DPE & Other Diagnostic Tests for Sellers

As you may have read from my other posts we're selling our house so I thought I'd write about the DPE (Diagnostic de Performance Energetique) Energy Efficiency Report and other tests required for selling your home. The DPE is Obligatory as are the other tests given the age of our house (circa 1850).

The Immo chap swiftly moved to contact 'his recommended' Diagnostic Immobilier' contact who would give us 'preferential rates' (hmmm).

So on Thursday Monsieur Diagnostic arrived with his clipboard (I have a thing about people with clipboards and shuffling paper - I could tell there was going to be lots of paper shuffling going on to justify the extortionate fee I was going to be charged).

Firstly I had to fill out the info about the house - not much. Then he went around room by room measuring the windows and doors and room sizes. Now this is an art in France. When does your 140m2 house mysteriously shrink to become 129m2? When Monsieur Diagnostic tells you that the ceiling is too low below the beams for that area of the room to be counted as 'habitable' or when you have an opening between 2 rooms with a door frame but no doors - not habitable but with no frame - habitable (same space!) Or how about when your room sizes are not square (as is the case in most village houses) well he just guesses and takes a measurement randomly across the room and says the rooms will average out!

He notes the double glazing, the fully insulated walls, the width of the exterior stone walls, the reinforced concrete floors, the floor coverings and shuffles his papers some more.

Next is the Electricite test. He gets a little machine and plugs it into your plug sockets. All ok. Next he takes the cover off our 'new & french electrician installed circuit board' and asks who is the Bricoleur in the house? Why we ask? Ah because you need to cut off this extra wire here as you are not using it on your circuit board. Well actually Monsieur - we have never taken the cover off and we won't be taking it off again...we'll leave that to the qualified Electrician thanks.

He looks for the Earth 'Terre' in the basement - it has been covered in the conduit and so cannot be seen. I show him the receipt to demonstrate it was replaced in 2007 at a cost of 228 euro. "I will note that I cannot see it" he says. Ok well I guess you have to write something on your clipboard.

Next he calls up another man who will check for Plomb...lead (necessary if house built before 1949). This chap arrives with a radar machine (Geiger counter apparently) and goes around the house zapping the placo ( I follow with a cloth later wiping the marks off my clean paintwork!). This chap also does his own clipboard notes & measurements. There is much discussion between the two of them about how 'bien fait' la maison is and 'avec gout'. Obviously this flattery is taking the sting out of the fee :) Eventually Monsieur Plomb announces he cannot find any lead in my paintwork but then tells me at length why it is important when we have children not to have any lead. I particulary like the hand gestures of the kids eating the paint. As we passed this test - the next home owner won't have to repeat this again...lucky them.

Back to Monsieur Diagnostic - After confirming 3 times there is no gas in our village, he concludes we don't need a gas test. Phew that's a relief!

Next up is Amiante - Asbestos (mandatory for houses before 1st July 1997). Now I know we have an asbestos pipe out of the roof & the used water pipe in the garage too. Both he notes are in good condition so no problems there.

Now for the one I'm dreading - Termites. As we're in the South, this is a problem area and years ago the house did have an infestation but was treated before we bought it. We've not seen any but you always worry in case the little critters have sneaked back in the garage. After much stabbing with a stick & pulling off shards of old dry wood he concluded 'anciennes traces' but 'non vivant' Thank Goodness!

Finally the check up of natural hazards e.g. earthquake, flooding etc - no problems for us and this is valid for six months.

And so to the bill...320 euros. Plus we await the facture from Monsieur Plomb which will no doubt be another 100 euro au minimum. At least some of the tests are valid for a while and Monsieur Diagnostic offered to come back free of charge to redo the termites test if the house isn't sold within 6 months.

As for the DPE - It came out Green which is excellent for a house of it's age. By contrast the village house we have bought which hasn't yet been renovated is big red G.

His main recommendation was to install solar panels to heat the water - fair point and he mentioned that he couldn’t see the Earth.

