A Word About Renovating a House in France
If you’re house hunting in France, you’ll no doubt have noticed that there are a whole host of different styles of property that are ripe for renovation. There are many number of reasons for this. One is that the French aren’t quite as obsessed about DIY as Brits are. There are exceptions of course, but rather than spend their Sunday in B&Q, the typical Frenchman (or woman) would rather be sitting round a table with their friends and family than doing DIY (and isn’t that why we all want to go and live there?).
The next reason is that in the countryside there are lots of “family” homes that have been left for years. Commonly elderly parents have died and the next generation has inherited the house and either live in the city and don’t get around to looking after it, or can’t agree about selling it. Either way, a renovation project in France can be really exciting.
I say can be really exciting here, because renovation in France can be tough too. What people often forget when they buy a “bargain” renovation property in France is that, like in the UK, renovation will probably cost a whole lot more than they’ve budgeted for, will take longer and will be more stressful than they imagined. So what can you do to make your renovation the exception; the renovation that’s on budget, on time and stress free? Here are our top tips:
1. Be realistic. One of the most important things to consider when you’re thinking about a renovation project is what is reasonable to expect. Will it ever be possible to turn that half of a house into the beautiful home you have in your mind or have bookmarked in the interiors magazine? It’s only too easy to get carried away and dream rather than be realistic; so beware. Don’t be shy about seeking second opinions, even if you don’t like what you’re hearing. A bit of emotional turmoil at the outset will often save heartache and financial ruin later. If you've just bought a property in Paris, then you need a specialist English speaking manager that can take of everything for you.
2. Choose carefully between DIY and the professionals. Unless you’re a huge DIY-er, it’s probably not a great idea to take on a full renovation project single handedly. It may well be that you’ve done quite a bit of DIY in the UK, but now’s the time to ask yourself (honestly) how much help you had in the process? Was it a case that Uncle John’s a plumber, cousin Rob’s a joiner and your brother in law’s a plasterer? If so, can you really fill all those gaps alone? Don’t kid yourself; it could cost you dearly down the road.
3. Know the price of jobs. Before you take the plunge into a full renovation, it’s essential to know the price of the work you plan to do. Ideally, you should obtain a couple of quotes or Devis for any major jobs and have a good idea of the prices for smaller jobs before committing. Only by working this way can you be even close with your budget.
4. Know the rules in France. French electricity and French plumbing (particularly septic tanks or fosses septiques in the countryside) have their own rules and you simply won’t get away with rewiring a house like you do at home. If you suspect you’re uncertain in any way about the rules regarding either of these subjects; stop! And before you start anything, make sure you, your family and the professionals that you wil be working with are covered with suitable insurance.
5. Get to know the trades. In most country settings, tradesmen do their job and their job alone. It won’t be uncommon for a plumber to fit your bathroom and leave you with holes to fill, plastering to do and tiles to fit. Because of this, it’s important to establish, rather than assume, what’s included in the job. Although there are more and more ‘general builders’ appearing in rural France, you’d be foolish to assume that a kitchen fitter will automatically include fitting your taps or connecting your drainage!
6. Choose carefully between English and French tradesmen. There is a general trend of Brits sticking with Brit builders and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, it’s essential that if you’re going that route that you make sure that your Brit builder is registered and insured to do your job, otherwise you could end up in hot water. Although communicating with a French artisan might be difficult at first, it’s a great opportunity to integrate and learn a bit of French and plenty of specialist vocabulary while getting your renovation off to a head start.
7. Know the French terms for materials and tools you’ll need. If you’re adamant that you’re going to go it alone, it’s important to speak French DIY pretty fluently before you start. So, rather than spending your evenings learning how to ask where the station is, your time would be better spent learning the terms for screws, nails, hammers, drills, sanders and so on.
8. Get the right permissions. There are various different permissions that are required for varying levels of job in France and it’s essential to know what’s required for your renovation. The local Mairie is the best place to establish what’s required, but it’s important to know roughly what’s meant by the terms: Certificat d’Urbanisme, Declaration de Travaux, Permis de Construire, Permis de Demolir, so do your homework beforehand.
9. Don’t get carried away. When you first move to France, the chances are you’ll have a pot of capital, perhaps from the sale of your UK property, from an inheritance or from pensions or redundancy payments. No matter how much you have in the bank, it’s essential not to get carried away with your renovation and be tempted spend more than the property is worth. You may think that this renovation is for life, but don’t put yourself in a position whereby you feel bitter later because you’ve spent too much on a property that you can’t sell. And remember to shop around for your currency, the savings can be considerably more important than you expected.
10. Enjoy yourself! This goes without saying, but don’t forget to do it.
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