Are there property taxes to be paid each year?
Yes. The two main taxes are taxe foncière and taxe d'habitation. Both are levied in October/November each year. taxe foncière is a local land and property tax and is calculated by reference to the theoretical rental value of your property, set by the land registry on 1 January each year. This tax is payable by the owner of the property. Properties which have been just built, or which have recently been restored, are generally exempt from this tax for two years commencing on 1 January following the date of their structural completion, provided the work undertaken has been declared within 90 days of its completion. When French property is bought midway through a year, taxe foncière charged will be calculated on a pro-rata basis.
Taxe d'habitation is a local residential tax payable by the occupier of the property (owner or tenant). However, if the property is let on a holiday basis only, the owner pays the tax. The property must be habitable, and should any major restoration work be carried out, thus rendering the property uninhabitable for some time, taxe d'habitation would be charged pro-rata according to the amount of time it was habitable. Again, the liability depnds on the cadastral value of the property as at 1 January.
In some parts of France, sundry taxes or taxes assimilés will also be charged by the local authority for the supply of snow sweeping or other amenities.
All these charges are usually lower than similar charges in the U.K. To get an idea of the amount these taxes will be each year, we can ask the seller or the French estate agents to send you a copy of the latest demands before you sign anything.
Can I build my own property?
Yes, but land suitable for building (terrain à bâtir) is relatively difficult to find in France. Any contract for the purchase of a lotissement or other plot should include carefully worded clauses enabling you to withdraw without penalty if planning permission is not obtained to build precisely the property you wish to construct - and connect it to the mains services - on the number of habitable square metres (SHON) required. You must usually start building works within one year and complete them within 5 years of obtaining planning permission.
Can I pay the purchase price in several instalments?
That depends on the seller and whether you want a mortgage.
Do I have to be in France for all the stages of the sale?
No. The purchase contract can be signed in your home country. The acte de vente can be signed either in person at the offices of your notaire or you can appoint a proxy to sign on your behalf. Please Contact Us for more assistance.
Do I have to pay a deposit?
Yes. A deposit is payable when you sign the purchase contract. This will normally be 10% of the purchase price and it will be paid to and held by your notaire or the French estate agent in their client account. At no stage should you pay a deposit or any other money direct to the seller, unless you are prepared to lose it. French estate agents can only receive deposit monies if they hold a carte professionnelle which is only issued upon proof that the agent holds minimum insurance cover (garantie financière). Otherwise, the risk of loss of that deposit through the agent's insolvency or misappropriation falls on you. It is always advisable that the deposit be held by the notaire acting as stakeholder in a compte séquestre (stakeholder account). The deposit is deducted from the purchase price on completion but no interest is paid for the period between signing your contract and completing the purchase. With the notaire's consent we may however be able to arrange for the deposit to be placed in an interest-bearing English stakeholder account in which case a proportion of the interest which accrues can be paid to you on completion.
Do I need a Solicitor/other lawyer in my home country?
Always consult a French legal specialist to deal with your individual concerns. We recommend that you consult with Stephen Smith of Stephen Smith (France) Ltd (On contact quote ref FPSAMJ) who is an internationally recognised expert in this field. In many cases a simple review of your papers is all that is required. On inspection some cases reveal flaws of ranging importance. These include failure by the seller to obtain the necessary written authorisation(s) for various building or other improvement works to the French property
Stephen Smith is also an expert on French inheritance laws. Unless a property is set up as a company, or good legal advice sought, the property usually reverts to nearest blood relatives (i.e. children, not spouses) after death.
Legal advice should take into account both French and UK law, which Stephen Smith (On contact quote ref FPSAMJ) can provide.
Explain the French conveyancing process to me
A sale of French property is binding between the parties as soon as there is agreement on the subject matter and the price. Buying French property is usually a two-stage process.
(a) The contract stage
You cannot buy French property \"subject to contract\" as you can in England. Instead, once you have found a suitable property and agreed a price, you and the seller will usually be asked to immediately sign a purchase agreement ('your contract') and pay a deposit - usually 10 per cent of the purchase price - before any local authority searches are carried out, and often before finance is raised. We can usually arrange this for you in less than 48 hours. Please contact us for further information. At this point the parties have normally entered into a legally binding contract which commits both the seller to sell and you to buy the property. Nothing can be added to or removed from your contract at a later date without the seller's consent.
French estate agents can and frequently do prepare contracts for the sale of French property. You will often be asked, even urged, to sign a contract which will be legally binding before anyone has examined the title deeds. The agent's duty of care could make them liable if there was a serious problem over the ownership, but you may well already have paid a deposit and be faced with an action by your seller for specific performance. Prudence therefore dictates that you should endeavour to defer signing any document until you have had advice from someone other than the seller's agents.
For the above reasons, and even if you are under enormous pressure to proceed with your purchase, we do not recommend that you sign your contract and/or pay a deposit at such an early stage. Instead, we recommend that we immediately arrange for a French language offer letter (unlike other documents the wording of this letter is not in any way legally binding) to be prepared and sent to you for your signature, which can then be faxed to the French estate agent or the seller, confirming your interest in proceeding further at a proposed purchase price, subject however to the production of:
- A photocopy of the current property register (relevé du propriété du vendeur or extrait de la matrice cadastral). These documents will confirm the identity of the registered owner(s) of the property. You may have only met one of them. If there is more than one owner, they must all authorise the sale of the property for it to be legally binding. If there are several registered owners dotted across France or elsewhere, it is common practice for one of their number or for the French estate agents to be given a French Power of Attorney (procuration) authorizing him to sign your contract and the acte de vente on behalf of all the registered owners. To avoid tedious and expensive delays, a copy of the Power of Attorney should also be obtained and carefully checked to ensure that all the necessary powers have been given.
