Welcome to Wimco Villas Real Estate in St Barts
Buying Property in St Barts
A Guide to the St. Barts Real Estate Sales Process
Welcome to the world of Real Estate in St. Barts. No matter where you engage in a Real Estate transaction, each community has its own set of rules, regulations, and idiosyncratic anomalies which determine the nature of the deal. St. Barts is a Territorial Collectivity and an Overseas Collectivity (COM) of France. St. Barts remains part of the European Union : the island's inhabitants are French citizens with EU status holding EU passports. The native currency is the Euro.
There are no particular restrictions on Real Estate purchases in St Barts by a non-resident or foreigner. However, a French conveyance transaction by its very nature will introduce an Anglophone buyer to a phalanx 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 a local 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 duly receive his or her commission only upon closing of the Real Estate 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, the buyer must 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 for the buyer to make a deposit of 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 period of approximately one to three months is generally required for the necessary research to be completed before closing the transaction, and the signing of an Authentic Deed of Sale. The registration of this document at the Bureau de Conservation des Hypothèques, signals the definitive transfer of the property.
All real estate transactions are handled by a notary or "Notaire," a French lawyer, specializing in real estate matters and transactions. He/she represents the legal aspect in any property transaction. Note: This position is not related to the American profession of a Notary Public.
The Notaire's function is to verify the origin of ownership of a property, to properly record transactions and mortgages, to insure payment of taxes by both the buyer and seller, to verify and clear any liens on the property, etc. The Notaire is neutral in the transaction. He/she is purely a public official who charges a fee for preparing the transfer of property.
In his/her neutral legal capacity, he/she is responsible for conducting inquiries leading up to completion of the transaction and is accountable to the French Internal Revenue Service for payment of the seller's capital gains tax and to 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. The Notaire's fees are nearly always paid by the buyer, in addition to the transfer tax fees.
The "Acte de Vente" or deed is kept in the Notaire's archives in perpetuity, after it has been presented to the Registrar's Office for registration purposes, and an official "copy" (expédition) is provided to the buyer as evidence of the title. A buyer of property in France therefore, can never obtain possession of the original title deeds (which are archived in the Notaire's office) and consequently, cannot offer them to a bank as security for a loan.
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. It holds the records of parcel numbers and all information as to the nature of each parcel.
The Bureau de Conservation des Hypothèques
This is the "Registrar "or the "Title Office". This is the office where ownership is recorded and also where charges or liens 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 the property boundaries and settling any boundary disputes or similar matters. Note: A structural survey of a French property is not usually obtained as a matter of routine.
When investing in real estate in St Barts, it is important to determine the most advantageous manner by which to purchase the property, as well as how to insure and maintain ownership for years to come.
Important questions to be defined at an early stage.
These include, but are not limited to:
- Will the property be purchased in the buyer's legal name? or
- Will the property be purchased jointly? or
- Will the property be purchased with a wife or husband? or
- Will the property be purchased through a corporate structure?
The answers to these questions will depend on a combination of buyer's personal circumstances, inheritance, tax projections, general tax considerations, the source of the funds and French inheritance laws.
In France, all choices relative to a purchase must be made before the closing, - as any modifications made after the fact could be very costly. This means carefully weighing the aforementioned legal, fiscal and patrimonial factors applicable under French law. These factors are variable for each individual. There is no one solution, but rather several different choices available to meet each individual client's needs.