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Buying a “bargain” property in France

David Anderson, Sykes Anderson Perry Limited Solicitors London, www.saplaw.co.uk

This article is for general information only. French property and planning law are highly specialised areas and you should only act or refrain from acting after receiving full professional advice on the facts of your particular case.

I am always concerned when a client tells me he has found a “bargain” property in France. This usually spells trouble and my advice is always to slow things down, which annoys sellers and estate agents alike. I become especially concerned when the “bargain” is a high value property or a property which is only likely to come on the market once in a lifetime.

The key question English buyers should ask themselves is why the seller is keen to let them have such a good deal and why no local person has not already bought the property.

Facts which make me concerned

  • The buyer is pressured into signing an offre d’achat immediately. Normally there should be some basic enquiries and then a compromis prepared, which is read through carefully.
  • The buyer is discouraged from making any enquiries of the Mairie or talking to any neighbours in the vicinity.
  • The buyer does not know the area well.
  • The seller says they need to sell urgently because of a family or financial problem.
  • The price is significantly less than the market price but you have to buy immediately.
  • The seller insists on you using their notaire even when the price is high.
  • The seller answers your questions evasively and does not give any simple “yes” or “no” replies in writing.
  • The compromis contains clauses which are obscure and difficult to understand.
  • Complex clauses in the compromis are buried in the middle of other clauses.
  • The seller tells you there is no need to have the property structurally inspected because “no one does this in France”.
  • English or non-French sellers who have recently bought the property but who are now very keen to sell it.
  • There is no estate agent involved and the seller emphasises the saving of not paying a commission. A reputable estate agent would make sure the buyer knew the essential facts.

What is being concealed?

  • What plans are there for adjoining or nearby property? In the case of high value rural or village properties there may be substantial building works planned which will affect the character of the village. A large housing estate covering the fields or vineyards you currently look out over could destroy the value of the property. The sellers may well know this is in the pipeline and have decided to reduce the price and sell before it becomes public knowledge.
  • A neighbour is about to get planning permission to extend their house so it overlooks your swimming pool and garden.
  • Environmental risks such as existing major pipelines passing under or close to the property.
  • Neighbour disputes such as fences being moved by your seller on to neighbours land to increase the size of their plot.
  • Unauthorised building works have been carried out to increase the size of the property without planning permission.
  • Road extension works or traffic changes which will mean more cars will pass in front of the property.
  • Planning for high density low cost housing close to the property. This will usually substantially devalue an expensive property.
  • Planning for an out of town Hypermarket near the village which will destroy local character village shops and lead to a housing estate around the hypermarket.
  • Expensive problems with the property which have been covered up so that the French standard diagnostiques will not pick them up. This could include putting new wood over timbers which have termite infestation.
  • In the case of flats high service charge bills in the pipeline with expensive things like lifts due to be replaced.
  • The property has been repeatedly burgled.

What you should do

  • Slow things down. You may spend years regretting your mistake and not be able to resell the property. Don’t be pressurised into signing anything.
  • Make appropriate enquiries. You need to have the facts before you speak to the seller.
  • Ask the seller to give clear written warranties in the compromis about matters which concern you.

October 2015

David Anderson