Ask many questions before buying a house in France

Wouter Haaijman,  Monday, 11 March 2019

Wijngaarden in Sancerre  

If you have seen a house on a website, it is often difficult to determine whether that house is really something for you. The pictures are not always clear, and the description sometimes needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
By the way, do you know why pictures of houses presented by real estate agents are often so meaningless?

Houses are regularly offered by more than one real estate agent. A real estate agent who has a home for sale would rather not have it too recognizable because this can lead other brokers to that house. Not showing the outside of a house - essential to the buyer I would think and therefore extremely irritating if it is not visible - is done to protect the goods. If you nevertheless think you have found a house, you can travel to France to visit it and hope for the best. You can also ask the owner or the real estate agent (we will call them the "seller") some questions first to find out more about the house.

Most buyers do the latter. They ask some questions about the house and its surroundings and think they have enough information to make a choice. They visit the house in France, ask some more questions and decide on the spot whether it indeed meets their requirements and wishes.
Unfortunately, buyers do not always know what they are looking for. Selection criteria are often changed during the search, depending on the house being visited. This is one of the reasons why buyers generally do not ask enough questions. That does not have to cause any problems, but prevention is better than cure.
What do you think about the case where the owner of a house claimed to sell his house so that the bank would not bother him? The asking price of his house was as big as his debt to the bank. An English couple would buy the house. They had sold their house in England and arrived in France with the removal van on the day the contract of sale was signed. The owner then told them that the house was no longer for sale. He had been granted a respite from the bank for several months and was not interested in the fact that he had utterly disrupted the life of a family.
The above indicates that it is also essential to obtain information about a seller. Admittedly, that is not always easy, but there are ways in which at least an indication can be received of what the buyer can expect.
To help with asking questions, I have listed some issues below. The answers should give a good picture of the house, the environment, the owner, the risks, and various other things. Asking questions to the seller alone is not enough. Information from the municipality, neighbors, and websites completes the picture. This list cannot be complete and can be completed by the buyer.
Some questions seem redundant, but I can assure you that this is not the case. Questions are based on situations that have actually occurred. Some are not relevant, but hopefully, the list will be useful as a first step.
Perhaps you could draw up a list at home of questions that should at least be answered. I cannot help stressing the importance of getting an answer to those questions. They were on your list, so you thought they were important. Never let yourself be swayed. Also, make sure that you - or your legal adviser - get written confirmation of commitments.

The seller

  • Details of the seller (broker, owner or owners). Do not forget the name of the contact person, telephone numbers (landline and mobile) and email address.
    Attention: A real estate agent may refuse (or be very reluctant) to give the name of the owner. This is understandable and should not be taken personally. It is likely that this will become easier after you have signed a bon de visite.
  • Is the broker registered with an officially recognized trade union - FNAIM for example?
  • Are you dealing with a real estate agent or an agent commercial? An agent commercial can be fair, but it may also be that he or she feels that professional etiquette is less critical. It is worth finding this out or at least being warned against it.

Information about the property

Attention: A real estate agent may refuse or be very reluctant to give the address of a property. Again, this becomes easier after you have signed a bon de visite.

  • Address, Region & Department
  • In which commune is the house?
  • What is the plot number of the house? This is stated in the purchase deed.
  • If you know the commune and the plot number (sometimes there are more than one plot number) you can find information about the property, the grounds, and the surrounding properties at NB. Without the plot number, it is almost impossible to find the property on the website.
  • You can find information about possible risks in the commune via
  • At what height is the house located? It is said that the temperature drops 1°C for every 100 meters you go up. Is that really the case? A fact is that it is significantly colder at 1200 m than at 600 m.
  • What is sold?
    > Main building
    > Outbuildings (ask for a specification)
    > Possible garden and grounds (in m²)
  • Do rights apply to this house or the terrain, for example, the right of way, the right of drainage, etc.?
  • If relevant, ask for written confirmation of the answer and have it checked by an expert.
  • Is there a detailed list available of what is included in the sale (cupboards, hinges and locks, antennas, dishes, etc.) and if not, can this list be drawn up and when? Is the seller prepared to sign this inventory list? He must, therefore, confirm in writing what remains in (and on) the property.

