How to avoid French property buying pitfalls

How to avoid French property buying pitfalls

Before buying a French property, here are few things to take into consideration to avoid any potential problems down the line

As a UK-based solicitor and French law specialist, I am often asked what buyers of a property in France need to be wary of when they embark on the purchase process.

Firstly, let me reassure you that the French conveyancing system is well organised and secure. There is no equivalent of reported problems with non-existent title deeds (such as in Cyprus) or invalid planning permissions (such as in Spain).

However, there are certain potential pitfalls and these vary according to the type, age and location of the property in question. Here are a few aspects to consider.

Access all areas

When viewing a property, take time to walk around the boundaries. Are they clearly marked by fences, hedges or walls? Is there any evidence of a well worn track leading across the land? This could indicate the existence of a right of way in favour of a neighbouring property or farm.

Look at access to the property. Is the access to the property directly off a public road or is there a private track over which you may need a right of way? If unsure, this should be checked.

Always ask questions about the foul drainage system especially in rural areas. If the property is not connected to mains drainage, the seller is required to produce a report giving details of the individual drainage system and whether it complies with current requirements. The report must be no more than three years old when the property is sold.

Has the property been extended or is it a conversion from a former agricultural building? In either case, it is important to check what planning authorisation was required for the work and whether all requisite consents and certificates of conformity were obtained.

If the property is less than 10 years old or has been altered or extended by major works in the last 10 years, there should be an insurance guarantee in respect of the structural and other major works. You should seek confirmation that there is a valid insurance policy (or the remaining portion of it) available for you to claim against in the event of a defect arising linked to the construction.


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Get the facts

It is also often useful to ask why the sellers are selling. Is there some hidden or undisclosed reason for the sale such as noisy neighbours, a nearby factory that you weren’t aware of or rights of way for the local hunt to cross the land every weekend!

If the owner/s has died or are divorcing, this can lead to delays in the transaction and so it is best to know all the facts at the outset.

If the property you are considering buying is an apartment or is part of a complex with shared facilities, there will be a legal structure in place known as ‘une copropriété’ (a co-ownership). All owners have voting rights and are entitled to attend an annual general meeting of the co-owners. Copies of the minutes of the last three years’ AGMs must be provided to you before the contract is signed, and these should be examined closely as they will give a good indication as to whether the complex is well managed or alternatively is fraught with problems.

Finally, consider commissioning your own independent survey. While surveys are not as common in France as in the UK, you are perfectly entitled to have the property checked by your own independent expert before you proceed. The survey must, however, be carried out before the contract is signed as it is difficult to insist on a ‘subject to survey’ condition in the contract.

These are just a few pointers, there are plenty more… The best advice is to ask lots of questions and if possible, revisit the property at least twice before signing on the dotted line.

Barbara Heslop is the Director of Heslop & Platt Solicitors & French Law Specialists

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