The buying process

The buying process

As the process of buying real estate in France differs quite a good deal from the one in other countries such as the UK or elsewhere, the following article is designed to give a brief overview over the most important aspects of the property purchase process in France.

The acquisition process in France does not consist of a simple exchange of contracts or letters, but is structured in various stages. At the beginning of the process often a "promesse d'achat" is used. This is a written offer by the potential buyer. Although this step is not mandatory, it is sometimes undertaken in case the initial asking price is not matched by the potential buyer.

After the parties have reached an agreement about the main parameters of the sale, they sign a "compromis de vente". The "compromis" already contains the terms of the sale, and constitutes, in general, a binding contract for both parties. The signing of the compromise is accompanied by a deposit, the "indemnity d'immobilisation", of usually approximately 10 % of the purchase price. The buyer then has a ten day "cooling - off" , a period during which he can withdraw from the contract (by registered mail and confirmation of receipt) without incurring any legal disadvantages. The seller, however, cannot withdraw from a written "compromis".

After this cooling-off period has expired, the contract becomes binding for both parties. At this stage, the buyer cannot withdraw from contract without losing his deposit. The deposit is, of course, fully accounted against the purchase price upon the completion of the sale.

However, the "compromis" may contain a number of suspensive conditions ("clauses suspensives") upon which the validity of the contract is made dependant. For the most part, these conditions concern the ability of the buyer to secure a loan, (mortgage financing) for the purchase through a lender. However, other conditions may include the ability of the buyer to obtain building permission. In case such a condition is not fulfilled, the buyer has the right to abstain from the acquisition without contractual penalties.

The signing of the final contract, the "acte de vente" or "acte authentique", takes place in a notary's office. In France, a "notaire" is not mere "notary public", but a highly regarded, qualified lawyer who acts in the capacity of a government official. He is required by law to act impartially. (i.e. for both the buyer and the seller, ensuring that the sale conforms to all legal requirements).


Certain mandatory reports have to be supplied under certain circumstances. For example, a report on the possible existence of lead must be provided by sellers of properties which have been built prior to 1948. Other mandatory reports that may have to be supplied include reports on energy, asbestos, termites, natural gas, electrical state and "natural and technological risks". The seller must provide in any case the deeds of the property confirming his or her title. Other necessary documentation may include co-owner regulations in the case of an apartment.

A property survey is not automatically done before a sale, however, it is, of course, possible and sometimes advisable for the purchaser of a property to obtain a report about the state of the property from an independent surveyor, an architect or other suitable professional.


The published sales price usually includes the commission of the estate agent. In France, the sales commission is normally paid by the purchaser. However, the negotiation process will of course determine the structure of the final deal.