- Your contract. In France there is no standard-form of contract like the English National Conditions of Sale. Instead, every contract is individually prepared and so should be carefully checked each time. Nothing should be taken for granted. For example, many contracts do not contain an accurate physical description of the property being sold. To avoid problems, the description of the land in the property register should be checked to see how the property is currently described and whether any alteration to your contract is necessary to meet the true registered description of the property. Three main forms of contract exist. The contract most commonly used in France is a compromis (also known as a promesse synalagmatique) de vente. The compromis binds both parties and if you withdraw from the transaction, you will lose your deposit. Depending on the wording of the contract, you may also be sued for damages and/or an order compelling you to complete the purchase. In some parts of France the transaction is recorded instead in a one-sided agreement called a promesse unilatérale de vente. Under a promesse the seller is legally bound to sell his property but you are not bound to buy it from him, and can withdraw from the transaction before completion, subject to losing your deposit. It is subject to certain additional formalities, such as registration at the bureau des hypothèques. If the property is still being built you will sign a contrat de réservation and pay a réservation deposit which cannot exceed 5 per cent of the purchase price (only 2 per cent if completion of building works is schedules within 2 years, none if longer). Ownership of the land and whatever has been built on it passes to you at the time the acte de vente is signed, and you acquire ownership of the rest of the property as it is built. Types of contract to be avoided are the exchange of letters (échange de lettres), the offer of sale (offre de vente) , the purchase offer (offre d'achat or promesse d'achat) and the pacte de preference (a right of first refusal). These contracts offer you little protection and are therefore not recommended. Anything else you put in writing may be construed as a legally binding contract, even though that offer may be said to be \"subject to contract\". Remember, an oral offer is also legally enforceable. To avoid problems, do not therefore make any offers or similar expressions of intent without first taking independent legal advice. Your contract should always contain conditions suspensives. If these conditions are not fulfilled you will not be obliged to proceed with the purchase and your deposit is normally fully refundable. For instance, if you require a French mortgage secured against the property, your contract must by law contain a condition suspensive conditional on that finance being obtained in a specified amount. Other typical conditions suspensives include there being no adverse rights of way or other servitudes or planning restrictions affecting the property: that the certificat d'urbanisme (planning search) is positif, thus ensuring ensure that the property can be used in accordance with planning law, and that the local authority or others will not exercise a pre-emptive right of first refusal (droit de pre-emption) to buy the property. In any event please ensure before signing your contract that it truly records what you have agreed, and contains all the appropriate clauses for your protection. If not, you lose the opportunity to insert your own tailor-made requirements. Always consult a French legal specialist to deal with your individual concerns. We recommend that you consult with Stephen Smith of Stephen Smith (France) Ltd (On contact quote ref FPSAMJ) who is an internationally recognised expert in this field.
- An apartment or other property situated in a copropriété is regulated by a co-ownership agreement known as the règlement de copropriété which defines which parts are privately owned by you (e.g. heated garages, ski-lockers) and the parts which are owned in common with others (e.g. lifts, staircases). The règlement also records your rights and obligations in the copropriété, how it is managed and various annual service charges calculated. Every purchaser who signs a contract is deemed to have read and understood the règlement and is therefore legally bound by it.
- A copy of the plan cadastral, the cadastral numbers of which should match each parcelled of land described in your contract. Unfortunately many plans are of poor quality and can contain confusing amendments to the cadastral numbers. If the extent of the property is not clearly marked on the plan cadastral, it may be advisable to instruct a géomètre-expert to precisely measure out and mark out on the ground the correct boundaries to the property.
- An inventory should be attached to your contract detailing what is included in the sale price and what is not. In France chattels and fixtures will not automatically pass to you with the immeubles and, unless otherwise agreed, the seller is entitled to remove them before completion, even if they feature in the estate agent's particulars of sale. Without an inventory you may for instance find the fitted kitchen that sold the property to you when you first viewed it is not there when you move in.
- A copy of the sellers registered title deed (titre de propriété) which should be carefully checked for any servitudes or easements which might affect your use and enjoyment of the property and, in some cases, making that property unsellable in future years. A servitude is a right over land in favour of other landowners. Servitudes include rights of access, rights of light and air and car parking rights. Administrative servitudes, which include the right to run service such as electric cables, are imposed by public bodies and may entitle the owner to compensation. Common issues include shared rights of access (and joint liability to contribute to its upkeep), a separate access to the garden (you may need a formal right of way to it), and other easements such as a 'short cut' through your property or the way a neighbour's drains join yours.
- Copies of French planning documents. French planning permission (permis de construire) or some other written approval may have been or will in future be required for any building works or improvements to the property. In addition the property or area in which it is situated may be protected in some way, in which case it is an offence to make any alterations or improvements to the exterior and the interior of the property without first obtaining planning permission.
A reasonable estate agent or seller should allow you/us a few days to check the papers. In most instances we can carry out necessary checks at very short notice if copy documents are transmitted to us by fax.
