Renovating in France

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With the strong Euro exchange rate, you are currently able to get a lot more property for your pounds so it's an excellent time to buy property abroad.

If you are considering buying and renovating a property in France there are a few things you need to watch out for – particularly if you are embarking on this for the first time. Whether it's a grand château or a rundown farmhouse, make sure you have done your research before signing on the dotted line.

Before you buy

Although by law the seller must supply you with a file of technical surveys of the property (e.g. on asbestos, lead, termites etc.) these won't cover the structural soundness of the property; so it is always advisable to consider getting a bilingual surveyor to carry out a full structural survey – particularly for renovation projects. Depending on the results of the survey, you may be able to negotiate on the price of the property.

Make sure any professionals you work with have the necessary qualifications. A specialist UK solicitor should be able to give you recommendations.

Hire a local builder (maître d’oeuvre) to give you an idea of the costs involved and timescales for any renovations you are planning.

Make the decision to renovate

It is a good idea to weigh up the pros and cons for renovating a property in France. Particularly if you aren't living in France to oversee the work, and even if you are, it is likely to be more stressful than undertaking the project in the UK due to the language barrier and having little or no local knowledge.

Work out the cost of renovating and make sure you have enough for a contingency fund. Experts recommend anything from €800-€1400 per m2 for renovating and at least ten per cent for any unpredictable costs.

Are the materials you need easily available? There may be additional costs to get items shipped or delivered. You will also need to consider whether there is appropriate access to the property for deliveries to be made.

If you need to install any utilities, there is likely to be an additional cost to get these laid to the property. Make sure they are in the area before committing as this will eat into your contingency fund.

Check whether you need planning permission for any of your planned renovations. This is particularly relevant for any extensions or if you change the use of the existing property. If you are unsure it is advisable to check with the local Town Hall as there may be local restrictions and rules can change. Sometimes you may just need to declare the works involved but they will be able to tell you the process and provide the necessary forms.

You will need to employ an architect if the habitable space you are creating is more than 170m2. This also applies if you are adding to the existing space with an extension that will take it over 170m2 in total. In any event, for peace of mind you may consider it preferable for an architect to draw up the plans.

If relevant, check where the septic tank (fosse septique) is before buying. There is a new regulation that states that if you don't know where the septic tank is, you will need to install a new one, which will be a considerable expense. The seller should be able to confirm its location but if they can't it's an opportunity to negotiate on the price. Even if you know where the septic tank is, beware because if the drainage survey concludes that it doesn't conform to current standards, you will be legally obliged to make it compliant within one year of completing on the purchase of your property.

Before completing

When you have made the decision to buy, ask the Notaire to add a clause into the purchase contract so that if planning permission isn't granted you can withdraw without losing your deposit.

We also recommend instructing a solicitor in the UK to work with the Notaire and estate agent in France. Our lawyers are bilingual and specialise solely in French law so you can make sure that nothing is lost in translation during the process.

Once you complete on the purchase

It's very exciting getting the keys to your new property but renovating a property is when it can get stressful.

Make sure your tradesmen are qualified and registered with a Siret number. The onus is one you to do the necessary checks otherwise you could be fined and any work they do won't be guaranteed. Builders should have a ten year guarantee policy to cover you for structural defects. They may also have a bank guarantee in place to cover you in the event of non-completion of works. You can speak to the people at the Town Hall for recommendations or use to check for qualifications. 

Make sure you get a written quote (devis) from the builder as this acts as a binding quote. If you change the work you want the builder to do, make sure the quote is updated and you approve it.

Then put together a schedule for the works and get regular updates from the builder. But be warned – projects like this often take longer than anticipated!

Particularly if you are not going to be resident in France to supervise the renovations, it is worth considering employing a project manager (such as an architect). If you don't speak much French and/or don't have much experience of building project management, you might think it worthwhile in any event.

Providing you follow these simple guidelines, your renovations should go smoothly and you will be delighted with the results.

Don't forget

At the end of the renovations, you will be keen to add the finishing touches but remember not to forget to do the same to your personal affairs. You may want to look at updating your Will to reflect your new investment. France has different laws and taxes so our specialists will be able to advise you on these and make sure your Will takes these into account.