French Property Guide
Contract of sale
The process of purchasing a property in France starts with the compromis de vente. The compromis commits the vendor to selling the property, but purchasers benefit from a ten day cooling off period during which they can change their minds. The signing of the compromis is usually accompanied by a deposit; 10% of the purchase price is normal, and this is paid to the notaire or real estate agent, not to the vendor.
The compromis can include clauses suspensives, which make successful completion conditional. Many purchasers make their purchase conditional on the receipt of mortgage finance, so if they are unable to get a mortgage for whatever reason, they can withdraw from the purchase without forfeiting their deposit. Other common conditions are the carrying out of necessary works (such as removal of asbestos), and the granting of planning permission for renovation or extension of the property.
While building surveys similar to the UK survey are not normally carried out in France, older properties require a diagnostique specifying any lead-based paint or asbestos and assessing the safety of the electrical installation as well as sewage disposal (if the property is not on the mains) and energy ratings. A survey certainly can be asked for and a clause suspensive inserted into the compromis, if required.
It generally takes two to three months from the signing of the compromis to the final contract (acte de vente or acte authentique). The compromis will specify the date for the acte, though this can be deferred by mutual consent or if there is an official reason, such as an official body having first refusal rights.
Signing the transfer in person
In France, the acte is generally signed with both purchaser and vendor present, in the notaire's office, though it is possible to arrange a power of attorney if this isn't possible. It's also usual to visit the property with the vendor immediately before the signing, as the property is sold 'as seen on the date of signing' - make sure nothing has been taken away that you expected to be left, or vice versa.
The notaire will calculate the capital gains tax that is payable by the vendor, and the transaction taxes to be paid by the purchaser.
These will be confirmed later, and some purchasers will be fortunate enough to receive a small refund when they get their final deeds through a few months later.