Buying or selling French property? - How to choose the right solicitor
Buying a property or establishing a business in any country requires the specialist legal assistance of highly-trained, qualified professionals suitably experienced in such matters. Investors require clear, impartial advice prior to, and during, the purchase process, to avoid costly mistakes. In most commonlaw countries, both vendor and acquirer instruct their own legal professional to act in their interests, yet many French property purchasers fail to insist on having their own adviser. Why is this? Often, because
they have been purposely misled (being told that it is the norm in France) or they allow themselves to be carried away on a wave of false promises. It is not just permitted to have your own legal advisor, it is highly recommended.
Notaires (notaries) are Public Officers whose main role is to draft and execute Deeds. They are civil servants who have a monopoly on documents that must be authenticated by Deed, i. e. wills, marriage, contracts, document dealing with transfer of real property, and conveyancing. Notaries often act for both buyer and seller, which can potentially give rise to conflicts of interest. Their fees, based on a fixed scale, depend on the property's value. Notaires only get paid if a given transaction proceeds to completion.
Avocats (solicitors) are equally highly-trained professionals and similarly authorised to accomplish the same as a notaire, plus further to the notaire, if things go wrong, they can represent a client in Court.
French notaires are generally very courteous and competent, but there are situations where customers, especially non-French speakers, are experiencing difficulties: they are either being overcharged for a service, or simply left in the dark with no answer whatsoever to their queries, delays occur etc… In most cases, that situation leaves foreign customers with very little recourse against the notaire concerned.
There are distinct advantages of using the services of a bilingual, qualified French solicitor:
- You are assured that a qualified and experienced legal professional is really looking after your interests;
- Not only an independent solicitor is obliged to comply with strict professional standards, but he will get paid regardless of where and from whom the buyer buys;
- Where a difficulty arises, your solicitor can liaise with the notaire on your behalf and, if the matter does not get resolved, write to the notaires' local Law Society and lodge a formal complaint on your behalf. As a last resort, your solicitor can cancel the sale, reclaim your deposit and/or damages, and even sue the notaire in question for negligence where applicable;
- A qualified French lawyer established in France officially acts for you when corresponding with French Notaries, local authorities, banks, etc. whereas correspondence originating from law firms based outside France do not have the same efficiency and credibility…
As always, it is advisable to prevent this from happening if possible: involving your own French solicitor from the outset can, in the end, save a lot of money. If problems do happen, do not wait until matters have gone worse before consulting an independent French lawyer.
Fabien Cordiez is a dual-qualified Franco-British solicitor