You can’t buy a property in France without using a notaire, so before you start househunting it makes sense to understand their role. Karen Tait reports
What is a notaire?
A notaire translates as a notary, i.e. someone who is authorised to perform certain legal formalities, in particular to draw up or certify contracts, deeds and other legal documents.
Is a notaire the same as a UK solicitor?
Although they carry out many of the same duties as a solicitor, such as the conveyancing on a property transaction, they are not the same. In fact, there is no equivalent to the notaire in the UK. Notaires are not independent as they are employed by the government, primarily to ensure the sale goes through legally and to collect any taxes payable.
Do you have to use a notaire?
Yes, you do. In France notaires have the monopoly on all property transactions, including land purchases.
Do you have to share the notaire with the vendor?
When buying a property in France, you may be asked if you want to use the same notaire as the vendor, who is likely to have already appointed one. You can do this – the notaires share the fee between them – or you can appoint your own. Although notaires are impartial, there are circumstances where you may prefer to use your own. If the vendor and notaire know each other this may make you feel uncomfortable, for example, or you may wish to use a notaire who has more experience of property sales to overseas buyers. However, if the notaire is already familiar with the property – they may have previously carried out the conveyancing when the vendor bought it, for example – it can speed up the transaction process. Then again, you may feel that your own notaire will be more thorough. It is a personal decision, and there is no right or wrong way.
Should you also use an independent solicitor?
Notaires are obliged to be impartial and advise their client to the best of their abilities. Naturally some are more used to dealing with British purchasers though, and have a better understanding of things like inheritance or tax issues between the two countries. It is also worth noting that there are some things that a notaire is not obliged to tell you about, which an independent solicitor could cover – for example, while the notaire must inform you of anything that would directly affect the property, they won’t necessarily tell you about any local developments that would indirectly affect you. And, of course, there is no guarantee that your notaire will be able to speak English, so if your French is not that fluent, this is another reason why you may wish to seek independent legal advice. Always choose a bilingual solicitor who is well-versed in both French and UK law, and ideally you should involve them at the initial contract stage so they can advise on the wording of the compromis de vente.
What happens after the contract has been signed?
Between signing the compromis and the acte de vente, the notaire carries out the searches or conveyancing, which normally takes around three months. This includes:
– verifying the identities of the vendor/s and purchaser/s
– verifying that the vendor/s has the right to sell the property
– calculating what taxes and duties are due
– checking for any existing finance on the property, e.g. mortgages and loans
– checking for any servitudes, i.e. rights exercised over your property (such as an agreement with neighbours to cross your land or use your well for water)
– in co-owned properties, such as apartment blocks, the notaire checks the regulations and any annual payments due, for maintenance etc
– for properties less than 10 years old, the notaire makes sure there is a building guarantee and that the certificat de conformité was delivered when the property was completed
– on older properties, the notaire ensures that any recent renovation work complies with building permission.
What happens at completion?
When the notaire has finished the searches, completion can take place. In France this is a fairly formal event, attended by all the parties (you can appoint a power of attorney if you’re unable to attend). The notaire will read the deed out and will ask the vendor/s and buyer/s to sign it. The notaire also signs it to show that the sale is validly concluded. In France, when a deed of sale is signed, the notaire is obliged to confirm that all parties understand the document and agree freely to sell and buy. This goes beyond what a UK solicitor has to do as they act only for their client and not for the state.
What fees are payable?
Payable on completion, notaires’ fees are charged on a sliding scale, of between 7-10% of the purchase price. Technically, the frais de notaire only amount to about 1% but the term also encompasses the various taxes collected by the notaire.
What else do notaires do?
Notaires advise on all manner of legal activities in France, including family, property inheritance, asset, company law, countryside law, local authorities etc. Some also sell property – you may see property photos and details in a ‘shop window’ at the notaire’s office – but they are not allowed to advertise this service.
Can any property be bought without a notaire?
Mobile homes can bypass the notaire if they are being sold by a UK agent.
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