Cancel a devis?

We have signed a devis and sent a cheque as deposit. The cheque is for 30% to be cashed a week before work starts. The cheque hasn't been cashed and no date to start work. We want to cancel the devis and do the work ourselves.Does anyone know how to cancel it ? Any implications in doing so?

So glad to hear that a simple phone call sorted it out Robin, provided an interesting post quand même !

I thought I should come back with an update.

Many thanks to all of you who provided constructive comments.

The Notaire says signing a devis is a binding contract. Our wanting to cancel was personal and nothing to do with the competence of the artisan. I phoned the guy and he agreed to tear up and burn the devis and cheque.

My wife and I are both fluent French speakers and I was a director of a large French company near Paris for a few years. We bought our first house in France in 1989 and have spent many tens of thousands on employing good French artisans without problem. They were all chosen carefully and the standard of workmanship was first class without exception. There are rogues around, many who are not French. Most asked for some money up front but some didn't. Maybe we were just lucky!

As an architect practising here I put all the artisans contracted for a job on a Marché de Travaux Privés signed by client and artisan on top of the signed devis. In this the start and finish date are laid out, along with their 10 year (decennal) insurance details, there is a late penalty clause if the client wishes to enforce it (though here are various hoops to jump through to do this), and 5% of the value of the Marché is held back for maximum two months after the Réception de Travaux (signing off) for rectification of defects. Should these not be completed by the appointed time another artisan can legally be called in to do it and paid for from this fund. All these measures are usually very effective in getting a project to run smoothly. These are standard procedures that should be done for you by your architect. Clients changing their minds, unforeseen delays by 3rd party suppliers, unforeseen structural etc problems as a renovation proceeds and bad weather delaying work on site are noted in writing and can be used as a valid excuse for delays (common sense really).

I agree with David Rosemont, be wary of people calling themselves architects. You can check who is a registered architect in France by using this link to the Ordre des Architectes. Incidentally, only French-registered architects can submit planning permission dossiers. If a project manager, building firm etc do this through a third party ("pet" architect?), check whose professional liability insurance would cover it should there be a future problem.

I did read Tracy's reply, what I was saying was that the snagging list, being any agreed works being missed or not completed to normal standards, should be completed before payment. The job is not completed until this is completed and therefore final payments should not be released. Your architect or any architect should (have been) on to that. I went on to say that problems arising after (full completion and therefore payment) could be more effect in involving your insurance if the problem falls on deaf ears with your artisan. I appreciate that you must feel very frustrated by your situation having changed insurances and all, I wish I could help more, but the methods mentioned have always worked for me or my clients.

Oh and I should of mentioned that there can be provisions for damages in the event of a late completion by a contractor. Reasonable extensions to the contract period may be given depending on whether the extent or nature of works has changed, or late instructions given. Damages have to be provable and not arbitrary or punitive. Such contracts require the administration by an independent person (often an architect in the UK) and the artisan contracts here in France do not seem to have such provision. Some clients feel that is too much on the side of the artisan if problems appear. On the other hand many clients on private houses keep on changing their minds, or can't make decisions, and this is fertile ground for arguments. In the last two decades there has been an enormous growth in private house renovation and construction, fostered by magazines and television programmes, and frequently people with no experience at all take on such work, either for themselves, or by calling themselves project managers, or "interior" architects or interior designers and very often they don't have the requisite over all skills. Such work is hugely time consuming.

Quite Jane. Also David, there are variables such as the size of the company one uses. We were able to pay our 30% for the floor I mentioned earlier when the work commenced. That was a company with a depot with, presumably, all materials and equipment available so they 'bent' the rules of normal practice. After all that was also at the height of the economic crisis and no doubt work was slack. However, smaller set ups, such as the people who redid a roof for us a little while later, needed the first payment to buy materials. It is then, probably a matter of asking and finding out, even French artisans can be very flexible. Our electrician has not always demanded a down payment although he is a one man concern, but then he knows he walks away with a cheque the moment he brings his bill.

As for architects, well the principle may be true. However, my father's mob used to work to 'off the shelf' plans because they mainly built council housing stock. Some of our self-build and one small company building in this commune where we already know the people, are also using 'off the shelf' plans, so the principle you refer to David is not always the case anyway. That strikes me as being very often, if not mostly, the case and that in the main only one off commissions get the attention you mean.