You may also wish to make further preliminary searches and enquiries. France is divided into various local districts for each of which there is a local authority (commune) which maintains a register of planning and other matters affecting property in its area. In contrast with English practice, you will not receive the protection of a local authority search advising you (inter alia) of the construction of new roads in the proximity of the property. As there is no real equivalent in France to English preliminary enquiries or local searches - and certainly none which are carried out before you are expected to sign a contract and commit yourself - you or your surveyor should:
- Visit the serice d'urbanisme at the local mairie (town hall) to make enquiries about the development potential of the area in question. Planning permission is required for many alterations and extensions to French property, particularly if it affects the external aspect and appearance, or for changing the use of a building. Whether planning permission is needed or not, building regulations will apply to the materials and method of building. French planning laws and building regulations are complicated and you would be well advised to contact the mairie for informal advice from a planning officer. Ask to see and if possible obtain a copy of the plan d'occupation des sols (POS) which indicates how your land and the neighbouring land is zoned (e.g. zones ZIF, ZAD or DPU which prevent our seller from selling his property to you); whether you or others can build on your land or neighbouring land; and whether there are any plans for new motorways, roads, railways, electricity cables or pylons and other miscellaneous infrastructure within a distance of (say) 1,000 metres of the property.
- A cursory glance at the next-door properties is usually all the though most of us give to them before we move. More often than not we are pleasantly surprised by the people we find ourselves living next door to, but occasionally they can turn out to be a complete nightmare. The colour and condition of someone's front door suggests very little about the type of people who live behind it. Just because a house looks scruffy does not mean the inhabitants are noisy, unfriendly or difficult. However, it does imply repairs might be needed on the house in the future, and that if work is not done, it could adversely affect your property. If the next-door property is uninhabited (particularly if it is derelict) find out who owns it and what is likely to be happening. Neighbour disputes tend to focus on things which are shared: gateways, drives, drains, hedges etc. If there are any shared facilities will you be troubled by constant use from the people next door? The kindly old couple who may live there now could sell to a family with a much more intrusive lifestyle. Imagine the worst that could happen. Could you live with it? It is always therefore prudent to ask the current owner about their neighbours. If you are lucky, they will be straightforward and forthcoming. If the owner suggests that the elderly male neighbour on one side is \"a little strange\", this may ring alarm bells. In practice, a telephone call to the local police station to find out whether they have had any trouble from any residents on the road will often prove to be the reassurance you need.
- In rural and even some urban parts of France farmers or anyone else having usage agricole (use of land for pasture, cultivation or other agricultural purposes) and their successors may be entitled to an agricultural tenancy (bail rural) over your French property. This inter alia means that if you wish to sell the property, your tenant farmer has first rights to buy the freehold. If he does not want to buy, you can sell to a third party but the tenancy will continue, which may deter a potential buyer from proceeding. French agricultural tenancies are often very informal and, although usually made in writing, can be created verbally. It is important that a formal tailor-made agreement containing all the necessary clauses for your protection is prepared before the tenant begins to use your land. If you feel that the maintenance and upkeep of your land can only be achieved by engaging the services of a local farmer, but do not want to grant an agricultural tenancy, a carefully-worded written convention d'occupation précaire (licence agreement) should be prepared by a French lawyer.
Bear in mind that there may be other matters which, although not visible, could adversely affect your use and enjoyment of the property. If you are viewing on a weekday, try to find out whether things change at weekends. Or if you are there in the summer, consider the other seasons of the year.
The French authorities will require evidence of your état civil. This is the description of an individual by reference to his or her parentage, date and place of birth and marriage, the regime matrimonial under which he or she was married, his or her divorce and remarriage, nationality etc. In France a married woman is known by her maiden name, 'wife of' her husband. If you are more than one buyer, the obligations which you undertake can be enforced against you all jointly or against each individually. If you intend to buy in the name of one or more individuals, you must provide - so therefore please let us have - a photocopy of the first 6 pages (if you have an old blue British passport) or the last 2 pages (if you have a new red British passport) of the passports of all the proposed buyers. You will also be required to provide photocopies of your birth certificates and, if appropriate, photocopies of your marriage certificates or photocopies of your divorce decrees. If you have mislaid or destroyed any of these documents, certified copies will be required. The French authorities sometimes require that such certificates be not more than 3 months old. This means that the certified copy of the UK entry of the relevant event must have been issued not more than 3 months before its use, and it is quite useless explaining to the French that such a certified copy issued many years previously is equally valid as proof of the event related in it. French translations may also be required.
Your contract must be signed personally by the parties or their properly authorised agents. If for any reason you are unable to sign your contract in person, a French Power of Attorney (procuration) must be prepared giving authority to a trusted person to sign this and other documents on your behalf.
At no stage should you pay a deposit or any other money direct to the seller, unless you are prepared to lose it. French estate agents can only receive deposit monies if they hold a carte professionnelle which is only issued upon proof that the agent holds minimum insurance cover (garantie financière). Otherwise, the risk of loss of that deposit through the agent's insolvency or misappropriation falls on you. It is always advisable that the deposit be held by the notaire acting as stakeholder in a compte séquestre (stakeholder account). The deposit is deducted from the purchase price on completion but no interest is paid for the period between signing your contract and completing the purchase. With the notaire's consent we may however be able to arrange for the deposit to be placed in an interest-bearing English stakeholder account in which case a proportion of the interest which accrues can be paid to you on completion.
If you withdraw from your contract you will lose your deposit unless there are conditions suspensives in your contract which have not been fulfilled. Other penalties might also apply if you withdraw. For example, estate agent's commission may still be payable even if you do not complete the purchase. Your contract may contain a clause whereby you (but not your seller) must pay a daily penalty for delayed completion. Depending on the wording of your contract the seller may, up to 3 years after your contract was signed, be allowed to issue a writ against you and obtain an Order from the French courts obliging you to complete your purchase. If the seller withdraws from your contract he must refund your deposit and (if your contract says so) must also pay you the same amount in damages. Because of this penalty clause it is rare to see sellers breaking a contract to accept a higher offer elsewhere.
