Disappearing artisan - advice appreciated

Hi folks,

Sorry if this is a bit of a rant...

We were aware, since our chimney was swept last year, that we need a liner installed on the chimney to our wood burner - ideally before we use it again. We did have someone (English) lined up to do the work in the summer but unfortunately he could not do it, so we set about finding a local French artisan who could. All went Ok and we got a Devis within a few days, which we accepted (10 September) and paid the 30% deposit (banked).

When he came round I specifically asked if he would do the work before winter - answer: yes. We have heard nothing since. We have left three voicemails each on both his mobile and landline, sent an sms and several emails. No response. We know he is alive and working as have seen his van driving about - always when we are going opposite direction!

What is it with these people? We had the same problem with a French electrician when we had heaters installed last year (thank goodness we had them put in otherwise we would be very cold). We try to use French tradesmen, unlike many of our English neighbours who stick with the british builders etc. And I can see why they do. Its not a language thing as I can speak French and this chap's wife can speak English.

Grrrrr....... just trying to decide what to do next. Any thoughts? If we have signed devis and he has banked the deposit I thought he had to do the work. Is there a time limit?

I suppose we will have to drive round the villages and try to track him down...............

I too ran a small contracting business, and likewise had the odd, very odd client. Never asked for a deposit except for materials after they were delivered to the clients address. Note:- once there the materials are his anyway and to remove them would be theft. If there is a deadline then get it in writing, and the legal term recognised in the UK anyway was "time is of the essence". The law is written by lawyers and judges and cuts both ways, it keeps lawyers and judges in business. Nothing is simple in a dispute and the best way is the personal approach. Oh and it is reasonable to keep back an amount (say 5 or 10%) until you are sure the works are done and working properly. That isn't going to be a popular move though.

We have never paid a deposit and we have had a lot of work done on our house in France. In fact we have only once been asked and that was a French roofer who wanted half the amount up front...we refused. Having said that, we had quotes from several builders for everything we had done, and we always used English builders...not intentionally...but they were the ones that came back to us within the week whereas the French ones...came back sometimes a month later with a quote!

I always insist on a legally binding contract, and I make sure that dates are included, I will never sign anything open ended. Like Norman, if equipment is required and is to be delivered to our property we will pay for that. Same as the UK, have never paid a deposit, a contract should be sufficient.

As far as your builder screening his calls...I bet he is! we had the same problem when we lived in England ...he came in and did 3 days work on a month long job and went off 'sick' my husband rang him daily and got a very ill sounding builder who claimed to be in bed. I rang him from work and he sounded bright as a button, he was back working with us the next day! Ive been known to use a different number daily...my mobile, husbands, kids, friends, neighbours.

I just dont understand why any Artisan will accept work when he hasnt got the time or the inclination.

I work as a private tour guide and only accept one tour a day so if a client doesn't show, my whole day is lost and is not able to be resold as people are only in the region for a short time. With an average 60 clients a year, no one has ever queried a deposit.

My husband is an carpenter with an 'equivalence' from the Chambre de Metiers to show they accept his ancient City and Guilds qualification. He also has full decenial insurance available to show his clients. His terms and conditions state 30% on signing of the devis to confirm a date, 30% interim payment and 40% on completion. Never a problem and like you, many, many years in France and several regions. As a professional he works with many local artisans (Burgundy is not yet overun with expats) and that is how it works around here.

Quite right Glen. I ran a contracting business in England with 20 plus staff. Apart from a the odd cr*p client & day to day hiccup, business was simple. The client asked me for a quotation & design, I gave him a quote & specification, we agreed the design & price, he said OK, my company did the agreed work within the agreed timescale, the client paid me. A lot of £100,000 plus contracts were done on a gentleman's handshake. End of. I found that business could be as simple or as complicated as one wanted to make it. I chose simple & retired here at a relatively early age having made enough dosh. I just don't understand why any entrepreneur would want it otherwise, life is difficult enough without ducking & diving:-)

That's interesting Tracey, as I have only come across a demand for initial payment to pay for materials of costly equipment - such as our heat pump, and that's fair enough, and I think that shows the bona-fides of the purchaser of the service doesn't it? That's after just under 20 years of living here, in four different regions including Paris. Maybe I was just lucky?

I also found myself wondering how I would have gone demanding upfront deposit for my graphic design work. Lead balloon time I suspect. Yes you are correct that getting people to actually pay for work done can be difficult but in my business at least (at the time) getting payment in advance was unheard of.

Material costs yes, payment for labour when it's done and dusted and approved as far as I am concerned.

Which industry are you in, as I appreciate 'service industries' covers a wide field? I fear though I would never use a tradesperson who demanded money upfront other than for materials, so I doubt I would knocking at your door.

