A very simplified overview of the property buying process in France
In France you make a verbal offer to the owner through your estate agent who negotiates on your behalf. Once an offer is accepted you and the vendor then sign the Compromis de Vente (the formal offer) and pay the deposit, normally 10%. The deposit is paid into the Notaire’s account and held until the sale completes. Before the day of completion the balance of the price – including fees – is transferred to the Notaire. The buyer and seller sign the Acte de Vente and the buyer owns the house.
There are various inspections – expertises – that have to be completed before the offer can be signed.
The purchaser has a 7-day cooling off period after the compromis is signed. In that time they can withdraw from the purchase for any reason with no penalty. From signing the compromis to signing the Acte de Vente, the official purchase document that transfers ownership, is usually 2 -3 months. Once the 7-day period is over the notaire starts doing the things that are necessary.
This includes things like verifying title and checking to see if there are outstanding loans registered against the property. He also checks that there are no plans in place to build a road or anything on the property.
Many villages in France have the right to decide to buy the property at the price that has been offered to the vendor. If the village has the right then the Notaire has to offer them the property and they have two months in which to make a decision. That’s the main reason that it takes two months. If the village doesn’t have the right to buy the property then it takes about three weeks to complete the sale. As an aside – villages almost never exercise their right to buy a property. I’ve never heard of it happening.
Notaire fees are about 7% of the purchase price – sometimes a bit less, sometimes a bit more. The Notaire’s actual fee is set by the state and is about 10% of the total. The notaire pays land transfer and registry fees and any other fees and charges required by the government on behalf of the buyer.
The compromis can include clauses suspensives inserted by the purchaser or the vendor. These are clauses than, if not met, can cancel the sale with no penalty. The most common is a clause relating to a mortgage application. A vendor is given x amount of time, usually about three weeks to apply and get approval for a mortgage. If they can’t get approval they notify the notaire and the sale is off. They do have to prove that they diligently tried to get a mortgage otherwise they are liable to forfeit the deposit.
Estate Agency Fees
Normally estate agency fess or commission is included in the selling price. There are rare exceptions so it is a good idea to clarify.
You don’t have to be in France for any of this. The Notaire can send you the Compromis by registered post, you sign it and send it back by registered post. You can also use a procuration to sign the Compromis or Acte de Vente. This is basically a one-time power of attorney that gives someone in the Notaire’s office the authority to sign on your behalf.