The Buying Process
So you found a villa you like and you want to make an offer. First, read this guide on how to determine a villa’s market value, so you know what price to offer. Your offer price should be based on the current market value of the villa — not the seller’s asking price.
Second, make sure that you’ve read all our guides and have collected the diagnostics reports, checked on the zoning, and done all the other things we recommended.
Once you’re sure you’ve been thorough, and you’re ready to make an offer, here’s how to do it:
Negotiating the Price & Initial Offer
Most people submit their first offer verbally or via email. Don’t let an agent pressure you to submit the initial offer via a notaire, which is unnecessary in this market and will lock you in.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to show you how to determine what your initial offer should be. We advise that you offer a m2 price, with an explanation of why (start with the notaire’s published sale prices, then the factors that led you to that m2 price, and –optionally– the market trajectory).
Remember: All the prices you see advertised have one thing in common: so far, no-one has agreed to pay that price. Don’t believe agents when they say that other people have been interested at high prices.
If the seller won’t accept the m2 price you think it’s actually worth, then you can wait and keep looking. If it’s overpriced, chances are good that it won’t sell and eventually they will lower the price or come back to you and accept your offer.
Before You Put it in Writing
Once you know the seller is agreeable to the m2 price you proposed, then there are a few things you should do before making the offer official and binding. First, visit the local town hall (‘Mairie’) and ask about the property and the neighbors, etc. Find out if any neighboring lots have building permission, and what the natural risks are, check the property’s planning permission history to see if anything was done without permits, etc. Make sure to get a certificate of conformité and town planning certificate from the Mairie; without these, you may not be able to renovate.
Then, hire a CERTIBAT-certified ‘Expert de Batiment’ to inspect the villa and point out any areas for concern (like non-obvious structural problems, etc.) Your seller would not have to disclose any structural defects affecting the property that you will take in the condition in which it stands – although he is not entitled to actually hide them. This means that if, after signing a contract, you discover structural or other defects to the property or its services, you are still obliged to complete the purchase at the agreed price and cannot obtain compensation from your seller. It is, therefore, important to commission the inspection before you sign the contract.
Then, double-check all the other potential issues outlined here (internet connection, radon, zoning, etc.), then once you’re satisfied, submit an official offer via a notaire. To lower the notaire fees, you can specify part of the sale price as a payment for furniture.
Choosing an Honest Notaire
A notaire is basically a property lawyer / tax collector who advises their clients, does the paperwork for the deal, and collects the government taxes. Make sure to get your own notaire — do not use the seller’s or your agent’s, and choose wisely. Expect to add roughly 7% to the final price in taxes and fees.
Start hunting for a good notaire well before you’ve found your ideal property, as this process can take time. You’ll need to contact several notaires, as some will try to scam / lie / overcharge you.
Make sure to get a specific breakdown of all the taxes and fees ahead of time, and make sure that their fee (not including the taxes) is not more than 0.6392% of the sale price for the portion over €60,000 (which is 0.799% minus the 20% allowable discount), and that they’re not sneaking in any unwarranted extra fees (like translation fees) — the rest of what you’ll pay should go to government taxes.
Despite what some dishonest notaires may tell you, the notaires know (and you too, now), that the laws changed as of January 1, 2021 and now the new maximum fees are 0.799% and they are allowed to give a 20% discount on their fees (including the mortgage surcharge) for properties over €100,000 sale price.
Remember: You are never obligated to finish a transaction with a particular notaire, and they are not legally allowed to bill you for partial work no matter what they threaten to scare you into keeping them as your notaire (they are only paid upon you fully completing the sale with them).
If they are dishonest or try to overcharge, then give them a bad online review to warn others, report them to [email protected], and go to a different notaire.
Here’s more info about France’s notaires and here’s how much you should budget to give the notaire (put 06 in the department field; note that this calculation does not take into account the 20% fee discount). To calculate what the notaire will / should charge you for their fee, pull up your calculator and put in the sale price, minus €60,000 (the fees for the amount under €60,000 are stupidly complicated), then times (x) that by 0.006392 (for example, the notaire fees on a €2 million property, you’ll need to pay the notaire €12,400 + the fees for the amount under €60,000, which come to €878, for a grand total of €13,278).
Buying in the Black
Beware of getting involved in ‘paying on the black’, where a seller might want you to pay them directly and conceal part of the price from the notaire. This can help the seller reduce liability to capital gains tax while also reducing a buyer’s notaire fees, however, it is also illegal and can lead to serious problems for you:
- There are practical difficulties in paying the money and few safeguards — your money could easily be stolen.
- The tax authorities may dispute the price if they think it is too low and demand taxes relative to a higher price.
