PROPERTY / Buying abroad: points to know

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FRANCE

1 The moment you have found your house you may be asked to pay a deposit and sign a preliminary agreement. Both can be delayed, but at a risk of losing the house. The deposit should be paid to a notaire. The agreement should outline what you have agreed, fixing the price and cutting out gazumping.

2 One French lawyer or notaire can, as an impartial official, carry out the conveyancing for both sides in the transaction.

3 You can appoint your own notaire but he will not act adversarially as a solicitor would here. He will act jointly with the vendor's notaire.

4 You pay for the property before you sign the contract, which is the reverse of what happens here. Then the signing of the contract and the completion happen together, making the procedure very quick. The contract then has to be sent off to the Land Registry to be stamped, which takes at least two months.

5 French capital gains tax at 33.3 per cent is payable when selling second homes. But there is an allowance to take account of house-price inflation of 3.33 per cent each year from the second to the 32nd year. Legal charges and improvements are all deductible.

6 New Single Market rules about taking furniture into the country allow you to take enough to fit the kind of property you have bought (no more than that), providing you have a certificate of ownership.

SPAIN

1 A public official called a notario checks that the details of the purchase are drawn up correctly, and witnesses the signing of the contracts, but does not act for the buyer. It is therefore wise to hire your own lawyer to watch your interests.

2 You must check that the seller has a registration document or escritura showing that he owns the property.

3 Be wary of sellers who might be struggling with mortgage repayments in case the mortgage lenders have claims on the property.

4 Don't pay a deposit without making sure you have an agreement which will outline the timetable of sale and allow the deposit to be returnable in certain circumstances.

5 On modern developments it is common to stagger the payment in instalments as the property is being built.

6 A 6 per cent tax is paid on the purchase price. Once you have added in the Spanish version of VAT, legal costs and transfer costs, the bill should come to around 10 per cent.

ITALY

1 A public servant called a notaio carries out the conveyancing for both parties. In practice the seller or the agent appoints the notaio. You can hire an Italian lawyer in London to advise you.

2 You are likely to be pressured to sign a compromesso or promessi di vendita immediately - it will be a standard form with clauses that can be left out. You can play for time, pay a small deposit and sign a proposal to purchase instead which will formally set out the terms.

3 You are expected to pay a deposit of 10 per cent to 30 per cent of the price, which you forfeit if you do not complete. If the vendor fails to complete he has to pay you twice the amount.

4 Beware land for sale that has no planning consent attached, or that has no available water.

5 It is possible to get a mortgage in Italy. The Abbey National Bank, the Italian subsidiary of the Abbey National, is currently offering fixed and variable rate mortgages of up to 20 years, though interest rates are high.

6 The buyer pays the notaio's fees, registration and stamp duty (running at 10 per cent of the rateable value on urban houses and 17 per cent on rural properties). Total fees will be around 10 per cent of the purchase price.

GREECE

1 Check that the property has a clean title with no outstanding land disputes.

2 You should appoint your own Greek lawyer to act on your behalf and carry out local searches. There are Greek lawyers based in England but it is probably better if they are on the spot.

3 It is usual to sign a sale agreement indicating the price and method of payment at the same time as paying a deposit. The vendor then takes the property off the market.

4 The actual signing of contracts will take place before a public notary.

5 Property transfer tax at between 9 per cent and 11 per cent is paid on land, and between 11 per cent and 13 per cent on houses and flats, though the declared value is usually about two-

thirds of the true price.

6 You can't get a mortgage in Greece. You must get approval from the Bank of Greece to import money and obtain a 'pink slip' that will enable you to take the money out of the country again when you sell.

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