Buying Property to Renovate in France
Your heart may be set on a period property or a particular location where the existing property requires modernisation and/or an extension for your accommodation requirements.
The precise dates of period properties are difficult to certify with complete accuracy as notaries only trace ownership back over the last 30 years or so. Employ an expert (expert en immobilier) to verify at least the period authenticity, check the main drainage (tout à l'égout) or septic tank ( fosse septique) system, foundations, walls, roof and electrical wiring and also to give you their valuation. Thatched roofs should be completely renewed about every 40 years (160 m-squared of roof space can take a month) and checked every one or two years. Are skilled craftsmen who still know how to faithfully restore run-down property to its former glory available locally - and, ideally, original building materials? Ask to see bills ( facture) for major work completed in recent years in a property which interests you. They should be available for any work that is still covered by a ten-year construction guarantee.
If the property is subject to a preservation order as a listed building (Monument Historique: MH) or registered on the more prestigious Inventaire Supplémentaire des Monuments Historiques: ISMH list, you will need official approval for any work and in particular modifications proposed. Permits take a notoriously long time to obtain and projects submitted by an architect (even though one may not be strictly necessary) are viewed more favourably. The cost of the work is offset against income tax liability provided part of the property can still be visited by the public. Any work to an ISMH property is subject to this condition and a public domain ISMH property will usually only be sold if the public can continue to view it.
Costs and Regulations
It is important to cost improvements, extensions and renovations correctly, allowing for a generous margin of error, as initial guesstimate budgets inevitably prove to be insufficient. Delays for completion of work should also be stipulated in the written estimates (preferably three) that you obtain. Consider employing an architect to oversee the work if you're not on the spot. The cost of their services can be recouped with the savings they effect and they will also ensure that national and local building regulations are complied with, for non-listed buildings, and that the request for planning permission (permis de construire) is deposited with all the right paperwork at the local authority's office. An architect is not recommended if your project only requires you to deposit an official notification of work (déclaration de travaux). The town planning regulations applicable throughout France (Code de l'Urbanisme: CU ), available at the town hall or DDE office, sets out building regulations.
Building companies approved by the Qualibat organisation bear the distinctive blue and white pyramid logo on their headed letter paper. All building work except electrical is covered. Approved electrical installation companies' letterhead bears the blue-striped QE Qualifelec logo. Approval by either of these independent organisations is a mark of technical competence. Qualibat approval is also an indication that a company is appropriately registered and has adequate insurance cover and sound financial standing. If you have a little basic French, visit www.qualibat.com and www.qualifelec.fr for area lists of approved companies.
Ideally, use a registered company with the appropriate seal of approval on their letterheading, and whose work you have seen and which has been strongly recommended. Don't confuse a friend of a friend with a serious recommendation. Estate agents can also introduce you to builders. ORPI , one of the national estate agency chains, makes this part of their service charter for potential buyers.