Many of VINGT Paris’ US clients are surprised when they find out that Notaires have a (virtual) monopoly on property transactions. I think it’s because they think that a Notaire is the same as a US Notary, a rather humble public official one uses to have signatures verified and the like. The good news is that their “monopoly” means litigation concerning property transactions is very rare in France. Notaires subscribe to a common insurance, which provides an immediate financial guarantee to the client in case of their error.
I have to say the Notaire (and certainly those we use) are some of my favourite people. As far as I am concerned they know their stuff and they deserve their fees (see below, not as high as you might think!). A Notaire is the most qualified lawyer of the French legal system, with seven years of study to get his or her degree. They act as both a Public Officer (collecting taxes for the government) and a legal counselor in specific areas of the law, for example real estate, family and corporate law.
It takes about two months for a sale to be registered by the notaire with the French Registration Authority, which includes verifying the ownership history of the property and other aspects of the condition of the property, such as the presence of termites, lead or asbestos. This timeframe might seem long compared to other countries, but its thoroughness results in only 0.5% of real estate transactions being challenged by litigation – substantially less than elsewhere.
“Notaire fees” is the term given to all the taxes and registration charges that a buyer incurs when purchasing a property. In fact, the Notaire retains less than 1% for their services, (with the rest made up of 5.5% tax on the purchase, costs to register and authenticate certain documents and costs to verify other matters related to the purchase). You should budget 7-8% of the total property value to cover these fees so keep this in mind when estimating the price of a property.
The good news is that retaining your own Notaire will not increase the professional fee and if there are two Notaires (one for you, one for the seller), the fees are shared between them. Normally, a lawyer is not engaged unless there are specific questions; Notaires play the role of legal advisor.
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