What is a notaire?
The notaire is a public official of the French State. His role is not only to advise clients on the transaction, but also to ensure the proper transfer of the property, and to collect taxes on behalf of the State. The notaire is required by law to act impartially, and acts for both buyer and seller.
The institution of notaire dates back hundreds of years and notaires in France are present in most of the important moments in life. They act on behalf of the State and is appointed by the Minister of Justice, and the fact that an instrument is drawn up by a notaire is a guarantee of its legality and authenticity.
All this means that the notaires are vested with prerogatives of official authority which they receive from the State.
It is important to understand that a notaire is a quasi governmental official ("officier ministériel") responsible for collecting government taxes, land registration fees, etc. The state confers him (or her) monopoly powers to legalise property purchase transactions. The notaire provides security to the contracts he supervises and is liable for his work. Again, he does not act for the vendor or the buyer. He is highly qualified in the French legal system, and is able to advise about property, family and succession, and corporate laws. He carries indemnity insurance, which provides a financial guarantee to the client. You should address him as 'Maître'.
What’s the notaire’s role?
They will check each party’s rights to buy or sell the property, conduct a search in the land registry to see whether there are any third parties with a claim on the property and ensure that there are no pre-emptive rights on the property.
They will attend the signing of the Acte de Vente and usually the initial Compromis de Vente as well (although the involvement of a notaire in the latter is not mandatory).
When signing the final contract or Acte de Vente, the notaire will read out the terms of the contract aloud to all parties. After completion, they will give a copy of the contract to both buyer and seller but keep the original deed, along with the mortgage registry. They will oversee the transferring of funds and ensure that all the taxes and fees are paid in full.