A new French law (Loi relative à la solidarité et au renouvellement urbain or SRU) dated 13 December 2000 entered into force on 1 June 2001. Article 72 of the SRU applies to all contracts signed by a private individual or his agent for the purchase of French residential property after 1 June 2001.
Henceforth, once the purchaser has signed a preliminary contract and sent off his deposit, he must receive a copy of the preliminary contract signed by both parties. The purchaser then has a seven day period of reflection (délai de retraction) during which time he can withdraw from the contract without any penalty and any deposit paid must be returned. The seven-day period runs from the following day that the purchaser is reputed to have had knowledge of the contract (Sundays and French bank holidays do not count). This can be provided by ordinary post, recorded delivery with advice of delivery, handed to the buyer directly, or by any other means presenting equivalent guarantees for determining the date of receipt or delivery.
If the purchaser wishes to withdraw, he can do so in writing by ordinary post although should do so by recorded delivery with advice of delivery and by fax. If there are several purchasers, they must all do so in writing as above.
For example, if the purchaser receives a copy of the purchaser contract signed by both parties on Saturday 2 June, the seven day cooling-off period starts to run on Sunday 3 June and expires at midnight on Monday 11 June.
If the purchaser exercises that right, his deposit must be returned to him within 21 days from the day next following that cancellation, making in practice 22 days.
If no preliminary contract is signed at all, the draft French conveyance deed must be sent to the purchaser giving the purchaser seven days to think about whether he wants to proceed to completion or not (délai de réflexion). During that period, the deed cannot be signed.
(b) The notarial stage
Once your contract becomes legally binding, the seller is entitled to remain in possession of the property until the transaction has been completed by your notaire. He must also discharge all outgoings until completion. Except by agreement between the parties, there is no right for you to take possession of the property before completion.
Your notaire will carry out various elementary local authority and land registry searchs, draft the acte de vente and mortgage deed if appropriate. Unlike the position in England no specific time limits are imposed and these proceedings can frequently take the French administration more than two months to deal with. The time between signing your contract and completion should be used by the parties (usually via the French estate agent) to make any practical arrangements necessary such as signing with the electricity, water and other utility supply companies, satisfying any conditions relating to your mortgage and building/contents arrangements, and making removal arrangements. As part of our service we can help you:
- organise proper buildings and contents insurance cover
- have the electricity, water and other utility charges transferred to your name
- apply for a telephone
- register for local property taxes
- open French bank accounts. You can pay your bills from the UK but post between the two countries can be unreliable and can get lost. It is usual practice to settle all your French outgoings by direct debit via your French bank. This avoids the frustration of arriving at the French property only to find that (say) EDF have cut off the electricity supply because they have not received your cheque.
As mentioned before in connection with agricultural tenancies the notaire's searches may, although unlikely, reveal that various parties have a pre-emptive right (droit de pre-emption) against the property. For instance, if your seller lets the property his tenants may have a right of first refusal to buy the property from him, even though your seller has contracted to sell the property to you. If the property is in rural France, neighbouring faremers may have similar rights. The SAFER (Société d'Aménagement Foncier et d'Etablissement Rural) may also have a right to refuse the transaction involving agricultural land exceeding 2,500 square metres (2.5 hectares). They then purchase the property at the offered price. This is seldom exercised but can sometimes cause an additional delay. Other French authorities may have pre-emptive right if your property is, for example, needed for road-widening schemes or similar infrastructure projects. In urban areas the municipality hs a right of pre-emption on the sale of property in zones the municipality has designated for development. Exceptions include some buildings less than 10 years old. Prior to the sale, if the property is in a designated zone, the seller must declare his intention to sell to the municipal authority. A failure to do so will render the sale void. The relevant municipality has several options: it may waive its right expressly, or by implication if it fails to respond within two months; it may exercise its right on the same conditions as those of the initially envisaged sale, in which case the seller is obliged to sell to the municipality at that price; or the municipality may offer a different price, which the seller is not obliged to accept. The tenant of agricultural land has pre-emption rights on the sale of land let. Residential tenants also have a right to buy rather than renew at the end of their current tenancy if the seller states that he wishes to sell with vacant possession.
Once your notaire is ready to complete the matter he will make arrangements for collection of the balance of the purchase monies and his attendant costs. This is sometimes the trickiest bit of the whole transaction. French notaires do not keep money in ordinary clearing banks which are instead lodged with the Caisse de Dépots et de Consignations. You can transfer money to France by SWIFT bank transfer. This is the method we recommend if your UK bank is used to dealing with such transfers daily. The important things to remember are that transferring money to France does take time and that it is not as reliable as transfers within the UK.
If the property is being bought with money borrowed for a French bank or other French lending institution, the mortgage documentation is usually completed by your notaire at the same time as completion of the purchase.
The actual completion date may not be convenient to you in which case we can arrange for a Power of Attorney (procuration) in favour of one of the notaire's clerks so that the formalities can be completed without you having to attend in France in person.
If, however, you are buying with a French mortgage you will need to have the procuration witnessed by a Notary Public in England who will then authenticate the document and send it to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London for 'legalisation'. Some notaires insist that all procurations are dealt with in this ay whether or not a mortgage is involved. The process could take 2-3 weeks in total, so it is wise to notify the notaire as soon as possible if you do not intend to sign the acte de vente in person.
