Buying property in France:
the Purchase Process


What is in the ‘compromis de vente’?
- Parties
- Married couples
- Unmarried couples
- The conditions
- Your own requirements

The seller’s obligations

Do your research, don’t mess around
Signing the ‘compromis de vente’
Seven day cooling off period: use it well!
When to pay the deposit and how much?
Funding reservation a useful clause
Other clauses and conditions
Buying with or without chattel - furniture?


Mandatory technical inspections and your rights
- Lead paint
- Asbestos
- Termites
- External risks
- Gas & Electric Utilities
- Energy efficiency

Hidden defects are usually your own problem

Building inspections/surveys
Construction warranty for construction less than 10 years old.

Final Deed: a formality
How empty is empty at time of transport?
Breach of contract and penalty
Completion: It may take a while

Special Judicial Construction: what is an SCI?


The Compromis de Vente: Introduction

The house buying process is generally safe, even without an estate agent. France is a civilized country, where a contract still means something, where the government ensures that the interests of both buyer and seller are reasonably covered and where the vast majority of notaries are respectable people who do their work very diligently. Yet there are always stories of how terribly wrong things can go. Sometimes problems can arise due to unscrupulous sellers, but most are due to the naivety of the buyer. The biggest risk is run by homebuyers who want to do everything by themselves and by people who carelessly sign papers.

The purchase process of real estate revolves around a good ‘Compromis de Vente’. If it is well put together there is little risk for buyer and seller alike. Not only what's in the contract is of importance, also what is omitted. And if you have never or seldom read a compromise de vente there is a likely chance that something might been overlooked, even if you are well educated.

Do not sign anything!

Once you have found your ideal home, first take a moment of reflection. Under no circumstances be tempted to sign papers that you don’t precisely know the meaning of! There are many things that have to be in the contract. Many of them are based on detailed legislation. So for the time being you do not need to worry. The moment when you are face to face with the house of your dreams, you will initially only need to agree on these three essentials:

• Price (taking into account buying costs of 7-9%);
• Completion Date;
• list of furnishings, fixture and fittings included in the sale.

After reaching an agreement on these three points you can go directly to the ‘notaire’ (notary) for the Compromis de Vente. The buyer is entitled to choose his own notaire, regardless of what the seller says. Of course you may want to choose the one whom the seller recommends, but you do not have to. In France, a notaire can also function as an estate agent, so take into account that he might not be completely neutral. There is a register of notaires in France, also on the internet, so if you have even the slightest doubt about the notaire recommended by the seller, it is not difficult to find one for yourself. The seller does not agree with your choice of notaire and may decide to choose his own. When two notaires are involved in the sale, the standard fee is split between them, so there are no extra costs.

Don’t be fooled

There is always a period of time before the contract is drawn up. In the mean time, another buyer could come along. But there are rarely hordes of buyers ready to make an offer. The risk of not closing the sale (as there are thousands of other beautiful houses on the market…) is considerably smaller than the risk of a badly put together or incomplete ‘Compromis de Vente’.

The contractual process

When buying or selling property in France there are two deeds that must be signed between the buyer and the seller. At the beginning of the acquisition process there is the Compromis de Vente (buying contract of preliminary deed). At the end the acte authentique or acte définitive (ownership transfer). In between lies at least two months.

The Compromis de Vente is final!

The Compromis de Vente is not just a preliminary agreement but the actual binding purchase agreement. It’s certainly not a question of ‘just’ outlining a preliminary agreement between the buyer and the seller, jotted down in a café. What is a Compromis de Vente? Literally translated it means a "sales agreement", a contractual arrangement between two parties, one buyer and one seller, who have entered into a property transaction in France. This agreement, which is a reciprocal purchase and sale agreement, is a written agreement signed by both parties, usually in front of a notary (French notaire). Since this is strictly speaking a "private act", it can in principle also be prepared and signed without the intervention of a notaire. Most real estate agents offer the service of signing the ‘compromis’ at their offices. However, since the agent is serving the seller, for the buyer it might be better to insist on signing at the notary’s.

