Looking for a Renovation Project in France?

Originally posted on & updated on 5th June, 2024

Are you looking for a property renovation project in France? If it’s a recent idea, there will be hundreds of questions especially if you have a young family. As a starting point for those who are just dipping their toes in the French property market and how it all works, take a moment to learn about the buying process.

Choose the Right Location

You’ve read it a million times, LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. In reality if you’re looking for a chateau ruin or dilapidated farm estate with lots of land and outbuildings on the cheap, your options are going to be limited. France is a large country, it is divided into thirteen regions (sub-divided into 96 departments), each with its distinctive character, history, landscape, traditions, specialities, and climate. Property prices vary greatly depending on the areas, cities, towns, suburbs, and local property markets. It’s a good idea to start by learning about the various regions, and what each one has to offer. Buyers looking to work in France or wanting to set up a hospitality or gite business need to consider proximity of public transport and amenities, as well as for the family and the children of course.

Choose the Right Project

It’s important to be realistic and not to get carried away. Don’t be that foolish ‘DIY expert’ who makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Don’t take on a property that you are not sure you can handle. How much are you prepared to do yourself? How’s your back these day? Are you going to live on site while managing the work on the property? What is the end goal of your project? It’s imperative to have a clear vision of what you are looking to achieve, and costings as well. Everyone will tell you, everything takes much longer in France, from building permits, visas, to quotes, you’ll need to be organised, and have a lot of patience. Here’s another Top tip if you haven’t already, start learning French as early as you can, as this will help speed things up, everything, every day, for you, your family and also for your business.

Learn about French Building Permits

As in every country, there are rules when it comes to planning, building, extending, or renovating a property. For example, if you buy a property with land, the purchase must be approved by the local Safer. And if you’re planning to extend an existing building or to install a swimming pool, you will require a permit from the local authorities, even for a jacuzzi! While all (or most) permit applications are now submitted online, it’s a good idea to arrange a meeting with the local Mairie to discuss your plans. They may be able to assist with the administrative process and suggest local services for your project. Another top tip: building permits are valid for just two years, so make sure you keep them up to date, so they don’t lapse.

Build a Reliable Team

There’s no real rule or secret on how to successfully build a team for a property project, starting online is the obvious place. However, many small artisans won’t have an online presence or a very poor one, most of them not even on Facebook, but take a look.

We suggest you try with les Pages Jaunes and other business directories, such as our new ALLO FRENCH service, bear with us, it’s very early days. Look at this “real life story” from our friend Beth in the heart of SW France, full of top advice and how over time they built a team based on personal recommendations. It goes on to explain how they embarked on a complete property renovation because of the remoteness of their area.

Top tip: consider hiring an architect and a surveyor, they can be useful, help with permits, for example have you asked about energy reports?

Budget with Care, add Extra

One of the biggest mistakes people make when renovating a property in France is to think they will recoup all the work, time, money, rooms, various extras, and a quick sale when they have decided that the time has come to return back home. This is not how the market works in France. When choosing a project, you’ll be embarking on a multi-year project and it’s important to be prepared, even more so than you would do at home.

Budget with care. Start with a simple spreadsheet in Microsoft xl (or similar) so you can plan for your project, you must stick to it. Once you’re finished budgeting and fine tuning, add 50% in delays and additional costs, and review it on a regular basis. Remember to add living costs if you’re planning to be and live on site, they can add very quickly over time.

The most important tip: keep your feet on the ground, it’s easy to get excited, especially after a nice lunch and a glass of wine. If the proposition sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your guts and don’t be pressured into anything you’re not comfortable with, or do not understand.

Keep your Head and Be Realistic

Always seek expert advice, we can help with tax considerations and French insurance. Unfortunately, mortgages are scarce this year (2023) as all French banks have restricted lending, it’s near impossible for anyone to finance a property at the moment and in the current market. Cash buyers should seek to work with our currency experts experts who can help save thousands of euros over the years, especially if you’re needing to make regular payments overseas, for your pension for example. One final tip; always double check your calculations and formulas, especially if you are converting imperial measurements and surfaces to metric, or vice versa.

It’s getting harder to discover the untouched historic gem or derelict farmhouse in the heart of rural France. If you find one be ready to act swiftly, and if you’re just beginning your adventure, we recommend that you register to receive property alerts, and our monthly newsletters.

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