For the above reasons never book removals or make commitments based on the completion date (date limite) provided or in your contract. The notaire may not be ready even if that date is given as part of the contract. Although you may be relaxed about this the time may come where further action is necessary. Unless your contract contains an appropriate penalty clause obliging the seller to pay you a sum of money for each day he fails to complete the transaction, your only recourse is to instruct a French bailiff (huissier) to serve notice (mise en demeure) on the seller obliging him to complete the transaction within 15 days. If after 15 days the seller still has not completed an avocat (French barrister) must usually be instructed to issue proceedings against the seller. In many cases the avocat will file a procès-verbal de défaut (default notice) in the relevant French court. The seller then has 4 weeks in which to reply (3 months if he lives outside France). If the matter is contested by the seller your avocat will then issue formal court proceedings in France.
(c) After completion
Stamping and registration of your acte de vente (which takes approximately six months and thereby secures your title to the French property) is dealt with by your notaire after completion. In due course your notaire should supply you with a certified copy (expédition) if your registered acte de vente. It is a French legal requirement that your original deeds remain in your notaire's archives, even if the property is mortgaged. As part of our service we can arrange to obtain evidence of your ownership (attestation d'acquisition) on the day of completion. We can also assist with:
- Obtaining residence permits, work permits and licences in connection with the opening of new businesses in France
- The importation of cars, furniture and pets into France
- Obtaining payment of your pension in France, national insurance and other related matters.
You must pay French income tax on any income derived from your letting or other activities in France. You can register with the Tax Centre for Non-Residents in Paris who will send you an annual tax return which can prove invaluable as a record of your assets in France should you decide to sell your property, the proceeds of which may become subject to French and/or UK capital gains tax. Provided no income comes from the property (i.e. you do not let it out) your French tax return will be left blank.
How can I be sure that everything is legal and I really am the owner?
As between the buyer and the seller, ownership of the property effectively passes once there is an enforceable compromis de vente or other purchase contract. Third parties will not, however, be bound and the property could be in theory be sold again to another buyer, who will take free of the first sale, if this is not \"perfected\" by an acte de vente and registered in the French land registry. Your notaire has a duty to check that everything is legal in the transaction before the acte de vente can be executed and recorded in the French land registry that you are the new legal owner. Once your ownership is registered, you can usually be sure that nobody can contest your right to the property.
How long does it take?
If instructed by you, we can launch the process immediately. It is impossible to give you definite time estimates for completing different stages of work. What can take two or three weeks in one area of France may take two or three times as long in another area or at a different time of year. While we can work towards and encourage a speedy completion, much is out of our hands. As a rough guide it generally takes approximately 6-12 weeks between signing the purchase contract and completing. We would however emphasise that any time periods do however depend very much on your individual circumstances. It is important that if you need to complete quickly or have a deadline to meet, you advise us as soon as possible so we can make the necessary arrangements.
How much will I have to pay?
As a buyer, you should budget forTVA, legal fees, survey and valuation fees, annual taxes and outgoings, buildings and contents insurance premiums, transport costs to and from the property, furniture, maintenance and renovation costs. In some cases you should also budget for estate agent's commission.
- Estate agent's commission.
The seller usually pays estate agent's commission. But check the contract carefully which sometimes requires the commission to be paid by the buyer. The amount of commission (which is only paid if the transaction completes) varies from one to five per cent of the sale price.
Where thenotaireacts as a selling agent his commission is part of the notarial fees, and will be paid by the buyer
Owners of French property will come across French VAT (TVA) in various situations such as the purchase or sale of their property, renovations, lettings or simply as consumers of general goods and services supplied in France.
The general TVA rate of 19.6 per cent applies to invoices rendered by French lawyers, estate agents and others in France. TVA is also charged at the same rate on new French property. \"New\" tends to mean either that the property is unfinished or brand new and you will be the first owner, or that it has been built within the last 5 years. The seller pays the TVA and, in practice, it is added to the sale price. The acquisition of old properties in need of substantial repairs to make them habitable, or destined to be redeveloped, is not usually subject to TVA. However, if the planned transformation work will result in bringing the property into a state considered as new, TVA may apply. Furthermore, the subsequent sale of such property within 5 years on the completion of the work could also attract TVA as a brand new building. TVA-liable property transactions are also subject to a further registration tax (taxe de publicité foncière) of 0.6 per cent payable by the purchaser.
Since 22 October 1998, the acquisition of land by individuals for the building of residential property is no longer subject to TVA. However, if the new buildings are intended for future sales, typically if the land is purchased by a property developer, the land acquisition becomes TVA- liable.
Property developers must register for TVA but may, under certain circumstances, elect for favourable treatment, allowing them to pay the TVA due when they sell a property and calculated as the difference between the TVA on the purchase price and the TVA due on the retail price after deduction of all TVA paid on any building work.
The TVA rate applicable to renovation or other building works carried out on properties over two years old has been reduced from the normal rate to 5.5 per cent with effect from 15 September 1999. This reduction should be maintained until 31 December 2002. The type of work which qualifies for the reduction is any improvement, transformation, maintenance and repairs carried out by French registered builders. Building material and equipment, such as carpets, wallpaper, paint, cement, slates or tiles, bathroom suites and so on may also qualify but only if supplied by the builder.