Richard you should read Tracy Thurling’s reply. Artisans contracts stipulate full payment at the end of the job and this is what happened to us, even though they were supervised by our architect.

It doesn't happen here but in many countries (even where you have dencennial insurance which is now available in the UK too) an architect administered contract has something called a defects liability period. This is often six months but with twelve months for wet services, and is designed to cover defects found in those periods and twelve months is chosen to cover a twelve month services cycle. The percentage is usually 2.5% of the contract value which is retained in trust by the client. The cost of funding that is a cost in the contract. The architect reinspects the building at the end of the defects liability period. The dencennial (or similar) picks up after that. The client still has the protection of the architect's professional indemnity insurance too and that can extend to a longer period.

Taking up Chris's point below payments on larger contracts usually follow an S curve as most of the expensive equipment goes into a building at the end. Contractors frequently front end load their requests for payment to minimise their risks and finance costs. We used to ask all contractors for a cash flow forecast at the beginning of the job to see if they were on programme or not.

There was a job near here where the absent British client paid a British builder to do a job and certain stage payments were done against photos taken and emailed to illustrate progress. After one large payment the contractor disappeared- after he had gone back to the empty property and stripped out all expensive materials leaving the place a very dangerous shell.

The overall principle is that the client ends up paying for everything as it will be his building.

Tracy in my opinion the basic principles apply everywhere.

If like many clients you are expecting an architect to control a project, the expenditure on it and the quality then fees must be paid to the architects for such work and those fees must reflect the size of the job and the time involved. If bank borrowing is involved, and the client is absent, then a great deal of reliance will be placed on the architect wherever he is. Clients in my experience ( forty plus years and many hundreds of projects mainly high end ones) will rely on an architect to advise them of the risks and if anything goes wrong then the architect will have a problem and not get paid all of their fees. Architects normally get no fees up front and often have to wait months, even years to get them. Regrettably we have all seen lots of examples of suppliers, subcontractors and contractors (yes and architects) doing bad jobs. The industry is very prone to be affected by economic cycles and bankruptcies are frequent.

I do know that artisans here like up front part payments but if I'm asked to approve such payments then I decline and say the risk is the client's. Paying 60% at start on site would in my opinion be very risky as should the contractor abscond then the client will have to get other quotes and the cost will probably double. Frequent payment in arrears is fine. I usually suggest fortnightly but if a contractor wants weekly then the architect will need to certify weekly which is well more than doubling the administration.

I have experienced many attempts to get bad work approved for payment and I have always refused, even where I suffered physical or other threats. At the other end of the scale are the good contractors and artisans and thank heavens for them. Sometimes one pays a little more but buildings are a long term investment, or should be. Regrettably I have also seen cynical clients taking advantage of inexperienced young firms of builders.

As an architect I would say (but have an interest in so saying) that to get the best out of a job the architect should be with it all the way through. I simply don't believe that a project without such hands on involvement will be as good. Where an architect leaves a project once planning permission has been obtained,you frequently see corners being cut and as the say "the devil is in the detail".

I always warned clients that construction is not for those of a nervous disposition. I have seen people, marriages and companies disintegrate from the stress.

We have changed our house insurers and I am sure that would say that we should have taken this up beforehand.

I haven't joined in this discussion because I see these things as very one sided normally but Tracy has raised her head and explained the situation seconded by Robert and little me at the back.

My overwhelming comment on this thread is the complete lack of information/facts from Robin as to the size and complication of the project and the problem with devis and therefore the need to have an agreement signed is that many devis are a blue print on what supplies and what is going to be done such that the customer after studying this can get the idea armed with the relevant information to DIY. The artisan may have spent many hours visiting and preparing the very detailed devis and is entitled to some income from these tasks if nothing else. Changing of the mind should have been done before engaging someone to map it all out for you.

If you were employed by a building company and the boss said sorry Robin's cancelled his plans so I can't afford to pay you a salary this week but no employees just get the money, self employment is tough and in france very tough.

Jane, any snagging should be finished before the final payment, I think most artisans will understand this (wanting their remaining payment) If you have issues after the completion, and it is ignored or refused to put right and your artisan has decennale cover, try claiming through your house insurance(like Brian says insurance goes up quicker than down for an artisan). This places one insurance company against the other and has far more weight than an architect in France. If it was a cash job or someone uninsured, I'm afraid the risk comes with the reduced price......Because as you say, with the "take me to court" reply, who would, in France this could go on for years and cost an arm and leg.

