Renovating in France

Renovating an old house in France is often a considerable task.  Over the last 14 years I have been involved with a number of projects and have compiled a list of does and don’ts in order to help better understand the implications of renovating:

Gone are the days of a cheap barn for ten grand on the Mediterranean coast, if you do find a barn for this price, then feel free to email me!  Today, prices reflect the migration of people seduced by a sunny climate, cicadas and cold beer on the beach.  Unlike Spain, I think France offers more or less all the Mediterranean has to offer, but is a secure and stable country with vibrant traditions and a nice pace of life.

All that said, once you have found a house that needs renovating, and before enjoying that cold beer by the pool, there are a few hoops to jump through.

Planning permission needs to be obtained for all work that touches the exterior of the house: new doors, windows or pointing the facade as well as a swimming pool and pool house. French Mairies do in fact take aerial photos of who has built what.  Most exterior constructions are now taxable in France, so whilst Mairies are concerned about the right paper work, they also want to receive any taxes due.

Planning permission can take from one to three months and includes filling out a rather substantial dossier in French.  Currently, there exists no translation service for planning permission.  For a fee many French architects and builders will take care of planning permission.   My rates are:

- permis demande preable (around 30 days delay) 500€

- permis de construit (up to three months) 1000€

These rates do not include architects drawings, but do include simple sketches of work to be carried out.

Once planning is obtained, you will need to gather in a number of quotes.  Most people obtain three quotes for a job, usually from traders who are recommended or known locally.  Take the time to call in artisans, get a feel for their work and how they operate and try and find out about recent projects that they have done. 

Once all of the above is in place, work can begin.  Remember, this is France and its the Mediterranean.  Things do not operate as fast as in London or New-York.  I’m not one to make excuses, but the general functioning of things in France (be it building or eating out) is generally slower than in anglophone countries.  That said, try and arrange a work schedule, start and finish dates.  An honest, down to earth builder will do his best to keep to your dates.

Whilst work is underway there are often modification or changes to what was originally planned.  Its important to ask the artisan to accommodate the change and to be sure that any extra costs are made clear.  Again, all this helps to avoid ambiguity and misunderstanding.  I have known good tradesmen fall out with clients of silly issues of an extra few square meters of tiling.  Larger jobs will often deviate from the original quote, so be ready to modify your budget accordingly.

During and certainly towards the end of a project, its a good idea to meet with the artisan and look at the work.  If anything should be changed, now is the time to do it.  Once a job is finished and both parties are happy with the work and the agreed monies, then the project can be signed off.  Larger jobs will often take longer than anticipated, but again, its all about being reasonable.  I know that a ten by five meter pool will take me about 6 weeks to finish (not including large paved areas or pool house).  If a client says, “I want to swim in June” and we are in April, all should be fine.