Often expectations are high when first looking for a home in France, but after visits to chosen areas have been made and you have looked at innumerable properties with inadequate facilities, your perspective changes.
A great number of the older stone houses on the market are in need of work to put them in good order having either been left empty for years or just generally neglected. Many people who contemplate buying a property in France have already considered undertaking a restoration project to some degree. There is obviously a danger in buying property in a run-down condition but there are advantages if you follow the rules.
Research and groundwork
Research and groundwork in the beginning will pay dividends later. Make contact not only with agents but also with architects, builders and even Geometres or Expertises (Surveyors) if necessary to obtain as much information as possible prior to your visit. Follow some simple and perhaps blindingly obvious 'ground rules:
0. Fix your budget and don't take on anything that will obviously pass your limits.
0. Don't buy on impulse; it is better to come back and take another long look.
0. Take notes and photographs as a reminder; one hour processing exists in France too!
0. Ask to see for yourself that there is a supply of electricity and that this supply is adequate.
0. Check the condition, if any, of the fosse septique (septic tank). Should a new one be necessary, is it possible to install one successfully.
0. Ensure that there is a 'town' (mains) water supply.
0. Have a copy of the 'cadastre' (land registry) plan for reference.
0. Check that the roof is in good condition, the ridgeline is straight and roof timbers (the charpente) are sound.
0. Always ensure that there are no major repairs required to the house which are obvious but which you are told are 'mere trifles' - structural repairs are just as expensive in France as anywhere.
0. If in doubt - instruct an Expertises - a French Surveyor, who can advise you on the condition of your prospective home as well as how much it will cost to put right. See the section on Surveying in France.
0. Seek local advice. A great deal of information can be obtained from 'the locals'.
If there is some work to do, no matter how much or how little, if you are employing a builder rather than doing the work yourself, try to use local tradesmen if possible and always ensure that the builder you use is properly registered in France. Any competent architect or builder can see major defects in buildings and warn you. More important, they can often envisage the best way to restructure a building when all you are looking at is a ruin.
Ensure that if you need the services of an architect and/or builder that they are registered. You have no recourse in French law if you use someone who is undeclared or works clandestinely. In France all traders must have a SIRET NO and you can verify the trader's registration by using the MINITEL 3617 code SIRENE. Draw up plans and written specifications for work to be undertaken by a builder and obtain estimates/quotations prior to commencing work. Always ask for the following:
0. The Siret number. This is issued by the Chamber of Commerce and signifies TVA (VAT) registration.
0. Decenel Insurance. This is a type of insurance bonding, which gives the builder's client, a guarantee of workmanship for up to 10 years depending on the work carried out.
0. Responsabilité Civile. This is third party insurance that provides cover in case the builder accidentally causes damage to the house during the course of renovation works.
It is important to keep every single receipt for building work carried out on a property so that these costs can be set against the perceived 'gain' on the resale of the property for French Capital Gains Tax. All receipts from materials and labour should also be kept in order to prove that TVA has been paid on the building works.
If you are having work carried out on a property, then it is essential that you should arrange to have something called Dommage et Ouvrage Assurance. This is in addition to buildings insurance and covers you against the builder or one of his men having an accident on your property. It will also help you to claim against bad workmanship.
Always obtain a devis (estimate) for any work that you intend to have carried out to your property. This should be quite detailed, showing a schedule of prices and the TVA against the various items of work. You may require professional help in preparing this schedule which should relate to the 'survey' you had carried out when you bought the house. If you accept this devis then you should sign a second copy with the builder which then becomes a fixed price contract if work is started within three months.
Don't forget, some alterations to the house will require planning consent.
Respect the local traditions. If you paint your house pink when all the others around you are white then expect trouble! Lastly, make regular visits (if you're not 'camping out' at the property!) to ensure that the building is going to plan. Your architect or Maitre d'Oeuvre should be present to explain progress.
At the purchase stage insist on a clause in the compromis de vente to the effect that the purchase is subject to successfully obtaining all necessary permis de construire and certificate d'urbanisme for the proposed alterations to facades and usages respectively.
The benefit and satisfaction of renovating a property is that you finish with a home that pleases you because your ideas and designs have gone into it. It hasn't cost more than you can afford because you have controlled the expenditure. If you do not over specify i.e. don't go for gold-plated taps and William Morris wallpapers (unless you want to, of course) - you will finish with a property with a higher re-sale value in comparison to the money you will have put into the project.
The main disadvantages are that the work to your home may take some months to complete and you will have to patiently wait until you can use it. You will also have to commit a fair amount of time and attention throughout the project. It is for you to decide.