When buying a property in France you are entitled to a cooling off period during which you can retract your offer without penalty. We explain more below.
When does my purchase contract become legally binding?
The délai de rétraction or cooling off period is governed by Article 72 of Loi SRU 2000-1208 of 13 December 2000 (‘the SRU law’) and/or Articles L271-1 and L271-2 of the Code de la Construction et de l’Habitation (‘the CCH’) of 1 June 2001 with a later amendment in the “loi Macron” (n°2015-990 du 6 août 2015, JO du 7 août) which came into force on 8 August 2015.
The law only covers residences purchased by non-professionals, so building plots, commercial properties and company purchases do not have a right of retraction.
In normal circumstances you will be present at the signing of the compris or promesse de vente and the notaire will hand you a copy of the contract and any additional pages that you have signed or initialled, as well as a letter informing you of the law as regards your right to withdraw from the sale. The cooling off period starts from the day after you have received this and ends at the end of the 10th day, although if this is a public holiday or a weekend (Saturday or Sunday) you have until the next working day.
If, for whatever reason you were not at the signing, then you will be sent the documents by recorded delivery/registered post (LRAR: lettre recommandée avec demande d’avis de réception). The period then starts on the day after you signed for it. If, as sometimes happens the postman decides to sign the letter for you and you don’t see it till later, you need to let the notaire know as soon as possible, if you are likely to want to withdraw. Do this by recorded delivery and state what day you did actually receive it.
The procedure is exactly the same where a contract is signed between private individuals or an estate agent.
If you the copy of the contract was unsigned by some of the parties. but you were told that it was binding, that also triggers the start of the period.
Unlike you, your vendor does not have a cooling-off period and, if at this or at any future stage s/he unilaterally decides to withdraw from the sale to you, you are usually entitled to claim damages from your vendor and/or take him to court in France but be warned it’s a long drawn-out and painful process.
Withdrawal from the Contract
We have put a sample letter below which can be used in case of withdrawal. It should be sent by recorded delivery/registered post to the notaire’s office and needs to be posted within the cooling off period, although it can arrive after it has finished.
Returning the Deposit
Where the contract was prepared by a notaire or an estate agent who is authorised to collect funds as he holds appropriate insurance (garantie financière affectée au remboursement des fonds déposés – this should appear on the headed paper), you will have been expected to pay a deposit at the time of signing the compromis. This should be returned to you within 21 days from the day following the date on which you exercised your cancellation right.
Model Cancellation Letter
You can use this letter to advise the French estate agent and/or notaire of your decision to withdraw:
Lettre recommandéé avec AR
Object: Lettre de rétraction concernant l’achat du bien (insert reference from notaire’s letter)
Par acte en date du [date of signature of compromis de vente] nous avons signé une promesse synallagmatique de vente pour l’achat d’un logement situé [address of the property].
Après réflexion, nous n’envisageons plus d’acquérir ce logement. En conséquence et conformément aux dispositions de l’article L. 271-1. 1er du Code de la construction et de l’habitation, nous vous informons par la présente de notre volonté de nous rétracter.
[For use where a deposit has been paid:] Par ailleurs, je vous avais versé une somme de [insert the amount] € lors de la signature du compromis de vente et vous demande par conséquent de me la rembourser intégralement dans les meilleures délais. Je vous rappelle en effet que conformément à l’article L 271-2 du Code de la construction, lorsque l’acheteur exerce sa faculté de rétractation, le professionnel dépositaire des fonds doit les lui restituer dans un délai de vingt et un jours à compter du lendemain de la date de cette rétractation.
Nous vous prions d’agréer, Monsieur, l’expression de nos sentiments distingués.
The original must be sent by recorded delivery/registered post within the 10 day cooling off period but it might be helpful to send a copy of the letter by email as well just to speed things up.