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HindleBaldock explore the cultural and practical differences for the British buyer in France

As with so many things that define our respective national lives, the difference in approach the French take to house buying contrasts significantly with our own. It is important for British buyers of French property to understand these differences in order to come to intelligent decisions when purchasing property in France. Apart from the legal and fiscal considerations of property purchase, one of the most important aspects of any purchase is the condition of the property.

In Britain, establishing the condition of a property by engaging the services of a RICS Surveyor is common practice. In France, it is absolutely not the case. It is very much ‘caveat emptor’.

However, French vendors are compelled by law to carry out ‘diagnostics’ that assess the condition of various elements of the house or apartment prior to being marketed. Here we examine how useful or not these diagnostic tests are and whether they can replace a survey in some cases.

DPE –  Diagnostic de Performance énergétique.

This gives some idea of energy consumption to heat (and/or cool) the property and heat the water along with the amount of greenhouse gases produced.  In practice there are so many different ways of working all this out that the usefulness of the information is a little limited.  All properties are concerned and the report can be used for ten years.

CREP Constat de risque à l’exposition au plomb – risk of exposure to lead.

This only concerns lead in paint and, basically, how easily it could affect children. It’s required for any property built before 1949 but it’s rare today for lead to be found.  If it is, it must be removed. If no lead is found the report is valid for ever.  Otherwise the report is valid for 12 months.

TERMITES

All buildings, regardless of age, are concerned by this report which lasts for 6 months only.  Very useful

ETAT D’AMIANTE

This concerns asbestos in all its forms and is for buildings prior to July 1997.  If no asbestos is found, the report is valid for ever. Otherwise non-friable asbestos must be checked every three years, friable asbestos must generally be removed.  Again, this is a very useful report.

GAS and ELECTRICITY

All gas and electrical installations over 15 years old must be examined and reported on. The reports are valid for 3 years.  If there are serious problems for the gas, work must be carried out prior to the sale.  This is not the case for the electrical installation which seems slightly illogical.  Again, useful reports.

ASSAINISSEMENT NON-COLLECTIF  Septic tanks

Septic tanks must be examined prior to sale and if remedial work is required it should ideally be carried out by the seller, or least a quote for the work should be provided.  The new owner must carry out the appropriate remedial work within 12 months of the acquisition.  The report is valid for three years and of course only concerns houses. Useful.

ERMT – Etat des risques naturels, miniers et technologiques – General risks

This concerns natural risks such as flooding and fire, land movement, pollution and so on – obviously extremely important, the report is valid for 6 months.  If the purchase goes ahead in spite of certain risks (eg red zone fire risk) this will make insurance complicated – and expensive.

SUPERFICIE LOI CARREZ – habitable area – “Carrez Law”

Since 1997 the habitable area must be included in the sales information but this applies principally only to apartments, not to individual houses – which is a pity as agents rarely produce plans.

Survey required?

If, in addition to these obligatory reports a survey along RICS lines is required (which we nearly always recommend in the case of an individual house) the report must be obtained before signing the initial contract. It is vital to note that vendors in France will not accept a “subject to survey” offer as they expect purchaser to buy ‘as seen’. The simple solution to this: make sure you do your homework and due diligence before committing yourself contractually.

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