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Property Legal Issues

France - Property Legal Issues


When you purchase a property in France you must do so through a notary. A notary is a government official but they are independent and their main task is to ensure that all documents are genuine and all legal issues regarding a property are dealt with properly. There is no choice about this, a notary must be involved in the transaction. You can also consult a lawyer if you feel that you need any further legal advice.

The notary will establish the exact details of the property that you are buying. This includes issues about boundaries and establishing any current planning permissions that exist for the property. They will establish that there are no outstanding debts, draw up all the legal documents, collect the relevant fees and make any payments that are necessary. It is usual for the buyer and the seller to use the same notary but this is by no means compulsory and if you prefer to have your own you can do so. Only one fee is paid, so if more than one notary is involved they must share.

You are legally obliged to purchase insurance when you purchase a property in France. You need to have a buildings and contents policy that covers the property and life insurance for yourself to cover any loan or mortgage taken out to pay for the property.

It is possible in France to buy a property through a company. This is known as an SCI (société civile immobilière). This is used when a number of people want to purchase a property together. Forming a company will make it easier if one of the party decides to sell their share. It allows the others to keep their share of the property if they want to. This system also gives the buyers an advantage when it comes to succession tax. However, it is a relatively expensive route to take and there are many accounting obligations. There are only a few circumstances under which this route would be recommended for expats moving to France. If you are unsure it is worth taking some independent legal advice.

There are two categories of marital status in France. These cover joint estates (communauté de biens) and separate estates (separation des biens). Married expats who move to France will automatically be considered to be in the separate estates category unless they resolve this issue before purchasing a property. If you are in the joint estates category you have advantages with succession taxes at a later date. If you are in the separate estates category a spouse will not have automatic right to inherit in the event of their partner’s death. In this instance the children will automatically inherit. Your status can be changed by a lawyer who can have it validated. This will apply only to those assets held in France. If you choose not to change your status you can purchase a property through an SCI, which will protect the interests of both partners in the event that the other should pass away.

There are no restrictions on buying property in France but buyers should be wary of purchasing properties in heritage zones or listed buildings. These properties carry many restrictions on what you can and cannot do to them, and you should be aware that applying for permissions to carry out works can be a long and expensive process. You will encounter a great deal of red tape and there is no guarantee at the end of the process that you will be allowed to make the changes that you want to make. You should also note that if your house is within a certain distance of a conservation area you will still have a number of restrictions to deal with. However, in certain cases you may be given a grant to restore an older property if you do so sympathetically. This will vary from department to department, so it is worth making enquiries about this before you begin.

There is no obligation to keep the property for a certain length of time before you sell it again and you do not need a visa to own a property in France. Many foreign nationals have property there as a second home without problems.


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Aetna

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