Buying a house is always a risky and stressful process and buying in a foreign country magnifies this risk and stress hugely. The property buying process in France, however, is tightly regulated and it is probably one of the safest places in the world that you can choose to buy, as long as you are aware of the few issues and possible problems which can arise before and during the buying process.
In the past in France, it has only been the seller who has been represented in the house selling and buying process while the buyer has traditionally had to fend for themselves. Luckily, this has gradually changed with the arrival of buyer’s agents in Europe and now buyers can ensure that they too have someone on their side, to fight their corner and give advice to make sure that they do not become victim of some of the pitfalls that inevitably exist when buying in a foreign country.
One of the main things that a buyer’s agent will be on the lookout for when viewing a property is its location including proximity to noisy roads, smelly farms or power lines and whether it is in a sunny spot, elevated or in a possible flood zone. Beware that photos can and do lie.
The structural condition of the property is also very important so if there are any obvious issues such as large cracks in walls, missing or broken roof tiles, damp patches or obvious leaks and dodgy looking electrics, it would be well to get a professional in to take a look, whether this be a surveyor or a builder. Likewise, if you have plans to extend or change the building, it would be worth checking on any potential planning restrictions.
The agent or seller should also be able to show you a copy of the ‘diagnostiques’ report which will indicate the presence of any lead, termites, asbestos and the state of the electrics and fosse septique. In practice, many owners do not get these reports done until there is an offer on the house but you should make sure that you see them before signing the Compromis de Vente. Most septic tanks will fail to meet the new regulations so there will be recommendations on this report as to what is needed to bring them in line with the new law and buyers have a year in which to comply.
If there is a pool at the property, it is a legal requirement for it to be fitted either with a fence, alarm or security pool cover so this needs to be checked. If these are not in place by the time you sign the Acte de Vente, then you are responsible for any accident which occurs even if you are not at the property and penalties range from large fines to imprisonment.
If you are buying a rural property with land, it is worth remembering that there is a body called SAFER (Societe d’Amenagement Foncier et d’Establissement Rural) that is charged with the protection of agricultural property in France and they have a right to pre-empt the sale should they decided that the agricultural buildings or land you want to buy are still useful in agricultural terms to their members. It is rare that SAFER use this pre-emption but it can happen.
Finally, remember that the sale of a property in France becomes binding much earlier than it does in many countries. Once you have signed the Compromis de Vente, you have ten days when you can pull out without penalty (the legal cooling off period) but once this is up, you are obliged to go ahead with the purchase unless one of the suspensive clauses included in the contract is not met. It is always worth taking advice in your own language from an expert on all of these aspects for complete peace of mind.