Property surveys in France: what you need to know

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Ashtons’ French legal expert, Matthew Cameron, answers a frequently asked question that many house hunters have when purchasing a property in France.

We are buying a house in the south of France.  We had planned on having a survey before we commit, but our seller says that does not happen in France because they have to produce a survey as part of the contract.  Is it normal not to have a survey?

It is certainly the case that surveys are less common in France than in the UK.  However, that does not mean that there is no benefit in commissioning one.  There are a number of surveyors with suitable knowledge of French building law and practice who would be able to advise.

It is true that as part of the contract package a seller is obliged to provide a number of diagnostic inspection reports.  However these reports do not equate to a full structural survey.  The diagnostic reports are strictly limited in scope, and identify a number of specific points.  For example, as you are buying in the south of France you will probably be provided with a termite inspection report: this will reveal if there is any evidence of active termite infestation, or whether there has been any in the past.  If the property was built before 1948 it may require an inspection for the presence of lead paint: that would also state if any of that paintwork is degraded, and so potentially presenting a health risk.  If build before 1997 it will be subjected to an asbestos report.  There may also be inspections for the presence of dry rot, a summary of the local natural and geological risks.

There will be a separate inspection of the drainage, if this is a private system.

However none of the above is intended to offer to you the professional opinion of a surveyor as to the overall integrity of the building.  There may be no termite infestation, but what if the wooden structure is so decayed that the building is about to collapse?  None of those inspections would reveal if damaged guttering has allowing water to infiltrate the walls.

I was once asked to advise some clients who had signed a contract without commissioning a survey, in which a seller had tried to hide (rather badly, so it turned out) an underground watercourse that had diverted into the house.  One would expect that the signs of this would have been found by expert eyes…

If you would commission a survey before signing a contract in the UK, then just because you are buying in France does not mean that the same level of prudence is not worthwhile.  Just as instructing a firms of solicitors with specialist expertise in French law would add an extra expense to your purchase budget, the peace of mind afforded to a buyer through the independent guidance of solicitors and surveyors should be invaluable.

For individual legal advice, please contact the Ashtons Legal French Property Team.

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