A notaire in France is a public official with legal training but different from a lawyer, who prepares and registers official acts including wills and property ownership transfers. Notaires enjoy a very privileged and highly respected position in French society.
In the context of property sales, while the preliminary contract can be prepared by either a notaire or a real estate agent, French law requires that this deed of sale be overseen and signed by a notaire.
The notaire plays a vital role in the closing process:
- confirms that the property being sold matches the title deeds and registry documents
- confirms the identity of both parties (with the help of birth and marriage/divorce certificates)
- ensures that the seller is owner of the property to be sold, and that there are no hidden covenants or liens on the property
- searches the national land registry for any restrictions (easements, mortgages…) on the owner’s right to sell the property
- ensures that the purchase price is sufficient to cover the seller’s remaining mortgage obligations
- obtains a planning certificate from the local Town Hall and providing the buyer with the planning rules relevant to the property
- informs any person or entity with preemption rights of the impending sale, so that they may decide whether to purchase in the place of the buyer. In some areas of Paris, the city government has a right to preempt any property sale.
- calculates and collects the notaire fees on the sale (stamp duties and other fees, about 6.5-7.5% of the purchase price).
- calculates the additional costs, including payments to the real estate agents, the building management company, etc.
A notaire is different from a lawyer, since his primary role is to ensure that the transaction is legitimate and that the official requirements have been met. A good notaire, of course, is also an advocate for his client’s interests.
One notaire can represent both parties in the transaction, or each can have his own notaire. The notaire’s total fee on the transaction is set by law, and is simply divided between the notaires if they are represented separately.