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This post establishes a “check list” when you wish to buy a property in France. This is a general checklist; there will always be specific cases for which you will have to undertake additional checks. Being well-informed of what you buy is a key for a successful property acquisition, and one is never too cautious…

Your budget: what is your deposit amount, what mortgage you may get: it is good to have an idea before starting looking for a property. French banks are generally more conservative than UK banks for the deposit. Regarding the acquisition price, the price advertised by estates agents and notaire (a notaire can sell a property) generally includes the transaction fees (“FAI” in French meaning “frais d’agences inclus”). However you need to add the acquisition costs, as prices are always advertised without the acquisition prices (see our blog “notaire fees and acquisition costs”)

Visit and state of the property: first of all as for any property that you would buy anywhere in the world it is advisable to visit  the property several times at different hours of the day, both with a sunny weather and a poor gray weather if you can. Also, do spend some time in the immediate vicinity of the property whether you know the area or not. It is of course better to get a map of the property. If you have some doubt regarding the quality of the building and or if you plan significant refurbishment/ extension/ building, it is advisable to visit the property with an architect.

The price: you need to have an idea of the price within the area, however, this can be difficult if you do not live in the area and only spend a few days around, it may take several weeks of investigation to understand whether a property is at market price or not. Several website may be useful to get an idea of the average price, the most useful being the “notaire” database (www.immoprix.com or www.paris.notaires.fr ), however it only discloses the average price. Several factors may have a significant impact on the property price like the environment and surroundings, the sun exposure, the immediate utilities (shop, transport, proximity of cable car if you are in a ski resort…), also in which floor the flat is located, when the property was built, who designed it, balcony or not, garden, state of the property, refurbishment to undertake, the size (smaller properties tend to have higher price per m2)…

Utilities: consumption and spending (better to get the invoice) of electricity and/or gas, and water.

Local taxes: mainly the “taxe fonciere” (land tax, which has to be paid for any kind or property, house, flat or land) and “taxe d’habitation” (paid only if you live in the property even a few days a year, if it is rented all year round the tenant pay the tax). These taxes may significantly vary from one town/village to another. We will write a separate blog on these taxes. Do read our category “taxe fonciere” and “taxe d’habitation”.

Insurance: how much property insurance the seller (or tenant) pays every year.

If the property is part of a “copropriété” (a kind of estate association, this is generally the case for a flat): how much maintenance spending have been paid during the past 2 years (generally on a quarterly basis), how much building work was paid and for what purpose during the past 3 years, what are the decisions of the general assembly of the association and is there any planned building works. You will need to see the copy of the invoices (for maintenance spending and for building works undertaken recently) and the estimation of the planned building work together with the general assembly documents.

Previous major refurbishment and building works (e.g. roof refurbishment): that were undertaken during the past 10 years, then you need to have a look at the 10 years building contractor insurance (French “garantie décennale”)

Future refurbishment /extension, building on land: you will need to set up a budget, either by contacting reliable contractors and/or an architect, before making any offer.

Previous damages to the property: if there has been any damage (e.g. flood), the consequences, the building work undertaken to repair, the insurance…

French”servitude”: these are potential caveats that may limit your property rights, the main one being the “droit de passage” or “servitude de passage”, e.g. a neighbour has the right to go through your property to access to his property behind yours.

Water treatment: is it a small private installation (e.g. “fosse septique”, quite common in the countryside) or is the used water linked to public pipe/sewage.

Neighbours: it is often useful to discuss with your future neighbours, you may learn interesting facts, although always useful to check too.

Technical diagnostics: these are legal and compulsory diagnostics undertaken by certified experts in each of their field that the buyer must provide when selling a property. Although the “notaire” will chase for them, it is much better to get them beforehand from the seller as they may influence your offering price, or you may even decide that you are no longer interested in this property. We hereunder briefly list the compulsory diagnosis, (we will write a separate post on them):

