The main lesson when buying an apartment in France is to act early if you feel that things are not going well or if you have any concerns. Beware if a property is an obvious bargain as it may mean there is a problem pending!
Find out about planning and administrative matters at the local town hall
It is a good idea to check with the local town hall at the outset regarding any planning issues or administrative disputes that could affect the property. Keep in mind, however, that the answers obtained may not necessarily be relied on for compensation if they later prove to be inaccurate. The key is to ask the right questions in writing as there is no such thing as a standard application form. For example in the United Kingdom a local search is obtained before the exchange of contracts, but in France the approximate equivalent is obtained after the signing of the preliminary contract (such as a promise to sell or a sales agreement). After signing the contract, you will benefit from a 10-day withdrawal period during which you can withdraw from the sale and be reimbursed for any deposit without having to justify a reason. It’s best to avoid having to go this route though.
Be aware that there may be pre-emption rights
The most common right of first refusal is in favor of the town hall, which applies to many properties. If this exists, the notary must notify the town hall that the property must be sold and ask the town hall if it wishes to buy it at the same price (and under the same conditions). This right is rarely exercised in practice. The conclusion of the sale cannot take place before two months or before the notary has been informed that the town hall does not wish to buy the apartment. If the town hall decides to buy, you will get back any deposit paid to the real estate agent or notary.
If a French apartment is more than 10 years old, you will acquire it as is and in its condition on the date of the transfer and you will have no recourse against the seller as to the condition of the building or the fittings. . The seller gives no warranty as to hidden defects. After the purchase is finalized, you may be able to claim latent defects from your seller but this is a slow and arduous process as you will have to prove, among other things, that the seller was aware of the defect (it was not therefore not a hidden defect) but did not disclose it to the buyer, and / or acted in bad faith. Typical situations where this can occur are when the seller has built the house himself or has undertaken major renovations and is aware that the work is not to the correct standards or that the materials used were of inferior quality; or that the apartment and its annexes were built illegally. This guarantee does not extend to the usual investigations, as described below, and you only have a period of two years from the date of discovery of the defect to act.
The Carrez Law
The Carrez law (named, not for the unit of measurement, but for the housing minister who introduced the law) is a protective measure for apartment buyers in France (it does not apply to houses). The contract for the purchase of real estate must mention the area of the apartment, in square meters. In 1996, a law was passed establishing a standard method of measuring this size, defining what is and is not “living” area. If, after purchasing the apartment, you notice that there is a difference of more than 5% between the area indicated in your purchase contract and the actual area of the property, you have a period of one year to dispute the sale. The seller is legally obligated to reimburse you for the difference and if the surface has been certified by an expert, he is also responsible for the error.
Investigations and diagnostic reports
You can always ask the seller for permission to have their apartment inspected by an architect or other building professional before making the decision to purchase, at your expense. There are different “diagnostic researches” in France. These are mandatory although some should not be undertaken depending on the age of the apartment. If the apartment was built before January 1, 1949, diagnostic research focused on lead, termites, asbestos, energy performance, gas, electrical risks and “natural, mining and technological risks”. The diagnostics are carried out by specialized companies which produce reports which are obtained by the seller and not by the buyer.
In 2014, a new law came into force (ALUR Law) to protect owners and buyers during an apartment sale. When signing the contract, your seller is required to provide you with certain documents and information concerning his apartment, in particular the co-ownership regulations, which were often not communicated beforehand until the day the sale was made. In a small condominium, it is important to establish that it is functioning properly without dispute, that the building is insured as a whole and that the condominium manages this type of expense for all owners.
What is a co-ownership?
The apartments are still jointly owned. This means that you will therefore be the owner of a lot (unit) of the building, which will include your private living space (private part) as well as a fictitious share in the common parts of the building. At the end of the purchase, you will become a member of the condominium, along with the owners of the other units, and will have the right to vote on matters affecting the apartment. If it has been recently renovated, we recommend that you check if the condominium regulations have also been updated to take these changes into account.
Do you have the right to rent your apartment?
In Paris, the town hall is taking an increasingly strict position on short-term rentals (limited to 120 days per year if the apartment is your main residence). French law gives the mayor the power to require a landlord to pay compensation for the loss of permanent housing. The amount varies depending on the location of the apartment. Homeowners’ obligation to pay is largely ignored in Paris, but the mayor has recruited inspection staff to monitor the abuses. Any violation of the law is punishable by a fine of up to € 25,000. Before signing a contract, we recommend that you check whether or not the condominium regulations allow short-term rentals.