Friday, April 9, 2010

Translation or interpretation?

Buying French property necessarily involves reading and understanding a large number of documents - a difficult task if French is not your first language. Documents include the estate agent's description, the obligatory technical reports on the property and its environment, building surveys, reports and regulations from the syndic of co-owners, the pre-sale document ('compromis de vente'), power of attorney, the final sales act and many others, running in some cases to fifty or more pages. How do you set about dealing with such a mountain of paperwork, written in legal jargon and in a language you do not undertsand?

One option is to use a qualified translator, and for some documents French law may require the use of an approved translator ('traducteur assermenté') who can provide official translations for use in court. These translators have a near-monopoly, are in short supply and are expensive. Other translators can provide a 'literary translation' but this is usually offered without guarantee or legal authority ('sans portée juridique') and in all cases, in the event of a difference of understanding, it is the original French document that counts.

Because of the wide differences between French and Anglo-Saxon law, even an English translation of a French document can be difficult to understand, as the terminology and practices differ between the two jurisdictions.

A more helpful approach is to use an interpreter, particularly one who can be present before and during the signing of the principal documents, and ideally someone with a good knowledge of both French and English law. Someone who lives locally and knows the property business and the area offers a distinctive advantage.

An interpreter can work with the Notaire to help explain the broad concepts behind a particular French document, and what its implications are for the signatory. French Notaires are also under an obligation to ensure that you fully understand what your are signing. Working in conjunction with an interpreter (and many Notaires speak at least some English themselves) can usually provide a more cost-effective and useful solution for the client.

Many documents associated with a French property purchase are more or less standard, using well known approved models (such as those provided by FNAIM, the estate agents federation), and provided the broad principles are fully explained to you by the Notaire, you can normally proceed to signature confident that you not committing yourself to anything you do not understand.

Where a home-based adviser is employed, such as your family lawyer, even someone who understands French and French law can at best best only work with the information contained in the original French documents supplied by the Notaire (property description, technical reports...) and in the absence local knowledge is obliged to rely solely on their written content when advising the client. This is not an effective substitute for employing someone on the ground who can carry out any necessary, independent checks and verify the accuracy of any information supplied.