SAFER & Pre-Emption Rights on Properties with Land

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The laws on property ownership in France depend on the type of property you are buying and the amount of land it comes with.  If the property has more than one hectare of land ( 2 acres and a half), then it’s very likely that you will hear about a body called SAFER that may step in and purchase the property instead, on the grounds of its potential local agricultural benefits.

If you’re dealing with a competent estate agent he or she would have informed you about this potential ‘bump’ on the way to secure your dream property. As the french often say, “un homme avertit en vaut deux”.  If not, this article has been written to provide information about SAFER and how they operate.

What is SAFER?

The Safer (Société d’Aménagement Foncier et d’Etablissement Rural) was set up in the 1960’s to oversee and preserve the development of the rural landscape.

Their aim back then was to grow agricultural production but over time their mission has evolved. Today SAFER works to boost rural and forest areas, facilitate young farmers and start-ups, protect landscapes and natural resources while supporting the development of local communes and their economies.

What Does SAFER Do?

Today their main role and area of expertise are the survey, purchase and manage the agricultural land, forest domaines and rural property.

When buying a farm or rural property with land in France (including empty plots, period properties, vineyards, property in rural areas), the Notaire will notify both buyer and the seller that the local SAFER may wish to use it’s right to ‘pre-empt or first refusal’, meaning there’s a possibility that they may purchase the property to resell or lease it temporarily to local farmers or public organisations. The SAFER’s manifesto is to :

  • improve rural land structures and maintenance
  • safeguard farming communities and agricultural patrimoine
  • to fight against land speculation and accumulation
  • to consolidate farms to boost economic development

How can Pre-Emption Rights Affect your Plans?

This not great news for any buyer especially those who may not be familiar with the SAFER, how it works and learn for the first time about these strange preemption rights.

The vast majority of property purchases will go through completion without intervention from SAFER but in some rural areas they can be more active. The notaire dealing with the sale/purchase is required to notify SAFER in order to provide the opportunity to object to any sale, for example to help a young faming setting in the area or a future local project.

When does SAFER have Rights to Pre-empt?

The short answer is, when selling any plot of land; in particular if the land has an agricultural use or if it has an agricultural vocation on the day of the sale being agreed. This includes land situated in an agricultural zone or a natural and forest zones defined by an urban planning document.

The Sale of Farm Buildings

The sale of farm buildings are subject to SAFER’s pre-emption; any farm buildings that were used for agricultural use on the day of sale including the residential buildings that are part of the property.

Buildings that have been used for farming in the last 5 years prior to the sale/purchase may also be pre-empted, SAFER may acquire them for the sole purpose of keeping them for agricultural use, now or in the future.

When SAFER does NOT have a Right to Pre-empt?

Depending on the background of the buyers (parents, family relations, co-heirs, agricultural professionals, etc.) certain situations may exclude SAFER’s right to exercise its first refusal right.  The existence of a priority right of pre-emption arrangement also prevents the SAFER involvment with preferential rights granted by law to public bodies and private individuals.

Land intended to support the construction of a single-family dwelling may be exempted, that applies only to smaller lands, less than 2,500 square meters per house or to the minimum area rule if it is larger.

How Does SAFER Pre-Empt on Land & Properties?

The SAFER may pre-empt by accepting the selling price and the conditions mentioned in the information transmitted to it by the notary. It may also pre-empt by revising the price. In this case, the SAFER makes an offer to purchase. The seller then has up to 6 months from the receipt by the notary of the decision of the SAFER to withdraw the property from the sale. He may also lodge a complaint with the High Court in order to negotiate and agree on a final price.

Finally, where the property is both agricultural land and residential or has operating buildings, the SAFER has a partial pre-emption right. It may in particular, pre-empt for the agricultural land.

Best to Safe with SAFER

In any purchase of a rural property the possibility of the SAFER intervening must be investigated. The pre-emption rights that allow to bypass the normal property transaction process and regulate the agricultural land market, is not popular with the local people on the ground and must be anticipated in order to be managed in the most efficient way.

You should ask your notaire about adding a clause if there's an objection from SAFER, and to include one (or more) ‘clauses suspensives’ in the ‘compromis de vente’ to ensure quicker return of your deposit  (we can assist with fast currency transfers may the worse was to happen during the purchase process).

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