Buying a House in Brittany, France
Whether buying a French house as a second home, holiday home or to start a new life, buying a French property is really straight forward. The process is similar to buying or selling in the UK although there are some important differences.
The most important person involved in a property sale in France is the notaire. A notaire sorts out the legal side of the sale, as a solicitor would do in the UK. Notaires are obliged to be impartial (they are regulated by the French government) so it is very common for the same office to deal with both the buyer and the seller. The process is very thorough and fair. The notaire handles the funds for the sale and at the same time acts as a tax man: transferring land and house taxes to the new owner; searching for and reimbursing any debts (loans or mortgages) tied to a property; calculating and collecting any income tax due by the seller. The cost of the notaires services (notaires fees), including a land registry fee and various sales taxes, are normally paid by the buyer. These fees vary between 2% and 8% of the property’s value, depending on the property’s age and value.
Notaires also sell houses direct. Their offices usually resemble an estate agent with property adverts in the windows. If you view a property through a notaire and decide to buy you will be eligible for a “negotiation fee” similar to an estate agents commission.
However, if you agree a private sale on your own it is possible to go to the notaire and instruct him/her to proceed with the legal side without the negotiation fee.
Virtually all notaires in Brittany can speak English or have English speakers available on request to help with the sales contract and sales procedure. If you find one that does not you are completely within your rights to change notaire. Remember a notaire has to be impartial or he/she basically risks loosing their position. An estate agent or negotiator does not have the same responsibility; they just want you to sign and get their commission.
Estate Agency fees in France are very different to the UK and buyers are often ignorant of this very important difference. As you search for houses for sale in Brittany you may notice the letters “FAI” next to the price. This stands for “Frais Agence Inclus” Agency Fees Included. In the UK the property owner (seller) has to pay estate agency fees which is deducted from the value of the property. As a result there is no need for an equivalent "FAI" in the UK, the agency fees are irrelevant to the buyer. In France estate agents add their fees on top of the value of the property and it is usually the buyer who pays. Furthermore agency fees in France can be a lot higher than the UK (between 2% and 10%).
Since 2017 estate agents in France have to disclose and display clearly how much their fees are. As a result the phrase "FAI" is getting rarer. This is because agencies where abusing the vague "FAI" term to hide exhorborent charges. Today you should see the price "net vendeur" (owners price), plus the percentage being charged by the agency :
Le prix indiqué comprend les honoraires à la charge de l'acheteur : 6,36% TTC du prix du bien hors honoraires
Prix hors honoraires : 550 000 €
Net price is 550 000€ + 35 000€ in agency fees.
Unfortunately today there are still "estate agencies" and property websites that illegally and deliberately try to conceal high commission charges; especially English language sites or sites/companies based outside of France.
If in doubt ask! Ask your estate agent or negotiator how much their commission is and remember that a good agent will negotiate their fees if they really want a sale.
Some larger agencies use “negotiators” or “sales agents” (they will not be called “estate agents” because they are not): the agents are nonsalaried, self-employed and untrained (working for commission). Always ask to see a "Carte Professionnelle"; all registered negotiators/ agents are required to carry them. Fees tend to be higher if a company has "negotiators" as the commission has to be split.
Remember most properties will be listed with several different agents at different fees and maybe also privately. Use the internet.
Many UK based multi-agency portal websites are also working on a commission basis. Sometimes it is not clear that they are even multi-agency until you realise that the inquiry you sent them is being answered by another company. Basically it is illegal for a UK company to directly sell a French property. In France it is illegal to advertise a property for sale on the behalf of another individual, company, or estate agency, without clearly showing who is actually selling the property; but this can not be enforced against a company operating outside of France. Regardless a UK based company selling property in France is risky. If they love France so much why are they based in the UK? If it all goes wrong they are beyond the reach of French law and there is little you can do.
In 2018 80% of all property transactions in France did not involve an estate agent. Normally if you saw a property advert without "FAI" or details of agency fees you could assume the price is net to the seller (net vendeur) and you are dealing direct with the owner. If you agree a private sale you just need to find a notaire (solicitor) for the legal side (exactly the same as if you bought through an agency). As with buying through an agency you still have the legal fees to pay on top of the agreed sales price.
Advertising a house in Brittany for sale or for rent without a DPE (Diagnostic de Performance Energétique) energy report has been illegal since 2011. The only exception is a property for sale with no heating or insulation. The DPE is very important in France. Since 2014 all newly built houses have to have A classes and there are grants available to improve the ratings of existing older properties.
The energy rating is required to put a house on the market. After a sale has been agreed there are other surveys that the seller must produce (electrical, lead and termite). The notaire makes sure these are completed and will send you a copy. A structural survey is not a legal requirement.
Please feel free to contact us through the website if you have any questions.