In France properties are sold as is and unlike in the UK for example, there are no requirements for carrying out building surveys prior to the purchase of a home.
In order to make sure that everything that is visible in the home appears in proper condition, it is important to carefully survey the property before the purchase and in particular before the deed is signed. Together with our customers, we always inspect the property immediately before the deed is signed to make sure that there are no visible faults and that the property looks as it did when first visited, but also that everything works as it should including water taps, radiators, air conditioning, shutters, awnings, stove, refrigerator, etc.
But what do you do as a buyer, if you discover a hidden defect – known as vices cachés – after the purchase?
According to French law, the seller is obliged to disclose his or her knowledge of hidden defects in the property before the sale. Under Article 1641 of the French Civil Code, a seller is liable where a major defect, which was not apparent at the time of the sale, renders the property unfit for its intended use or reduces its usefulness to such an extent that the buyer would not have acquired it or would not have paid the same price had he/she been aware of the defect. Examples of a hidden defect could be mould, water damage or the occurrence of termites.
To be regarded as a hidden defect, the damage must be major, it must have occurred before the sale and it must not be visible.
If a buyer discovers a hidden defect, he or she can make a claim against the seller no later than two years after the discovery. However, it requires that the buyer can prove that the seller knew about the damage and deliberately hid it from the buyer and/or acted in bad faith. If this can be proved, the buyer can demand the cancellation of the transaction, get a reduction in the price or get a compensation corresponding to the cost of repairing the defect.
The buyer must thus be able to prove not only that there is an invisible damage that has arisen before the purchase, but also that the seller new about the hidden defect prior to the sale. Since it is expensive and time-consuming to conduct a lawsuit and the burden of proof is difficult to prove, it is recommended that the buyer get the property surveyed by a qualified building surveyor before the deed is signed (especially when buying a villa).