Mettre les points sur les i

“Nothing is certain except for death and taxes.” Not even the origin of this quote, variously attributed to Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain. It holds truer than ever in times of pandemic and the property market.

You have to enjoy dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s to be a notary. Les Notaires de France are the legal eagles responsible for officializing over all property transactions. We are currently going through this for the fourth time. Yet, like the pain of childbirth, each time I forgot what a long and drawn-out process it is.

When you sell a house in France, the buyer must also pay what are called, somewhat erroneously, notary fees. Only a small piece of the pie actually goes to the notary; most of it is paid to the tax man — the local, departmental and federal governments. These transaction fees and taxes are added to the purchase price, increasing it by 7%.

The seller, in our case us, pays the real estate agency fees. This can take 5-7% off the net purchase price. For this reason we chose not to sell through an agency but to handle the marketing and selling ourselves. Thus no fees. Given that we only built our house less than ten year ago, and took out a substantial loan to finance our project, we wanted to make the most of our sale.

The sales process takes place in multiple steps:

  1. Find a buyer (during lockdown, extra fun!)
  2. Agree on a price (significantly less than the asking in the French market)
  3. Contact the notary and arrange an appointment (thankfully they getting back to normal and we didn’t have to wait)
  4. Gather many documents (if lucky) or search/pay to obtain lost documents
  5. Sign the ‘compromis de vente’ or sales contract
  6. Wait 10 days in case the buyers change their minds
  7. Wait 2 months for the local authorities to hem and haw, just in case they might want to appropriate the property
  8. Sign over the property deed

If all goes well, we will be done by early September.

I have decided not to wait until then to break out the bubbles but to celebrate each step along the way. Life is too short, and things just take too long. Besides, champagne flows pretty freely around here. Vive la France!

Have you ever dealt with a notary or had a painful property experience?


  1. margaret21 · June 18, 2020

    We were quite lucky in our own experiences in France, happily. What really made us laugh though, and I wonder if it still holds true, were the photos provided by estate agents of properties they were aiming to sell. Photos of the ironing board and a flowing pile of just-off the line clean clothes on the sofa, really? A plug point? A messy back yard? No thought of a quick tidy-up and hiding the children’s toys under the cushions. Much less a thorough clean up, with a tasteful vase of flowers on the table, as is expected in England. We DID use an agent in the end – but we insisted on providing our own photos.

    • midihideaways · June 18, 2020

      I’m with you on the pictures – I wonder if it’s something French estate actually have to do, not to take pictures that would make a property look good?? I’ve lost count of the number of times I have seen houses photographed with all the shutters closed, or completely messy, or… πŸ™‚ But still they get sales!

      • margaret21 · June 18, 2020

        I’m glad to hear it. When we were selling, it was a buyers’ market and some people had their properties on the market for 2+ years, and ended up selling at a loss. Luckily for us, a buyer from Paris turned up and didn’t realise he could have beaten us down mercilessly.

    • MELewis · June 18, 2020

      I have definitely noticed that the French do not get staging! The agents around here all offer ‘professional’ photos but few people take the time to declutter and set off their rooms to advantage. We did all that ourselves knowing we were selling in a buyer’s market. But some of the horror stories I’ve seen online! πŸ˜‚ Glad it worked out for you. I think it’s pretty hit or miss with the notary!

  2. midihideaways · June 18, 2020

    We have a very good notaire in the village, who makes the whole thing easy! And he insists on everyone going for lunch after the final signature. A little old-fashioned, but such a nice (and human) touch!!

    • MELewis · June 18, 2020

      Lucky you! Ours have lost the human touch — if ever they had it. We find that such contacts in the Haute Savoie tend to be rather cool and distant, like the Alps.

  3. pedmar10 · June 18, 2020

    Lucky perhaps to have good notaries in our multiple property buys here. Time yes is the civil code of which the notaires enforce as part of the Ministry of justice. In the US attorneys do it and takes 2-3 months too ::)

    • MELewis · June 19, 2020

      Fair enough! I never thought about the civil code but knowing France, it is likely not simple. So far my experience is that our notaries are very hard-working and efficient in gathering together all the information needed to secure the sale. Glad you’ve had good experiences in your property buys!

