French property: condition on completion
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Is it true that the condition of a French property on selling has to be exactly the same as when it was viewed?
Article 1614 of the French Civil Code states that ‘La chose doit être délivrée en l’état où elle se trouve au moment de la vente’, meaning that, on completion, the property’s condition should be the same as when you visited and made an offer to purchase.
Most contracts drafted by notaires include a clause entitled ‘obligations de garde’ which lists various items which the seller is forbidden from removing as well as instructions for maintenance and repair pending completion.
This clause is standard and non-exhaustive but we find its inclusion useful and often request its addition to draft contracts which we review on behalf of our clients, especially those drafted by an estate agency, which sometimes don’t include the clause.
The clause also states that the buyer is entitled to re-inspect the property immediately prior to completion. It’s advisable that buyers do this before signing the sale and purchase deed. Obviously, this is difficult if you will not be present in France for completion, but in that case it may be possible to ask someone local and trustworthy to revisit on your behalf.
Any deterioration or other issues can then be reported to the notaire and the buyer can refuse to sign on that day unless an agreement can be reached.
The first challenge is proving both the previous condition of the property and that the deterioration is the result of the seller’s action or omission.
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Remedying the situation is not always simple; it may be necessary to appoint an avocat and to take the seller to court.
Changes to the property due to the seller’s action or omission between signature of the contract and completion is not the same as the more often talked about ‘vice caché’. This is a serious hidden defect which existed but was not apparent when the buyer saw the property. If a buyer discovers such a ‘vice cache’ after taking ownership of the property, the onus is on the buyer to prove the seller knew of the defect and deliberately hid it.
Barbara Heslop is a consultant at Heslop & Platt