Asking price and costs

  • What is the asking price for the property?
  • What is included in that price (e.g., commission broker, other costs)?
  • What other costs should the buyer expect?
  • Can the buyer get a reliable indication of the total amount he will have to spend to become the owner of this property?

Possible risks to the smooth running of a purchase

  • How many owners are there?
  • If there is one owner:
    > Why does he sell the property?
    > Is it a regular sale, e.g., to move to another home?
    > Is it an inheritance?
    > Does the owner have financial problems, e.g., debt to one or more banks?
  • If there is more than one owner:
    > Who are those owners, e.g., family or bank?
    > Why do they sell?
    > Does everyone agree with the sale?
    > Is this in writing and if not, is this confirmation available?
  • If it is a sale by a group of owners (e.g., a family), how likely is it that it will lead to a problem, delay or even cancellation of the sale? Unlikely, possible, not.
  • How long is the property for sale?
  • Has the asking price of the house ever been reduced and if so, when and by how much?
  • Will the owner accept that he will be presented with a tailor-made Compromis de Vente? What is the time frame in which the seller wants to complete the sale, i.e., how many months after signing the Compromis de Vente he intends to sign the sales contract and will the current occupant (who does not have to be the owner) have left the property?
  • Is the seller prepared to accept a penalty clause (defined in the Compromis de Vente) if he is responsible for a delay in the completion of the sale (signing of the sales contract) or the release of the property?
    Attention: Penalty clauses should be drawn up by your legal advisor and not by the real estate agent.
  • Is the property empty or occupied? If occupied, who lives there? Seller/owner or a tenant?
  • What firm guarantee does the buyer have that the owner or a tenant will be out of the property at the moment the contract is signed (the transfer)? Is the seller prepared to accept a penalty clause (defined in the Compromis de Vente) if the property is not vacant at the time of the transfer?
    Attention: Penalty clauses must be drawn up and negotiated by the legal representative of the buyer and not by the real estate agent.
  • Has the seller ever had a severe disagreement with the neighbors - for example about the delimitation of the terrain or the right of way? If so, what is/was this disagreement about and has it been resolved? Can this disagreement endanger the sale?
  • Are there other problems (ongoing or solved) such as problems with the municipality or other public authorities? If so, what is/was the disagreement about and has it been resolved? Is access to the property possible via public road or only via neighbor's land?
  • The following questions can only be asked to a real estate agent or notary:
    > Do you know of any claim that rests on this property that could jeopardize the sale, for example from family members, bank or other financial institution, or other (specify)?
    > Has the owner always behaved correctly to previous potential buyers?
    > Has the seller ever taken the property out of the sale? If so: why and how and when did he inform a potential buyer at the time (if applicable)?
    > Do you foresee, possibly based on previous experiences with the seller and other historical information, any problems with the handling of this purchase by actions of the seller? If so, what were these events?
    >In general: what do I, as a potential buyer, need to know to secure a possible purchase?