  • Lead risk (“constat de risque d’exposition au plomb” or « crep »), concerns building for which the planning permission was granted before the 1st of January 1949. Read our post “lead in water: the “hidden” lead assessment when buying French home”
  • Energetic performance and greenhouse gas (« diagnostic de performance énergétique » or “dpe”). Read our post “buying French property: energy performance becoming more important?”
  • Asbestos report (“état amiante”), concerns building for which the planning permission was granted before the 1st of July 1997
  • Quality  and standard of electrical set up and appliances (« état de l’installation intérieure de l’électricité »)
  • Quality  and standard of gas set up and appliances (« état de l’installation intérieure du gaz »)
  • Termites report (« état parasitaire relatif aux termites”) if the property is located in area where this diagnostic is required by the « Préfet ».
  • Natural, technological and mining hazards (« état  des risques naturels, technologiques et miniers”).This is provided by the seller directly, so it is better to check whether your property is in a risk area or not with the official PPR (Plan de Prevention des Risques). Please read our post “Why you should know about “Plan de Prevention des Risques Naturels” PPRN when buying a property in France”
  • “Sanitation” diagnosis (“diagnostic assainissement”). It focuses on the control of sewerage facilities: septic tank…  It concerns mainly houses not connected to the public network of sewage collection.
  • The “loi Carrez” report, which is the official document stating the area in m2 of the property. The official “Carrez” area excludes part of the property below 1.80 metres in height and several other specific items like walls, partition, staircases and stair wells, window & door embrasures, piping and electricity conduits…The seller should always communicate with the “Carrez” area, unfortunately this is sometimes not the case, hence the importance to get the official document. Please read our post “Loi Carrez essential when buying a French flat“.

You will of course need to undertake additional checks during the property visit and in any doubt it is wise to visit with an architect or a chartered property surveyor.

Town planning check (P.L.U. “Plan Local d’Urbanisme”): if you buy a house/chalet, you would like to know whether someone can build at the end of your back garden and hide de beautiful view or the sun rays that get into your living room. Also you may want to know whether you can build on a land or refurbish/extend a house. In both case you will have to check the PLU (“Plan Local d’Urbanisme”) at the town hall. If you need a planning permission for any building / refurbishing that you plan in the property you wish to buy, this has to be mentioned as a “condition suspensive” in the preliminary acquisition contract (the “promesse de vente”, or “compromis de vente”). You also need to check in the PLU what are the building requirements in relation to your own project, in many French areas there are specific constraints regarding what type of material you may use and what type of house, chalet you may build. You may of course get in touch with an architect for a major project (compulsory for a house at least 170 m2 of area “surface de plancher”, however do take the advise of an architect for a smaller project).

Acquisition process: we very briefly describe the acquisition process in France, without delving into details as we will give further explanations in futures blogs. Once you have been through all your check list and feel that you are ready to buy, the owner or the estate agent may ask you to sign a “promesse d’achat” (“offering letter” this is absolutely not compulsory).  You should be very careful in the wording, terms and conditions of this document, which is generally a simple letter including your offering price and a short list of caveats. Nothing has to be paid at the stage of the “promesse d’achat”. Also this document should have a very short validity, no more than a few days. We will write a separate post on this document. Once the buyer and the seller both agree on the price, then you sign a “compromis de vente” or a “promesse de vente” which is a preliminary acquisition contract. Everything is settled in this contract (unless it is a “promesse unilaterale de vente”), except for what we call the “conditions suspensives”. These are caveats under which if these caveats are fullfilled (e.g. you get your mortgage, the town hall deliver the planning permission that you need for extending or building the house…) then the final contract or “acte de vente” has to be signed and the full price paid. Although the “acte de vente” is the only contract which has to be signed at the “notaire” office, it is preferable to sign the preliminary contract at the “notaire” office too and to get your own “notaire” as a buyer (see our blog “notaire fees and acquisitions costs” for a brief description of the “notaire” role…). Generally the buyer has to pay a 10% deposit of the price at the signature of the preliminary contract. If the “conditions suspensives” are realised and the buyer decide not to buy, he may legally be forced to do so, and will at least lose its 10% deposit. There is generally a time lag of 3 to 4 months between the preliminary contract and the final contract.  Read our post on the “compromis de vente” and “promesse de vente” We will write a separate post for the the final contract.

Get some support: if you do not live in France and /or do not feel comfortable to negotiate your acquisition in French, it is advisable to get the support from a property search (also named property finder) company who will search for the right property for you, help you to negotiate or negotiate on your behalf as they generally know the market price, do the check list for you and accompany you up to the signature at the “notaire” office, including bilingual translation. Additionally, the property finder has access to all the property market including the property sold directly by the owners, you therefore have better chance to get exactly what you want at the right price. We can definitely help you in case you are looking for a property in the Alps, in Paris, and also in other areas, look at our website for the Alps (website for Paris to be released later).