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What's in a Compromis de Vente?

The purchase contract for real estate consists of the following parts:

  • The parties
    A person buys a house as a private individual and his or her name is mentioned as the sole owner in the ‘Compromis de Vente’ and the ‘acte authentique’. He will be responsible for the transfer tax included in the notaire’s fee that the buyer pays on top of the purchase price. From the date of the final deed he will be charged local property tax (taxe d'habitation and taxe foncière), whether he is a permanent residence in his new home or not. The amount of property tax can vary widely depending on the ‘municipality’.
  • Married buyer
    Should the buyer be married, then the notaire can ask for a declaration of no objection by the spouse, or even for an extract from the prenuptial agreement stating that the buyer is entitled to act independently. This is particularly important if there is a ‘clause suspensive’ a special reserve offering an ‘out’ to the buyer if he can’t get his financing for the purchase. A couple maried without prenuptial agreements are in fact regarded as one buyer. All the above rules apply. However, both names are then listed under the heading of ‘acquéreur’ in both contracts, including date and place of the marriage. Moreover, the real estate will be their shared property and they are both equally responsible for the purchase. If one of the spouses prior to signing the acte authentique decides to back out the seller may enforce the sale on the other.
    If one of the spouses dies between signing the Compromis de Vente and the acte authentique, the surviving spouse (along with the next of kin of the deceased) can choose to abandon the purchase. That is to say: only if such a clause is included in the ‘Compromis de Vente’. If not, then the widow or widower is committed to buy. Adding such a clause may be a good idea, especially if you are buying abroad.
  • Living together
    A couple living together, must be careful! We strongly urge you to arrange things before signing the acte authentique, either by a recognised French civil partnership contract (the so called "PACS") or by a French will. Another option is to purchase through an SCI: Société Civile Immobilière (SCI). We’ll talk about it on the bottom of this page.
  • The terms of the compromise de vente
    A typical Compromis de Vente consists of fifteen to twenty pages, mostly in archaic legal language. The Compromis de Vente is designed to settle all the main issues of buying real estate. Not only in respect of the house, but also the land and eventual ownership of moveable property. Also the rights of way and the authorised use of the property. A Compromis de Vente also governs the time periods/deadlines te be respected. A purchase is after all a process with a number of steps. Also stated are the rights and obligations of the purchaser and the vendor. If you still decide to abandon the purchase, the Compromis de Vente will govern how and under what conditions this may be done. The importance of this document can not be emphasized enough!
  • Explain your requirements in the Compromis
    Besides the usual legal provisions that the Compromis de Vente provides, there is room for personal preferences and requirements. For example, you can demand that the seller declares in writing that the heater (or pool or septic tank, etc) is in good working condition. This way you can prevent any problems. Sellers have no interest in the inclusion of such statements, which give them nothing but responsibilities. Notaries also have no interest in this, they need only to see that the Compromis de Vente satisfies all legal requirements. Therefore it is useful to get help from someone who is on your side, especially if it is the first time you are dealing with such a contract.

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The duties of the seller

Furthermore the Compromis de Vente states what the seller must do and leave behind (furnishings, fixtures and fittings). There is often a mention that he is required to leave the house in its existing state, whereby a list is provided of what belongs to the house. This can also be supplemented by a list of moveable property. Which provides a tax advantage (lower transfer tax) if part of the overall price is labelled as "movable property". However, this must be realistic.

Study the document carefully!

In short, the Compromis de Vente is the main hurdle in the buying process. We also strongly recommend that you ask the notaire to send you a draft copy well before the signing session, so you can study at your leisure or ask a second opinion.

