Once you have found your house in France to buy, made an offer, and had it accepted, you will be asked to sign the compromis de vente and pay a deposit, usually 10% of the asking price to the notaire, with the vendor also having to pay a deposit.
You now have a seven day cooling off period during which time you but not the vendor can withdraw from the contract, after which you are committed to the transaction to buy the house. Now if either of you pull out of the sale they will lose their deposit. (The cooling off period does not apply if you could be considered to be a property developer or buying property as a professional.)
The exception to the above is if you or the seller have asked
for clauses suspensive to be inserted in the compromis. These are
conditions that have to be met or the sale can be avoided with no loss
of the deposits, one of the most common clauses being that the buyer is
able to obtain a mortgage on the French property.
Once the compromis has been signed the house is taken off the market.
There are other forms of agreements such as the promesse d'achat, the promesse de vente, offre de vente, offre d'achat, etc., but the compromis seems to be increasingly the most common contract used for house purchases in France.
The final contract is called the Acte de Vente and you sign this at
the office of the notaire.
The balance of the money has to be paid to the notaire before the day that you sign. You will be asked to take along various documents such as a copy of birth certificate, and marriage certificate etc. The Acte de Vente states that the house in France is sold as it is on the date of signing so it is important if possible to visit the property before going to the office of the notaire just to check nothing has changed.
If you cannot get to France to sign the Acte de Vente, which happened in our case, you can be sent the document and you will have to find a solicitor in Britain who is also a notary to witness your signature. This of course means extra fees to pay.
Once the Acte de Vente has been signed you are the proud owner of your very own house in France.
The compromis will be written in French. I did see a claim on one web site that I visited that it was the law in France that the notaire had to have the contracts translated into the language of the purchaser if requested. In our own case as the compromis was relatively simple with no mortgage involved, and no clauses suspensive, we merely had the immobilier verbally translate the document before we signed and once back in England I scanned it into my computer using O.C.R. and used French English translation software to translate it: with mixed results. I did have some queries about the contract which I wrote to the notaire about, (in French), and asked, as they were legal queries which the software could not handle, whether she could reply to the queries in English - she just ignored this and answered in French.
In some ways the system for house buying in France is much better than that in the U.K. The fact that the compromis is binding on pain of loosing the deposit is an effective deterrent to gazumping and gazundering, and it is a shame that the U.K. government didn't consider introducing something similar here instead of proceeding with the ridiculous fiasco of H.I.P.S. which have been so watered down as to be toothless and yet add needlessly to the price of property transactions.
Whilst buying a house in France can be a simple matter as it was
our case, I have read on various forums and in newspaper articles of
property purchases which were far more complicated.
There are of course the French inheritance laws to consider. These laws, dating from Napoleonic times, can result in a French house having multiple family owners all living in different parts of France, and all of whom have to give their agreement to the property sale.
Another complication to look out for is that if you are buying a French property with parts of the land let for grazing by the existing house owner, the owners of the animals have a right to buy the land.
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Acknowledgements: images used on the left in the text area are mainly from morguefile.com, my thanks to biberta, missyredboots, rosevita, doctor_bob, cohdra, mconners, kairily, clarita, scott. m. liddel, and anyone else from morguefile whose image appears here. All the images in the right hand column on each page have been taken by me during my various travels in France and are copyright of buyahouseinfrance.info.