Buying a property in England

These articles will provide you with answers to legal questions specific to your life on this side of the Channel. Contractual agreements, the labour market, taxation and many other topics will be covered in this section. From today, discover the differences between France and England when buying a property.

The acquisition of a property in France and in England differs in two areas in particular: the right of ownership and the purchase process.

The right of ownership

When a property is sold in France, the buyer usually acquires the property outright. Subject to certain exceptions, the law conceives the right of ownership as an exclusive, perpetual and absolute right.

In contrast, the content of the rights acquired by the buyer of a property located in England depends essentially on the content of the title deed transferred. Broadly speaking, he will buy either the freehold or the leasehold of the property.

The freehold is the highest title deed in England (after that of the Crown all the same!) conferring on its holder a perpetual right of ownership over the property, similar to the French right of ownership. The majority of house sales in England involve freeholds.

For its part, the leasehold gives the buyer the right to peacefully enjoy the property for a limited period of time (the initial term is usually 99 years or 125 years). The leasehold thus resembles a kind of lease where the rents are paid in advance and in one instalment. If the leasehold is not extended before the expiry of the initial term, the property reverts to the freeholder. However, the Freeholder has the right to extend the term of the lease against payment of compensation. Most sales of apartments involve leaseholds.

Despite the difference in the rights conferred by the title deed, there is very little difference in the purchase price whether it is a freehold or a leasehold.

The acquisition process

Unless there are special difficulties, the process of buying a property takes about 6 to 8 weeks. Conducted by the buyer’s and seller’s respective lawyers (and not by a single notary), the transaction is divided into two main stages. The first begins with the acceptance of the offer to purchase and ends with the “exchange of contracts”. The second stage corresponds to the period between the exchange of contracts and the completion of the sale (“completion”).

1st stage: from the acceptance of the offer to purchase to the exchange of the contracts

Once seized by his client, the seller’s counsel will submit a draft sales contract to the buyer’s counsel.

Since the seller has only a limited obligation to disclose latent easements (but not those that can be revealed by inspection of the premises), the seller’s counsel will undertake a whole series of research both on the property (water quality, environmental report, surveys of local authorities etc.) and on the title deed to determine the quality of the property. At this stage, if this has not already been requested by the borrower’s bank, an evaluation of the property’s price can be requested from an expert in order to avoid unpleasant surprises.

At the end of this first stage, the lawyer will have examined the contract of sale and will have drawn up a report incorporating the results of the research carried out on the property.

If the buyer is satisfied with both the quality of the property and the conditions of purchase :

the parties will proceed to the exchange of contracts (signature),
the buyer will pay a deposit often representing 10% of the sale price,
the completion date will be set (usually 2 weeks later).
It should be specified that before the exchange of contracts, the parties are free to withdraw from the transaction without any compensation being paid.

2nd stage: from the exchange of contracts to the completion of the sale)

As of the exchange of the contracts, the parties formally commit themselves, one to sell and the other to buy the property.

In the event of failure to meet his obligation to purchase, the purchaser will lose his 10% deposit and will have to pay damages to the seller if necessary. Conversely, in the event of a breach of his obligation to sell, the seller will have to return the 10% deposit and may have to pay damages to the buyer. In both cases, a forced execution of the sale may be sought.

During this period, the buyer’s lawyer will update the information obtained prior to the exchange of contracts and, if there are no difficulties, will have to ensure that the necessary funds are obtained to pay the balance of the purchase price.

If there are no difficulties, the funds will be forwarded to the seller’s counsel and the deed of sale will be signed.

After the completion of the sale, the seller’s lawyer must provide his colleague with proof of the lifting of the mortgage possibly charging the property and consented in its time by his client.

As for the buyer’s lawyer, he will pay within 30 days following the sale the amount of the registration fees due by the buyer and will proceed with the registration with the Land Registry of the title deed and, if applicable, of the mortgage granted by the buyer to his bank to finance the acquisition of the property.

Buying a property in England