House buying à la français



All the talk in the British press (as well as in the Australian and American press) over rising house prices, gazumping, gazundering and property bubbles makes me (yet again) very glad to be living in France where people are rather more rational about houses and the property market is hugely more stable and reliable.

I would not like to run a property finding business in a country where you can still lose the house of your dreams five minutes before exchange or even completion. I remember all that stress with horror and I am so glad that my clients do not have to go through that here. The French property buying system is much more regulated and straight forward and far less stressful for both buyers and sellers.

Here’s how it works in France: Once you have seen your perfect house, the first stage is to make an offer. I usually do this verbally while carrying on negotiations and, as soon as a price has been agreed, I put the offer in writing and the vendor signs an offer acceptance. At this point, a Notaire is appointed who usually represents both seller and buyer (this avoids all the complication and time-wasting involved when two legal bods have to communicate with each other) and the initial but binding contract, the Compromis de Vente is drawn up. This usually takes around 10 days to two weeks for this to be ready for both parties to sign (although it is sometimes possible to sign almost immediately) and both parties submit a deposit of 5-10% to the Notaire. As soon as the seller signs, they are legally bound to sell or forfeit their deposit. The buyer has another seven days after signing, known as the ‘cooling off’ period when they can still pull out but, after this, they are also bound to proceed with the sale or lose their deposit.

Once the Compromis de Vente is signed, in most circumstances, the house is yours. The only reason why the sale should fall through from this point would be if there was a ‘Clause Suspensive’ in the Compromis allowing an ‘opt-out’ if , for example, the buyer fails to get a mortgage. Otherwise, from this stage, which is usually about three to four weeks after the offer is accepted, both buyer and seller can relax and start making plans for moving house at an agreed completion date (where the Acte de Vente is signed) which is normally around three months from the signing of the Compromis. There is none of the stress that somebody might come along with a better offer and you will lose the house nor that the buyer will suddenly decide that they want to pay less than agreed and reduce their offer price – this just cannot happen.

To me the French system makes so much sense and works so well that I cannot understand why in the UK and other parts of the world, countries still hang onto a stressful and complicated process of selling and buying houses which, moreover, seems to bring out the worst in everyone.

Of course you can never eliminate all of the stress involved in finding and buying a property but at least here in France, it is a safe, regulated and usually an exciting and enjoyable experience which, more often than not, ends with a shared glass of champagne and the first of many new friendships.


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