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Key formalities

Buying a home
From the undertaking to sell to the title deed
Buying a home in France takes a lot of time - at least 3 months. This is because there are some compulsory legal checks. This is the way it works:
Bilateral agreement (compromis de vente) or undertaking to sell (promesse de vente)?
The bilateral agreement (known in French as the compromis de vente or avant-contrat) is an optional document setting out the main terms of the agreement between the buyer and the seller. Bear in mind that it is a legally binding agreement: if either party pulls out, it must compensate the other. The agreement does not need to be officially registered. 
The unilateral undertaking to sell (known in French as the promesse unilatérale de vente) is a compulsory document through which:
  • the seller is forbidden from selling the property to any party other than the future buyer,
  • the buyer pays a sum to secure the sale (often 10% of the sale price, never more than 15%): if he goes on to buy the property, this sum is deducted from the final amount; if he changes his mind, the seller will receive this sum as compensation.
The undertaking to sell can be directly signed by the buyer and seller (by private agreement) or through a third party, such as an estate agent or solicitor. In all cases, the undertaking must be registered with the French Inland Revenue service within ten days of the signature, otherwise it is cancelled. The registration fee is payable by the buyer and amounts to 125 EUR.
Documents to be supplied by the seller
The seller should supply all documents proving the actual state of the property:
  • a report concerning the presence or absence of asbestos in the building,
  • a report concerning the risk of exposure to lead for properties built before January 1st, 1949,
  • a report concerning the presence of termites,
  • a certificate concerning internal electricity and gas installations,
  • a report on natural and technological risks if the property is located in a high-risk area,
  • an energy performance certificate.
The title deed (l'acte de vente)
This is drawn up and registered by a solicitor, either the seller's or buyer's, or both. It must contain the same clauses as the bilateral agreement. On signing it, the balance due is paid to the seller, and the keys and an ownership certificate (l'acte de propriété) are handed over to the buyer.
If there are two solicitors, they must share the legal fees, which in France are set by the government.
© All Contents, Laurence de PERCIN, janvier 2014.
Groupe Société Générale