The acquisition process in France does not consist of a simple exchange of letters, but is structured in various stages.
At the beginning of the process stands usually a "promesse d'achat", a written offer by the potential buyer.
Although this step is not mandatory, it is usually undertaken in case the initial asking price is not matched by the potential buyer.
After the parties have reached an agreement about the main parameters of the sale, they sign a "compromis de vente".
The "compromis" already contains the terms of the sale, and constitutes, in general, a binding contract for both parties.
The signing of the compromise is accompanied by a deposit, the "indemnity d'immobilisation",
of usually approx. 10 % of the purchase price.
The buyer has a seven day "cooling - off" - period during which he can withdraw from the contract (by registered mail and confirmation of receipt) without incurring any legal disadvantages.
The seller, however, cannot withdraw from a written "compromis" without cause.
After this cooling - off - period has expired, the contract becomes binding for both parties.
At this stage, the buyer cannot withdraw from contract without losing his deposit.
The deposit is, of course, fully accounted against the purchase price upon the realisation of the sale.
However, the "compromis" may contain a number of suspensive conditions ("clauses suspensives") upon which the validity of the contract is made dependant.
For the most part, these conditions concern the ability of the buyer to secure (mortgage-) financing for the purchase through a lender.
However, other conditions may include the ability of the buyer to obtain building permission.
In case such a condition is not fulfilled, the buyer has the right to abstain from the acquisition without contractual penalties.
The signing of the final contract, the "acte de vente" or "acte authentique", takes place in a notary's office.
In France, a "notaire" is not mere "notary public" in the US - sense, but a highly regarded, qualified lawyer who acts in the capacity of a government official.
He is required by law to act impartially, i.e. for both the buyer and the seller, ensuring that the sale conforms to all legal requirements.