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Heslop & Platt are specialists in the field of french planning law.
Based in the North of England, we have helped clients for over eight years with French legal advice and services.
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The team of lawyers at Heslop & Platt regularly produces articles for a variety of websites and specialist publications.
Here is a selection of the articles we have written.

Please ensure you contact us for specific advice as the information contained in our articles is of necessity general and must not be relied upon without additional guidance from a French Law Specialist firm such as ours.

Pre-emptive Strike

Question

In France, the idea of droits de pre-emption seems to us very complicated and potentially confusing. Can you explain exactly what it involves and what UK buyers in France need to be aware of?

Answer

Pre-emption is the term for when a third party can scupper your plan to buy a property in France. However, before you panic, you should know that a right of pre-emption is only exercised in a very small percentage of cases.

Once a buyer and a seller have signed a contract for the sale and purchase of a residential property in France and once the buyer’s seven day cooling off period has expired, the notary will start to deal with the various searches and other formalities which must be carried out before the transaction can be completed.

Depending on the location, size and type of property being sold, the notary is required to serve notice on the local commune and sometimes on the local agricultural body known as the SAFER; these being the two main authorities entitled to a right of pre-emption. However, you should be aware that a tenant of the property or an existing co-owner of the property may also have a right to pre-empt the sale to you. If your seller is not the sole legal owner but owns the property jointly with someone else, the co-owner(s) must be given an option to buy the property before it is sold to you.

Details of the contract between the parties, the address of the property and the agreed price must be specified in the notice sent by the notary. The commune and/or the SAFER then have a period of two months in which to decide if they wish to "pre-empt" and buy the property. A tenant or joint owner must respond within one month.

Sometimes the notary will receive a letter within a couple of weeks by which the authority (or individual) renounces its right of pre-emption; once this is received, the sale to you can proceed and you can relax.

On the rare occasion when a right of pre-emption is exercised, the buyer has no option but to walk away from the purchase and the deposit will be returned to you.

This "purging" of any rights of pre-emption is the main reason why the purchase of a property in France usually takes up to 12 weeks.

In summary, pre-emption is one of the main differences between UK and French conveyancing and as such many British buyers in France are either totally unaware that such a right exists or else, they are aware and spend eight weeks worrying until the notary confirms their purchase is safe and the transaction can proceed.

Your UK based French Law Specialist should be able to find out from the notary which bodies or individuals do in fact have a right of pre-emption in relation to a particular property and whether the risk of exercise of the right is great or small.

This article first appeared in Issue 76 of French Magazine – September/October 2009

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