Buyers from Outside the European Union
The following is a generalised purchasing procedure for buying property on the French side of St. Martin. Please go to the bottom of this page to view information on buying property on the Dutch side of St. Martin. (Sint Maarten)
In addition to these, for non-French and non-EU buyers there are further processes, principally applying for permission and clearance to reside in France. This process normally takes about three months but can run concurrently with the purchasing procedures. It includes full background, economic and citizenship checks, registration with the Government, health checks and proof of income if you are planning to live and retire to French territory.
Purchasing St. Martin Property
The procedures for the purchase of a private home of less than 2.47 acres (1 hectare) are broadly set out below. For property larger than this, in rare cases, The Société d'Amenagément Foncier et d'Establissement Rural (SAFER) might wish to review the sale in line with its remit to preserve special or agriculture land.
It rarely exercises this right , but the Notaire (roughly the equivalent of a Solicitor/Lawyer) is under an obligation to notify the SAFER. IF the SAFER should decide to change the rules of the sale of the land, then any agreement is null and void and you have a right to recover the deposit.
An agreement is negotiated between buyer and seller, and the initial contract which is called a Sous-seing Privé, is drawn up by a French Estate Agent, or a Compromis de Vente, if prepared by the Notaire, and is signed by both parties. This is a legal document, binding on both parties. At this stage the buyer pays a deposit of a minimum of 10% of the purchase price which is retained in a special account, like an escrow account, by the Notaires office until completion takes place or the sale falls through. Additionally at this stage the property is taken off the market.
It is possible to form contracts such as the Promesse de Vente which is not binding on both parties to the same extent as the Compromis. By signing it the vendors still commit themselves to selling the property to the purchasers, but this commitment takes the form of promising not to sell it to anyone else within a stated period, usually 3 months. A deposit of between 5% and 10% is again paid and again the purchaser will usually forfeit the deposit if they do not go ahead.
Surveys of the property you would like to buy by professional surveyors are rare in France. It is more usual to request local artisans to give an opinion as to the condition of say the roof, or the walls and for them to give quotations for the work. French buyers would be more likely to approach an architect or 'expert', but even then it is unusual for them to be asked to prepare a detailed report as has become the practice in a few European countries.
Before signing the Compromis, it is worth having any inspections that you require done, as once this agreement has been reached, it is binding on both parties. Once the Compromis or Sous-Seing Privé has been signed there follows a period of generally 6 - 8 weeks in which the searches are carried out to ensure that the property is not subject to any imminent environmental changes and during which time the purchaser will be required to assure the financing of the purchase.
These searches and the other contractual matters are carried out by the Notaire. The Notaire is unlike most European/North American Solicitors/Lawyers, as he is not appointed to act for either party in the transaction but as a public official whose duty is to represent the French Government. His/her function is to ensure that the transaction is carried out legally and accurately and in accordance with due process and to give the transaction absolute validity that cannot be contested. It is, therefore, unnecessary to appoint a second Notaire to act for the buyer, although many non-French buyers like to have a local Lawyer explain some of the procedures that arise which may be unclear to the uninitiated.
At the same time, advice should be sought in order to understand fully the complexities of French succession law which does not allow you to leave your share of the property to whom you wish - even if you have an existing Will. It is possible to work around these laws, but this needs to be completed before the final signing.
If a mortgage is to be raised, then it is necessary for this to be declared at the time of the agreement and a clause is added to the Compromis which protects the purchaser's interests in the event that a loan is not made available. If the mortgage is not granted and the sale does not proceed, the deposit is returned. In the event of the discovery of something not revealed by the seller through the searches, the buyer can withdraw and the deposit is returned. Should, however, the buyer break the contract for any other reason, the deposit is paid to the vendor. Should the vendor break the contract, the deposit is returned to the purchaser.
At the end of the initial period which can be extended by the agreement of both parties, the Acte de Vente is signed at the Notaire's office and the property passes to the buyer.
During or prior to the signing of the final contract the following must be completed:
- the balance of the purchase price must be paid to the Notaire who then pays the vendor. It should be noted that the balance must be in the Notaire's possession before the contract is signed.
- full payment for Legal Fees and Registration Taxes are due at this time
- provide the Notaire with a copy of your birth certificate translated into French
- also, if applicable, provide a copy of a Marriage Certificate also in French.
- Provide proof of insurance, since from the signing of the Contract the purchaser is responsible for the insurance of all the buildings on the property.
The buyer pays the legal fees and registration taxes which amount to approximately 7.5% of the purchase price, including any surveyor's costs that might have been incurred such as establishing boundaries, repositioning boundaries and preparing plans for the Acte de Vente.
Normally the vendor pays the Agency's commission, but under certain exceptional circumstances these are paid by the purchaser.
St. Martin Property
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