With so many people in the UK making the decision to take up residency and purchase property in France, it seems a good idea to make as much information as possible available to those considering a move.
Buying procedures are relatively complex – this is France after all ! – and it is essential to know the ins and outs of the regional market – in this case, the Hauts de France.
Here you will find all the key information relating to the buying and selling of property in France.
Above all else, be sure to use a professional and experienced estate agent (agent immobilier) in whom you can have complete confidence and who can take good care of you throughout the whole process up to and including the final signing in the presence of a notary (notaire).
Please feel free to contact me at any time – at Helman Immobilier we will be delighted to make sure that your property transaction in France is a truly satisfactory and memorable experience.

French property contracts: the sales agreement

Are you about to sign a preliminary contract? This is known as a « pre-contract ». The preliminary contract and the sales agreement are two contracts with different consequences for the buyer and the seller..

  • Unilateral sales agreement

Sales agreement (also known as « unilateral preliminary contract »), the owner agrees with the prospective buyer (known as beneficiary) to sell him his property at set price. Therefore, it leads to an exclusive « option » for a limited time-period (generally two to three months).

During this period, he is forbidden from giving up the sale or offering the property to another purchaser. The candidate buyer benefits from the agreement in order to decide whether he wishes to buy or not. A key advantage! In return, he pays the seller a confinement benefit, theoretically equal to 10% of the sale price. If he decides to acquire, this compensation will be deducted from the sum which needs to be paid. But if he gives up on the purchase or if he does not show his acceptance within the option period, the owner shall acquire the benefit as compensation.

In order to be valid, the sales agreement must be registered with the tax office within ten days of signing. Moreover, when it is granted for a period going beyond 18 months, it must be carried out by an authentic act. The registration fees which is paid by the purchaser is 125€.

Often in a hurry to round off, the buyer and seller at times thinks that signing the preliminary contract does not lead to much. This is not true: despite its name, this preliminary agreement makes up a genuine « contract », which leads to important obligations for both parties. It allows them to specify the conditions for the future sale and highlights their agreement. Although it is not legally obligatory, this document is remains essential.

  • Preliminary contract

In the preliminary agreement (or « bilateral sales agreement »), the seller and buyer both agree to round off the sale at a price which is set jointly. Legally, the preliminary contract is the same as a sale. If one of the parties gives up on the transaction, the other can force the latter to do so through legal means, through additional damage and interest.

Signing the preliminary contract requires the purchaser to pay a sum which approximately ranges between 5% and 10% of the sale price. This is known as a security deposit ; it shall be deducted from the price when the notarial act is signed.

Unlike the sales agreement, the preliminary agreement does not require to be registered with the tax authorities. This absence of fees may seem to be an asset. However, in the event of a dispute, in terms of fulfilling the prior conditions, the parties shall remain bound by the sales agreement, except through an amicable agreement or court decision, in the event of a unilateral sales agreement, the parties resume their freedom. if the option is not applied by the purchaser

  • Offer to purchase or price offer

Indiscriminately known as an offer to purchase, a unilateral sales agreement or even simply a price offer, this document presented by some real estate agents should be treated in a cautious manner. Its main feature is to make the buyer commit and not the seller.

The seller must notify you with the offer, within the time limit and in the form prescribed within the offer (generally via registered letter and acknowledgment of receipt). If he accepts the offer in writing, the sale is theoretically deemed to be rounded off. On the other hand, you can perfectly retract if the seller makes you a counteroffer or if he does not respond to you within the given time.

A primary precaution consists in including in the purchase offer, the suspensive conditions (for example obtaining a loan) and to leave the seller only with a little time (a week or fifteen days) to give you his answer.

No payment can be demanded from the buyer, under penalty of the offer’s nullity (Article 1589-1 of the Civil Code).

Bristish actor Douglas Reith (Downton Abbey...), Peter Tear and Marie-Anne Helman
Bristish actor Douglas Reith (Downton Abbey…), Peter Tear and Marie-Anne Helman.

Suspensive conditions: commitment exceptions

Whether it is a sales agreement or a preliminary contract, the buyer and seller can decide through mutual agreement to add suspensive clauses. These make it possible to foresee the nullity of the preliminary contract if certain events were to occur before the final sale (each of the parties resume their freedom).

  • This can for example be a loan refusal from the purchaser’s bank, application of the pre-emption right by the municipality, discovering a new urban easement. In this case, the sums that had been paid by the purchaser are given back to him.
  • Moreover, a sales agreement may also contain a clause, known as a « withdrawal clause », allowing the seller and/or the purchaser to waive the sale without cause by leaving the other party with the same that was agreed in advance. But theoretically, this isn’t common.
  • It shouldn’t be confused with the penalty clause, present in most preliminary contracts, according to which the buyer undertakes to pay the seller a sum, as damages and interests, if he refuses to sign the sale.

Get your preliminary contract drawn out by a professional

Buyer and seller are free to write it themselves on paper or using standard contracts. However, the clauses present within the contract are of high importance, the final contract theoretically includes these, it is recommended to entrust the drafting to a professional, who has the duty to inform both parts. The cost of drafting the preliminary contract is included in the real estate agent’s commission, with whom the final sale shall be signed.