Is the buyer better off for this information? What do you think? I’m light on best part of 500 euro so I hope they are grateful whoever they may be!

ah took me back to working for the UK civil service 15 years ago. The clerks would handwrite onto form templates then hand them to a typist to retype, they'd get corrected, handed back for corrections & reissued. The clerks themselves had PC's....I wasn't too popular with the typists as I decided it was quicker to do it myself from scratch and saved 2 days admin per case. Not surprisingly soon all the clerks were doing their own (the typing pool reduced in size but some became clerks and the 2 year backlog of tribunal cases started to reduce). The beginning of a beautiful career as an analyst! Oh how I'd love to infiltrate French bureucracy and rewrite their processes! But that would cost jobs - I can hear the cries of protest now!

It's much quicker that way Suzanne, dragging people into the 21th century though is much harder.

...and don't get me started on architects refusing to use 3D modelling. I've had one building this year in Toulouse, where if we hadn't 3D'd it, we would have ended up with a main supporting beam 1.5m deep, going straight through one of the main rooms (not a lot of wriggle room left with that).

Thanks Nick - I bet there were lots of clipboards involved and paper shuffling :)

Wouldn't it be quicker for them to bring their laptop & enter the measurements directly into the program rather than writing them down, risk making an error, retyping, again risk making an error?

I take it you know I'm a Chartered Surveyor with the RICS here in France. You'd be amazed at how many people sit around each year deciding how we are going to calculate m² of space. It has just changed again this year where we went from SHON and SHOB (don't ask) to Surface Plancher.

Just for your own info. under the previous SHON/SHOB rules anything with floor to ceiling of less than 1.80m was considered non-habitable. This rule is still applicable in the surface plancher measurement.

Thanks Nick - I'm not that fussed, it just amuses me how people use those little measuring machines & trust them to be correct especially when it's going on something official when actually it all depends on where you shoot from. Our chap seemed to measure the narrowest part of the rooms, I questioned this & he said 'ah well my measurements will be the smallest it could be' Great! But not actually correct & given the obsession (which I appear to have caught) with m2 shouldn't they do it properly like you say - take proper measurements & draw up the rooms on CAD. He appears to have attempted to do this from his measurements BUT he has drawn our house as square when it isn't - it has an extra right hand cube behind our neighbours house (common with village houses) and this makes over 5m2 difference to each floor!

For anyone else needing to carry out these surveys prior to a sale I recommend Monsieur Eric Mack of Mirande. Competitive, efficient and a genuine surveyor. 06 61 98 03 17. He does speak English and will not presure you into having all the surverys carried out at once. In ordre to list your house for sale, you only need the DPE certifcate to start with. The rest needs to come before the compromis can be drawn up but you can avoid this expense until you have an actual buyer. Sarah Day, Maisons et Manoirs, Masseube

Suzanne, get someone to draw up the rooms using a cad drawing, making sure the wall lengths, corner angles and curves are correct and CAD will calculate the enclosed surface area for you ;-)

I can do it for you if you really need to know. FOC of course, you being SFN and all that.

Interestingly one of the Immo's measured our house and came out at 133m2, the Diagnostic bloke was 129m2 and the measurement from measuring the floors for tiling was 140m2. None of the rooms are perfectly square and so I wonder how you know what size exactly the rooms are? Another thing which was counted differently was fitted wardrobes/cupboards. It appears you are better off not having any such luxuries & letting the acheteur bring in wardrobes/storage cupboards (rather than having neat discrete storage) as this reduces your habitable size which of course France seems obsessed with!

hi - Kim - no we don't have fosse - we're mains. Gordon, everything is electric - induction hob & electric fan oven. We actually uncovered beams and left them exposed after cleaning them up and the rest is concrete so the termite inspection was done in the cave which is where the greatest evidence of them was in the past - the house was treated by the previous owner and it looks ok at the moment but as you say Gordon the inspection is every 6 months so we'll need to redo (thankfully free of charge) if it's still on the market then.

