Should a French buyer obtain an independent French property survey before purchasing a French property? Here are the pros and cons to consider.

There are four reasons commonly given by buyers as to why a survey is not necessary. We think there is one overriding reasons why a survey is worth the money – the four reasons commonly given are misguided.

Vices Cachés

In France, the legal system provides for statutory protection for Vices Cachés, problems that have been covered up. In various ways sellers will often try to entice you to believe that a property in better condition than it actually is. A French property survey is the most effective way to check this.

At the cosmetic level, this may be no more than the application of a quick coat of paint and this is probably no more than you would do yourself if you were selling.

However, at the other end of the spectrum, could be a seller who has covered a major settlement crack with filler and wallpaper to disguise the fact that the property needs underpinning. It makes no difference whether the seller is a private individual selling their main home or a property developer selling a new property.

The French legal position is very clear, anything that can be proved to have been done to deliberately hide known structural problems can lead to a successful claim for compensation and may even allow the sale transaction to be reversed.

In practice, the legislation seems to only affect the honest vendor whilst leaving the dishonest untouched.

For the honest, there is often a real reluctance to do anything that might be deemed to be covering up a defect. Many French estate agents will even go so far as to dissuade a vendor from undertaking cosmetic work in case that new wallpaper could raise a suspicion that it is hiding something untoward.

For the dishonest, the legislation largely makes little difference because they know how long, uncertain and expensive any legal recourse would be.

Dossier Diagnostic Technique

In France the Dossier Diagnostic Technique is a Mandatory Requirement. The dossier is free, in the sense that it is paid for by the vendor. It is also impartial, in the sense that the assessment is carried out by a third party unconnected to the buyer or to the estate agent. However, in no sense is it equivalent to a French property survey.

At first sight the dossier diagnostic technique, at some 100 – 110 pages in size, looks formidable. However, on further reading, should your French be up to the task, you will find that most of the information provided is not especially helpful as to guidance regarding the structural condition of the property.

There are certainly some very useful pieces of information contained within the dossier, for example exposure to flood risk, the existence of asbestos and the condition of the property’s wiring.

However, the report will be silent on most of the key structural factors that could affect the property.

In short, it provides very thorough coverage of facts that are largely marginal or irrelevant to a sensible purchase decision.

Mortgage Survey

The mortgage survey is often held up to be a guarantee of a property’s condition, after all why would a lender advance money against an unsound property.

In reality, the truth is very different because the lender’s survey is not a French property survey.

The lender will only be concerned to ensure that they would be able to recover the money advanced against the security of the property on the open market in six months. So, if the building collapses and the lender can sell the site to a builder for redevelopment and recover the loan they will be happy. You might be less happy with this outcome.

Certainly, knowing that a lender believes the property to be worth less that you have offered is a very useful piece of negotiating information but it provides absolutely no warranty as to the properties condition. It is also not possible to cite the lender’s survey in a court action unless that action concerns a claim in respect of reckless lending.

I’ve Brought Houses Before

Finally, we come to the “I’ve brought houses before” argument.

Well, you may know quite a lot about construction but you do need to ask yourself how appropriate your previous experience is to the new context.

For example, your proposed Calvados thatched cottage may have a row of lilies growing out of the ridge – is this a good or a bad thing? Should you remove them?

We would certainly not belittle your knowledge, but you do need to ask yourself two questions:

  1. Is my knowledge sufficient for the context?
  2. Will I be sufficiently detached to come to an objective conclusion? As Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have said “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”

Why a French Property Survey is Worth the Money

OK, so why do we think a French property survey is worth the money?

Firstly, as we don’t offer surveys our opinion is completely unbiassed.

We think there are 3 compelling reasons why you should consider an independent French property survey:

  1.  You will be putting a great deal of money into the property so on a straight risk / reward basis the cost of the survey would be negligible compared with the costs involved in buying a property with structural problems.
  2. It is quite likely that, provided you have only made an offer via a Compromis Projet (rather than a full Compromis), the results of the survey will disclose facts that will enable you to negotiate a reduction in the price. Almost certainly by an amount larger than the cost of the survey.
  3. If there are significant problems that need attention but you decide to buy anyway, perhaps at a lower price, the cost of remedying the problems disclosed in the survey can be added to the mortgage application. If you only discover the problems after the mortgage has been approved you will not be able to obtain top-up mortgage finance later so you will need either cash or to re mortgage the property.

Surveyors Offering French Property Survey Advice

Over the years our clients have worked with a number of the surveyors offering English speaking French survey advice and the following have regularly received very positive reviews by our clients:

John Marshall Surveys, Al Vignon, 11500 Saint Ferriol, France.