Let the buyer beware of buying property in France

The Cultural Divide in This Dordogne Property Purchase: Buyer Caution vs. Debt of Good Faith

It would be a cliche to say that the French always act differently from the British. The French turn around and say that the British are doing differently than everyone else. But, as with all clichés, there is a hidden truth.

An illustrative example is the identification of shortcomings in the purchase of real estate. The fundamental principle of English law is “buyer be careful” – in other words, the buyer must verify the nature of what he is buying. The seller has no right to mislead: but if someone sells a “house”, he is not obliged to tell the buyer everything that is wrong with him. The buyer should check and find out.

This is the main reason for consulting services related to the purchase of UK real estate. The surveyor will conduct an examination in order to identify hidden defects. The attorney will examine the legal aspects, conduct a local search, raise a long list of questions, and summarize the implications. When the buyer is satisfied, he knows everything there is to know about the property, he will feel able to proceed.

Hidden defect

In France, the seller is responsible. The buyer is not expected to go into any serious investigation. The notary will provide him with proof of ownership and details of all registered charges and third party rights. But in addition to this, the seller must act “in good faith” and identify defects in property. A defect that the seller deliberately does not disclose and which subsequently materializes is described as latent defect or a hidden defect. The buyer can contact the seller after the sale and demand either a price reduction or cancellation of the transaction.

What are we talking about? Basically, anything that renders the property unusable for the intended use or makes the use so different from the intended use that the buyer would not buy it at the agreed price or at all. This could be something outside the hotel itself, such as excessive noise from the neighborhood. Or it could be an internal affair, such as a crumbling wall that the salesperson disguised.

In practice, if the claim works, there is usually an element of deception. Buyers are expected to do some verification, just as any reasonable person would. In addition, the various reports that the seller has to provide (termites, asbestos, electrical installations, etc.) relieve responsibility in relation to the issues raised in the reports.

Taking things for granted

A foreign buyer, confused by the workings of the French system, let alone the language, usually relies on the honesty of the people with whom they do business. If he is told that the seller must report all defects to him, he can relax. But it would be foolish to rely on this without validation and verification. First, he may not understand what is being said to him. Secondly, once he pays his money, he will have to go to court in France to get compensation. Third, the seller could disappear beyond the horizon. Fourth, you get the idea.

Contrary to the opinion of many French people, property buyers in France are not particularly well protected. The notary will advise as best as possible, but he supervises the transaction, and does not take one side against the other. Liability for latent defects provides an ex post facto remedy that can be difficult to enforce.

Solutions

These all point very well to a problem, but what about a solution? Appointing a British legal adviser with knowledge of French law can help, but in my experience it tends to complicate the communication chain and generates more misunderstandings than the other way around. I am more for people who are guided by common sense. The notary will check the title deed, so this shouldn’t be a problem. Obtaining a survey from a qualified UK surveyor residing in France should clear up any misunderstandings regarding structural strength. For other matters, don’t be fooled by real estate agents who dismiss your concerns until they provide an explanation that you fully understand. And if you have serious concerns, get a written response.

The rule of thumb in this, as with other important decisions, is to make sure you understand what’s at stake and take the time to make an intelligent decision without being overly influenced by emotions or people with other interests at heart.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Now let me test your resolve by showing you the dream of a Dordogne castle that will make your heart prevail over your head …

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