Coronavirus: Buying & selling a property in France

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Many people are currently confused about what to do and what can be done if they are currently in the process of buying or selling a house in France. There seems to be a lack of up to date information online.

Given the unprecedented times in which we are currently living, health worries can be compounded by financial and practical worries and this certainly applies to anyone who is in the throes of a property sale or purchase in France.

Rest assured however that urgent measures are being taken at the highest level in France to pass emergency laws and put in place new processes to enable certain transactions to proceed.

The French Authorities, not generally known for doing anything quickly (!), have certainly risen to the challenge and we have been reliably informed that an “Ordonnance” will be issued next week (from Monday 30 March 2020 onwards) to allow for the remote signature of certain notarial deeds. This will be a temporary relaxation and will only apply for the duration of the current lockdown or “confinement” as it is called in France.

It will remove the normally strict requirement for the signature of such deeds either in person (i.e. in front of the Notaire in charge of the transaction) or pursuant to a Power of Attorney which a party to the transaction has already given.

In place of the usual requirements, it will be possible to complete transactions using electronic signatures via web portals such as DocuSign and Yousign.

The use of video conference and video links (such as Microsoft teams) is also likely to be introduced so the Notaire can see the clients actually signing the documents and vice versa.

Verification of the identity of a signatory remains, as always, of paramount importance and so full use of modern technology will be employed to safeguard not just the parties to the transaction but also to protect Notaires, lenders and estate agencies against any potentially fraudulent activity.

In terms of a property sale and purchase, many estate agencies are already sending out contracts for electronic signature and this is likely to become more widespread over the coming weeks where a property was viewed prior to the lockdown and has progressed to the offer and acceptance stage. Notaires are also now accepting, for some transactions, a signature of a Power of Attorney without certification of the individual’s signature, provided the individual sends back the signed Power of Attorney with a signed copy of the photo page of his / her passport.

The Notaire will however only be in a position to complete the transaction if all the pre-completion formalities have been dealt with and all search results have been received. We have also been told this week that time periods which apply to certain formalities (such as the 2 month period for the purging of a pre-emption right in favour of the local agricultural body or the local Commune), have been temporarily halted and the time period will not start to run again until after the end of the lockdown. This may, therefore, delay the completion of some sales & purchases.

For those buyers and sellers whose Notaire had already completed the administrative formalities and searches prior to the lockdown, it may, therefore, be possible to at least discuss fixing a completion date.

It is still unclear however whether the current restrictions in France allow for the physical moving in and out of a property. We suspect there will be very limited cases where the deferral of the completion date is considered impossible. In any event, furniture removal and installation whilst social distancing would undoubtedly be another challenge to overcome!

Watch this space for further updates!

For individual advice, please contact our French Legal Services team on enquiry@ashtonslegal.co.uk or call 0330 404 0733.


This information is correct at 1.30pm on 30 March 2020.


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