We found that artisans are not interested in putting right faults, even when requested by the architect.

The general point of view is onto the next job and tough on you. Take me to court!!

Your "plight" as you describe is precisely why I haven't started a business here in the building trade. I just see yourself as a glorified, unpaid tax collector and I'm not prepared to do it...simple as that!!

You and your husband have my admiration along with all the other "artisan etrangers" who have managed to unravel the incredibly complicated system that exists here. I wish in a way I had the mental energy that would be required. Truth is, I no longer have. So I'm looking for another way to make ends meet. Even considering becoming a "trader" after a recent programme on the BBC. That way I can earn a little, get taxed in the UK on whatever "profit" I make and not get involved with this "crazy" system.

I wish "bon courage" to all artisans" out there......keep up the good work.....all the hundreds of 1000's of "fontionnaires" need all your contributions desperately......

David, you were an architect in London, not France, please do not muddy the waters about why it works like this in Timbuktu or wherever. Robert and Richard have given perfectly reasonable explanations as to why it does not work like this in France.

My husband is a qualified artisan, registered with the Chambre de Metiers, with decennal insurance and we work with many other local tradesmen. My husband and his colleagues are working flat out, no chance of of them taking on more work till the New Year as they are so busy. Terms are standard, 30% to confirm the devis, or special orders paid in full before the materials are ordered. 30% due once the work starts, or if it is along project the client is billed at the end of each week. Final balance paid on the day the job finishes. I would like to say we are rolling in money but as pointed out above, we only just manage. Goodness knows how artisans who aren't busy cope.

This week we have paid our quarterly TVA bill and social charges for the two of us 6400€, the tva was 2800 the rest were estimated, reduced social charges, payable whether we earn a penny or not. This is why money is asked for in advance, we have to pay our charges in advance, so therefore the client has to be charged in advance. This is not taking into account the fact that at the end of the year we will then have to pay a balancing payment on our social charges, the RSI takes 43% of net profit. We are not in the UK, it does not work like in the UK, that is why devis exist.

Remember bad news always travels faster than good, I know loads of clients who I would love to name and shame, breaking devis, not paying the bills at the end and doing anything to not pay. I know even more great tradesman who are struggling to earn a living from all these ex-pat Brits who can afford to retire early and are too tight to pay for a decent job on their mortgage free second home.

I think that's a fair point, Robert, I just wanted to justify the requesting of deposits in France on behalf of some of the good guys that I've dealt with in the past. You hit the nail on the head there with the material/labour balance, often the smaller or lone tradesman can't afford to front a large material outlay and their suppliers, even your Point P'S and Chausson's, are making it harder for these guys to buy their materials on account. You have certainly not made a bad choice not to start up here, it's just mindboggling how expensive it is to run businesses here, and like you say, even if you don't make a profit...

I agree and would go further. We had a floor that was dodgy, the beams underneath had termite damage so that one of them had props holding it up. We called in a very reputable local builder to put in a concrete floor. One of the brothers who owns the company came by chance, our luck given it is a 40 or so person size company. When he priced it and said the devis would be brought to us next day, so would one of us have a cheque book at hand for 30%, my OH said that the cheque would be given the first day the builders turned up as it is in her home country. We got dirty looks but he said OK, the builders turned up on the Wednesday rather than Monday of the week after that was agreed. Whilst the men were working we called in a the builder's office and gave them a cheque. As madame says, it may be France but the Swiss are no better at turning up than the French, however if they want the money they don't delay too long that way. It is always worth a try, our electrician has no problem with it but then he is super correct anyway.

Not us, but we know a few people who have had cash in hand work done that has or develops faults, small roof repairs in particular. Without the paperwork their insurance companies send them packing. A couple of hundred Euros is still a couple of hundred Euros. When we once and the only time so far, had good reason to get the person who had done some work on a split wall come back, when my OH told him that she would claim from the insurance against his receipt for the original work he came very quickly. A couple of complaints and a premium goes up so yes it should work.

As an architect in London I advised all clients to NEVER pay anything up front but to pay monthly or fortnightly in arrears against an architect's certificate. Tales round here about disappearing builders and deposits abound!