The compromis de vente is an important document as it sets out the main terms of the agreement between the buyer and the seller. Normally the buyer pays a(n up to) 10% deposit on signing the agreement, which is held by the notaire. The agreement has to be signed by both parties and is a legally binding agreement – the only “get out” is if one of the obligations in the conditional clauses (“conditions suspensives”) is not met.
The compromis includes a date when the acte authentique is expected to be signed. (Note that this is not legally binding and is really used as a target date which both parties aim for). For the notaire to draw up the agreement, you need to provide your passport, marriage papers and divorce papers. If you are getting a mortgage, you also need paperwork with details of the loan.
It is customary (but not compulsory) for the buyer to pay a deposit at the time of signing the compromis. The amount of this deposit can be negotiated between the parties - although it is usually 5% of the agreed purchase price, and often 10% for lower purchase prices (under 250,000€). The deposit should be paid to the notaire (who keeps it in escrow) within 10 days of the compromis signing - meaning you can actually sign the compromis without having paid the deposit.
Following a recent change in the law, the notaire can charge the parties (the buyer ends up paying this) for the cost of drawing the compromis - usually 400€. And finally, if the parties want to the agreement to be fully notarized (as opposed to private "sous seing privé"), a 125€ filing fee applies.
A condition suspensive is one which, if not fulfilled, allows the buyer to withdraw from the contract. For example if you wanted to have a survey carried out on the property, you could have a “condition suspensive” written into the contract so that if anything untoward was revealed by the survey, you could withdraw from the contract. Some conditions suspensives are absolutely essential. For example if the purchase of your French property is dependent on the sale of another property, then you must have a condition which allows you to withdraw if you are unable to sell the first property. Another is where a loan or mortgage is necessary for the purchase: you can stipulate the amount, duration and interest rate of the loan you require. If you are unable to obtain the loan, with the appropriate condition suspensive, you may then withdraw from the contract. In theory there is no limit to the number of “conditions suspensives” that could be inserted in a contract provided the vendor accepts them. However, these must be carefully drafted, and they must concern something that is beyond the will of the parties to be valid.
Compulsory technical surveys – aka “diagnostics”
All required by law, the lead, asbestos, termites (although there are no termites in Uzège…), gas, electricity and energy reports are grouped together in a single report known as the Technical Diagnostic File (“dossier de Diagnostic Technique”). It is the obligation of the vendor to commission and pay for up-to-date (less than a year old) reports, to be attached to the compromis de vente. The notaire ensures that the law is complied with. Property vendors with swimming pools are obliged to commission a report on the safety features of the pool.
Once you have both signed the compromis, you (the buyer) have a 10-day cooling-off period. During this time, you can withdraw from the sale with neither having to provide any explanation, nor incurring a penalty – but the seller cannot. Once the cooling-off period is over (and the deposit amount has been received by the notaire), the contract becomes binding on both parties.