Buying French Riviera Property
The purchase procedure in France is extremely well regulated and much safer than most other jurisdictions.
Finding a property
Estate agents in France are highly regulated, and must have shown that they have the necessary education, knowledge or experience to be trusted with a licence. They are the first port of call for most overseas buyers but do not automatically assume that they speak good English! Note also that some will not work on Sundays and rarely on bank holidays. Before visits agents will often ask you to sign a "Bon de Visite" - proof that they have shown you the property. Agents' advertised prices will usually include their commission but not the notaire's fees. Many buyers in France find their property privately. If you try this route, do ensure that you have taken advice about the buying process and that you are confident about local property values. Property finders or "chasseurs" are now becoming more common in France. They work independently of estate agents to hunt for properties matching a set of criteria you will have agreed with them. They will charge a fee although there are similar companies who will search free of charge and share the estate agent's commission.
The "Compromis de Vente"
This is the initial contract which is signed once you have found a property and had an offer accepted. It sets out the main terms of the agreement between the buyer and the seller and upon signing the buyer will pay a deposit of normally 10%. This deposit is held by the notaire in an escrow account. Note that the notaire does not work for either party, but is responsible to the Justice Ministry for a legal transfer of the property. It is perfectly normal therefore, for just one notaire to work on the sale. The compromis is a binding contract on both parties, although "clauses suspensives" are usually stipulated so that if, for example, you are unable to obtain the necessary finance or if you have made the sale dependent upon a survey, you can withdraw from the purchase. There is also a statutory 10 day cooling off period, during which you but not the seller, can withdraw from the purchase.
Surveys, or "expertises" are rarely carried out in France. Indeed, some owners can even be offended by the idea! If, as an overseas buyer, this is just too alien for you then there are individuals who will carry out a survey for you.
Dossier de Diagnostic Technique
This is a file containing reports on the property with regards to lead, asbestos, termites, gas, swimming pool safety, electricity and energy classifications. The vendor has to provide these at the compromis de vente stage.
The "Acte Authentique (Acte de Vente)"
Usually 2 - 4 months after the initial contract you will sign the acte authentique. This is the final contract which you should attend. All the funds (including any mortgage) should be paid to the notaire before the signing date. It is also his responsibility to charge all the taxes due on the sale. These, together with his fee, will amount to around 6-8% on resale properties, and 2.5 - 3% on new properties (the first resale of the property if within 5 years also has this lower fee). Once signed, the keys are handed over, and the property is yours.