Buying Property in France

Beynac House

The Real Estate Registration system in France is fairly straightforward and efficient. First of all, it is important to realise the functions of the "Notaire" in real estate transactions.

The Notaire

The notaire is the French lawyer who specializes in property matters.  He is a public official, with powers delegated by the State to authenticate the deeds he drafts, and to provide complete security for the contracts he supervises.  He has an important role at every stage of the purchase process.  The use of a notaire is not compulsory at the beginning stages of the buying process, but it is for the later stages, since he has a government-mandated monopoly over the preparation and signing and execution of the final deed. He is also responsible for making good title to the property, and is liable for any mistakes he may make in the deed, for which he has professional indemnity coverage.  Only deeds settled by the notaire can be registered.

There are two basic steps in the purchase of property:

The "Compromis de Vente", or agreement of sale.

This basically contains reciprocal agreements to sell and to purchase, and fixes all legal aspects of the sales agreement: description of the property; general and special conditions; price and method of payment; date for completion, and penalty clause.

The contract is signed by both parties and a deposit (usually 10% of the acquisition price) is paid either to the estate agent or to the notaire, who will hold it.  If the buyer does not purchase while all the conditions are performed, he loses the deposit, which is then given to the seller.

It is common to include in the contract some "conditions suspensives", or opt-out clauses.  They take precedence over other clauses.  Should they not be fulfilled, the contract becomes null and void and deposits are returned.

At this point, the law does not stipulate that the deed be authentic, meaning it does not need to be supervised by a Notaire.  Parties are thus free to sign a Compromise de Vente.  However, we strongly recommend using a Notaire (at no extra cost at this stage) to oversee this key step of the transaction, and to get sound advice on the consequences of the contract signed.

Importantly, there is mandatory cooling off period of 7 days, during which time the purchaser may withdraw and recover his deposit.  Once the 7 days have expired, and the purchaser withdraws, the seller may claim the deposit.  

Once the Compromis de Vente is signed, the seller and the buyer are committed, and all of their future obligations rely on the document.

Administrative Work

Once the Promise of Sale has been signed, the notaire undertakes searches to collect various documents concerning the estate to be sold, such as title, mortgages, town planning regulations, etc.

This might take 2 or 3 months.  All other elements of the contract, namely the ones relating to the opt-out clauses, if any, have to be investigated during this period, but not necessarily by the notaire, such as buildng permission applications, lease contracts, mortgage application.

When the various formalities are completed, both parties will be invited to appear before the notaire to sign the final deed.

The "Acte Authentique" (Conveyance - Final Deed)

The Acte Authentique reiterates and confirms the terms of the Compromis de Vente.  The buyer pays the balance owing and costs and gets the keys to the property.  When the conveyance is signed, the original is sent by the notaire to the Bureau de Conservation des Hypotheques (Land Registry) for registration and in due course an official copy issued to the purchaser.

Costs of the Purchase

The costs vary according to the type of property.  They are generally around 7% of the purchase price, which includes transfer duty payable to the French government, stamp duty, land registry charges, and the notaire's fee and VAT on the notaire's fees.  These figures are fixed by law and are broadly the same throughout France.  These costs, commonly known as notary fees, are paid by the purchaser.

Language of Contracts

The French State requires that the use of the French language is compulsory in any French written agreement.  The use of a foreign language in French deeds is illegal.


Most of the contracts are signed in France by all of the relevant parties to the real estate purchase.  Nevertheless, the French contracts do not necessarily need to be signed in France.  They must be published in France for their legal enforcement, but a notaire may send the contract to be signed, or choose to travel to sign the contract with his clients.


For non-residents, the price must be paid in euros.  This payment, however, can take many forms, such as a cashier's check or a money order.

Please contact us for more information.  We look forward to talking to you.


Jim & Elizabeth Hilgendorf
The Matchmakers
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Jim's Cell: 510-501-9564
Elizabeth's Cell: 510-501-9643
CA DRE # 00667290





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