Why does it take so long to buy a house in France?

Why does it take so long to buy a house in France? There are much fewer reports to get done than the UK and solicitors have less work. Yet somehow cash buyers without a chain will struggle to complete in 3 months.

  1. Verbal Offer
  2. Verbal Offer Accepted
  3. Appointment Of Notaire
  4. Building Reports
  5. Compromis De Vente
  6. Ten day cooling off period
  7. Transfer of Deposit and Notaire Fees
  8. Compromis De Vente – 10 days Expires!
  9. Full Purchase Funds Acknowledged
  10. SAFER – expires
  12. Transfer of Funds To Notaires ESCROW account
  13. Signing of Acte Authentique De Vente
  14. Capital Gains Tax
  15. Buyers Collects Keys
  16. Vendor receives his money from the notaire

We must have been dream buyers. No chain. Cash. Close to asking price. Buying the furniture. Same Notaire.

1. Placing your Verbal Offer

We placed our verbal offer to the agent Immoblier during the first visit, but we were asked to back it up by email. It was turned down. A counter offer was given, which we accepted.

This took 5 days

2. Acceptance of Verbal Offer

We were invited back to the agences immobilières office, where we handed over proof of our identity. We took birth certificates, passports and proof of funds.

During a second visit to our property, we noticed that we could not get to the second storey of the barn without a ladder. A couple days latter, the vendor cleared some adjoining land to reveal a hidden door. We then amended our offer to include the adjoining woodland. The verbal offer was accepted. – this process took another 6 days

We thought naively at this point we would jump straight to the 10 day cooling off period we’d heard of. You’d think this compromis de vente would be a pro-forma form with just an address change at the top and you’d be signed and starting your 10 day cooling off straight away before someone else jumps in with a counter-offer. No!

3. Appointment of a Notaire

A notaire is chosen or in our case appointed by our agent immoblier. Separate notaires can be used but we went with the same notaire the vendor had used for decades.

A notaire has a similar role to a solicitor. They’ll calculate the outstanding fees, along with tax implications. It is the role of the notaire to pay back fees to the public treasury, calculate any disbursements and incidental expenses.

The notaire will also calculate any capital gains tax payable on the property.

There will be an exchange of emails or phone calls between the vendor, the agent immoblier and yourself.

It’s now time to start signing paperwork. Unfortunately, we’d returned to the UK at this point.

You will have to sign documents such as declaration of funds etc.

This process took 7 days. We still have a verbal offer and anyone can jump in.

4. Building Reports

Before the compromis de vente can be signed you need to wait for reports on fosse septiques, electrics, harmful substances, water, asbestos , geology etc which can take several weeks.

Our house has a 450m sq pond, a well and a spring. In a adjoining field there is another spring with a pipe crossing our land to a cow barn. For this there needed to be a survey.

The house is connected to a overhead electricity cable, which needs disconnecting from a nearby barn. This needed doing before a survey could be completed.

Our house had a 50 year old fosse septique that hadn’t been emptied for 30 years. The land was is covered in natural springs, so the survey was really slow to arrive.

A log burning stove in one of the cellars had two asbestos chimneys sticking up through the back lawn.

Being an old French house, there was tons of lead paint on all of the walls.

The electrical safety report basically said it was wired in the 1940’s and badly bodged in the 70’s. It was highly dangerous and likely to catch fire if connected.

There are many more reports on radon, natural risks, land boundaries etc. All of these reports have to be signed and submitted to the notaire. France is terrible for radon, so pretty much anywhere will need a radon report.

These reports compared to their UK equivalents are very brief and simple. – but still take weeks and expire after a couple months.

In reality, 95% of the reports are so brief, you’d be better of paying a decent builder 2 hours wages to have a quick look around. If you are good at DIY they are not going to tell you many or indeed any surprises. They are nothing like a UK surveyors report, but you have to wait for them all the same!

If the house is new to the market or has been on the market for a long time then there will be several weeks delay before the 10 day cooling off period can start!

This process took 4 weeks – We still only have a verbal offer


Over seven weeks after our first offer being accepted, we are at the 10 ten cooling off period!

You’ve finally reached that important first milestone!

Compromis de Vente – Preliminary Sales Agreement

Once all the building reports, declarations of finances, titles of ownership etc have been received from both the seller and buyer, the notaire can begin to draw up the Compromis De Vente.