Some equipment remains subject to normal TVA at 19.6 per cent such as sauna, Jacuzzis, boilers, cisterns and kitchen appliances. There are numerous exceptions, depending on the type of property, and it is always advisable to seek the confirmation of the appointed builder.
Taxpayers who decide to let their property often wish to deduct TVA paid on expenses incurred to make the property fit for such an activity, but under French law most lettings are TVA-exempt. The following activities only are liable to TVA by a specific provision of tax law:
- Registered tourist hotels
- Registered tourist residences let out under a nine-year contract to a business which is promoted abroad ('leaseback')
- Quasi-hotel businesses which provide, in addition to accommodation, hotel-like services (meals, cleaning, reception etc).
- A property let (furnished or unfurnished) under a commercial lease to a business engaged in one of the activities described above.
Where liable, the supply of furnished premises is subject to TVA at the reduced rate of 5.5 per cent. On the other hand, the supply of food, telephone and other services are subject to TVA at the standard rate of 19.6 per cent. Where an establishment provides accommodation on a full board or half-board basis, the reduced rate of TVA may apply to three-quarters of the total amount charged.
A business registered for TVA will be in a position to receive, where appropriate, refunds for TVA paid for the running of the lets and any renovation of the letting units. Nevertheless, TVA paid out in the past cannot be claimed in arrears, as the business was not registered as such.
The rate of TVA on invoices relating to renovation work can in some cases be reduced to 5.5 per cent.
No TVA is usually payable if you buy a plot of land on which to build your own main residence.
TVA can sometimes be avoided or reclaimed but specific advice should be taken at the beginning of a transaction so as to maximise any potential benefits and avoid expensive traps.
You cannot complete your purchase until all yournotaire's conveyancing fees (frais denotaire) have been paid and are cleared in his account.
If your purchase is subject to TVA, you should budget for frais denotaireof between 3 to 4 per cent of the purchase price. Included in this figure are thenotaire's profit costs (emoluments) and various disbursements (débours) which yournotairepays out on your behalf to the land registry and other French authorities. As it is difficult to calculate accurately the total amount of disbursements payable, which varies from case to case, until several weeks after completion, it is customary fornotaires to slightly over-estimate their requirements in this respect and they will not usually provide an itemised breakdown (décompte détaillé) until title to your property has been registered.
French mortgage registration fees
Stamp duty of about 3 per cent of the amount borrowed is payable if you take out a first mortgage on the security of French property.
Extra notarial fees
Under Article 4 of a law dated 8 March 1978,notaires can and often do make an extra charge for any legal work undertaken by them which does not directly relate to the preparation and attesting by them of the acte de vente on completion. Charges of this nature typically include drafting a notarised purchase contract; forming a French property-holding company; oral or written consultations dealing with French succession law/tax planning.
Strictly speaking,notaires cannot charge under Article 4 without the written consent of their client and most will insist on an advance payment on account before undertaking any work of this nature.
£1,000 would be a conservative estimate for the annual cost of running a French holiday home.
Buildings insuranceis obligatory, whether the property is used regularly or not. The cost of the premium will vary according to the number of rooms in your property and the outbuildings you possess, as well as by region.
Property taxes(taxe foncière and taxe d'habitation) are also unavoidable expenses. The bills usually arrive in the autumn, but the costs of these taxes can be spread over the year by paying in monthly instalments, by direct debit from a French bank account. The sums vary enormously, according to region.
Utilities. Mains water is also unavoidable, unless you use your own well water and have a septic tank. Again, this varies from region to region. For a holiday home, the standing charge for mains water can easily exceed your consumption, which is metered. You are also stuck with having to pay a standing charge for electricity, no matter how little you visit. This can vary from as little as FrF 176 a year for a very basic installation which is unable to run many appliances to FrF 1,138 for the 'Temo' option, which offers the advantage of varying tariffs for several different periods. To this must be added your consumption: if you have a number of electrical appliances, you should allow between FrF 700-1,400 for two months' use, depending on the size of the house. There are no standing charges for gas if your property is very rural and far from mains gas supplies. The price of bottled propane or butane gas is around FrF 140 per standard bottle for a refill. Consumption will vary, according to whether you use your gas only to cook, in which case you might get away with a bottle a year, or run a gas water heart as well (remember to keep a spare bottle or two). Mains gas standing charges vary from FrF 124 a year to FrF 970, according to the number of appliances you run. Consumption of mains gas over two months for four people using a cooker and water heater is estimated at FrF 250. You could forego using a telephone, or make do with a mobile if it works in your part of France. For a fixed line, the annual standing charge is FrF 938 per year, plus you will need to buy or rent a telephone. Make sure you read and understand the small print!
Upkeep. For annual running costs, such as sweeping the chimney or servicing a boiler, and general household repairs, allow about FrF 1,500 - FrF 2,000. If you employ someone to cut your grass or tend your garden in your absence, allow double this.
If your purchase is not subject to TVA you should budget for frais denotaireof about 10 per cent, most of which is made up of French stamp duty (currently 4.89 per cent of the purchase price) and other disbursements.
You can reduce French stamp duty if you agree with the seller to declare a lower (i.e. not the true) purchase price in the contract and pay the balance to the seller in cash. However this practice is illegal and we recommend that you resist all devices which may be suggested to reduce your purchase costs in this way. If you are found out, you may face heavy fines and a prison sentence. The French authorities may also apply other penalties to your considerable disadvantage.
- Estate agent's commission.
I don't have any furniture in the property. Can you arrange something for me?
Yes. Please Contact Us for more assistance.
I have heard something about illegal purchases. Tell me about these.