Withdrawal period for buyers

Purchaser of new or old house, you sign a preliminary contract, unilateral agreement: you have a period of ten (irreducible) days during which you can reconsider your commitment (through registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt).

Regardless of your reason, the sums you have paid must in all cases be returned to you in full. This withdrawal period runs from the day after hand delivery (or signing of the act if it is kept by the notary) in the event of a sales agreement made in the authentic form or the first presentation of the the registered letter with acknowledgment of receipt, containing the preliminary contract, in the event of a private signature.

For example, if the latter is sent on the 10th of the month and its first presentation is on the 12th, the deadline will be from the 13th onward and shall expire on the 22nd at midnight.

Act of sale: Timelines after signature

You leave with the keys, but without your Ownership Title. However, the notaire has given you the Certificates of Ownership . These certificates represent, in some way, a provisional and simplified Ownership Title.

Why do we need to wait for the title deed?

The notary has given you certificates of ownership (very useful for your administrative procedures: subscription for water, gas, electricity, telephone subscriptions, a fire insurance contract, registration of children at school). These certificates are in a way a provisional and simplified title deed.

Why don’t you get the title deed immediately?

During the signing appointment, the notary explained to you that the act of sale is published in the « Land Registry Service » and that it is necessary to wait several months before receiving the title deed and the final account of the operations which have been carried out.

Associated formalities to fulfill after the signing of the deed

It is important to know that the notary has as many formalities to complete after signing the act, compared to before.

During the appointment you had noticed that a voluminous file prior to the sale was put together. The questions were mainly related to the civil status services, the purchaser’s criminal record, the BODACC, town planning, land registry, mortgage services and the seller’s bank. Each property’s act of sale (apartment, house, or land) is preceded by constituting a specific file, regardless of the size of the transaction. The notary calls this file phase as « the preliminary formalities ».

After the signing the sale, a certain number of operations, “the subsequent formalities”, are also carried out. The most important subsequent formality is registration . It takes place at the Land Registry Service. This is the moment when the act is published in the real estate file and when the notary pays the duties and taxes to the tax authorities, which are paid by the purchaser during the signature (improperly known as « notary fees « ).

In addition, the notary provides various administrations (land registry offices, Land Use advertising Office) with copies and extracts of the acts of sale. Among these documents, a special copy known as an « authentic copy », signed by the notary, will be returned to the latter with the tax administration stamps. This document makes up your title deed. Do not forget that the original title deep will be kept by the notary in its office for one hundred years, before being entrusted to the departmental archives service.

Tele@ctes (online acts)

In order to complete these post-sale formalities , the notary sticks to strict procedures. The actions take place through queues for the various administrative services to which the latter is obliged to address. However, due to the deployment of Tele@ctes, transmission and response times have been shortened.

Tele@ctes allows acts relating to real estate transfers to be passed on electronically to the Land Registry Service, Caisse des depots (transfer of funds) and the tax administration (payment of transfer rights, capital gains tax, etc. …). Therefore, a change of owner is notified and passed onto the Land Registry Service in real time, and the financial flows are carried out through remote procedures set up with Caisse des Depots.

Electronic authentic act (AAE)

Technological developments have also paved the way for the electronic authentic act, now introduced into our legislative law. This is how the notary has opted for the electronic signature since several months.

After signing an electronic authentic act (AEE), a copy of the electronic act can also be given to the client with the certificate of ownership . Last but not least, the customer has, if he wishes, a dematerialized version that he can keep on his computer and send if need be to his bank, to his insurance company…

The acts signed by the notaries will be directly sent to the Land Registry Service for registration . At the end of the day, ownership changes could be completed in 48 hours, through secure high-speed links.

Each year, millions of acts are processed by these services and they are subject to rigorous monitoring. It takes rather long to process, and this is inevitable. With some exceptions, the notary sends all the documents to the various administrations within two months of signing the act of sale.

When your title deed (the « authentic copy »), with the official stamps, is sent back to your notary, the latter carries out the final accounting operations which is of concern to you and closes the account opened in your name in the office for your purchase.

If you overpaid while signing up, the credit balance is sent to you along with your account statement and title deed.

If you didn’t pay enough, the notary will ask you for an additional amount.

Funds held by notaries on behalf of their clients

These are governed by the Ordinance dated November 2, 1945 « relating to the status of the notarial profession » and amended by article 15 of the Ordinance dated May 27, 2014: « Notaries shall not keep cash in their office, for more than two days working, that it to say, more than 5% of the total amount of funds they hold, on behalf of their client and for any reason whatsoever (sale price, estate account, etc.).  » Beyond this limit, these sums must be deposited in current accounts opened at the Caisse des Depots et Consignations, through Treasury accountants. « These funds can only be debit transactions for the settlement of the business, which is the source of the deposits . »

When these sums are held even after a period of 3 months, these are then transferred by the notaries to mandatory deposit accounts opened at the Caisse des Dé