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Buying a house in France is somewhat different to buying in Britain. Whilst property purchases and estate agency are somewhat on the edge of our field of expertise we have of course been involved to some degree on many occasions and have introduced prospective buyers to reliable estate agents. Here are a few simple explanations to give you an idea what it's all about.

Remember that the inheritance laws in France impose constraints. You will need to see how this applies to your situation and seek the necessary advice. The Notaire or an independent property consultant will be able to help you, and this should be organised before the the Acte de Vente. Following recent changes in French law, most Notaires now advise married couples to create a marriage contract in France (applying only to property in France) which transfers full ownership directly to the surviving spouse without any inhertiance taxes.

Useful terms:

Succession - inheritance

Frais de succession - Inheritance taxes. Can be between 5 & 40% of the value of the property.

- the state or affairs following the death of the owner(s), whereby the spouse and children inherit parts and cannot dispose of the property without the agreement of the others.

- The right to live in the property or rent it out following the death of the owner or the other joint owner.

Héritier réservataire
- a person who cannot be disinherited according to the law (normally close family).

Donation au dernier vivant
- Legal contract between spouses that ensures usufruit following the death of one or the other.

- A property holding company that can be set up to allow liberty of transfer of ownership, minimising the inheritance taxes in some cases.
    These explanations are intended for guidance. You must thoroughly examine any contract before signing and seek legal advice for any areas that are unclear.
    L'Agent Immobilier (Estate Agent)
Most property transactions are handled by an Agent Immobilier. He is a registered professional who looks for buyers, on behalf of the seller, and vice-versa, and organises the sale transaction.
    Le Notaire (equivalent of a Solicitor)
All sales are registered by a Notaire. He is an official of the state who's job is to ensure that the transaction meets all legal requirements and to collect the taxes due. Some Notaires offer property services in the same way as an Agent Immobilier. The buyer and seller can choose to use the same Notaire, or each party can designate their own (usually an unecessary complication).

Le Compromis de Vente (initial promise)
This is a preliminary contract signed by both the buyer and seller, determining the property, the price, the taxes and charges, the terms of the transaction and the delay to completion. This is normally binding on both parties, but may have certain 'clauses suspensives' which are conditions to be fulfilled to validate the transaction. This may include obtaining a loan, obtaining planning permission, etc. A percentage of the sale price is paid on signing the Compromis de Vente, and this is held in trust by the Notaire until the final act is signed. Normally, if the buyer backs out, this is paid to the seller as compensation and an equivalent sum is paid to the buyer if the seller backs out. This initial payment is usually 10%, but this is negotiable.

    L'Acte de Vente (final sale deed) This document confirms the details defined in the Compromis de Vente, defines all search results and legal aspects. Once signed by both parties, the sale becomes definitive and the property has changed hands. This usually takes place 2 - 3 months after the Compromis de Vente. The balance together with the taxes and charges are paid at this moment.
    Les Frais (the taxes and charges) Frais d'Agence: Prices are often quoted with the agency fees included - marked as "FAI". Frais de Notaire: These are calculated by the Notaire, in strict accordance with the law, and are based on the value of the property together with his remuneration (typically 5 to 8% of the price before agency fees). Different rates may apply to part of the property if this part is regarded as agricultural or commercial.
      Expertise (survey) A survey is not normally undertaken in France prior to purchase, except for mandatory termite/insect, lead and asbestos surveys (paid for by the seller). The property is purchased "as seen". However the buyer is free to engage Un Expert to do a survey or to consult other building professionals for their opinion. In cases where land is not clearly marked out, a Geométre (land surveyor) will be called in to the mark the boundaries.
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