Pitfalls to avoid for foreigners when buying a property in France


pitfalls-buying-property-franceKnowing the pitfalls to avoid is essential before starting to look for and buying a property in France. Many foreign buyers before you have fallen into pitfalls that have slowed down the realisation of their project. Do not make the same mistakes! Fortunately, if you plan to successfully complete your project without any assistance, this article dedicated to the pitfalls to be avoided by foreigners will help. It will warn you of these pitfalls and keep you right.

As our article dedicated to the problems you may encounter, we have classified these pitfalls in categories. So, we will first detail the pitfalls to avoid when searching for your ideal property. Then, the pitfalls to avoid when going through the French purchase process.


Pitfalls to avoid when searching for a property

When you start the search for your property in France, your goal will certainly be to minimise the search time. You will also want to quickly find the property that best fits your requirements. During this search, you should, as much as possible, look to avoid specific pitfalls. These can greatly slow you down from reaching your goal of finding a property. Let’s start with an overview of the pitfalls to avoid when searching for your French property.


traps-buying-property-franceNot studying the feasibility of your projectProbably one of the pitfalls that will hold up the progress of your project most! Your project needs to be validated by a French property finder. He alone will be able to tell you if the features of your property, its location and your budget match. Without this validation, you will waste hours looking for a property that may ultimately not exist. You must ensure that the properties matching your project are actually available on the French real estate market. By being aware of this pitfall and studying the feasibility of your project from the start, you will ensure that what you have in mind is realistic. That way, you will have a very good chance of success. Refer to the article related to the definition of your project and get your search off the right foot.

Not exploring all the possible search channelsMost foreigners wishing to buy a property in France start their search on real estate online portals. Nothing against real estate portals online. On the contrary, they are a useful way for people not wishing to ask for support to find a property. They, however, have a big disadvantage that we have already covered in our chapter on the problems faced by foreign buyers.


Of course, these days, with the strength of the Internet, you have to use online real estate portals. But this search channel must be complementary to other channels that we mentioned previously. Sales directly through Notaries, salons organised by different real estate professionals, sales between individuals. Or even French real estate agencies websites, auctions and ads in trade papers. One of these channels may help you find the property in France that suits you. Although most of the real estate available in France will be present on several channels at the same time, your ideal property may perhaps only be available on one of those you had not originally planned to explore! So, do not spend all your time only looking for your property in France on real estate portals. Split your time between every search channels available.


Only searching for private sellers to avoid agency feesToday, the concept of physical real estate agencies with a storefront is becoming increasingly obsolete in France especially because of (thanks to?) the explosion of the Internet. Nevertheless, estate agencies always have a large quantity of properties for sale. So, dealing directly with a seller is tempting in order to avoid agency fees. Indeed, these fees are the responsibility of the buyer. But this also limits your access to a single section of the properties that might match your requirements.


Dealing with a seller directly is an attractive option for foreign buyers. But this also has its problems. Sellers tend to slightly overstate the price of their property as they feel that you will be free from agency fees by dealing directly with them. We do not recommend that you limit your search to properties sold directly by private sellers. This will greatly limit the spread of properties you are looking for in France. Do not make this criterion an important factor. Indeed, when handled properly, you will be able to avoid a large portion these agency fees. Search using the various search channels available and then negotiate the agency fees.


Arromanches, region Normandy

Multiplying trips to France to visit propertiesTo visit properties in France takes time and many foreigners have to make many trips to France. They end up falling into this pitfall: they make repeated trips between their country and the area where they want to purchase. It is essential that you group all property visits in one or two trips maximum. Otherwise, to multiply unsuccessful visits to France not only leads to weariness. It is also a waste of time, money and energy.


Another possible solution is to prospect estate agencies during your holidays in the area. But this limits your access to the whole real estate available. In any case, you will need to be smart to succeed to limit your number of visits to France. Each case is unique. Some may find their ideal property in a single holiday while others may take several months. It is a difficult factor to control or plan for. Indeed, depending on the volume of properties on offer, this may take more or less time.


These are the main pitfalls you have to avoid to easily find your property in France. If you plan to undertake your project without the help of a French property finder, please consider these issues. By knowing how to avoid these pitfalls, you will simply accelerate the completion of the search for your property. Once you have found your ideal property, watch out for the pitfalls that can occur during the purchase according to the legal process.


Pitfalls to avoid through the French property buying process

There are more pitfalls when purchasing a property through the legal process. And they can be costlier for you. Let’s focus on the pitfalls foreigners need to avoid when acquiring real estate following the French legal process.

pitfall-negotiation-property-franceNot preparing for the negotiationNegotiating the property can be one of the most sensitive stages for either foreign or French buyers. To not be prepared for negotiations is a pitfall to avoid! How to prepare to negotiate? By analysing all the leverage techniques that we present in our article dedicated to the negotiation. This is the stage where you will be able to save the most money! Do not neglect it. While it is true that most sellers agree to bargain and that you are likely to obtain a lower price, take this step seriously. Prepare yourself for the chess game potentially waiting for you.