      • pedmar10 · June 19, 2020

        Laws are not simple they are created by lawyers. 😎

      • MELewis · June 19, 2020


  4. weird weekends · June 18, 2020

    My wife and I in a couple of years will be buying a home in France. She is French so probably use to all of what you spoke of… but personally I am dreading it. Thanks for sharing this and especially the part of celebrating each step along the way. I think that is the only way I will get through it.

    • MELewis · June 19, 2020

      Glad to hear it! I think you need to take it one step at a time so as not to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the whole process. Not sure if you will be buying a vacation property or arranging an international move, but either way you will be well prepared I’m sure. πŸ™‚

  5. Al in France · June 18, 2020

    Wonderful news indeed, and as you say, Life is too short, so celebrate your achievement today and savour it πŸ™‚

    • MELewis · June 19, 2020

      Thanks, Al! Thankfully, there’s always something to celebrate. πŸ₯³

  6. That’s great news. Congratulations.

    • MELewis · June 19, 2020

      Merci, Madame! Stay tuned for adventures in Switzerland…πŸ˜‰

  7. Dale · June 19, 2020

    I went through this hell last year. I DID pay a real estate agent because I could not be bothered with all the details surrounding the finding of a buyer, the headache of what do I need, etc. (even though for many years I was a notarial secretary and before that a receptionist in a real estate office and should by now, know…) Plus being on my own for all this was an added stress I didn’t need. I have an ex who is still a very good friend who happens to be a notary so there was that savings πŸ˜‰
    I had enough problems with my buyer to last me a lifetime and am realising that I was quick to choose this current house and am paying the price for it.
    All that to say, sorry about making this about me. Congratulations to you!! Break out the bubbles for sure!

    • MELewis · June 21, 2020

      I think we make the decisions about these things that are right for us given the bigger picture of what is going on in our lives. Even though you may have had the knowledge to handle your sale on your own, perhaps you just did not have the emotional strength to take it on after everything else. The fact is that you did it on your own, and that is huge! πŸ’ͺ In our case, I felt determined not to give away a chunk of our investment to an agent who, here in France, does very little of value, to my Canadian eyes. At least in Canada you have a listing agent and a selling agent; here there is none of that, unless exceptionally they agree to share a deal. Also, we had to work hard to recoup our investment as the market is sluggish. So sorry you’ve had a hellish buyer — this is something I dread. So far, ours seem like a nice couple and we’re happy to see our house to go a big family who will fill it with life. As for the repenting at leisure, sometimes that’s the price we pay to settle quickly. I hope we don’t regret our choice of a new place. It’s only a rental though, so if we do it won’t be forever. 🀞

      • Dale · June 21, 2020

        Yes, you are right. I didn’t have any energy to deal with it, to be honest. Friends tried to convince me and no…
        Very glad all is working out for you!
        No. No regrets for you, I hope.

  8. nessafrance · June 20, 2020

    Wishing you luck! And champagne at each stage sounds like an excellent idea. When we were looking for properties in France, some agents took us to anything they had on their books, totally ignoring our clear specification. It was a complete waste of everyone’s time. However, we were lucky to find a house we did want, and everything went smoothly, but then it was 23 years ago. Although the conveyancing process was pretty much the same, there were none of the diagnostiques that have to be carried out on a property today, which can hold things up (although they are better than nothing at all). We also managed to sell my London flat very quickly, and the exchange rate moved in our favour during the process. So I always think it was meant to be.

    • MELewis · June 21, 2020

      We were lucky with the diagnostics as the house is still quite new — we only had to do the energy performance one. Your experience reinforces my feeling that the real estate industry is not very professional in France. Anyone can set up as an agent and while you do have some who know their market well, many are just glorified sales clerks. I do think the fact you found a place you loved and have stayed there so long means there was an element of stars aligning or something that was meant to be. Very glad for you. Bubbles all around! πŸ₯‚

  9. acflory · June 22, 2020

    Congratulations kinda sorta? -shudder- Here in Australia we can specify the length of the ‘settlement’ as, usually, 60 or 90 days. Then there’s conveyancing [via a solicitor], and stamp duty… Yes, buying and selling houses is not a pleasant experience. I hope you’re goes smoothly. Can hardly wait to see some pics of the new house. πŸ™‚

  10. Pingback: Tomber des nues | FranceSays

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