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The Role of the Notary

The Role of the Notaire in a French Property Purchase

Who they are and how they work...

What is a ‘notaire’?

   The institution of the notary (notaire) dates back hundreds of years. The notary has always worked for the state as a certifier of legal documents. During a property sale, the notary ensures that all the proceedings comply with French property law. The notary has to oversee the legal aspects of the sale. He/she will assist all parties to make sure that the process of selling a property runs smoothly. The notary is also responsible for receiving all contracts and checking their authenticity.

   Some British buyers feel uneasy about having a single notary and appoint a UK-based legal advisor, specialized in French law, to advise them and check the paperwork. This will of course cost extra. Many of those who have done this believe that it has been worthwhile, while others have regarded it as a waste of time and money. It all comes down to whether the adviser finds anything worth querying or altering, which is down to individual circumstances.

   Some buyers appoint a second notary and there is no reason why this cannot be done; as long as the two notaries are able to share the work it need not cost more. Nevertheless, in many cases only one notary is used.

What will the notary do?

   Notaries will be happy to advice on specific items, such as ensuring that the buyer chooses a suitable regime for purchasing in order not to fall foul of French inheritance laws. Although notaries will not normally volunteer such information, if asked a specific question they are expected to provide an answer.
They will check each party’s rights to buy or sell the property.
They will conduct a search in the land registry to see whether there are any third parties with a claim on the property.

   The notary will ensure that there are no pre-emptive rights on the property.
He or she will attend to the signing of all contracts from the ‘Compromis de Vente’ (also called ‘sous seing’) to the ‘Acte de Vente’ (also called ‘Acte finale’).
When signing the final property deed (‘Acte de Vente’), the notary will read out aloud the terms of the contract to all parties. After completion, he or she will give a copy of the contract to both buyer and seller, but will keep the original deed along with the mortgage registry.

   The notary will oversee the transferring of funds and ensure that all the taxes and fees are paid in full, including the buyer’s first mortgage and insurance payments.
The notary will instruct the Estate Agent to hand over the keys when the sale has been completed.
If possible, it can be useful to use a firm of notaries who have handled the property previously, as they will have many of the relevant documents on file.



   In calculating the transaction costs of buying property in France it is important to distinguish between fees and taxes, and between older and new property.
In summary, the total fees and taxes payable for each are as follows.

- Older Property: The total fees and taxes payable for the purchase of an existing property are between 7 % and 10 % of the purchase price, excluding estate agency fees.
- New Property: You will pay around 2 % in fees and registration taxes, plus VAT at the rate of 19.6 % on the purchase price, excluding estate agency fees.

   Although these total fees and taxes are often referred to as ‘notary fees’ (frais de notaire), in fact the actual notary fee itself is only about 1 %, (although it does work out at more for low value transactions). The rest comprises stamp duty, registration taxes and disbursements. If two notaries are used, they will split the fee between them.

   Ultimately, a good notary will make sure that both the buyer and the seller understand what is expected of them throughout the purchasing process, by keeping in contact with both parties and preparing them for the signing of contracts and the exchanging of funds.

NB: The Notaires de France organisation has recently upgraded its website, which includes a lot of useful information in English:

All of the descriptive elements are to give an indication and have no contractual value.
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