I think the price of the tests varies depending on the size of your house as well Kim, but probably also department and who gave you the contact etc too!

Fosse reports are not done by the usual Expert Immobilier - as said before that`s by SPANC or their local authorised representative. The report must have been done in the last 3 years.

Termite inspection reports usually contain a clause pointing out areas concealed behind internal finishes such as ceilings so they may be there and active! The fact that termite reports are only valid for 6 months tells you something! A gas inspection should be done even for bottled gas used in cooking , also if you have a gas tank for heating. The DPE report doesn`t mean a great deal - they just feed in various factors into a model such as double glazing & come up with a value. It doesn`t test how efficient your boiler is etc and the projected annual energy costs are usually based on 2006 or at latest 2010 energy costs.

As a registered French estate agent I never recommend Diagnostic people to my customers: I tell them to look in the yellow pages and choose one themselves. Unfortunately the DPE tests vary so much from one practitioner to another that the results have little value ... except to alert the buyer to the fact that there are termites or that asbestos is lurking somewhere.

My experience is that buyers rarely even look at the document until the third visit ... and by then they are more or less convinced that they want to buy and that they are going to have to put X amount of euros into it anyway.

Sian, it doesn't include the fosse septique, this has to be carried out by your local SPANK office or in our case by Veolia, I am told that is €80 but will update you when they send me the fracture.

We have just had the same tests done and it cost us €550!!

If the man offers, signs and buys. Then some €K for Christmas.

thats good news Brian

Yes, know what you mean. Why, for one thing? Being pushed into using Mr X and all. However, it seems that it really does not improve the value of the house to do all the work, merely maintain it! Coincidentally, my OH has just a few minutes ago returned from the 'dream place' and has a potential buyer who is willing to od/have done all the work. That is the first one for that house since the spring and one of the few who actually ignored the diagnostics and made his own observations.

We've renovated completely Brian, re-worked the roof, had new reinforced concrete floors on all levels (so no worries about the ancient termites in the beams), new double glazed wooden windows & new wooden volets. We put insulation on all interior walls and inside the roof and we've plasterboarded throughout. All interior doors were replaced too hence no lead paint whatsoever. We replaced all the electrics and plumbing top to bottom. We've installed reversible heating/air conditioning, a highly efficient woodburner as well as radiators. The diagnostic report makes no mention of this, it simply notes that the chap can't see the Earth & would recommend solar heated water. I just hope that buyers can see how much went into the house!

I do feel a little bit annoyed about being bombarded into using the Diagnostic chap but we did need it doing and I guess we'll have paid a bit more than we would if we'd found one ourselves.

It is an interesting question. Had the DPE for this house been even remotely correct then we would not have bought. Even now with lots of work done we are still probably resoundingly G. The report did not comment at all on the Eternit roof which has since been analysed and shown to be of the old kind with a high asbestos content. Most lead paint is gone, but we have two doors that need to be stripped completely and then repainted. That will be cheaper than trying to replace either since they are very much non-standard sizes. Some of the old wiring remains to be replaced. I have actually done it cable by cable, putting new ones in conduits and all, but at present I am unable.

Then we have termite damage. Old but when we bought one floor was collapsing and part of the roof. Both have been replaced at enormous expense. We now have to consider how long termite and capricorn damaged beams might last before we do work on, near or around those areas. None of that was in our DPE although a makeshift prop was holding up the floor in the middle of the cellar.

We thought it was just here. My OH part time selling houses has one dream of a place in her portfolio, except that there is evidence of live termites outside, two unstable roofs, lots of asbestos, damp, lead and more. The DPE has skimped on much of that. A few people who have viewed it have compared the DPE to what they see, if they are French they find several things, shake heads and break off the visit. They know. Foreign viewers generally see it in terms of what they think they would need to spend and back off. Ironically they are usually underestimating! It is good that the DPE exists but like so many other things, it needs to be tidied up considerably and the way pals are able to be reco'd by agents so that they get the sale come what may has got to be stopped.