Brian and Helen found a riverside property they wanted to buy, but were worried about possible flooding. The agent assured them there was no problem because "the local Mairie said they could get planning permission for an extension". We asked the agent to insert a clause confirming the land was not in a flood risk area - and they sent a copy of the local planning regulations. So we inserted a clause ourselves - and the agent came back in a panic saying it was actually in a "low risk" flood area. Brian and Helen did their own risk assessment and decided to continue, but now they had the facts
Surveys - essential ?
We decided to buy a renovated old property as seen. It had been around for 200 years so we thought it would be good for our lifetimes. Two years and a few water leaks later, we discovered many of the roof timbers were rotten and the tiles slipping. Had we known at the time we would have negotiated a better price. A survey would have cost a fraction of our re-roofing bill."
We know surveyors in some parts of France who will produce a UK style survey. In other areas we will find architects to check your property.
Death and Succession
We have handled a case where the husband died in the middle of a sale, leaving a widow and three children in the UK. French law allows children to hold land, and succession law made them automatic heirs; UK law does not allow children to own property. We were able to manage their sale through to completion, and even to get approval for the children to invest in another French property with their mother. We have also had occasions where purchasers die before completion - and always look to include a clause allowing the survivor to pull out in such circumstances.
Follow local practice
We know an Englishman abroad restoring an old farm who is installing English plugs and sockets throughout - his problems will start if he tries to resell when he has finished the work. He may be lucky and find an English buyer! If he is unlucky and has a fire, his building insurers may not respond for this reason. Another restorer used best English D-I-Y to rewire his house; none of it conformed to French regulations so it all had to be replaced. You must follow local standards - especially if you plan to let or eventually sell your property
French inheritance law is unlike its English counterpart. You do not have complete say in who will inherit your property. Double-guessing the law has its own risk - one couple bought in the name of their English resident daughter, "in case something happened to us". When they sold, she was liable to capital gains tax because it was her second home and improvement work they had done was not allowed because invoices were not in her name. They had been resident in France so they would have paid no tax, and their daughter would have inherited anyway under French law.
Get your own advice
"Our first mistake was to agree that the seller's notaire, whose office was some distance away, should act instead of the local one. It soon became clear that he was not going to look after our interests when he referred to the sellers as "mes clients"!"
In another case, the (English) estate agent assured the buyer that he did not need his own notaire. Fortunately he ignored this advice as "his" notaire promptly uncovered VAT liabilities and an undeclared mining right.