All the reports are put together into one massive document.

Very often it is the agent immoblier that completes the Compromis De Vente. It is a pre-prepared pro-forma document with a few name changes and the reports tagged onto the end.

This document is a binding contract, including listing all the conditions of sale. If these conditions are not met the purchase can be annulled.

It is at this point you get a completion date! – although this can change

The completion date is affected by several factors:

  • The buyer selling their home first
  • The buyer getting a mortgage
  • The buyer being a cash buyer

Finally Our offer is on Paper and Our 10 day Coundown can begin!

6. Ten Day Cooling Off Period

Only the buyer benefits from this cooling off period. If the buyer pulls out during the first 10 days they’ll get 100% of what they transferred into ESCROW and the purchase is cancelled. The buyer doesn’t need to give a reason.

7. Transfer of the Deposit and Notaire Fees

This was done on the same day as the signing of the compromis de vente. A deposit of 10% of the agreed sale price was transferred to the notaire. It was held in ESCROW until the sale was completed.

We paid our notaire fees at this point.

8. When the 10 day cooling off period expires both parties can relax
a bit

After the 10 day Cooling off period the seller has the right to keep to keep the deposit of up to 10% of the sale price of the property as compensation.

At this point we were 2 months in! Not 10 days as we so naively believed at the beginning!

Don’t relax 100% – The government or SAFER can still ruin your day!

9. Full Purchase Funds Acknowledged

We were in the lucky position of having cash. The house was very cheap! Since placing the offer on the house, we’ve had quotes from flat pack kitchen fitters higher than the agreed purchase price. – so no delays for us!

If you require a loan from a French bank, they do not reply within the first 2 months by policy. Since Brexit and the pandemic rumours are this 2 could be more like 4 months!
If the bank does make an offer, then you have to wait yet another 10 days in a ‘period of reflection’ before you accept it!
With this there will be all the paperwork that needs signing – this will cause more delays.

When mortgage funds are needed, do not expect to hear anything from your notaire and probably agent immoblier during these months.

If you require a mortgage, you are looking at a minimum of 3 months. – At least the SAFER will have expired!

10. SAFER (Société d’aménagement foncier et d’établissement rural)

SAFER are a rural agency that have the right of pre-emption (droit de préemption) on most rural property that comes onto the market.

They have the power to buy a property on exactly the same terms as a buyer, or substitute another purchaser ie. a farmer within the first 2 months of a sale.

In rural areas, before a Sale can progress the 2 month SAFER period must expire.

Because of the building report delays etc, it was nearly 4 months after we made our verbal offer, when our SAFER expired.

This SAFER period will often leave a dead zone with absolutely no feedback from the notaire.

Once the SAFER had expired, all we had to worry about was the seller pulling out, so we were getting really close!


You are getting close now.

It is the notaire’s job to calculate the outstanding sale price, the agency fees and his own fees. All these fees will include any tax implications, duties etc imposed by the state and local authorities. These will be put together into the final deed.

Read More about Acte Authentique De Vente

Same day as 12, 13, 14 & 15

12. Transfer of Funds To Notaires ESCROW account

On the same day the “Acte Authentique De Vente” is signed, the remaining funds; in our case 90% of the purchase price; is transferred into the notaires ESCROW account.

Same day as 11, 13, 14 & 15

13. Signing of Acte Authentique De Vente

The final sale terms are put together and the document is signed by both the buyer and vendor. It is witnessed by the notaire.

Same day as 11, 12, 14 & 15

14. Capital Gains Tax

We are moving to France and this is to be our primary home so we didn’t have any Capital Gains Tax to Pay. If there was any due the notaire would collect it and pay it at the Mortgage Office.

Same day as 10, 11, 12, 13 & 15

15. Buyer collects the keys

Despite being cash buyers, outside of a chain it still took nearly 5 months to complete our house purchase. It went smoothly without any hitches.

Being in COVID lockdown and banned from France, we weren’t allowed to collect the keys. Being able to collect the keys will have to wait a couple extra weeks more.

It should have been the same day as 10, 11, 12, 13 & 14

16. Vendor receives his money from the notaire

After around 2 to 3 weeks after the full purchase price is transferred to notaire, the seller will receive a bank transfer.