries and the estate agent. The fine points of the sale terms and conditions are highlighted, then the documents are signed by both parties and witnessed by the notaries.
Note: This happens at the same time as steps 8 and 9.
The seller must pay Capital Gains Tax (if any is due) through the account of the notary who registers the contract at the Mortgage office. In general, if the property is the seller’s principal home there will not be any capital gains tax. If it is a second home, there will likely be capital gains tax to pay. The notary will take charge of this.
Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for! Now the buyer owns the property and can collect the keys from the notary and move in.
Special occasions call for special drinks. Dust off your finest crystal glasses and pop the cork on a bottle of Dom Perignon. You’re now the proud owner of real estate in France.
The period between the signature of the preliminary contract and the final deed (which means signature of the final notarised deed and payment of the full price, plus notary costs and agency commission fees) is usually around 2 to 4 months.
This can be accelerated with the agreement of all parties.
Below is an approximate summary of time scales for each step of the buying process. This is obviously dependent on a case by case scenario and is not going to be 100% accurate but aims to give you a rough guideline.