Buying property in France – Legal Advice

Buying property in France – Independent Legal Experts

The French legal system is very different to the UK’s and when purchasing a property in France it is strongly advised that you obtain expert help in order to avoid costly mistakes. At Tees Law, a fully bi-lingual French lawyer, Hervé Blatry and his team can provide all the support you need to guide you through the purchase, and also address issues relating to French inheritance and succession.

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French Law -Frequently Asked Questions

Q – When buying or selling a property in France, do I have to use a Notaire?

Yes. French Notaires have a monopoly on property transactions in France and they ensure the transaction proceeds according to the regulations. The Notaire will be responsible for registering property transfers and collecting any taxes relating to property sales that are due to the French State.

French vendors may use their own local Notaire with whom they have an existing relationship, and it is very possible that this would not be in the buyer’s best interest, as although in theory, the Notaire is supposed to be impartial and act in the interest of both parties, his only duty is to reach a balanced deal, which can cause buyers to feel that their interests are not closely monitored and represented.

The role of a Notaire is not to specifically protect the interests of either vendor or purchaser, he simply executes the property transfer. Also, the Notaire is often only instructed after signature of the first contract, prepared by an agent, at which stage it is too late to change anything (unless the vendor agrees) and the Notaire is bound to draft the final deed of sale based on and in compliance with the terms of the first contract. It is therefore important to seek independent legal advice, in order to receive guidance and representation before anything is signed. This is also particularly important as the documentation will be in French, and the French process is very different to that in the UK.

Q – What must I avoid when buying or selling property in France?

Sign nothing until you have sought independent legal advice. You might be put under pressure to sign the compromis de vente (initial contract) and told you risk losing the property if you do not sign. In this case, you can e-mail or fax us the compromis de vente for us to give you an initial report.

The same applies to a purchase offer (“Offre d’Achat”), which can be a dangerous document, as it is very short and stripped from a lot of clauses down to the bare bone, including clauses which the buyer may want for his protection but which can later be refused by the vendor when requested. So long as it contains the essential elements of the operation envisaged, an offre d’achat, if accepted, will form a binding contract forcing the buyer to sign a compromis de vente containing the same basic elements of the sale, but nothing more for the buyer’s protection. In that situation, the only way out for the buyer is to take advantage of his ten days “cooling-off period”, but this is far from ideal and potentially dangerous.

If you do sign without seeking advice, and then need to withdraw from the purchase, you risk losing your deposit and even being forced to buy the property in France. The way to protect against this is to include specific opt out clauses in the Compromis de Vente, but these need to be very carefully drafted and accepted by the vendor and Notaire.

Q – Within my UK divorce settlement, the ownership of my French property has passed to me, do I need to do anything in France?

The property title will not automatically be transferred despite the UK divorce agreement. It is essential that the property is “conveyed” to the new owner with the assistance of a French Notaire. The Notaire will need to have sight of the divorce settlement (translated into French) and formalities will need to be followed in France to ensure the transfer is completed.

Q – Do I need a French Will?

If you have French assets, it is advisable to have a French Will, as a UK Will often does not satisfy the French legal requirements regarding bequests and the rules of formal validity are completely different. In France, certain heirs have automatic rights of inheritance which must be respected, and a surviving spouse does not automatically become the legal beneficiary of property in France in the event of the death of the other spouse. A French Will is advisable for anyone who owns property in France and should be written with the help of someone who understands French succession law. Please note that since 2015, it is possible to choose expressly that English law will apply to the French succession, provided that you have British citizenship. This can be very convenient if you wish to make provisions which defer from forced heirship rules. This only applies to the transfer of assets, the tax law applicable will still be the French one.

Q – Does Brexit prevent me from buying a holiday home in France?

Not at all. You are still able to buy a French property in the same way as before. As regards coming over to France to enjoy it, as the situation currently stands, you can stay in France for up to 90 days (consecutive or not) per civil year (which is longer than the amount of annual leave allowed per year in any country).

People who wish to move to France permanently need to apply for a long stay visa first, and then a “carte de séjour” (residence permit) and justify a sufficient level of financial resources.

Long term visas (for over three months and up to a year) are usually related to work, family or studies reasons. The duration of a carte de séjour can be up to ten years, subject to conditions).

The next stage beyond this is obtaining French citizenship.

Finally, Brexit does not change anything to the rules regarding inheritance of a French property by UK nationals.

Hervé Blatry, Avocat

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