More about the house

  • Do you need to know something about the house or surroundings before visiting the house? In other words, is there anything that can give the impression during the viewing of the property that the presentation by the seller (or your office, if sold through a real estate agent) is not complete or does not give an accurate picture of the property?
    Ask the seller if there are any hidden problems, circumstances or situations regarding the property or the environment you need to know about? Ask for an exact answer: no issues or there are problems (these need to be specified) and have that answer confirmed in writing.
  • Ask the seller to specify what the condition of the property is, inside and outside?
    Answers are very subjective. Therefore, ask for a supplementary statement. If desired, you can, of course, adapt this classification to the house you have seen.
    > Ready to move in
    > Only general refurbishment needed such as painting
    > Adjustments required, e.g., new kitchen, bathrooms, etc.
    > Some repair (repairs) needed
    > A lot of repairs needed
    > Major renovation required
    > Partly rebuilding needed (restoration)
    > Complete reconstruction needed (restoration)
  • In summary: on the scale of 1-10 (10 the best), what is the general condition of the house? Explain your answer.
  • In summary: is the property habitable? What is your definition of habitable?
  • Which public facilities are connected? Do you know what the costs of construction would be if not connected? Electricity, water, gas, sewerage, septic tank, telephone, ADSL
  • What type of heating system is installed? No heating, oil, gas, electric, wood, a combination of the above (if yes, what kind of mix)?
  • Have there been any changes/conversions to the house during the last 2 years? If so, what kind of modifications were they, were they carried out by a reputable (accredited) firm or local professional, when was that, was the work completed, is the work still guaranteed, was municipal approval obtained? Is there a copy of the approval?
    If not: Can written confirmation be obtained that no conversion has taken place or approval was not required?
  • What are the annual taxes (Taxe Foncière & Taxe d'Habitation) for this property?
  • Has a CU or a Permit de Construire been issued for any modification to or for this property that has not yet been completed, e.g., swimming pool?
  • Is there a PPRN (Plan de Prévention des Risques Naturels prévisibles) for this property? If so, contact your legal adviser.
  • Has a zoning plan (Plan d'Ocupations des Sols or POS) been approved for projects within 2-3 km of this property?
  • If you buy a plot of land: What is the COS Coefficient d'Occupation du Sol allowed?
  • Are there activities in the immediate vicinity of the property and/or the municipality that could affect your interests? Ask specifically about disturbances of peace and quiet. Some examples:
    > Is there an excavation nearby? If so, does it cause any nuisance (noise, dust, heavy traffic, etc.)?
    > Do the air force sometimes and how often?
    > Does the army practice nearby (e.g.: shooting exercises)
    > Is there a military barracks nearby which causes disturbances (heavy traffic, soldiers going out in the evening)?
    > Is there a Centre Secour in the neighbourhood with regular ambulances or fire engines driving past with screaming sirens?
    > Is there traffic noise during the day, at night, etc.?
    > Noise nuisance (people, mopeds, etc.) at a short distance (e.g. inside the village on the village square or in the city at the corner of a street).
    > Parties near the community house (e.g.: is the community house rented out for weddings and parties?)
    > Are other activities organized that are disruptive (e.g.: discos) organized?
    > Are there factories nearby that cause nuisance (regularly or sporadically)? NB these factories can be either miles away or
  • Is there signal reception for mobile phone? How strong is that signal?
  • Is it possible to receive TV via an antenna and/or a dish?
  • Is an ADSL connection possible in the house?

The location, environment, and community

  • How is the house located concerning the north, south, etc.? Can a simple sketch be produced? You can also (partly) find this information on , but there you will not find information about tall trees, etc.
  • Is the house more than usually exposed to sun and wind?
  • Does the house not get enough sun?
  • What are the general climatic conditions during the summer and winter? A general indication is sufficient, for example: hot in the summer and cold in the winter (with usually a lot of snow).
  • Has the house ever been inaccessible for more than 1 or 2 days during a winter? If so, for how long?
  • Has the house ever been flooded in the past 25 years? You can get more information at
  • Describe the traffic near the property. Local and occasional, through road with light traffic, through road with average traffic, through road with heavy traffic.
  • Approximately how many other ex-pats live in the immediate vicinity and within a 5-10 kilometer radius of the house and what nationality do they have? Only an indication is possible.
  • Does the owner have pets in or near the house and what are they?
  • Do the neighbors have cats or dogs that roam freely in the garden of the house?
  • How far is it (in km) to the nearest facilities (shops, doctor, dentist, hospital, etc.)?
  • How far is it (in km) to the airport, station (train), main roads to the north and south

The community
  • Are the people in the community used to foreigners?
  • How do people and especially neighbors react to foreigners?
  • Local life: what is organized by the community and are foreigners welcome?
  • Is there a community house? If so, what is its function?

These questions are provided to help the buyer of a house in France and cover only part of the information collection needed to find out all about a home in France.
However, it is not an exhaustive list and obtaining all the answers to these questions is no guarantee that you have also got all the information about that property.

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