Some people will offer to buy you a property in their name. This is illegal, and we won't do it. And we don't advise you to do such a thing, as the property could be confiscated and you could go to prison.
Is it worth making an offer now?
Yes, but couched in cautious language. We can prepare the offer letter for you if you like. Please contact us for further information. However, we recommend that you consult with Stephen Smith of Stephen Smith (France) Ltd (On contact quote ref FPSAMJ) who can prepare the appropriate offer letter for you which sets out your preconditions in clear and unambiguous language.
Is there someone to take care of the property when I'm not there?
We can arrange this for you. Please Contact Us for further assistance.
What about service charges?
If you own an apartment or other property in a copropriété, you will be liable for annual maintenance and service charges (e.g. for a lift in the block, ski lockers, etc). These can be high and the position should always be checked by obtaining a copy of the annual general meeting reports for the last 3 years. The mot modern flats will have individual heating and hot water. Avoid those that do not since otherwise you will find that your service charges may include the cost of heating other people's flats.
What are conditions suspensives?
The preliminary purchase agreement will contain conditions precedent (conditions suspensives). These include warranties by the seller as to title, servitudes, encumbrances and vacant possession. The deposit will be forefeited to the seller if the transaction does not complete.
What are the tax implications of owning French property?
Apart from annual property taxes, you should consider the possible impact of French income tax, French wealth tax and French inheritance tax.
French income tax. A UK resident who lets out a property in France will have a UK liability to income tax but will be entitled to credit against his UK tax bill for the French tax which he has paid on his French rental income. If a non-resident does not submit a French tax return, the French tax authorities can charge interest and various tax penalties.
French wealth tax
French inheritance tax. In France transfers between husband and wife are not exempt from French inheritance tax. The remoter the heir is from the deceased, the higher the rate of tax. For example, a rate of 60 per cent applies between unmarried couples.
Always consult a French tax specialist on the most suitable solution to suit your individual circumstances. We recommend that you consult with Stephen Smith of Stephen Smith (France) Ltd (On contact quote ref FPSAMJ) who is an internationally recognised expert in this field.
What conditions must I fulfil to be allowed to buy?
You must buy with money that has not been generated through criminal activity and have full legal capacity. If you fulfil these conditions, you will normally be allowed to buy.
What is a copropriété?
Copropriété ownership occurs when a building or group of buildings is divided into privately owned units (lots) and common areas over which the owners will all have rights of ownership. The rights over the common parts combined with the right of absolute ownership of the individual units are not separately disposable, and together constitute a parcel of rights making up the copropriété ownership. There is a statutory duty on copropriété owners to establish internal regulations to administer the management of the building and the rights and duties of the parties. The overall management of the building is in the hands of all the individual owners, who together form a syndicate which is a legal entity of its own. Decisions are taken at general meetings of the syndicate. A managing agent will deal with day-to-day management and there is usually an executive committee composed of a number of the owners.
What is a plan cadastral?
The cadastre is a country-wide plan which sets out land ownership in units (lots), each of which is given a plot number (référence cadastrale). The plan is not definitive.
What is a servitude?
A servitude is a right over land in favour of other landowners. Servitudes include rights of access, rights of light and air and car parking rights. Administrative servitudes, which include the right to run service such as electric cables, are imposed by public bodies and may entitle the owner to compensation. Common issues include shared rights of access (and joint liability to contribute to its upkeep), a separate access to the garden (you may need a formal right of way to it), and other easements such as a 'short cut' through your property or the way a neighbour's drains join yours.
What is the acte de vente?
You sign the acte de vente on completion of the transaction. It will in part repeat the terms contained in the purchase contract.
What is the compromis?
The compromis (also known as the promesse bilatérale de vente) is the most commonly used form of binding contract by which the seller agrees to sell and the buyer agrees to buy the property upon the terms and price set out in the contract.
We strongly recommend that you do not sign anything until your legal adviser in your home country has reviewed the documents and advised you on its terms and effect. If you sign any document without independent advice you will find yourself bound to purchase the property on the agreed terms.
What is the function of the French land registry?
Registration at the French land registry (bureau des hypothèques) will be evidence of ownership of French property enforceable against third parties. For an interest to be enforceable against the property, i.e. against third parties, it must usually be protected by registration.
What law applies to French property?
The sale of land, buildings or other immeubles (French property) is always governed by French law, regardless of the nationality, residence or domicile of the buyer and/or the seller. The provisions of the Napoleonic Code, otherwise known as the Code civil, regulate French property. The distinction recognised in common law countries as between legal and beneficial ownership does not exist under the Code civil. This has major implications, especially in the context of French estate planning matters.
The French courts generally have exclusive jurisdiction in proceedings involving French property and their decisions can be enforced against you, even if you live outside France.
Litigation in France, as elsewhere, is not a desirable option. An avocat (French barrister) must be instructed and, even if you win the case, his advance and other fees will usually be payable in full by you and not by the losing party. It can take at least 3 years before a French property dispute is heard by the courts, and many more months before the judges reach a decision.
When can I move in?
If the property is empty, possibly at the moment you pay the deposit. If the owner is still living in it, you'll have to arrange with him, but in any case usually in less than 3 months.
When do I get the deeds?
You don't. By law, the notaire must keep the original title deeds in his archives. He will let you have a certified copy of the registered document on request.
When do I pay?
You pay a deposit when you first decide to buy the property, and then the balance when you sign the acte de vente at the notaire's office.