- If authorities think there has been an attempt to avoid duty they will impose penalties, which are payable by the buyer.
- If the property is a holiday home you are liable to capital gains tax on resale and the purchase price upon which the gain is calculated is lower: so the gain is higher, meaning you’ll pay more in the long run.
The Official Offer
Once you’ve visited the Mairie to ask about the property and surrounding area, and you know as much as possible about the area and property, you can make an official offer (called a ‘compromis de vente’). A notaire will help you with this.
It’s normal to attach lots of conditions (‘suspensives’) so you can get out of the sale if needed. These include there being no adverse planning restrictions or third party rights which might materially affect your enjoyment of the property; no existing mortgages affecting the property; the results of a structural survey from a qualified surveyor (‘Expert de Batiment’), being approved for a mortgage; and no claims upon the property by the local authority or the French State. If contents are to be included in the sale, an inventory (‘inventaire’) should be attached and a separate price allocated.
Many listings also show inaccurate building and land sizes, so it’s important to verify using an independent survey before buying. Make your offer conditional on the results of the surveys you’re going to perform, and negotiate the price down if the listing said it was larger than it actually is.
A note about the mortgage clause: Your real estate agent might tell you that this clause can get you out of the deal easily, in order to make you feel more confident putting in an official offer. In reality, you cannot simply call your bank and expect a refusal to benefit from this clause. You would have to prove that you have reasonably tried to get a mortgage and got several complete refusals from banks.
Using a SCI
An SCI is a fiscally-transparent type of French company that is exclusively used for the ownership and management of property. Many notaires will recommend this, often because they get paid to create them, so figure out for yourself if you want to use one. Here’s an explanation. You could also create it online for €99. Keep in mind that if you go this route you’ll need to submit yearly tax returns for the SCI, so the costs are ongoing.
The estate agent may ask for the 5-10% deposit to be paid to them, but it is better to pay the deposit to the notaire, because there is less likelihood of a problem in recovering your deposit if the sale falls through. Be aware, a deposit is only normally recoverable outside the cooling-off period if the sale fails for reasons related to the seller. Otherwise, the deposit is forfeited.
The Cooling-off Period
You’ll have 10 days (including holidays and weekends) during which you can do more digging and cancel without penalty. After the 10 days, you will lose your deposit if you back out.
Since the cooling off period only applies to offers made by a person and not a company, if you want to own the house using a company or a SCI, then you’ll need to make sure that your offer contract (which the notary will write for you) states that you can, at a later date, transfer the sale into a company name.
Before Handing Over the Money
Make sure to view the villa on the eve of signing the final ‘acte de vente’, so you can see exactly what you are paying for. It could avoid surprises like radiators, shutters or door handles being stripped out, that there has been no damage and that it is empty of all the seller’s possessions. If something’s not right, ask the notaire to hold back part of the price until the property is as it was when the ‘compromis de vente’ was signed.
The Final Signing
About three months after signing the ‘compromis de vente’ the notaire organises the ‘acte de vente définitif’ signing, payment of the final settlement and taxes and exchange of keys. It is usual to split the costs of the annual ‘taxe foncière’ pro-rata at the time of sale. Make sure the notaire provides a draft of the deed prior to the final meeting, so it can be shown to a professional adviser for comment.
Buying a villa? Make sure to read all of our guides!
Our guide to where the market is headed includes: French Riviera real estate market predictions, current & historic pricing trends in the market, and why prices will continue to fall.
Our guide to real estate listings includes: how to find villas for sale, what to look out for, misinformation and warnings, auctions & foreclosures, buying direct from sellers, why timing is everything, and the reason why only about half of villa sales are publicly listed.
Our guide to real estate agents includes: who to trust (a warning), things agents tell you, how real estate agencies operate, and why you should avoid illegal and non-local agents.
Our guide to pricing & determining a villa’s market value includes: why there’s so much extreme overpricing, how to estimate a villa’s market value (what it’s worth), and a step-by-step guide to finding your offer price.
Our guide to important things to find out includes: diagnostic reports and surveys, sun & micro-climates, potential issues with the view, housing taxes, the age, internet and mobile access, danger (red) zones, health risks, privacy & space issues, nearby problems, what you’ll actually own, illegal additions and structures, why they’re selling, how to verify, and more.
Our guide to things to consider includes: your actual costs, learning about local crime & squatters, and questions to ask yourself.
Our guide to the buying process includes: negotiating the price & the initial offer, choosing an honest notaire, buying in the black, the official offer & deposit, using a SCI, the deposit, the cooling-off period, what to do before handing over the money, and the final signing.
Our guide for after you buy includes: insurance pitfalls, tips for second homes, renting your villa, renovating, and what to know about hiring people.