Acquisition process

The acquisition process in France


Step 1: the offer to purchase


The buyer makes an offer that the broker submits before negotiating it with the seller. In this offer, the buyer offers to buy the property from the seller at a certain price (higher or lower than what the seller is asking for) under specific conditions. In order to avoid being bound by this offer for too long, the buyer sets a deadline for the offer. Therefore, they cannot withdraw it before this deadline.

If the seller does not accept the offer before the deadline, the buyer is no longer bound by it. If the offer is accepted under the proposed conditions (price, etc.), the seller and the buyer are required to sign a preliminary sales agreement, either at the BARNES agency or at the offices of the notary of their choice.


Step 2: choosing a notary


After accepting the buyer's offer, the seller advises them to contact their notary to set an appointment for signing the preliminary sales agreement. The seller and the buyer can each contact their own notary at no extra cost to the buyer.


Step 3: the preliminary sales agreement


The notary in charge of the sale makes an appointment with the buyer and seller to sign the agreement. The notary asks the buyer to bring a check for 10% (or a 5% deposit) of the sales price and to cover the cost of drafting the preliminary sales agreement. The notary also asks the seller to carry out different inspections of the property before this appointment (see below).

The check is immediately cashed into the account of the notary's office or the real estate broker, if it has a secure escrow account. This amount serves either as a down payment, if the sale goes through, or as compensation for the seller if the buyer decides not to sign the final deed of sale.

However, the buyer has the right to withdraw without being required to give a reason for a period of 10 days (starting the day after the preliminary sales agreement is delivered by hand, by registered letter with acknowledgment of receipt or by a bailiff). The buyer is thus not truly committed until the end of this seven-day period. If they withdraw, they will get their full deposit back within no more than 21 days from the day after the date of withdrawal.

The seller is required to have a technical inspection file prepared. This file must include:

  • the size (in sq. m) of the property sold (French Carrez law, for apartments only)
  • the report on the risk of lead exposure
  • the asbestos report for private areas of the property
  • the parasite report (termites, etc.)
  • the energy performance assessment
  • the state of natural and technological hazards
  • the condition of gas and electricity facilities, if they are more than fifteen years old
  • the condition of private sanitation facilities


The seller must provide this file to the notary before signing the preliminary sales agreement in order to allow the buyer to be informed of the condition of the property. When selling an apartment in a co-owned building, other information must be provided by the seller: the condominium regulations, the building maintenance file, the amount of condominium fees, the latest decisions made by the general meeting of joint owners, etc.


Step 4: the loan offer


A period of three months is needed before the final deed of sale is signed. During this time, the buyer must contact his bank to obtain a loan.

If the buyer does not obtain a loan, he can choose to continue with the sale (if he has another source of financing). In the latter case, he will get his deposit back unless he has acted in bad faith (e.g. if he has requested an amount beyond his ability to pay or if his application does not comply with the estimates in the preliminary sales contract).

Please note: if the buyer does not intend to apply for a loan, he must include handwritten comments to that effect. If the preliminary sales agreement was registered as a notarial act, these comments are not mandatory.


Acceptance of the loan offer

The buyer has at least 30 days to obtain a loan that complies with the conditions laid down in the preliminary sales agreement (amount, duration, rate, etc.). In practice, this period is often extended to forty-five days.

Once the loan offer has been issued by the bank, the borrower cannot accept it prior to ten days after receiving it. The sale itself can thus not be closed before the end of this ten-day period.

The notary will check some information: whether the seller is actually the owner, the previous property titles, the property's location with regard to urban planning rules, easements, the mortgage situation of the property, etc.

Sometimes the property is located in an area where the local municipal council can exercise its urban pre-emption right. This means that for two months it has the right to buy the property for purposes of public interest. The deed of sale cannot be signed before the end of this period. These various steps require a certain amount of time between the signature of the preliminary sales agreement and the final closing.


Step 5: the deed of sale


The buyer has obtained their loan.

The notary contacts them to inform them that the file is complete and to set up an appointment to sign the deed. The notary asks them to bring a cashier's check for the balance of the sales price and an additional amount for closing costs (see below).

On the day of signing, the buyer will go to the notary's office. The seller, their notary and the broker will also be there.

The notary reads the deed to them.

The seller hands over the keys to the buyer. The buyer gives the cashier's check or makes a bank transfer to the notary.


Buying as a non-French resident: what’s different?

French law applies to property sales, whatever the nationality of the buyer. The procedures described above are thus valid for non-French residents. Please note that a notary must be involved in any real estate purchase in France. However, depending on whether you are an EU national or a non-EU national, and whether your country has a bilateral tax treaty with France, you must pay special attention to tax and wealth-related issues:

  • Which country's tax laws apply to you, and does the country have any tax treaties with the French government?
  • What type of buyer are you? A single individual, a family with or without children, do both spouses have the same nationality, etc.?
  • What are your long-term plans? Is this a short, medium or long-term investment? Do you need to plan for an inheritance, and what steps should be taken, etc.?

There is no 'one size fits all' answer to these questions. For example, it may be appropriate to create a société civile immobilière (real estate non-trading company).

BARNES provides you with a network of advisors and specialists who will support you and help manage the purchase process from start to finish.