The Expat Hub

Buying a property in France

There are many risks in purchasing a property in a foreign country and France is no different. With a combination of strange laws, selling difficulties, inheritance law it is a good idea to beware of the potential dangers to your wallet and sanity.

The most important thing to do when searching for a property in France is to ensure that you do your research. A successful purchase is far more likely if you thoroughly investigate the options available to you.

The following are the top five things you should be aware of when looking for a property in France:

Know the Notaire

In France officials called Notaires’ have a monopoly when it comes to dealing with property contracts. There role is similar to that of a conveyance solicitor in the UK except they also deal with marriage and inheritance issues.

A Notaire will be the one who draws up leases and arbitrate in any disputes. You are sure to come across one whilst searching for a property. It may be worth seeking your own Notaire as they will have inside knowledge of the property market and will know of any local issues.

Inheritance laws

If you should unfortunately die whilst living in France you will be faced with a couple of differences from UK law. It is advised that you write a will before you move or make one as soon as you arrive. Under French law your children’s inheritance will be protected but your partners may not so research thoroughly and get yourself a solicitor.

Extra costs

Once you find your dream home and the offer has been accepted you will have to pay for a series of tests called the Dossier de Diagnostic Technique. Seven surveys will be taken that test electrics, energy efficiency, gas, and lead, termites, asbestos and natural risks. Once they are completed you will see the results before deciding to exchange contracts.

The French housing market

Despite the global debt crisis and the problems in the Euro zone Frances property market has remained healthy. Unfortunately for a buyer prices have remained high but its good news if you intend to sale a property. By doing some thorough research it’s entirely possible for you to find a property at a bargain price.


If you’ve purchased a fixer upper then you should be aware of the process involved. The first thing you need will be a building permit. This may take a long time and a lot of paperwork to fill in; it is advisable to begin this process as soon as possible. The documents will then have to be sent to the town hall where they will be appraised by an architect.

Common mistakes to avoid

All too often there have been cases in which first time buyers have been conned by so called ‘dream sellers’ who will happily take advantage of your ignorance and tell you what you want to hear in order to sell a dodgy property. Often these hustlers are your fellow countrymen desperate to make a fast sale and a quick buck. Many expats to France have made catastrophic choices on their property, with some buying dangerously rundown property or paying far more than they should have done.

Before you begin your search you should try and get advice from expats already in the country. They are often an invaluable source of information and can help you to navigate the many pitfalls of the French property market. Visiting property exhibitions and studying local sources such as newspapers and magazines are all good sources of information.

First time buyers in France have many issues to avoid if they wish to successfully get the home of their dreams, the following are just some of the most common errors expats have made;

Paying too much

Due to property prices being cheaper in France than those in the UK it is relatively common for foolish UK expats to pay more than the property is actually worth. Some French vendors and even other English Expats take advantage of this by asking for inflated prices. Make sure you check with a trusted estate agent that you are in fact going to paying for the properties true value.

Underestimating restoration costs

A rundown house for €50,000 can seem a steal, but renovation can cost as much as new building, and up to three times the purchase cost, as well as taking time and causing headaches. Ensure you budget accordingly.

Buying in the wrong location 

Rent first. The wrong decision regarding location is one of the main causes of disenchantment among foreigners who have purchased property in France.

Not taking legal advice

This is vital as French bureaucracy is very complicated and you will need assistance in navigating the maze of paperwork that often comes from property purchasing in the country. British buyers can obtain a list of English speaking lawyers from the Law Society in the UK. Specialist lawyers advertise in Francophile newspapers and magazines.

Types of preliminary contracts

The first stage in buying a home in France is the signing of a preliminary contract. The Notaire is responsible for ensuring that the contract is drawn up correctly and that the purchase price is paid to the vendor. There are many types of preliminary contracts, here are the four most common.

Compromis de Vente

The most common, most comprehensive and most binding contract, which commits both parties to the sale. With a compromis de vente, a buyer is committed from the start and can legally be forced to go through with a purchase. The contract includes full details of the property, the price to be paid, how the purchase is to be financed, details of the vendor and buyer, the agent’s commission and who must pay it (if applicable) and the date of completion – usually two months after the signing of the compromis. It also states what will happen if either party breaks the contract and includes any conditional clauses.

Offre de Vente and Offre d’Achat 

An offer to sell and to buy respectively, neither of which is binding on either party unless accepted

Promesse de Vente 

A commitment on the part of the vendor to sell the property at an agreed price allowing the buyer a period (usually up to three months) during which he can withdraw and forfeit his 10 per cent deposit. If you’re obliged to use this type of contract, you should ensure that it is carefully worded and includes conditional clauses allowing you to reclaim your deposit if, for example, you’re unable to obtain a mortgage.

Promesse d’Achat 

A commitment on the part of the buyer to purchase a property.

All preliminary contracts, whether for old or new properties, contain a number of conditional clauses that must be met to ensure the validity of the contract. Conditions usually apply to events out of control of the vendor or buyer, although almost anything the buyer agrees with the vendor can be included in a preliminary contract. Some of the conditional clauses can include: Being able to get a mortgage, Obtain planning permission, a building survey etc….

Once a contract has been signed the Notaire will need to establish your marital status in order to satisfy French law and verify your identity.  It will also help when it comes to the complicated business of French inheritance laws. The Notaire will need to see your birth certificate, passport, marriage certificate and a copy of a utility bill.

Make sure you register ownership of a property correctly at the time of purchase, as it may be prohibitively expensive (or even impossible) to change it later.

Property prices in France

Here are the average property prices for the main regions of France:

City: Avg. House Price Avg. House Price
Alsace €620,000 £485,954
Lorraine €159,000 £124,623
Lower Normandy €157,000 £123,056
Upper Normandy €169,000 £132,461
Brittany €171,000 £134,029
Cote d’Azur €380,000 £297,842
Limousin €115,000 £90,136
Auvergne €150,000 £117,569
Burgundy €150,000 £117,569
Ile de France €300,000 £235,139
Loire €180,000 £141,083

Links to French property sites

Link to Notaires