I am looking to buy a farm in France, the catch being the house is in a dilapidated state and needs to be renovated before anyone can live in it.
Experience with the builders in UK has been horrendous to be polite, scammy bunch trying to overcharge and cutting corners. So I have had to work from home and keep an eye on the work being done, when I got my kitchen and bathroom refurnished.
Are the builders in France any better ? Can I rest assured that they will do the work properly after we have agreed on what needs to be done and the price and timelines ? Or would I need to be standing behind their backs and checking everything they do.
Some are OK some aren’t. Get proper detailed quotes in writing and fully signed and dated receipts when you hand any money over. If anyone is recommended go and see work they have actually done and it’s not just their mates doing the recommending there are a lot of cowboys claiming to be builders. After a lot of trial and error and several hundred thousand euros later we have found local French artisans more reliable and the quality of their work is better.
Use proper french builders, with Siret/siren numbers, and look up what they are qualified to do and check they have proper decennial insurance. Usually here you will need a team of different trades (maçon, plumber, electrician, painter, tiler, at least) and if it is a big renovation a project manager too. A proper builder should provide a very detailed estimate (devis) that you have to agree in writing. Any changes you make during the work should be documented too.
You will normally have to pay 30% or so upfront. But after that make sure you only pay for work completed.
The french builders we’ve used have all been great. Not cheap, but did good work.
I agree with Jane. We’ve had good experience generally with French artisan builders but also would emphasise that if you adopt a hands-off approach then there’s a risk that they will stick rigidly to what’s in the devi when in fact changes through the process are needed. We’ve found French builders to be reluctant to offer advice / suggest changes. It maybe because we are not French and they don’t know how we will react, but even being on site through our builds we have found things can go slightly awry - eg light switches on the wrong side of doors, the wrong tiles laid (I was taking them back up at 2 in the morning before the adhesive set) and two heated towel rails put up next to each other! (Don’t ask!)
From my experience of having work done by one of the biggest building firms in this Departement you will definitely need to be onsite to check everything every day.
Buy a second hand caravan and live in it on-site if needs be.
Starting off from the wrong point zero due to inability to read architect’s plan correctly.
Datum line at different heights in different rooms.
Wall built without doorway.
Tiles laid on rectangular roof in other than straight lines.
Exterior doors fitted at below floor level.
Timber delivered for use as floor joists that was all ‘heart wood’ and only fit for use as firewood.
Need I say more ?
Builders are builders Bruce (as Teresa May might say). They are the same in every country, some good, some bad and some absolute cowboys. I think they all need supervision, some more than most.
The only builders I’ve left to do a job on their own (a serious enough interior renovation, 80k-90k) were recommend to me by a close friend who’s judgment I trust implicitly. They were Polish but running a small firm in Nice. Superb work, good ideas and fifteen years later the quality of their work still shines through. I’m comparing that to other and larger renovation work I have had done over the years outside France.
The only thing I would say (and it may no longer be true) because labour is cheap in Poland and matériel expensive (one might say the opposite to here) one needed to keep an eye they didn’t skimp on it - and happily pay for the better quality. An example would be running a ½ inch copper pipe when really a ¾ would be better.
How’s your French? If you can’t be there all the time then demand photos, photos, photos. Obviously with phased payments.
A pal of mine had exactly the same experience. His wife had selected expensive tiles for two bathrooms. My pal had skimped a bit on the calibre of the tiler, much to his wife’s annoyance, and they came home in the evening to find bathroom A’s tiles in bathroom B and vice versa. She was not a happy bunny.
The same pal recommended a decorator to me once. My wife had selected wallpaper (it was that long ago) and we asked this guy to put it up. The same week our daughter decided to arrive quite prematurely so my wife wasn’t there to supervise. I thought all was going quite well until one day, when the job was nearly finished, I was there and saw the decorator having difficulty trying to rehang a radiator on the wall. He kept missing the hooks. I gave him a hand and he explained to me he had, what I would call, depth of field issues because he was blind in one eye. That’s when I started looking more closely at the wallpaper. Particulary the striped one in the dining room . My wife wasn’t a happy bunny either when she got home from the maternity clinic.
Lived in France for nearly ten years. If you learn French and often speak to the neighbours you will soon learn the tips and tricks.
If you live remotely and adopt the English attitude then bon chance!
Well my “English attitude” is that builders and workmen who profess to be skilled and qualified actually should be capable of following an architects plan, fitting a row of external doorways at the same height from the ground, and laying roof tiles in straight lines on a rectangular roof.
So am I being unreasonable ? Personally I don’t think so.
I live in the middle of a small town and it was important to get on with the neighbours when first moved in. The French are very curious to the extent of appearing to being nosy, but that is their custom and by allowing it has made me settle in easy.
They help me out, suggest where to buy items and recommend friends to do the work. They even oversee it to ensure it is done properly or not too expensive!
If you were unhappy with the work why didn’t you say something at the time?
Fortunately I was living on-site and so was indeed able to speak up and make the builders correct their errors. My point is that in my view experienced builders should not be making such basic mistakes as building a solid wall when it was plainly marked on their plan that there should be a doorway in it.
Unfortunately my experience of allegedly accredited and experienced local firms and workmen in this Departement is that you leave them to get on with the job unsupervised at your peril.
I’m not sure there is the same personnel structure within small building building companies here, in the UK you’d have the trades, a foreman and a project manager with the latter familiar with drawings and plans.