Purchasing in St Barts
Property owners in St Barts, with the exception of natives, are primarily American and French, but have come to include more and more other Europeans, Canadians and a few other nationalities.
There are no particular restrictions in St Barts on real estate purchase by a non-resident or foreigner, but a French conveyance transaction by its very nature will introduce an Anglophone buyer to a number of people, concepts and organizations, which may be totally unfamiliar.
Much as in the rest of the world, the process in St Barts is generally initiated by establishing contact with your Sibarth Real Estate agent, to begin the search for property. The agent will accompany you throughout the entire process and serve as an advisor and negotiator and will receive his or her commission only upon closing a transaction. Once a property has been selected, the buyer and the seller must come to an agreement as to the sales price. To do so, Sibarth Real Estate asks that the buyer make a formal, written offer, known as a Letter of Intent, which must then be approved by the seller and signed by both parties. At this time, no currency is exchanged.
This document provides the green light for the notaire to prepare a Purchase and Sales Agreement, which may or may not be subject to certain condition precedents. At the time of the signature of this document, it is customary to deposit 10% of the total sales price. This sum will be held in escrow by the notaire and will be deducted from the total sales price at the time of the closing.
A delay of approximately one to three months is generally required for the necessary research before closing the transaction with the signature of an Authentic Deed of Sale. The classification of this document at the Bureau de Conservation des Hypothèques, results in the definitive transfer of the property.
As mentioned briefly above, all real estate transactions are handled by a notary or “notaire,” a concept which is entirely unrelated to the American profession of a Notary Public. The notaire is a French lawyer, specializing namely in real estate matters, who represents the principal legal personality in any property transaction.
The notaire’s function is to verify the origin of ownership of a property, properly record transactions and mortgages, insure payment of taxes by both the buyer and seller, to verify and clear any lien on the property, etc. The notaire is neutral in the transaction. He is purely a public official who charges an ad valorem fee for preparing the transfer of property.
In his neutral legal capacity, he is responsible for conducting inquiries leading up to completion and is accountable to the French Internal Revenue Service for payment of the seller's capital gains tax and the Registrar’s Office for registration of the deed. The notaire is equally responsible for proper transfer of the title and liable for any mistakes made in the deed, for which he has professional indemnity cover.
The “acte de vente” or deed is kept in the notaire's archives in perpetuity, after it has been produced to the Registrar’s Office for registration purposes, and only an official copy (expédition) is provided to the purchaser as evidence of the title. A buyer of property in France can therefore, never obtain possession of the original title deeds and consequently, cannot offer them to a bank as security for a loan.
The notaire’s fees are nearly always paid by the buyer, in addition to the transfer tax fees.
The Cadastre & The Bureau de Conservation des Hypothèques
The Cadastre is the French Land Registry Office. It is locally based and holds the plans of every parcel of land in the area, containing records of parcel numbers and information as to the nature of each parcel.
The Bureau de Conservation des Hypothèques is the Registrar’s or Title Office. This is the place where ownership is recorded and also where charges against a particular property are registered.
Both the Cadastre and the Bureau de Conservation des Hypothèques are open to the public.
The Géomètre or Land Surveyor is the person responsible for measuring property boundaries and settling boundary disputes or similar matters. A structural survey of a French property is not usually obtained as a matter of routine.