Monday, May 22, 2017

Do I need a translator when signing French property documents?

Buying a home in France is relatively complicated and involves reading and signing several important documents (in French). They include the following:

- Offer to buy. This is your first important document that you will normally sign after visiting a property and making a formal offer to buy at or below the asking price. If the vendor agrees, he or she will countersign his/her acceptance.

- The initial contract (compromis de vente) which may include a number of conditions that must be fulfilled before it become binding - such as 'subject to survey' , 'subject to securing planning permission' etc. If these conditions are not fulfilled, the buyer may pull out and the transaction lapses, leaving the vendor with the task of securing another buyer.

- The final act which is the final sale document, based on the initial pre-contract and becomes the equivalent of the title deeds to the property (titre de propriété) and lodged with the French land registry. Copies are normally also held by the owners and Notaire who handled the transaction.

- The preliminary and final contracts will invariably include a number of supporting documents, from technical surveys to information about possible flooding etc.

- If you are buying an apartment in a shared building, recent legislation requires full reports of any works done or anticipated, details of the co-ownership management, and the scale of charges payable monthly to cover the cost of shared extras such as central heating or a lift.

The above documents may run to over a hundred pages and at first sight appear quite daunting, particularly if you have little or no knowledge of French and you are buying in France for the first time. However it should be borne in mind that most are totally standard and have been tried and tested over the years,  While many 'extras' such as a report on the risk - or not - of flooding are based on publicly available at the local mairie (town hall).

The Notaire handling the transaction will want to ensure that you understand what you are signing and in some case insist on an interpreter/translator being present for the signing, depending also on the Notaire's own proficiency or not in English.

In my view a complete translation is not necessary (and is costly) as legal language in either English or French is frequently unintelligible if you have no kowledge of law. A legally trained interpreter is often the best solution, as he or she can explain the document as the meeting proceeds - bearing in mind that the final act is very similar to the compromis de vente that you sign many weeks ago when you committed to buying the property (subject to any suspensive clauses that you may have insisted on at the time).

Another possible solution, which I normally propose,  is ask a bilingual (English/French) legal expert to review the contract(s) in draft and advise whether to sign them or not, or advise on changes. If they are based close to where you are buying they can also be present at the final signature.

And finally do not forget that the estate agent through whom you are buying the property has also overseen many similar transactions perhaps over many years 'on the job' as a negotiator and guide. His/her experience can be invaluable.

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