Signing the Compromis de Vente

You go to the solicitor’s office to sign the Compromis de Vente on the appointed date. The following day a cooling off period of seven days begins, the ‘délai de retraction’. These are 7 calendar days, not working days. In this period you can still back out of the deal without giving reason. You must then notify the notaire by registered letter no later than the seventh day.

Signing from a distance

You can also sign the Compromis de Vente by procuration. If you can not be present at the signing in person, the notaire can send you the final copy of the Compromis de Vente. You sign the required number of copies and then send it on to the seller. The seller then signs and sends the signed copies back to the notaire, who then sends a copy to you. The seven days will begin on the day following the dispatch of the signed copies by the notaire.

Look before you leap

We encourage you, however, to be present at the signing of the Compromis de Vente and to make good use of the seven following days:

  • It’s a good idea to think back to where you started. Is this really what you want? Remember that signing the Compromis de Vente means that seven days later you are legally bound under very strict conditions!
  • Talk about the house and your plans with the locals you meet, drive around the area or neighbourhood where your house is. If finally you don’t have a good feeling, or if you feel that you're not welcome in the neighbourhood and are having sleepless nights: a registered letter to the solicitor is all that’s needed to back out of the contract.
  • Go to the town: the mairie or the mayor himself, or the DDE, or any authority who can tell you something about the house and its surroundings. According to French law, it is the seller’s duty to inform the buyer of all known faults and problems, whilst the buyer has an obligation to collect information. Always make an appointment at the town hall or ‘Mairie’ to study the town planning/zoning (the POS or PLU in French) this can easily be done within the 7 days if you are on location. At the very least call the Mairie to verify the situation regarding zoning, planning applications, changes of land use nearby, and any possible right of way issues.

Incidentally, these are things you should ideally have taken care of much earlier, or - if distance is a problem – have had done by a research firm. Also, this is part of the work of the notaire. But they are not all equally dilligent.


When the cooling off period is over, it's time to pay the deposit, as agreed in the Compromis de Vente. Just to be clear: this is not compulsory! In any event never put down a deposit before the Compromis de Vente is signed. Never pay the deposit money into the seller’s bank account, but into the solicitors protected holding -‘séquestre’ - account.

Funding Disclaimers

The Compromis de Vente includes a schedule and instructions for the financial arrangements. Some sellers want the funding to be already arranged at the time of signing the Compromis de Vente. But this is not necessary by law. A funding reservation ‘clause suspensive’ (the sale is cancelled when the financing is not made available) is perfectly normal in a Compromis de Vente. Even if you are in a position pay for the house in cash, we recommend you always include a funding reservation clause. Because it will take at least two months, often longer, before you can actually take possession of the house. Anything could happen in the meantime, one of you could become disabled, you could lose your job or have other financial problems. It’s reassuring to have a way out. If, despite this warning you still want to waive the funding reservation you must declare this in writing, in a handwritten letter that will be formally attached to the Compromis de Vente. This letter must be signed by the buyer (or each of the individual buyers should there be more than one).

What binding conditions are there?

For most buyers, the funding reservation clause is the most important clause. But there are many more and there is often confusion about the nature of a clause: in some Compromis de Vente binding clauses and suspensive clauses are side by side.

Generally it is true that everything the buyer and seller have agreed upon orally may be taken as a binding or suspensive clause. There are also conditions that according to the law must be governed by the conveyance and therefore should be included in the Compromis de Vente.

As soon as the cooling off period of seven days has passed, the solicitor gets under way with his legal search. He makes most of the inquiries himself, the land registry, the register of mortgages, the local commune and so on. You won’t hear anything from him unless one of the clauses comes into force. So generally if you hear nothing from the notaire during the first two months after signing the Compromis de Vente, it is usually good news.

Moveable property / furnishings

Preferably describe all furnishings, fixtures and fittings included in the sale price and have this list added to the ‘Compromis de Vente’ and the ‘acte authentique’. Thus avoiding the situation where the buyer thinks he has purchased items, which the seller thinks he has not sold. There are sellers who actively try to cheat, and also buyers who have strange ideas of what is included in the sale… Horror stories abound of all doorknobs and even antique wall paneling disappearing en between contract. It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong, but with a good detailed list there can be no confusion.

