How to buy a house in France

How to buy a house in France: or, how we made Atelier Charneddy our own!

Last month I talked about how we found our house - click here to catch up. But what happened next? Going from finding your dream house to actually buying it and getting the keys can be a long journey, but in our experience it was way smoother to buy a house in France vs. in the UK. The main reason for this seems to be that rather than the buyer having their solicitor, and the seller having a different solicitor, in France it’s the norm to have one ‘notaire’ who deals with the whole transaction. This makes SO much sense!

That’s not to say that we didn’t come up against any problems, but compared to the UK system it was a dream. Here’s how it all went down…

Day 1 : The day we emailed the sellers to tell them we’d like to buy the house! We tried out the bartering tactic recommended by the receptionist in our (future) new village, and it worked well because we ended up meeting somewhere in the middle with the price. More money to pay for solar panels, woohoo!

Day 2 : The sellers needed proof of our funds before they would definitely sell to us so we had to scramble a bit to make sure we had the right documentation. The sellers (the extended family of the old man who used to live in the house) would be getting together that weekend, so we had an anxious wait while they checked that everyone was happy to sell to us for the agreed price.

Day 4 : We got an email from the seller to say that there had been a fire in one of the dépendances, uh oh! She sent through a load of photos and it actually looked like the fire had done us a favour; the roof of the dépendance was made of asbestos, so if it was already destroyed before we took ownership, then all the better!

Our notaire’s office is in the left-hand side of this building. SO FANCY!

Our notaire’s office is in the left-hand side of this building. SO FANCY!

Day 7 : The family all met over the Easter weekend and agreed on the price. They then set things in motion with a notaire in the next town, so we awaited further instruction.

Day 21 : It took quite a while for the notaire to get her act together and ask us for some initial information, but in the mean time the seller sent all the diagnostic documents directly to us, to cut out the middlewoman. When a house is sold in France, the sellers need to get a load of surveys done to assess the state of the house. This includes a report on the septic tank, asbestos, parasites, lead paint, and much more. These documents can be lengthy and ours was no exception. On the bright side, it didn’t really matter to us if the floorboards were rotten because we knew we were going to have to gut the whole place anyway.

Day 24 : We hadn’t heard anything back from the notaire after we sent her all the information she’d requested, so we followed up with a second email. It quickly became apparent that she was incapable of replying to a first email, but would reply to a re-send of that email within minutes. We joked that we should just start sending her the same email twice at once to save time…!

Day 42 : Once some more mysterious paperwork had been done by the notaire we were able to fix a date to sign the compromis de vente, which essentially committed us to buying the property, and them to selling it. Our ability to chase up the notaire was limited (how can you chase someone who won’t reply to you?), but the seller was very much on top of things and actually gave us more updates than the notaire did. If I haven’t stressed it enough, we LOVE the people who sold us the house - the whole family are so friendly and helpful, and we can’t wait to show them the house once we’ve finished our renovations!


Day 46 : Trip to Bretagne to sign the compromis de vente! We managed to time this trip so it landed around a load of bank holidays. Not only did Tom only have to take one day off work, but the sellers were also in the area for a little holiday so we were able to sign the paperwork, then head on over to the house to measure up!

While we were getting busy with the laser measurer (yeah, we got a laser measurer, that’s who we are now) a lot of neighbours dropped by to say hello and see what was happening. We even got a few ideas for making the downstairs open-plan, and we could assess the fire damage in the dépendance. It really wasn’t that bad at all, and hadn’t affected the actual house, so that was fine.