Not considering the different types of preliminary sales contractTwo types of preliminary sales contracts can be implemented. They commit you and seller in different ways and unevenly protecting the parties depending on the model put in place. Please make sure you consider both types of preliminary sales contract! Do not automatically accept the preliminary sales contract offered by the seller! This stage proves to be even more important than the actual offer to buy. Indeed, as at this stage your commitment becomes binding. You will not be able to backtrack. We will discuss this in more details in our article dedicated to the sales contract.


pitfall-property-surveys-franceNot checking the validity of the property surveysSurveys are compulsory documents in any real estate transaction in France. The list of surveys to be produced during the sale of a property in France continues to grow. There are now nine different documents that the seller must provide to you. All the surveys must be up to date. There are different types of surveys. They may, for example, cover the insulation of the property and consequently its energy consumption. Or attest to the absence of termites and asbestos within the property.


Some sellers may be tempted to lie about these surveys for various reasons. For example to conceal a hidden defect, or they may tell you that they will provide you with these surveys at the time of signing the deed of sale. Do not proceed if you do not have these nine up to date surveys when setting up the preliminary sales contract.


Accepting to pay the full agency feesThere are no Laws in France stating that the fees charged by the estate agency should be paid by you. Unlike the Notaire fees which are indeed always paid by the buyer. Do you find it acceptable that these agency fees are at your expense? Indeed, it is the seller who has a mandate with the real estate agent to sell his property! It should then be, in our opinion, up to the seller to pay these fees! We are fighting against this practice which we believe is unfair. Avoiding this pitfall could save you a lot of money!


Not checking your commitments when you signThe pitfall is to automatically sign all the documents that are presented to you. This may seem silly, but many foreign buyers fully trust the real estate agent they are dealing with. So, they sign documents in a language they do not (fully) understand. And without checking their level of commitment. You will never be protected from someone who potentially could abuse your trust. Check your commitments at all stages of the French property buying process! It will probably be too late to backtrack afterwards. Do not hesitate to use a translator to make sure you understand the meaning of the document presented to you and your actual commitments.


pitfall-money-franceSend your money overseas from bank to bankWith the arrival of the Internet, we have in recent years witnessed the arrival of new international payment technologies. Long gone are the days when you had to directly ask your bank to send money abroad. New players on the market have decided to revolutionise this service. Of course, we think of one of our trusted international partners, TransferWise. TransferWise allows you to send money abroad much faster than by using a bank-to-bank service. And at a much lower rate. For example, you can save, depending on the bank and the timing, up to £4,000 when sending £300,000! Not a negligible amount to save. Do not fall into this pitfall. Consider the different ways to send money to France from your country of origin at reduced cost.


Paying Notaire’s fees on the total amount of the transactionUnfortunately, we cannot save you from paying Notaire’s fees! But we have a tip to slightly reduce them. Let us explain how. You have negotiated with a seller for his property in France and you came to an agreement on a purchase price of €300,000. You have agreed with the seller to keep all the equipment currently in the property (furniture, appliances). Be aware that Notaire’s fees are only due on the value of the property. And not on the value of the property AND the equipment you purchase.


The mistake would be to send a written offer to purchase and a preliminary contract mentioning the sum of €300,000. It makes no sense. Instead, simply evaluate with the seller the total amount of equipment you will keep, for example €12,000. Then, you just have to break down the price in these two documents. Thus, you will pay Notaire fees on €288,000 and not on €300,000. Every little helps!


Automatically accept the seller’s NotaireYou are not under any obligation to accept the seller’s Notaire. You are free to select the Notaire of your choice to formalise the transaction. The two Notaires would then share the fees that you are paying. Not to choose the seller’s Notaire does not imply any additional cost for you. For example, you may choose to deal with a Notaire who speaks your mother tongue. Or choose a Notaire who has been recommended to you by us. Or even by a relative or a friend who bought a property in France before you.


So, you now know everything about the pitfalls to avoid when buying your property in France. You want to ensure that they do not slow down the completion of your project. It is important to proceed step by step following the purchase process. Do not rush through the various steps. In any case, each step cannot be carried out without the previous one being completed. And, most importantly, make sure that you check your commitments before signing a document. Target and anticipate the pitfalls you think you may fall into! Anticipation is the key word in the completion of your project!


About the author

Samir Grattery is the creator of French Property Connection. Holder of a Master in Property Law from the University of Sorbonne in Paris, Samir first worked as an estate agent. He was then working on behalf of sellers and defended their interests. He then decided to solely collaborate with buyers. Working as a property finder in Paris, he accompanied non-residents throughout their purchase project and protected their interests against sellers.

In 2015, after moving to the United Kingdom, he created French Property Connection to enable non-residents wishing to buy a property in France to simplify their purchase process, particularly by avoiding the pitfalls and problems usually faced by foreign buyers.

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Comment or ask us something about the pitfalls to avoid in France

  1. Thanks a lot for this brilliant article! I was not aware that we could choose our own Notaire instead of collaborating with the one suggested by the seller.
    Keep writing 😉

  2. Kostas says:

    Good job Mr Grattery! I just would add a pitfall to avoid for anyone wishing to buy a French home: forgetting to read this article! 🙂
    Thank you!

    • Hello Kostas,

      Thanks a lot for your kind comment! We thought to add this pitfall in France to our list but we are too humble ?
      Samir Grattery

  3. Alex says:

    Nice post, thanks for the tips!