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Manadatory technical inspections

There is an (ever growing) list of technical inspections that a seller is legally obliged to carry out before a house can be sold. Therefore one or more technical inspectors could be involved. What happens if at the time of signing the Compromis de Vente required reports are not present? A serious notary will not let the signing go through, since these are legally obligatory research reports. However, there are sellers who take these reports lightly and casually declare that they themselves can vouch for it and if there is asbestos or lead present in the house, the sale does not have to go through. This nonchalance can also be dishonesty. And some sollicitors are lackluster enough to have the signing go through. So watch out and simply demand that suspensive clauses are put in the ‘Compromis de Vente’ that allow you to cancel the sale if asbestos is found. You don’t have to cancel, but at least this way you give yourself the option.

  • Lead paint
    One of the reports deals with the presence of lead-based paint. This subject is often referred to as ‘Lutte contre le saturnism’ (the fight against lead poisoning). Incidentally, this research needs to be done only when the house was built before 1947.
  • Asbestos
    In older French properties asbestos was often used. Wether the asbestos is cause for concern is stated in the technical report. If there are only a few pipes or some asbestos roofing (the most common applications), and provided they are in good condition, the asbestos can remain in place. Incidentally, this study only needs to be made if the house was built before July 1997.
  • Termites
    Some areas in France, especially in the south (the termites stop in a specific street in Lyon, a notaire once told us) are infested by termites. Termites, when they set in, can eat just about the whole house. A termite report will show if they are found in the house. Usually included in the same report are findings for other pests such as capricorn beetle and woodworm. If only a few areas with termites are detected, the problem can be solved with pesticides. Incidentally, this study is only performed if the house is located in on of the regions on the list of “termite-hazardous” regions. Usually the notaire is well informed, but this can also be checked with the local authorities.
  • External risks
    The buyer could always check with the local authorities, but it is also a requirement that the risk zone is mentioned in the ‘Compromis de Vente’. For this purpose a certificate is issued by the local authorities. These are typically: risk due to proximity to a nuclear power plant or chemical industry, fire and flood danger, but we sometimes see that other hazards are reported.
  • Electricity and gas
    The electrical installation in an older house is often fairly poor. Since 1 April 2008, a report must be delivered on the state of the electrical installations. The same obligation exists since October 2007 for any existing gas installations (if more than 15 years old).
  • Energy efficiency
    Since January 1 2011 it is a requirement that a technical report is made concerning the (estimated) energy consumption of the house before it is even put on sale. This should be done by a certified specialist and the report should be made available to buyers of the house. Also, the EDP-score has to be shown in all advertisement for the house. The technical report may also include recommendations for improving energy efficiency.
  • Hidden defects
    The ‘Compromis de Vente’ usually states that any risk of hidden defects falls to the buyers. Although the seller is required to inform the buyer of all facts (including known defects), a hidden defect of which the seller is not aware, is the buyers risk. If a hidden defect becomes known later, the buyer can only demand compensation from the seller if he can prove that the seller was aware or could have been.

Structural Inspection/survey

A building inspection is not required. Of course the seller should report any defects, including structural defects, but the buyer is free to carry out an independent inspection through a qualified friend or a building contractor. Carry out the inspection before signing the ‘Compromis de Vente’. Naturally, this is at the buyer’s expense.

Warranty of new or renovated houses

With houses younger than ten years, or houses where within the last ten years a substantial transformation has occurred, the buyer must provide proof that the building or rebuilding was in full compliance with the planning permission and provide the name, address and liability insurance information of the contractor. The contractor must give a ten-year warranty (warranty décennale) for the building and this guarantee is transferred to the new owner. If the construction or renovation was a self-build project, the owner must have full personal liability for this guarantee!