The notaire jointly incurs liability for taxes, registration fees and various other related charges with those who execute documents before him. Consequently, the notaire will obtain payment on account prior to completion, in order to cover fees, taxes and other disbursements connected with the transaction. The notaire's fees are governed by a complex statutory tariff being 0.825 per cent on urban sales. As it is difficult to calculate accurately the total amount of disbursements until a considerable time after completion, it is customary for notaires to slightly over-estimate their requirements in this respect.
Who represents me?
The French estate agent and a notaire who must be practising on French soil. French estate agents are subject to statutory control. Anyone not in possession of the requisite accreditation is precluded from negotiating a sale of French property on behalf of an owner.
All French property transactions must be completed before a notaire practising in France. Many notaires also act as French estate agents. We have access to a special register of properties which are sold by notaires inclusive of their commission.
The choice of notaire is usually made by the seller or French estate agent, although you are entitled to appoint your own notaire without incurring extra cost, as the two notaires will then share their fee. However, where two or more notaires share fees they may be motivated to find problems where none exist, and inflate the fee accordingly. A notaire can but will not usually be instructed until after you have become legally committed to buy a French property. In any event, his job is solely to implement legally what you and the seller have already agreed. He will carry out various searches with the French local and other authorities, but these are not as extensive as those carried out in England.
A notaire is never involved in contentious matters. Thus, if a disagreement arises between you and the seller the notaire must refer you to separate avocats (French barristers). The French court system is slow: often it will take two years for a case to get to court and about 50 per cent of all cases go to appeal, taking at least another two years.
A notaire does not usually perform an advisory function. Do not therefore expect him to volunteer any advice or indeed report to you as the matter progresses. You will usually hear nothing from him until after a few days before the matter is due to complete. This can be problematic because, unless you raise the subjects yourself (which presupposes a knowledge of French law), in general he will not explain to you the complex documents - even though you will be deemed to have knowledge of them - or the different methods of ownership which can avoid French succession law problems and taxation. Finally, you are expected to make your own mortgage arrangements and will normally have to deal with the insurance of the property when you have bought it.
Therefore, you must avoid relying on the notaire for independent legal advice as he probably won't have your best interests at heart. Complex French documents should be checked and independent advice given in English, taking into account your personal circumstances and requirements. If there are problems, suing a notaire can be notoriously difficult. If you employ a UK-based lawyer, who instructs and liases with the notaire, you should at least have a British operator to hold liable.
Whom do I pay?
You have to pay directly to the notaire who will forward the money to the seller when the transaction goes through.
Will I own the property contents?
Not necessarily, even if these are listed in the French estate agent's particulars. By law, your seller must include in the sale anything that is part of the fabric of the French property (e.g. plumbing, central heating and other installations integrated into the structure) which are classed as immovable property (immeubles) and cannot therefore be removed, unless it is specifically agreed between the buyer and the seller that particular items are excluded. The French courts have defined immeubles to include trees and shrubs in a garden; electric sockets, wall switches, lamp socket holders and wiring, and garden sheds/greenhouses built on foundations. French law defines immeubles to include wine presses, vats, barrels and distillation stills located in the property!
Over the years, various meubles can get fixed to a French property and lose their removable nature by becoming part of the structure. French law defines these to be immovable if the owner attached them to his property on a permanent basis. For example, the French courts have decided that the seller should not have removed a bath and toilet, which in that particular case were held to have been fixed to his property on a permanent basis (but see below).
You should assume that any meubles will be removed by your seller unless he has formally agreed to sell these to you in addition to the French property. The French courts have defined meubles to include cookers, freezers, fridges, dishwashers, washing machines and any similar detachable equipment, heaters connected to mains supply only by plugs or detachable means of connection, lampshades and light bulbs, carpets, underlay and curtains, and free-standing garden furniture and sheds.
Rather confusingly, in one case the French courts held that prefabricated kitchen cupboards were removables which were not sold with the property; but in another case held that a fitted kitchen was immovable property and could not be removed by the seller. These two conflicting decisions can be partly explained by the fact that a French court judgement in one case is not binding on other courts and there is therefore no way of accurately predicting how the French courts are likely to decide a given case.
More specifically, the acid test is the extent to which property is a permanent part of the structure of the main building. For example, French law states that movable property becomes immovable property if it has been sealed in plaster, lime or cement, or if it cannot be removed without breaking or damaging that part of the property to which it is attached. Examples include mirrors, paintings and other tableaux which are only classed as immeubles if their backing is integral with the woodwork or other fabric of the main structure of the building. So, if removal of property does not cause breakage or damage (e.g. major deterioration to plaster work) to the main structure, it will usually be classed as meuble. For example, in one case the French courts held that electric radiators were removable by the seller, even though such removal resulted in minor damage necessitating some replastering. And yet in another case the French courts held that a medieval fresco in a disused church was removable property, despite the fact that it was integral with the fabric of the main structure. Other litigated cases have involved curtain rails and tracks, fitted (and other) bookshelves, built-in kitchen units and appliances, built-in cupboards and wardrobes, electric storage heaters, wall lights, water softeners, decorative door furniture and door chimes, bathroom fittings and free-standing garden ornaments.
Litigation in France is not a desirable option. To avoid disputes, an inventory should be prepared and attached to your purchase contract detailing what is included in the sale price and what is not. Please Contact Us for further assistance.
These pages answer some frequently asked questions about buying French property. Please read our disclaimer. Please feel free to raise any interesting points you may have. Just Contact Us. This is not an advisory service but we are happy to informally exchange views on interesting points raised. Just click here.