The Role of a French Notaire

The Role of a Notaire

Notaires in France are pretty important people. While their role is steeped in legal matters, he or she is different to a solicitor in many ways. Commonly charged with drawing up contracts between parties, you may find yourself in need to visit a Notaire for either family or business purposes. Readers of this blog are more than likely to come across a Notaire for the first time when they buy a property.

There are well over 7,000 Notaires in France, which are dotted all over the country. Unlike most other professions, they have a monopoly over their duties. They are effectively civil servants and are charged by the Ministere of Justice (Ministère de la Justice) for receiving all the “actes” and contracts that require a seal of authenticity, date assurance, safe-keeping and authentic copies.

When it comes to buying a house in France (see our property buying guide), it is the Notaire that will prepare the final deed and will obtain all the searches regarding the property in question. He will do all the necessary checks regarding right to sell and right to purchase. He will also check the title of the property to make sure it doesn’t contain any clauses that might cause a problem in the transaction or might have an adverse effect on the value of the property either at the time of purchase or in the future. He will also make sure that there are no mortgages outstanding on the property. In this respect, he works in much the same way as a conveyancing solicitor does in the UK.

When the day of purchase comes, the Notaire will read the deed through to both the buyer and the seller to make sure they are in agreement and will be responsible for making any necessary amendments. At that point, the purchaser will pass the money over and take receipt of the keys. Post purchase, it is the Notaire who is responsible for registering the title deed at the Land Registry.

Many house-buyers in France who are making a purchase for the first time are of the notion that they need to work with the same Notaire as the seller. This is not in fact the case; you are free to choose any Notaire you wish. If your French isn’t all that great, seeking out a Notaire who speaks English might be a priority, and while most Notaires speak some English, if you’re buying in a particularly rural area, you may find that the local Notaire isn’t particularly fluent. In this instance, it may be prudent to pay for an independent interpreter to be present at any meetings you have with the Notaire. In many cases it is also sensible to seek legal advice in your home country so you are aware of any implications of buying property abroad.

In addition to carrying out the legal obligations in terms of house purchase, the Notaire is also responsible for preparing acts between family members, such as inter-spouse transfers, gifts, wills and inheritances. He is also the person best placed (apart from your personal accountant if you have one) to advise you on capital gains and inheritance taxes. Furthermore, if there is a disagreement between two parties, on a business or personal footing, the Notaire has the capacity to act as an independent arbitrator to help find a solution.

The Notaire will charge fees for organising the purchase of a property for example and those fees will range from a figure just short of 5% to under 1% for a simple transaction, depending on the total price of that transaction. Notaire’s fees are subject to VAT and rise with complexity. So, for example if there is a mortgage involved in the purchase, or the purchase is being made as part of a company (Société Civile Immobilière or SCI), then the fees will be higher.

Notaries, as already stated, are also responsible for collecting stamp duty, registration taxes and disbursements. No matter how nervous you might feel in the company of a Notaire, you shouldn’t be shy in asking how much fees will be upfront, nor should you be afraid to negotiate. While some Notaires will refuse point blank to reduce their fees, others are keen to do business and will negotiate to a point. It is always worth asking, but do be aware that the Notaire can only negotiate his or her own fee; stamp duties and the likes are non-negotiable. You can easily estimate the notaire fees will be with our handy notaire and legal fees calculator.

Find out more about how the system of buying a house in France works and get in touch to discuss your criteria and plans, we, together our tax and legal experts are always happy to assist.