A notaire's office

How many searches does it take to sell a property? Marie Slavov explains what goes on behind the scenes at the notaire’s office...

Have you ever wondered why a French property purchase cannot be completed within a minimum of two months from the initial contract? This is to allow enough time for the notaire to carry out his searches and obtain the results from the various institutions involved.The notaire won’t start the searches before the initial contract between the vendors and the purchasers has been signed. In some cases, for instance when a joint owner is buying out others, an initial contract need not be signed, allowing the searches to be started immediately.The notaire will first notify the relevant public bodies who may hold a preemption right, i.e. a first option to buy the property, such as the town hall (mairie) or the local famers’ organisation (SAFER). The DIA (d�claration d'intention d'ali�ner) document will record the identity of the buyers and the proposed price. The public body will have two months to reply to the notaire, after which they are deemed to have waived their right to buy. In most cases, they don’t want to pre-empt and therefore don’t reply. Hence the notaire has to ensure two months have elapsed before the final deed can be signed.Furthermore, the notaire will request from the mairie a town planning certificate (note de renseignement d'urbanisme), which will reveal the rules applicable to the property, and whether there are any public covenants applicable, or any road widening schemes. It also indicates in what zone the property is situated (rural or urban part of the town, for instance). This would influence the type of works or construction allowed. It might reveal that the property is in a listed area, which means that more restrictive planning rules will apply. The local authority will not supply any other information, it is up to the buyers to make their own enquiries as to surrounding plots or about any future public projects in the town.Man with a planThe land registry supplies a document called the �tat hypoth�caire which indicates who the owner of the property is and whether any charges (e.g. mortgages) or easements are registered. Any creditors having a charge against the property must agree for their charge to be deregistered, which they do against payment of whatever remains owed to them; the notaire would use proceeds from the sale to pay them. The notaire will deregister the old charges at the vendors’ cost, also taken from the sale proceeds, That way, the title is unencumbered for the buyers (i.e. free of any charges). Should the charges be greater than the purchase price, the buyers can pull out and recover their deposit.The notaire will contact the French Revenue to obtain the relev� cadastral, which confirms the references of the property as shown on the boundary plan. A property is not known by its address but only by its cadastral reference. The cadastre is a registry where properties are recorded. The notaire also checks the previous title deeds for the last 30 years.The identity and marital status of the buyers will be checked thoroughly, and married women need to provide proof of their maiden name. In France, any official or legal document will always indicate the maiden name. The notaire checks the central register for civil status documents where issues dealing with mental capacity or marital status are recorded for French nationals.Moreover, when the property is within a block, the managing agent (syndic) of the property will need to complete the notaire's questionnaire about any outstanding sums, works voted on, the insurance policy, any pending litigation and the amount that will be owed for service charges etc. The syndic has a prior claim over the sale price if the vendor is not up to date with any demands, and this can delay the release of the net proceeds of the sale for two weeks.Prospective buyers would be wise to request a copy of the resolutions of the co-owners’ last general meeting and a copy of the block’s regulations (r�glement de copropri�t�) before signing the initial contract, to see if there are any disputes or any proposed works approved.When all this information is obtained and the file is complete, the notaire suggests a completion date, and is able to draft the completion deed and a power of attorney if required. The proposed completion date indicated in the initial contract is not binding for the notaire who can postpone it until all the results are obtained. However, the parties, unless they both agree, cannot refuse to complete by the proposed date if the file is complete. The purchasers would have to make sure they obtain their loan beforehand for instance, failing which the vendors could enforce the penalty clause.Specific conditions (clauses suspensives) can be inserted into the initial contract (e.g. obtaining planning consent. These get-out clauses will have a further impact on the timescale involved for completion.Marie Slavov, French legal team at Blake Lapthorn Tel: 020 7814 6932 www.bllaw.co.uk