Buying French character

This article has been written to give you a general step-by-step overview of the French character buying course of action.

The French character buying course of action is fairly straightforward and well regulated.  Each year many thousands of foreign buyers buy in France without problems or complications. As with any character buy there can be problems, but the majority of them are encountered because buyers have not understood properly what they need to do in improvement and how the time of action works, especially if they don’t speak French

The most important issue to be aware of is that the sale becomes binding much earlier in the time of action than in the UK. consequently providing you allow enough time for viewing, one can effectively obtain a character you have seen on your visit and return to your home country knowing that no-one else can buy it.

Where to buy

French similarities are sold in various ways, either privately, via notaires (public notary) or via estate agents (immobiliers). The majority of overseas buyers in France buy by immobiliers, as this is a more familiar course of action and you are more likely to meet someone who speaks English.

When using an immobiliers, make sure they are a member of a registered body such as FNAIM, SNPI or UNPI. This information should be visible somewhere in their office. Do not use an immobiliers without first visiting their office and viewing the setup – don’t just position to meet in a car park somewhere.

An immobiliers will usually ask you to sign a “Bon de visite” – this proves to the vendor that they, the agent, are the ones who showed you a character; it prevents conflicts between agents!


The prices displayed in a French immobiliers’ premises or on the internet should include the agent’s fees (anywhere between 4% and 10% of the character price). The price will be followed by the letters FAI if this is the case. However, it does not always include the notaire’s fee. When you are looking at a character, always ask what the price quoted includes. Ask for an assessment of any additional fees and don’t forget to add on 19.6% for TVA (VAT) on any additional fees.


Don’t be frightened to make an offer for a character just as you would in your home country. If you can find out how long the character has been for sale or the position of the seller, you may get some idea of their willingness to accept less than the selling price. You can of course look into this with the agent.


Surveys are not always undertaken in France, because the profession of surveyor does not occur in the same way that it does in Britain, for example. If you are worried about certain aspects of the construction of the character you are buying, or renovation concerns, you could contact one of the growing number of English speaking surveyors working in France, or you could position to visit the character with a local builder to get an opinion and idea of costs. If you are going to do this it is better to do it before you agree a price and sign any contract, particularly if you expect to be doing a lot of renovation. If you need a survey, but do not have time to have it performed before you sign a contract, you should ask the notaire to include a “clause suspensive” in the Compromis de Vente to ensure that your buy is unprotected to a satisfactory survey (see below).

Other points to consider

Prior to signing sign anything, be certain to see the plans of the character and its land (ask for the cadastral plans from the agent or at the local mairie) – check that there are no private or communal plans to construct other similarities, offices or agricultural buildings near to your house. For further advice, see our articles on how to acquire planning permission.

The Notaire

Once you have found a character and agreed a price, the actual contract course of action will be handled by a Notaire as they are the only people allowed by law to perform conveyancing in France.

There are two rule documents you will need to sign to buy a character in France. The Compromise de Vente and the Acte Authentique. (See below)

The Notaire charges a fee – typically between 2% and 8% per of the ‘net’ character price (the cheaper the character, the higher the percentage). This may be included in the price if you buy by an estate agent. However, confirm that the fee is included – it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The Notaire is required by law to act impartially and acts for both purchaser and vendor. This may seem foreign to UK buyers but the majority of transactions in France are handled this way, by one notaire. The immobilers should be able to suggest a local notaire. If you feel uncomfortable about this, you are entitled to appoint your own notaire. This will not cost you any more money, as the two notaires will divided the fee between themselves, but it can be a less efficient way of handling the transaction.  Furthermore, if you wish, you can take independent legal advice in France or in the UK to assist you with the buy (e.g. from a non French solicitor) but you will be liable for their fees in addition as those of the notaire.


Although you may find a notaire who speaks some English it is important to understand that the legal documents will be in French and contain legal terms that may be unfamiliar. Some estate agents provide translations of the Compromis de Vente but this is not their principal role or responsibility. If you are not sure about any aspect of the contract you can get a specialized translation, either in France or in your home country.  In France there are officially registered translators qualified to translate legal documents. Ask the agent if they can suggest an independent translator and be aware, there will be a translation fee.

