The first thing we would say about this is don’t be scared of the prospect of a private purchase!
Estate Agents in France charge a very high commission compared to England as you have probably discovered and it is true that they do give some extra services, but they are all things that can easily be coped with yourself. For example, they give the final meter readings and advise the supply company of the change of ownership. But it is so easy to do, why pay thousands for euros for this?
The system in France is different from England where normally both the buyer and the seller have their own solicitors. In France, the transaction is dealt with by the Notaire whose role is to ensure that the State get what is due to them and in the process do what we would call the ‘conveyancing’ in England.
When we sold our previous house in France, it was a private sale and everything went through very smoothly. Both we and the purchaser opted to use the same Notaire - it is possible for both sides to have different Notaires, but it is unusual and unnecessary. Why make things more complex than they need to be?
The first document that is signed is the "Compromis de Vente" - the first contract which gives details of the property, the vendors, the purchasers, the price, the deposit which the Notaire will hold and the date of the "Acte Finale" (completion). Once this contract is signed and the deposit paid, it is binding in a similar way to in England – but there is a 7 day cooling off period. The Notaire will deal with the necessary formalities and on the set day of completion, both parties meet in the Notaire’s office where the Contrat (contract)is gone through and signed by both sides.
Voila! That’s it – job done. You have a lovely new home in France and have saved yourself some money into the bargain.