Perhaps SFN should be compulsory reading for all artisans. "we know where you live & we'll keep writing about your cr*p services until you perform as agreed" Sort of like the SFN equivalent of the horses head in your bed thingy!!

Spooky and s*ds law :-)


Thanks for the advice everyone. I just had to post this update, as something really weird just occurred....

I just went up to the big village where the Post Office is, to post a couple of things, including a letter I had written to the said Artisan. Now, he actually lives in the same village as the PO, but no sign of him when I went by. Anyway, had decided on a letter and then calling round as the next step.

So after PO I popped in the Supermarche for a few bits, but literally less than half an hour after I "posted" the letter and while driving back home - the mobile is ringing and it is M Artisan, full of apologies and promises tat he will do the work as soon as it stops raining.

Hmmm.... very strange.

Unfortunately, this is an all too common problem with French artisans. Getting people to finish work, or to start, in your case seems to go with the territory. Why they do it I cannot understand. There is a British artisan who many of us now employ and any other tradespeople he recommends. He does not charge travelling time and he is as honest as the day is long and actually listens to what you want him to do, instead of doing what they think should be done.

I cannot understand why there is this attitude, it does them no good and costs such a lot in stress to everyone involved.

Good luck.

French artisans rarely respond to phone-calls, e-mails or even letters. You have to wait until lunch time and go round to their house ; knock on the door and interrupt their precious 2 hour lunch break. Demand that they complete the job or you'll be back. This may seem rather severe, however its the only way with recalcitrant artisans. We used this method several times during the rebuild of our house and it worked a treat. You may think this is rude (it probably is!) but it gets results and for some peculiar reason it actually gains the respect of the artisan. I sent my wife round she's far better at this sort of thing than me, I'm far too soft.

Useful link Piers and good luck to you and Liz, stories like this make me so cross as it makes all artisans look bad.

On principle, we will never work for people who will not pay a deposit and neither will most French artisans. Clients are not perfect either and we have in the past ended up out of pocket and work by people who have not paid a deposit then pulled out of the work at the last moment. A devis is a two way contract. Thirty percent is the industry standard and in the case of special orders, the total amount of materials is required before an order is placed.

Liz, not that it helps much, but this is not that unusual - although on principle I will NEVER pay an upfront deposit for the work to be carried out. I WILL pay on receipt of an invoice materials that need to be bought, provided they are delivered to my address - otherwise NO.

On another thread I have mentioned the seemingly developing poor attitude to their work by artisans. Not only in servicing the work, which can and does drive people mad - and make no mistake French customers feel exactly the same, but also in providing some sort of quality level to finishing the work off.

Persistence can be the answer, and even anger - at least if you are French dealing with French. Lunchtime calling is always a good idea, as it pisses off the offender's wife (usually she cops the flak). It seems unfortunate, but some aggression seems necessary - even if it is threats of a legal nature - and after all you have paid the guy some money so technically at least he is in default of a verbal contract at least. Not a great way to go, but honestly it seems increasingly the ONLY way to go.

Like others, I do tend to look at Brits these days a bit more kindly, as they seem to value word-of-mouth references more than most French who don't seem to give a stuff these days.

Maybe something to do with the suffocating economic policies of Hollande? It does seem to have got worse since he, and his imbecilic cronies came to office.

Oh dear poor you! I totally sympathize. Having read "A year in Provence" about 20 years ago, I thought I would be well-prepared for this sort of irritating behaviour, but it is still sooooo frustrating. What about going to his house- do you know the address?

Just going through this with a builder who has disappeared with the work half done (abandon de chantier). Here's the link


Good luck.

Thanks Tracy, that is helpful.

The landline number I have left some messages on, is I am pretty sure his home number. I rang it before when I was fixing up his initial appointment to come and do devis and spoke to his wife. Now it has a answering message on, so it looks like he is screening his calls.

My husband wanted to write and ask him to contact us, so I will do this, as you suggest.

Yes, it is possible that he is too busy for a small job - if that is the case I wish he would say so and then I could make other arrangements.

Catharine suggested once to find his home number and keep calling at lunchtime to catch him or his wife - often a better result.

There is not a time limit unless you have inserted one, the only limit is the validity of the devis. I suggest you send a letter A/R asking him to contact you, with a date for completion of the works. If that brings no response, send another letter giving a reasonable date for the work to be completed or you will cancel the work and request a reimbursement of the deposit.

It may be that he is too busy and may welcome the chance to back out of the work. Alternatively contact your assistance juridique and ask their advice.

His siret number should be on the devis. You can use that to find the registered address of his business. I have had to do that to recover my deposit when the artisan didn’t even start the job.

Morning Stewart. I don’t know if you realise, but this is an 8 year old thread. I’m certain Liz has resolved things by now.

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