Guidance

How to buy property in France

Advice for British people buying property in France, including information on legal advice, fraud, residence requirements, complaints and more.

Introduction

This guide sets out essential information for British nationals wanting to buy a property in France, including advice on legal advice, fraud, residence requirements, complaints and more. It should be read together with the ‘How to buy property abroad’ guide. We are unable to provide any guidance on individual property purchases. See our information on what the Embassy can and cannot do for British nationals.

If you wish to take specific legal advice before buying a property, we have a list of English speaking French lawyers who you may contact.

Translators

If you need an official translator please visit this website.

Taxation

There are two taxes on all residential property called ‘Taxe d’Habitation’ (Local Tax) and ‘Taxe Foncière’ (Land Tax). Please visit the French taxation website for more information.

Fraud

If you are a victim of fraud in France, visit this website which provides information about fraud in France and a contact number you can call for advice and to report a case of fraud.

If you wish to make a complaint against the legal system, you should contact the local courts. You may wish to seek advice first from an English speaking lawyer who may be able to assist you.

Diagnostic tests of property

A number of diagnostic tests are obligatory when buying, selling and renting out property. This website will help you to find a certified company that will do them for you.

Estate agents

If you use an estate agent to sell your home, you will sign a legally binding contract with them. Before signing the contract, please ensure you have a full understanding of the terms.

Notary public

The notary public or ‘Notaire’ is a public official, qualified in the French legal system, and is able to advise on property law, family and succession law, and corporate laws. The notaire has a title of ‘Maitre’. The state confers powers on the notaire to legalise property purchase transactions.

Service charges

Apartment owners must pay service charges for the upkeep of shared areas which vary according to the size and quality of the complex eg maintaining lifts, shared gardens etc. These charges should be considered before signing the contract; the estate agent and the seller should provide this information which is to be found in the minutes of the last annual meeting of co-owners (‘syndic de copropriété’) and the managing agent’s report.

Purchaser’s list

Before you complete your property purchase, you should consider the following non-exhaustive list:

  • who is going to purchase (eg husband and wife with or without a survivorship clause; or involve your children)
  • what will happen when the owner dies (you should take proper advice on an appropriate will)
  • if you need to borrow funds or sell another property to fund the French purchase, ensure a condition to that effect is included in the contract
  • obtain an ‘information pack’ of reports and partial surveys BEFORE signing; these are however not the equivalent of a full survey as might be expected in the UK
  • if you want a full structural survey, arrange for it BEFORE you sign the contract, or have a properly worded condition included in the contract to allow you to withdraw if the survey is unsatisfactory
  • do not allow yourself to be hurried into a binding decision by agents or sellers; take your time to consider all aspects of the purchase BEFORE signing any binding contract and ensure you understand its content
  • local searches do not reveal as much information about the property as in the UK; make specific (written) enquiries to an agent or notary about the property’s surrounding area and major pending development plans which may affect it
  • if you intend to do any work on the property, check whether planning permission is necessary and if necessary, include a condition in the contract to allow withdrawal in the event that permission is not forthcoming
  • only use foreign firms to do any work once they provide evidence of their due registration with the French authorities
  • do not agree to make any cash payment for any part of the price - this is a common but illegal practice; only make transfers through established banking channels to either agent or notary
  • be aware that two or more months may elapse between contract and completion; you should ensure transfers to the notary’s client account are arranged at least 10 days in advance of completion in order to ensure the funds are cleared on time

Buying property off-plan

If you are considering buying property off-plan, you need to be aware of article 1601 of the Civil Code which deals with:

  • the earliest time at which a sale may be completed compared to the status of building works (in general not before completion of foundations, unless a bank bond is provided)
  • the builder’s obligation to provide a completion bond
  • the price (review; stage payments; retentions)
  • the various guarantees against faults (minor faults - one year from completion; equipment - two years; structural - 10 years)
  • the detailed description of the property for sale
  • the content of and withdrawal from the preliminary contract

The vendor should not require you to make payments or deposits for property which exceed:

  • 35% of the total price prior to completion of foundations
  • 70% of the total price prior to the building being made water tight
  • 95% of the total price (or 85% in respect of an individual house) prior to completion of the building
  • the balance only being payable upon delivery of the property to the purchaser (you should ensure you have a clear undertaking as to date of completion and if possible, a penalty clause to ensure compliance)

A preliminary contract often called a ‘reservation’ will generally be required, together with a deposit. A cooling off period of 7 days from the date of signature is compulsory, and during that period you may withdraw without penalty. The contract is null and void if it does not contain the following information:

  • number of rooms and precise surface area of the property
  • position of the reserved premises within a commonhold
  • type and description of building works
  • provisional purchase price and any loans required
  • earliest date for completion of sale

The deposit may not exceed 5% of the purchase price if the building is scheduled for completion in less than one year or a maximum 2% if the scheduled completion date is up to two years away. Beyond this, no deposit or other payment of any kind should be required. You may withdraw if the reviewed final purchase price exceeds the provisional price by more than 5%, and in various others circumstances such as failure to complete the sale within the time provided, failure to obtain any loan etc.

Renting out your property

If you wish to rent out your property, it is advisable to contact a notaire who is highly qualified in the French legal system on property law.

Equity Release Schemes

Equity release schemes as understood in the UK, do not exist in France. A unique French process of (a) realising a part of the property’s capital value and (b) remaining in occupation until death, called a ‘vente en viager’ is available but you must take qualified and detailed legal advice before deciding to use such a method. See the list of notaires available in France to help you.

Problems with timeshare property

If you encounter problems with timeshare property, you may wish to read the FCO’s property fraud guidance, or visit Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre. You can also read guidance in French on the French civil service website.

Disclaimer

This information is provided as a general guide and is based upon information provided to the embassy by the relevant local authorities and may be subject to change at any time with little or no notice. The FCO and the British Embassy will not be liable for any inaccuracies in this information. British nationals wishing to obtain any further information must contact the relevant local authority.

Published 10 February 2015

Guidance and regulation

  1. France travel advice
  2. Living in France
  3. France – List of Lawyers