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Signing the completion

So it is finally over. The signing of the completion contract, the acte authentique (sometimes called the acte de vente). If the Compromis de Vente was good, the acte authentique is a formality. It is only a re-confirmation of the Compromis de Vente, the last duty of the previous owner, to transfer to the buyer. Who may then take advantage of his French house if all the requirements of the Compromis de Vente are met and the agreed purchase price is paid in full, including all costs of the notaire.

But…. The buyer had better not sign the ‘acte authentique’ until he has inspected the property one final time. The seller must deliver the property empty (except of course for any ‘movable’ property which he included in the sale), free of rent and in the condition it was when the Compromis de Vente was signed. If this is not the case the buyer does not sign the acte authentique and the seller may be summoned to make it right.

What is 'empty delivery’?

There are sometimes differences of opinion about the concept 'empty delivery’. A client of ours once noted with dismay that it really was very empty, even all electrical sockets and taps were removed! And we also heard another story (we are not sure if it is true) that the buyers found a fully packed house where the dirty dishes still on the counter. The owner had taken what he needed. That turned out not to be much, because he was deceased. We encourage everyone to test the concept of 'empty' but also to take it with a pinch of salt….

Delay can still happen

The date of signing the acte authentique is usually included in the Compromis de Vente. Please note that the notary is entitled to extend the acte authentique a few days in order to get the final papers in order, so you don’t show up at the door with your moving van on the originally agreed day with out checking first. It is rare in France that the acte authentique is signed on the date originally scheduled in the ‘Compromis de Vente’.

Penalty for breach of contract

If a party refuses to sign the final deed, when all the conditions of the Compromis de Vente are fulfilled, he must pay compensation to the other party. This is usually 10% of the purchase price (unless another percentage was agreed upon in the Compromis de Vente).

Final settlement can take some time

Often many months after signing the acte authentique the notaire sends the buyer a final statement, in which all accounting is justified and any overpayment will be returned, usually in the form of a bank check.

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Flexibility in ownership in the form of SCI

Separate mention should be made of purchasing in the form of a SCI. An SCI is a company, complete with stocks, shareholders, statutes, nominated directors and annual shareholder meetings. That sounds a bit heavy, but in reality is not so bad. An SCI may legally only buy property, for management and possible eventual sale available only to the shareholders. Further, an SCI may conduct no commercial activities.
The SCI is the owner of the property and thus the buyer gets shares in a company, rather than ownership rights of the property. The shares are treated very differently than owned property in the case of inheritance. Also the system offers flexible shares, if the contributions of the different buyers is not identical or will change in the future, or if the owners want to introduce a third co-owner. This means you can have a 30/70% ownership, or 20/20/60 for that matter.

Every notary can make statutes for an SCI, you only need to specify how many shares you wish to give to whom and at what value. A name must be decided upon and a official company address must be designated. There have to be at least two directors. It stands to reason they will be nominated from the list of shareholders but this is not obligatory. Finally, the notaire will enlist the SCI with the different registers and to the appropriate authorities.
The SCI can take out loans, but the IRS will "look beyond the SCI." as a mortgage borrower. That is to say that each of the shareholders is personally liable for all activities of the SCI, including signing contracts.
If you want to buy a property through an SCI, it is possible to first sign the ‘Compromis de Vente’ as private person. But then you have to ask the notary to add a substitution clause, stating that the undersigned has the right to substitute : someone else (for instance the SCI) will finally and formally sign the ‘acte authentique’ and become the owners.

Help from specialists ‘’

Above information was provided by ‘Compromis de Vente Info’. If you need assistance with your Compromis de Vente, we promise we will not rest until we have the correct version for you on paper and you have understood every line and every word in the contract. If this purchase agreement is well thought out and well drafted, you will have a smooth sale and long enjoyment of your property.

Author: Wim van Teefelen


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