The Compromis de Vente (Initial Contract)

The Compromis will contain a date when it is expected that the Acte Authentique (the main contract – see below) will be signed. observe that this date is not legally binding and is really a target at which both parties aim.

For the notaire to create the agreement you must provide your passport, marriage papers and divorce papers. If you’re borrowing money you will also provide details of the loan.

Clauses suspensives (conditional clauses)

‘Clauses suspensives’ allow you to withdraw from the buy under certain circumstances, so it important to give this some thought before you sign the Compromis de Vente. You can add any clauses you wish to the contract (provided the vendor is willing to agree to them). If you are obtaining a mortgage the notaire will automatically observe this fact as a conditional clause in the agreement, which method if your mortgage provider turns you down or refuses to lend against the character you are not obliged to proceed with the buy. Other normal provisions you might include: ensuring that you are able to get planning permission, ensuring that certain works or repairs are performed. You should discuss these clauses very carefully with your agent and the notaire at the time of making the offer.

Numerous problem purchases or disputes could have been avoided if the purchasers had introduced clauses to protect themselves at this stage.

rule, asbestos, termites and energy reports

These reports are grouped in a single report known as the DTT (Dossier de Diagnostic Technique).  The DTT is required by law and is the obligation of the vendor to commission and pay for up-to-date reports to be attached to the compromis de vente; the notaire will ensure that this is so. Termite reports are unprotected to the area of France. character vendors with swimming pools are obliged to provide a report on the safety aspects of the pool.

Cooling-off period

Once both parties have signed the Compromis, you the buyer have a seven day cooling-off period. During this time, you can withdraw from the sale without incurring a penalty, but the vendor cannot.

Once the cooling-off period has elapsed, the contract becomes binding on both parties. It is important that you do not sign the Compromis lightly.


During this time, assuming you intend to proceed, you will need to position move of funds to pay the place (in Euros).

Your place is most often 10% of the net buy price. From this point, if you withdraw from the buy you may lose your place, unless it is for one of the reasons listed in your ‘clauses suspensives’.

This article describes the purchasing course of action for re-sale similarities. Leaseback and New Build similarities may have different pay schedules and contract conditions.

Local Authority Searches

Once the compromis is signed the notaire will start the legal course of action including the searches on the character, land registry rights to ownership, boundaries and rights of way.

It is important to observe that in France the searches do not include looking at any private planning permissions that may exist close your house. To establish whether your neighbour is about to construct a new house next to your border, visit the local Mairie and ask to see the “plan communale” (any recent planning application) or ask the agent to get this information.

How long does it take?

The complete course of action should take three or four months from making the offer to signing the final contract.

Tax and Legal matters

Besides the buy contracts, you may have concerns about your situation regarding inheritance law, residency issues, income and capital gains tax or other legal and tax issues, in which case you may wish to consult an English speaking legal adviser who specialises in French character law.

The final signing – Acte Authentique (Acte de Vente)

At some juncture your agent or the notaire will advise you of the expected date to sign the complete contract – the Acte Authentique or Acte de Vente.

You should be present for the signing of the completion document if at all possible. If you aren’t able to attend, you can position a strength of attorney.

position to view the character on the day of the signing. The final contract has a clause saying ‘sold as seen on signing date’, so you need to know that the character is exactly as you anticipate and not with floors, walls or windows missing.

You should plan ahead in order to move the balance of your payment to the notaire’s account in plenty of time for the signing. The character will not be yours until all the funds required (including mortgage funds) for the character buy and all associated fees have been sent to the notaire’s bank account.

Once you have signed the Acte Authentique, retire to the nearest bar and enjoy a glass of champagne.


This guide is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be a replace specialized advice regarding any aspect of purchasing a French character. If in doubt you should consult your estate agent, legal or tax adviser. The author cannot be held responsible for the consequences of decisions or actions you may choose to take in connections with viewings trips or a character buy.

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