The French Conveyancing Process

For your information, we have set out below a general outline of the French conveyancing process. However, please note that this is only an overview and is certainly no substitute for specific advice relevant to your particular circumstances.

Cooling-off Period

There is in most private purchases of French residential property a right to withdraw within seven days of the signed contract being sent to the purchaser by recorded delivery by a notary or estate agent, or handed to the purchaser by a notary (but not an estate agent), together with the required statutory notice at French law of the right of the purchase to withdraw within seven days.

The seven-day period starts from the day after you receive the statutory notice, and the notice of withdrawal must be sent by recorded delivery addressed to the person from whom the notice was received – either the notary or the estate agent.

It is important to know that this right is not accorded to property professionals nor to purchasers of land without a building of any sort.

Suspensive Clauses

A suspensive clause is a clause in the compromis de vente, promesse de vente (agreement of sale) or reservation contract making the performance of the contract conditional upon certain events transpiring before either party is able compel the other to complete.

Such conditions are crucial in any proper contract made in good faith.

We can check that your contract contains the appropriate clauses for your protection and request amendments if we consider the contract is not suitable for you.

The Completion Stage

Whereas in England, the preliminary stage is often of a lengthy duration, while the completion stage in generally short, matters in France operate in the exact reverse. There, the preliminary stage, which culminates in the signing of the contract and the payment of a deposit takes place quickly, while the completion stage generally proceeds at a leisurely pace.

It is not uncommon for more than three months to elapse between the signing of a contract and the execution of the deed of transfer which marks the completion of the purchase process. It is usually at “completion” stage, French style, that the services of a notary are retained, generally by the vendor or his estate agent. A French notaire is a cross between an English solicitor, a licensed conveyancer, and a tax collector – a hybrid creature unfamiliar to the English eye. To this panoply of functions, he may add, if he chooses, that of estate agent. A notaire is given his office by the French government, and the number of notaires practising throughout France is limited. Unlike solicitors in England, notaires do not engage in litigation.

The Preliminary Stage

The French preliminary stage is marked by an early “exchange of contracts”, to use English legal parlance. Once a prospective purchaser, after viewing a property, has decided to buy it, he will be invited, generally by the estate agent handling the property, to enter into a binding written contract and pay a deposit. This contract will take the form of either an option to purchase (promesse de vente_) or a conditional contract (_compromis). Both of these types of contract generally come in a template form, into which the estate agent enters the particulars of the vendor and purchaser, a description of the property, the price consideration and the amount of the deposit. Although different in scope and nature, each contract has a common thread running through it, which is that once it is signed, the purchaser will not be able to withdraw from his bargain at will, without a penalty, unless he can show good cause. This rigorous rule is mitigated to a degree as follows:

A non-business purchaser is given a seven-day “cooling off” period to reconsider his decision and withdraw from it, if he chooses
If one is intending to buy the property with the help of a mortgage loan, genuine and properly documented failure to secure such a loan will cause the contract to lapse without penalty
Provided the contract has been properly drawn, then if subsequent searches show the property to be burdened by various onerous encumbrances of a financial or planning nature, the purchaser may withdraw from his purchase without penalty in most circumstances
As is apparent from the foregoing, in a French purchase of land, searches and inquiries follow upon the signing of a binding contract, rather than preceding it, as is the practice in England. Once this signing takes place and the deposit is paid, the sale of land proceeds to its “completion” stage.

The Role of the Notaire During Completion

In his capacity as licensed conveyancer, the notaire has a monopoly over drafting deeds of transfer of property. The French land registry office will only enter on the land registry such deeds of transfer as have been executed by a notaire. Although generally retained by the vendor, the notaire is required by law to hold an even hand between the vendor and the purchaser and see that their respective interests are preserved. In practice, the fees of the notaire, charged on a degressive graduated fee set by statute (unless they are off scale), are paid by the purchaser.

It is in the role of officer appointed by the government that the notaire, acting for both parties, will requisition an official search in the land charges register with a view to finding out if the land is encumbered by charges by way of security and whether there are cautions against it, and raise inquiries with the relevant authorities regarding planning restrictions and environmental problems. Once it is clear that a “clean” title can be made over and that there are no onerous burdens, the notaire will advise the parties that the sale can proceed to completion.

A date will be set for such completion and on that day, the vendor and purchaser will attend at the offices of the notaire, where the deed of transfer will be signed by the parties and the notaire, after he has read the deed out to them. This time-consuming procedure can be dispensed with by both parties signing beforehand a special power authorising a clerk of the notaire to act as its attorney and sign on its behalf on the day of completion without their needing to be physically present. The execution of the deed of transfer and the payment of the price outstanding take place concurrently and the right of entry on the part of the buyer is exercised at that stage.

It is also at the time of completion that the fees accruing to the notaire are discharged and that ad valorem stamp duty payable on the transaction is levied. Following completion, the notaire will lodge the deed of transfer with the local land registry office, together with any deed creating a mortgage charge, if the property has been purchased with the help of a mortgage advance. This deed of charge is executed by the notaire at the time of completion and the cost thereof charged to the borrower (purchaser) on a graduated statutory scale. Evidence of completion comes in the form of a declaration provided by the notaire to the purchaser on the day of completion (“attestation”) and thereafter a certified copy of the deed of transfer, issued by the notaire to the purchaser. The original deed of transfer remains on file at the offices of the notaire. The French local land registry office also holds a copy.

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