How does the buying process in France for ski properties work?

As prime buying season for ski homes comes up – purchase in the summer and you’ll be ready to go by next season – we’re looking at how to buy in France. It’s a bit of a different system to what many British or American buyers are used to. However, most people, once they understand how the system works, say they actually find it safer and much less stressful. Here are the six key points to the buying process in France for ski properties.

1. Narrow down your list of properties

In somewhere with as many ski resorts as France, you can often find yourself with the rather nice problem of ‘too much choice’! So, before you even start your search, draw up a list of what you want from your ideal property, sorted into ‘musts’ and ‘nice-to-haves’. Don’t, however, just list features – start by how you want to use it.

For example, if you want a rental property, you’ll want something easily maintained, or, if you want somewhere for year-round use, ski-in, ski-out might not be as important as easy village access with a short walk to the télécabine for the skiing season. That way, you make sure that all the features you’ve listed – such as ski-in, ski-out – are actually what you’ll want, and you won’t find yourself re-narrowing your list later on down the line.

Then, start looking on our France listing for your properties, and tick them off against your list. Once you’ve got a good number you’re happy with, start making enquires with agents.

2. Head out on a viewing trip

Once you’re in touch with agents and you’re happy with the service they provide, it’s time to organise your viewing trip. This is when you’ll actually go out and see the properties. We’ve written about how to get the most out of this part of the buying process for ski properties, but the key point to remember is to get yourself into a position where you can make an offer on the trip. If you find the perfect home and you need to go back and work out the rest of the process before you can offer, you may find someone else has already beaten you to it.

Four-bedroom chalet in St. Jean d’Aulps-La Grande Terche. Click on the image to view the property.

So, make sure all decision makers are with you on the trip. If you need to consult someone who hasn’t seen the property, it can add a big delay. Generally, we’d recommend not bringing children for a first viewing, however, as seeing five, six, seven properties in a day can be quite tiring for them.

Be sure also that you’re in a position to pay a reservation deposit (more on this in a minute!). Exchange rates are constantly changing, so you need to make sure you have planned in advance how you will send your money – otherwise you have no realistic idea of your budget. £500,000, for example, would have been worth anything from €585,000 down to €550,000 in the last ten months. That’s a €35,000 difference in your budget. You can protect against this risk, however, by securing a fixed exchange rate for twelve months. Find out more in the Property Buyer’s Guide to Currency.

3. Sign your bon de visite

As part of the buying process in France for ski properties, or indeed any property, you may need to agree and sign a bon de visite. This is entirely normal in France, and just means that, if you decide to go ahead and purchase the home you’re seeing, you will make the offer through the agent who showed you the house and not go through the private seller.

You’re not committing yourself to the purchase – this will happen later on.

4. Make your offer

The next thing to do here, once you’ve found your dream property, is to make an offer! A good agent will be able to help you here and guide you as to whether an offer is too lower for the market, too high or just about right. Remember also to do your own research – have a look at asking prices for similar homes on SnowOnly and look at sold prices in the local cadastral register.

5. Engage a notaire

Now the paperwork starts! This can seem like a daunting stage of the buying process in France for ski properties, but this is where many buyers discover that the process is actually more ‘iron-clad’ than in many of what the French like to refer as ‘Anglo-Saxon countries’!

You’ll need to engage the services of a notaire, or notary. These are official representatives of the French state, and not of either the buyer or the seller. Their job is to be entirely neutral, and to make sure that everything is drawn up legally, to provide an unbiased witness to different parts of the process and to carry out searches.

Four-bedroom, fully ensuite chalet -apartment in Avoriaz. Click on the image to view the property.

Because they don’t work for either the seller or buyer, most choose to use the same one. You can use a different one if you want – the fees stay the same, and are just split between the two notaires. Generally, people only use a second one if the seller’s notary doesn’t speak good English, which is unlikely in ski areas.

6. Sign the compromis de vente

Once the offer is accepted, your notary will draw up the compromis de vente. This commits you to buy, and the seller is bound to continue with your offer – so they can’t withdraw. You, however, do have a ten-day cooling-off period after signing, in which you can withdraw without penalty. After that, you’ll need to pay a percentage of the purchase price.

After the cooling-off period, you’ll pay a reservation deposit, normally around 10%. The notary will keep it his or her client account.

The notary can insert ‘clauses suspensives’ in the contract if you want. This could say, for example, that you’ll only proceed if building improvements are allowed.

7. Land Registry searches

Now, the notary will do searches on the property, to check boundaries, ownership and so on. Remember that in the buying process in France, this doesn’t include neighbouring planning permissions – you can ask about this at the mairie, however.

8. Sign the acte de vente

You’re well on the home run now! Generally, about three months will have elapsed since you started the process. The acte de vente is the final sales act, and is quite a formal procedure in France. You – or someone with the power of attorney to act for you – will go to the notary’s office, along with the seller to sign the act. The notary will read it aloud in its entirety and confirm that you have placed any required funds in his or her client account at least three days before the signing.

One- to five-bedroom apartments in Samoens. Click on the image to view the property.

The notary will officially register it in the land registry and give you a final account of property taxes you’ll need to pay.

With that, you’ll have the keys and you’ll be the owner of your very own ski home in France – all in time for the upcoming season!

To find out more about the buying process in France for ski properties, don’t miss your free France buying guide.