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Languedoc Property:  Buying Property in the Languedoc: Legal Formalities

Property sales are strictly regulated in France. The key player is the notaire, a government official and tax collector corresponding roughly to the Public Notary in English speaking jurisdictions. The notaire is not a solicitor. He does not represent either the buyer or the seller, just the interest of himself and the state. Some are much more efficient than others, but their fees should be the same as they are regulated by law.

The agent immobiliere or the notaire will draw up a document called a compromis de vente, identifying the parties and recording their agreement to buy and sell. It also gives details of the property (including cross references to a local map called a cadastre), the agreed price, details of the deposit required, legal encumbrances (such as rights of way), any additional fees, and the completion date. A standard clause will state that the vendor is not responsible for any defects in the property - so the onus is on the buyer to check every possible detail. Pulling a fast one on innocent Brits is something of a sport in France. If a new clause appears in your draft compromis de vente the day before signing, then you are probably being had.

A deposit of 10% is normal - paid to the notaire. The purchaser will lose his deposit if he fails to complete the sale. Fortunately it is normal practice to minimise the risk of this happening by inserting get-out clauses (conditions suspensives)- for example if clear title cannot be proved, if the boundaries are disputed or if their turn out to be undisclosed restrictions on the property. Better still from the purchasers point of view it is normal to insert a condition suspensive to the effect that if the purchaser cannot obtain a mortgage then the sale of off and the deposit must be returned. Since obtaining a mortgage is entirely in the hands of the purchaser, this is effectively a way of calling off without losing the deposit.

The notaire conducts various searches with the local authorities and the French counterpart of the Land Registry. These searches concern only the property itself. It is entirely up to you to find out about the skyscraper to be built next door, the pig farm to be sited just up-wind, the rubbish tip to be created at the end of your garden, the motorway that will pass your front door, or the wind turbines planned for the mid-ground of your glorious view.

Bizarre as it sounds, you should make sure that you have a right to get to your property. It is not unknown for properties to be sold off without a legal right to get to them. Even if you can get to your house over someone else's property, do you have a right to drive to it? Do you have a right to lay electricity cables and drainage?

Both parties sign the compromis de vente, generally in person in the Languedoc, in the presence of the notaire, though procurations can be arranged by which one person can sign of behalf of another. After signing the compromise there is a 7 day "cooling-off" period during which the purchaser can change his mind without legal recourse.

The details of the compromis are transcribed by the notaire onto another document called an Acte de Vente. Signing this document corresponds to "completion" and the balance of the purchase price is due immediately - which means that banks will have to be primed ahead of time. The notaire will need to establish that you have third-party insurance for the property before completion.

Some sales are executed using a promesse de vente rather than a compromis de vent. With a promesse de vente the vendor sets out the sale conditions. Once the buyer agrees, the effect is much the same as in a normal compromis.

The purchaser is responsible for legal costs and for taxes relating to the sale. For new buildings (less than 5 years old) the notarie's fee will be 2% to 3% of the purchase price. For older properties you can expect to pay 7% to 9%, but this covers the French equivalent of legal fees, conveyancing, stamp duty, and land registry.

After all the formalities are completed the buyer is issued with an attestation - a certificate proving ownership of the property. The notaire keeps the title deeds, but the transfer is registered with the land registry, and the notaire should send you an official copy within three months.


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