Reader Question: We’ve signed an offre d’achat to make an offer to buy a house in France but now want to pull out. Are there any consequences to doing this?
Once you have decided to buy a property, you will (of course) make an offer to buy, whether at the asking price or below.
If the purchaser agrees, then the next obligatory stage is to sign a pre-sale contract, called the compromis (or promesse) de vente.
The ‘offer to buy’ can be purely verbal or by other informal means such as a text message. As a general rule, if you pull out after making an offer like this there are unlikely to be any legal consequences. However the same applies in the other direction, ie. if the seller decides to sell to someone else.
So as to make sure the property is reserved for them, some buyers therefore make a formal written offre d’achat.
In principle the seller is obliged to agree to sell if an offer is made at the asking price but can refuse it if the offer is lower. Either way, the purchaser is on a much stronger legal footing if and when their offer is formally accepted in writing by the seller.
The written offre d’achat should be dated and name the offer amount, the location of the property and give a validity expiry date for the offer (one or two weeks is generally used).
The seller can, during this set time period, accept, refuse, or make a counter proposition, thus invalidating the original one.
However all that you as the buyer are signing up to, in fact, is to sign a pre-sale contract.
After this, the buyer still has the right to the droit légal de rétractation that allows them 10 calendar days from the day after a compromis de vente is signed and a copy handed to them (or from the first attempt to deliver it at their address by registered post) to change their mind without any consequences.
After this date it is more complicated and financial penalties could be imposed.
It should be noted that at various stages of purchasing a property you can write in conditions allowing you to retract from the purchase without consequence if certain situations do or do not occur. A common example is to write in a condition that you will only go ahead with the purchase if a mortgage is granted by a bank for the purchase.
Note that there are certain exceptions to the right to the 10-day cooling-off period; for example it may not apply if buying through an SCI (a special company set up to own property) rather than as an individual, especially if the sole intention is to let out the flat rather than live there.
The process of buying a property in France is always carried out through the services of a notaire. If you have any doubts or questions, such as this issue of your rétractation rights, you should ask the notaire handling the sale / purchase.