Thursday, May 19, 2011

Don't rely only on printed information when buying property

A couple of recent cases have prompted me to emphasise again to buyers of French property the need to physically check for themselves (or ask someone to do it for them) the land or property they are intending to buy, and its surroundings.

In my experience I have found that Notaires will - in good faith - primarily rely on the documents provided to them by vendors, estate agents and the local mairie, but that these may not always be up-to-date or one hundred per cent accurate. A typical example is the plan cadastre which identifies the property and its reference number for tax purposes.

In a recent case, when I visited some agricultural land on behalf of clients I found that the property included a two-bedroom house built some 15 years previously, but which did not appear on the cadastral plan. When I visited the local mairie they said 'they knew about it'; the vendor insisted that the mayor had visited the property and had said 'no problem'; while the chief executive at the mairie bluntly informed me that the 'house was illegal, built without planning permission, and was sited on agricultural land which was also classified as a zone rouge' - in this case due to high risk of flooding.

The buyers subsequently withdrew from the purchase but in early discussions with the Notaire he was unaware of the house, as he was working only from the cadastral plan which did not show it.

In another case, involving purchasers of agricultural land they intend to cultivate, a forage (deep well) did not appear on the plan, and an irrigation channel bordering two sides of the property was interpreted by the Notaire as a farm track. A clause was later inserted in the purchase documents to include the forage and the irrigation channel, together with their attendant rights to draw water. There is still a question pending about the precise boundary line as there is a second well adjacent to the farm track (which runs alongside the irrigation channel) with what looks like provision for an electrical supply (EDF pole and junction box and metre). All these elements are important to the buyers who plan to cultivate the land.

These cases illustrate the need to physically check your French property before buying and not to rely solely on the official documentation.