As part of their enhanced consumer protection strategy the French government has introduced various measures that apply to the buying of property. Probably the most important was the “cooling off” period, introduced by the so called SRU law, which gives a property buyer a seven day period in which to cancel a preliminary sales agreement (compromis). However this article discusses the obligatory “diagnostics” or surveys, covering various largely technical aspects of a house or apartment, which must be carried out prior to the signature of the compromis. The nature of the surveys required varies with the age of the property and its location.
For all property built before the 1st January 1949 a survey for lead is obligatory. Prior to this date paint often contained lead which is now known to have serious health effects if ingested. The survey uses an x-ray fluorescence device. It is valid 6 years if lead was found and indefinitely if not.
Another dangerous material that used to be widely used in house construction was asbestos, particularly valued for its insulating qualities. A search for asbestos is required for all buildings which had a building permit granted before 1st July 1997. The survey is valid indefinitely.
All interior gas installations aged15 years or more must be checked – an out of date connecting rubber tube from a gas cooker to the supply is a common problem detected.
In certain areas termites are a problem devouring wood cellulose and in those communes affected a search for termites must be carried out. Validity is 6 months.
In buildings older than 15 years the condition of the internal electrical wiring system must be established, and such things as the earth protection and type of fuses are given particular attention. Valid 3 years.
In a co-owned building, typically an apartment block but it may also apply to houses in a domain, the surface area must be established. This surface area is measured in accordance with rules laid down in the “loi Carrez“. It approximates to the living area with the notable exception of rooms under the eves, where any area with a headroom of less than 1.8m is not considered. This measurement must be mentioned in the sales mandate. Valid indefinitely if no major work done, but best to redo for each sale for a question of legal responsibility.
As part of a European wide effort following the Kyoto agreement, an energy performance survey (DPE) must be carried out. This measures the quantity of energy required to heat the house and its hot water, as well as the greenhouse gasses emitted during the process. The results are presented as colored pictograms, as for refrigerators and cars. As of 1st January 2011 the “quantity of energy” pictogram must be shown on all sales publicity, be it in agent’s windows or on internet. Valid 10 years
The seller must have these above surveys carried out prior to signature of the compromis and there are specialised companies who do this. However there is no obligation to rectify any problems detected.
As of the end of 2006 the law LEMA required all septic tanks (fosses septiques) to be inspected to ensure the installation is in conformity with present regulations and functions correctly. Each commune was supposed to set up a SPANC (Services Publics d’Assainissement Non Collectif) to carry this out before 31/12/2012, either directly themselves or more often through a “delegation” to an exterior body, usually the local water company. The results of the inspection were to be annexed to the final sales agreement as of 1/1/2013. However a recent law (ENE) has bought forward this obligation to 1/1/2011 and in addition requires the buyer to put right the system within 12 months of buying, if it is found not to be in conformity. The inspection has to have been carried out within the last 3 years. Because the deadline has been brought forward by 2 years there are numerous cases where an inspection has not been carried out, and indeed some communes have not even started! If a seller has not had his septic tank inspected (and received the appropriate document showing the results) he should contact the local “Mairie” and find out the situation. In the case of Mougins, where Coast and Country has its head office, it is the Lyonnaise des Eaux who is responsible for inspecting septic tanks and they can do this relatively quickly, a small fee being charged. Some commune offer the service free of charge and some offer financial aid to carry out remedial work.