When buying property in the South of France, it’s important to be aware of the ways in which the process differs from real estate purchasing in the UK.


In a typical property deal in the UK, once you have found your ideal home you will, (in the vast majority of cases) need to apply for a mortgage. At this point the mortgage broker will order a valuation of the property to ensure that you are requesting an appropriate amount of money and that they, in the case of you being unable to keep up with payments, will be able to recover the funds when reselling.


You also have the option of enlisting the services of an independent surveyor, although this is not essential. In addition to providing a valuation, the surveyor will carry out either a full structural survey, which is recommended for older properties or those that are especially large, or an intermediate or ‘house/flat buyers report.’ These reports are much cheaper than a structural survey and are aimed at identifying any clear issues such as damp or woodworm and the costs associated with fixing them. This can help you negotiate a lower purchase price.


Finally, you will need a solicitor or licensed conveyancer to carry out the legal process of transferring ownership of the property over to you and making enquiries and searches. Technically, you can do this yourself, but it is complex work and most would strongly advise against it.


The Role of the Notaire in Buying Property in the South of France

A notaire’s role in buying property in the South of France is something akin to that of a conveyancer. They are an essential government official who oversees all property purchases and manages the transfer of ownership.


Once you have made all the necessary steps in selecting your home and deciding how you will pay for it, the next act is likely to be signing an offre d’achat (offer to purchase) for the seller. At this point, you will need to contact your notaire (assuming you have not already done so). When the offre d’achat is accepted, the current owner is usually committed to selling to you and will stop showing the property to other prospective buyers.


Both the seller and purchaser need the services of a notaire. Traditionally, the local notaire has acted on behalf of both parties, but it is becoming increasingly common to each have your own notaire, even if they’re not very familiar with the area in which you’re purchasing.


The notaire will then begin drawing up the initial sales document which is known as the Compromis de Vente.


This legally binding contract will include the following details:


  • The civic status of the buyer and seller (name, date of birth, profession, contact details, marital status, copies of birth and marriage certificates and passports, details of any ex-spouses)
  • A detailed description of the property
  • Confirmation of the title deeds and plot references
  • The agreed total price, including any agency fees, notaire’s fees and the deposit amount
  • Any circumstances which will result in the deposit being forfeited
  • The obligations of the buyer and any declarations from the vendor
  • Results of the obligatory diagnostic surveys
  • Arrangements for any further inspections
  • The standard suspensive clauses and any agreed additions
  • A list of any additional items included in the purchase (such as furniture)
  • A target date for the completion of the sale


It is up to the notaire to ensure that you completely understand the details of the contract before you commit to purchase, but you should know that they are not there to “hold your hand” or provide detailed advice throughout the process. Many are bilingual, but will hire a translator if necessary.


You will have ten days from the day of signing the Compromis de Vente to withdraw from the purchase. If this is something you need to do, you must send a recorded delivery letter to your notaire. At the end of this ‘cooling off’ period, you will send your deposit to the notaire who will handle its transfer.


At this stage, if you’re purchasing in rural France, the notaire will inform SAFER (Les Sociétés d’Aménagement Foncier et d’Etablissement Rural) of your intention to purchase. This organisation has the right to purchase rural properties over a particular size for local or agricultural projects, so must be notified that it will no longer be available.


Around three or four months after signing the the Compromis de Vente, your notaire will have performed their necessary duties and the final document (Acte de Vente) will be drawn up. All of the funds required for purchase must be with the notaire by this point so that he or she can finish the transaction. The signing of the Acte de Vente will take place in the notaire’s office. Once complete, you will walk away with the keys as the property’s new owner.


If you have any further questions about the role of the notaire in French property purchasing, or would like general advice on buying property in the South of France, experienced surveyor Charles Mackintosh would be happy to help. You can contact him online, through email at charles@mackintoshfrance.com or by phone at +33 (0) 4 93 42 10 83.