Cafpi French Mortgage: The legal process

If at all possible, allow one working day at the end of your visit for completion of the preliminary negotiations and paperwork. Sale and purchase of French real estate is governed by French law whoever is buying or selling the property. Understanding what is going on may help you understand why it takes the time that it does.

The Notaire is a public official, addressed as Maître. A notaire is responsible for the conveyance, preparing the various documents and confirming the seller's title to the property, checking that there are no other mortgages on the property, etc. The notaire’s main responsibility is to see that the French record of property ownership is correct, rather than to be concerned about the individual’s personal circumstances. There is no conflict of interest if both parties use the same notaire; if they use separate notaires, the fee is divided between them. The Compromis de Vente is the first part of the sale process. The notaire or estate agent can draw up the Compromis de Vente. The Compromis de Vente is a legal contract; you should read it carefully before signing it to check that all the details and conditions are correct, such as:

Details of the vendor(s) and purchaser(s); make sure that your names and addresses, which may be unfamiliar to a French person, have been spelt correctly;

A full description of the property, including the “parcelle” numbers;
The surface area of the property and land;
Details of any fixtures and fittings included in the sale; “meubles” do not attract stamp duty and are commonly included in holiday flats;
Clauses suspensives, such as a clause stating that the agreement to purchase is subject to gaining mortgage finance. Other clauses can be inserted, such as the seller having to carry out necessary repairs;
Details of the mortgage and the date of when you should have the mortgage offer;
Confirmation that an asbestos inspection has taken place (all buildings built before 1997) within the last 3 months;
Depending on the département, properties pre-dating 1949 also need a lead plumbing inspection and a termite examination
Property price and agent’s fees;
Details of the notaire(s) and estate agent(s);
Target completion date – usually two or three months;
The penalties that will be incurred by either party if completion doesn't take place.

Once the Compromis de Vente has been signed, French law gives the purchaser a 7-day cooling off period (loi Niertz). For this reason, each buyer must be sent an individual copy of the Compromis de Vente by recorded delivery.

Although the Compromis de Vente contains a clause suspensive to allow for mortgage finance to be arranged, time is of the essence and if you do not make reasonable efforts to obtain mortgage finance in time, you could forfeit the deposit. Some agents are reluctant to take a "clause suspensive" buyer seriously as a surprisingly high percentage of deals in France fall through when the buyer can't raise the funds and exercises their right to withdraw. (NB the upside of this is that many "sold" properties come back on the market after about 6 weeks: It is not unusual for a seller to be disappointed 3 or 4 times in a row by purchasers withdrawing!) For this reason, it is much safer to obtain a prior decision in principle and a CAFPI mortgage pre-approval certificate: It may also help you get a better price as you are almost a cash buyer.
If you sign a Compromis de Vente affirming that you will not be relying on mortgage funds to complete the purchase, you may find that you will not be permitted to do so later. On the other hand, it is possible to discard a decision in principle.

A short time before the notaire is ready to complete the transfer, you will be sent a draft (projet de l'acte) of the Acte de Vente, which is the final deed of sale. It will contain much of the same information as in the original Compromis de Vente, but again needs to be checked thoroughly. The Acte de Vente will also state the date that you may take possession of the property. If you have not already done so, you will be asked to produce your birth certificate and passport, together with marriage certificate and divorce decree if applicable, to confirm your civil status.

If you think you are unable to attend the signing of the Acte de Vente you can give a mandat to authorise someone to act on your behalf. A reputable estate agent usually offers this as a free service. Once the Acte de Vente has been signed and witnessed, the notaire has to pay all the taxes, settle all the accounts of the purchase/sale and register the deeds and mortgage. A few months later you will receive a certificate informing you that the title has been registered. The original title deed is kept by the notaire, but the Notaire’s Etude is able to make authorised copies.

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