Day 70 : The notaire sent us some official papers in the post. There was one set for Tom to sign, and one set for me…but instead of addressing them to my actual name, she’d addressed them to the equivalent of ‘Mrs TomsSurname’. What?! We were really worried that she was putting the house in the name of this non-existent woman too. I mean, what if something happened to Tom and I had to prove that the house was mine? I don’t have any ID with that name, there’s no social security number attached to that name…and it’s not my name! I emailed her immediately, asking her to correct the mistake, and she told me in no uncertain terms that ‘there hasn’t been an error. You’re married to Tom XYZ. Your name is Rebecca XYZ’. We were furious. We couldn’t believe that someone was literally telling me that I didn’t know what my own name was. That I had ceased to exist under my own name. That the passport she’d scanned showing my name wasn’t enough proof for her. It was time to call in the big guns: our friend Maxime. We’d managed the whole process so far on our own, in French, but this was too important and too serious to take any chances, so we asked one of our favourite native speakers to step in. He called the notaire and (we still don’t quite understand how), managed to make her see that she couldn’t register the house under an incorrect name. It still makes me mad that I, the owner of the name and future co-owner of the house, couldn’t convince her about this, that it took a French man to get her to listen, but there we have it. Life in 2018. But anyway, this is something else I can’t say enough: Maxime is the best!

We followed up their phone conversation with an email to ensure the changes would be made, but (classic notaire) couldn’t get a response.

Days 75 - 110 : The lost weeks. Waiting for the notaire to tell us whether mysteriously vague documents had been sent or received to/from various authorities.

Day 111 : At last, some good news! We eventually got tired of being given such vague brush-offs by the notaire so we got back in touch with the seller. She said that she’d had enough too, so within an afternoon she’d called the notaire, given her a bit of a kick up the backside, and we’d arranged a day to sign the ‘acte de vente’, which would make the house officially ours.

Just a couple o’ cool cats measuring their jungley garden!

Just a couple o’ cool cats measuring their jungley garden!

Day 115 : By this point we still hadn’t quite ascertained how we were supposed to pay for the house. We’d asked, of course, but our emails had gone unanswered. Three working days before ‘acte de vente’ day, we finally got an email telling us that we had to make a transfer of the funds on the day of the signing, but also that we had to have proof from the bank that the money had already left our account. These two things aren’t simultaneously possible in France, so we erred on the side of caution and decided to send the money as soon as possible (it was going into a holding account with the notaire, so it was a perfectly safe choice). We logged onto our online banking to make the transfer, but it said that we would have to split it up into multiple smaller payments of however much. We did this, and then got another message with a different maximum amount on. We did that, and got a message saying that sums of this size could only be done in branch. Fine. I still to this day have no idea what flow chart determined the changing series of notices we got that day!

Day 118 : It had been a weekend, so we had to wait till Monday to go to the bank. Off we trotted, to find that…..our branch is closed on a Monday. And it’s not possible to do a transfer of that kind at another branch. Argh!

I also should mention at this juncture that we were also in the process of buying a second-hand car, which had some complications of it’s own, which is why we missed the obvious step of checking the opening hours of the bank.

Day 119 : Second trip to the bank. The cashier looked at the letter from our solicitor and said that she couldn’t provide proof that the money had left our account (why would you need that? The proof is that the money appears in their account, which should give more than enough certainty), but that she could process the transfer. We had to fill in a piece of paper, using one of those biros on a chain, detailing how much money we were sending and the account details of the notaire. It didn’t seem very official, but it took us so long that the cashier had devised a ‘proof of funds’ by printing off our bank details and stamping it with the bank’s fanciest stamp. It looked fairly official so we hoped that would be enough for the solicitor.

Day 120 : We looked at our online banking to see if the money had indeed left our account. It had! But not before an incorrect amount had left the account, then been put back in, then corrected and sent out again. I guess that’s what happens when humans have to copy a load of handwritten numbers off a piece of paper in the bank!

Day 122 : The big day. We’d driven over to Bretagne the night before, and met with the notaire and the representative of the family in the morning. We signed and initialled about a thousand pieces of paper, no-one checked our ‘proof of funds’ sheet (damnit) and Tom ran (yep, ran) to the shop in the town to buy a bottle of champagne before we drove to meet the representative at the house.

He showed us round and gave us the keys, then stayed and chatted for about an hour. It was weird, but I suppose his dead dad did used to live there, so we humoured him. Once he’d sped off on his motorcycle we got to work, popping open the champagne. Cheers to Atelier Charneddy!