Anyone used a English solicitor in a French property purchase?


The Mrs just read and got a bit concerned that the notarie works for the government rather than any client.

How do you ensure everything is covered regarding a house purchase?

Thank you for any advice.

Hi Paul and Welcome to the forum… :relaxed:

The Notaire does (as you say) work for the government and they ensure the legalities are met… they do not “take sides” ie Buyer or Seller.

someone will chime in with a better explanation, I am sure, but meanwhile, why not look at the site which covers so many of their responsibilities…

Notaries of France

and if you’re feeling daring, click to change it into French… :thinking::relaxed:

When we first bought in France in the 90s we used a UK-based French solicitor who charged us a small fortune but we were confident that our queries were being addressed and our interests were being looked after. When we got to the Acte De Vente the notaire just asked us “why did you use someone else, you didn’t need to”. Since then I’ve learned that the notaire is impartial - his first duty is to the State to ensure taxes are properly paid on transactions and all required paperwork is completed in order. On our second purchase we just relied on the notaire to keep us informed - both we and the seller got our papers at the same time and I saw the absolute impartiality with which the notaire acted. It’s very efficient, no waiting for 'my’solicitor to speak with ‘their’ solicitor. One person handles the transaction and is responsible for all.

VWe used an English solicitor Matthew Cameron, who now works in Bury St Edmunds.
He suggested that we change our marriage regime at the same time we bought our property.
It is called Communautee Universelle.
This enables a surviving spouse to inherit directly without the children inheriting their share immediately.
It only involves paperwork, no excuse for a shindig unfortunately.
Our French notaire was excellent.
It was rather surprising to see the estate agent at the Acte de Vente, but he used an english sales assistant who was able to translate for us so that the notaire was satisfied we understood everything.
If your french is not up to scratch, using a solicitor qualified in both countries will help keep your mind at rest.
If you google Matthew you will easily find him.

yes i love the fact you use the same notaire its saves time and energy.

On occasion, I have been asked to sit-in with Brits, to ensure that they understand everything…(acting just as a friend, no qualifications as such).

In this situation, I have found that the Notaire takes great pains to speak in clear, easy French… to make every effort to be understood… :relaxed:. and then sometimes switches into English (with a great big smile) and repeats everything. :hugs: … but not always.

However, whether or not the Notaire has English, I have always found them to be helpful throughout.

Declaration of interest as my other half is a UK property lawyer and a caveat that I only have experience of one property transaction in France.

Having one notaire covering both sides works in France because, as has been observed, a significant proportion of the notaire’s function is as a tax collector. Their other priority is to ensure correct transfer of title - which can be complex in France.

However, as far as I see the role does not comport much in the way of legal advice to purchaser or vendor and this is one crucial difference between the French and English systems - in the UK you engage a solicitor who will ensure that the contract that you enter does not disadvantage you (within the realms of what is possible, of course) or advise you of the legal significances - i.e. they are (legally obliged to be) “on your side”. Making sure that you get good title and tax collection is much the same in both systems.

Obviously the French way of doing things works otherwise the French courts would be full of disputes over titles, easements etc. and I don’t believe that they are.

I know that it is possible but not common for each side to appoint their own notaire - I don’t know how much protection from a dodgy notaire that actually offers but it does not seem to be terribly common.

In the end we did engage a solicitor on the UK side which was fairly expensive and I am not sure was especially good value - but we had a very straightforward transaction. The house was in a village, the vendor had sole title, there were no easements, acquired rights etc. It was, however, useful to have someone to verify that my translations of French legal documents was close enough.

Slightly more useful, in my view, was engaging a surveyor to check the property out - even then I had checked things as thoroughly as possible and, thankfully, hadn’t missed anything - but, again, verification was reassuring.

So - to address the original question - if your French is reasonable and you are happy that you can translate the Acte de Vente and the transaction is straightforward you might need to do nothing further, perhaps ask to appoint your own notaire if you really wish. If your French is not so good or the transaction is complex then it might be more use (but expect a hefty bill).

it simplifies things if both seller and buyer can use the same notaire

I guess it is a question of “it simplifies things” - until it doesn’t - i.e it is fine if the notaire is honest, competent and free of bias.

Being human, some won’t be all (or any) of these things.

Thank you for the quick responses.

Other concerns are a structural survey. I have read not many have a survey. Due to the age of most properties. As they are still standing after 100’s of years. Also what is covered by the check that is done by the notaries?

Hi @Paul13… Did you check out the link I posted??? It is clearly outlined, what information must be provided by the Seller etc… and the Notaire is there to make sure that the Buyer knows what he/she is getting into…

If you have plans/ideas to upgrade/amend the property, you should contact the Mairie and discuss fully with them… this will give you peace of mind that there should be no problem… or otherwise…:zipper_mouth_face:

Yes, I have read through the site - I think that the subtle difference (compared with the UK system) is that while the notaire might be there to let the buyer know what they are getting into, they are not there to let the buyer know whether they should be getting into it nor argue a better deal for them.

sorry Paul… I was replying to Paul Benjamin…

Hi Stella

I did click on the link but I did not find a direct link. Will have more of a look later.

You are quite right… it is up to the Buyer to haggle with the Seller…

Of the money we spent I’d say the survey was more use - and probably more so in a > 100 year old property. Just because it is still standing does not mean there are no problems.

There are a few chartered surveyors kicking around France, typical prices are around the 1000€ mark (for the house, outbuildings likely to be extra), check that anyone you engage is a member of the Royal Institute though.

We used one to buy our first house here in 2003 and I think she was very reasonable pricewise and it gave us confidence as the English agent was a bit sly.

She is still in business if the OP or anyone would like her contact details.

Did you change your marriage regime when you bought your house?

No, the intent is to sort it when we retire. Also only having one child simplifies things.

I am in the middle of purchasing a 120 year old townhouse. In spite of receiving a very extensive (69 pages) diagnostic report covering infestations, lead, termites, electrical wiring, gas appliances and other risks I still decided to have a survey carried out.
I’m very glad that I did so as the survey revealed:

  • that during a roof renovation the rafters had not been spaced close enough thereby limited the
    type of insulation that can be installed;
  • moisture content in the cellar restricts what can be stored there.
    I also asked for and was advised what type of mortar to use for repairs to brickwork and whether I needed to use limewash when repainting the external render.

In my view the 950 euros survey cost was money well spent.