What do you think of french "Artisans"?

What experiences have you had with french "artisans"?

I am an auto-entrepreneur who works in the renovation sector including project management. I have quite a lot of work on because anglophone clients have been very disallusioned with the french workmen. These clients look, above all, for quality of work and reliability. Whilst the french artisans are fairly varied as to their quality of work (as are workmen all over the world) the real sticking point appears to be their relieablity. They take appointments and then never turn up, they forget to send quotes, generally leave the clients very much in the dark and are extremely diffiuclt to get on the phone.

I work primarily in the south of Les Landes and the Pyrenees Atlantiques. I speak french and people, both french and english, have all given me the same feedback. Project management becomes a rather stressful operation, like trying to shepherd cats!

What do you think? Have you had any experiences, good or bad, with "artisans"?

Hi Chris,

With the exception of the big cities where artisans are usually bad, hiring untrained personnel, artisans in France are skilled. The problem is that they are no good managers. They poorly plan, underestimate the necessary work time, want to be nice with the locals (usually friends and relatives), don't take the time to train on new techniques and new materials. Usually they charge much but loose money and often have to close down.

As a property manager, what I do is taking over. I select the good ones (as you mentioned the most reliable) do the planning, correct their quotes (usually in their favour), explore technical solutions out of the box and plan renovation work in the low season. And above all, I am on their back. Once trust is established, mostly by paying them on time, they will accept the pressure.

Hope it will help.


I am one year into a major house rebuild - the only bits that remain of the original are the exterior walls. I have not used an architect (tried that and found it to be a double nightmare), have not used a project manager/maître d'oeuvre but done it all ourselves - from drawing and plans through to all the specks etc. And here in Beaujolais have found artisans of the highest quality who firstly quote a price and stick to it, secondly will not stop until the job is done, thirdly they exceed my statndards in quality (and I'm a fussy bugger) and last and by no means least have a sense of humour. Maybe I should gather this merry band of men together and sell it as a service.

So artisans get a bit tick from me... by the way I lived in Switzerland for over 5 years and what's being discribed reminds me of that time in my life - which was a big surprise given the reputation of the Swiss - and as I type our carpenter is hard at work filling architraves round our doors (it's 18h16)

In our experience:

they are expensive

they don't turn up as planned as they are trying to juggle too many clients at the same time

they want to make the decisions (like where to put sockets, the shower, lights etc).

We accepted a devis for a new front door over a year ago. Guy comes highly recommended from French friends and we have seen his work. We paid the deposit but are still waiting.

Our mason was reliable and accurate, the work was very high quality and he took the trouble to discuss things with us at each stage to ensure we got what we wanted. Ripping the insides out of a 200 year old house and barn and casting open-plan floors went well and we have no criticism whatsoever. I think mutual respect carried us along in a good partnership. The carpenters were rather more arrogant but their work and materials were excellent, timekeeping was less good. The first plumber was a disaster (wanting to make too much profit on the parts and insisting we bought them from his supplier (we sacked him), the second was more helpful and let us buy what we wanted him to fit. Sadly he has since died and his son has upped his rates to a point beyond our budget (so we did the last bathroom ourselves). Even the good team were a bit intransigent, unable to understand why Phil insisted they dug out a bit more floor to take the drain for the shower (a wedi-panel giving us a hole-in the floor drain where they wanted to create a step up, based on the arbitrary and convenient height at which they had initially mounted the drain pipe for reasons known only to themselves). Our preference worked and the team agreed it did look better our way.

The first tiler was taking the mickey, doing an hour's work per day when it suited him. The next one was just qualified and working with his grown up son, and we were his first official customers, and he did a very good job.

Rendering was done by the father of one of the mason's former staff and he was probably working illegally but did an excellent job.

The electrics were done by a friend of a friend at mates rates. We were pleased with it all.

The small carpenter who did the staircase used excellent materials but miscalculated, so the stairs are steeper than we stipulated but he clearly wasn't going to enter into an argument so we put up with it.

The firm who did the air-air heat pump system and solar panel water heating did a good job at their convenience up to the last wall-mounted module whereupon they went bust. We got another guy to finish and re-gas the system and he charged VAT at both rates. When we pointed this out he resubmitted an invoice for the same total but altered the basic cost upwards! We were unable to contact him after that, another lesson from experience.

So, all in all, good artisans are not good timekeepers or administrators. In our area we are so close to Switzerland that they think we can afford Swiss rates (particularly us English who are, of course, all so rich), and they won't be able to do the job until the year after next anyway. The latter point is important - nobody trusts an artisan with time to fit in your job! Good artisans have jobs booked up for months or years. Allegedly.

I do believe, though, that project management is our responsibility, not theirs. If the client isn't able to do this then a project manager is needed. Fortunately I am married to one.

Here in Vendee (85) [close to the border with Deux-Sevres (79)] the phrase that immediately comes to mind in relation to French Artisans is :- "Could'nt organise a booze up in a brewery !!"

They might come to look at a job and give an estimate, and then again they may not turn up at all. The 'Devis' then takes at least 3 to 4 weeks to arrive, and then once it is signed and returned, one waits months for them to come and actually do the job. Of course there is no advance notice about when they will actually come to do it, and e-mails to enquire about this are simply ignored. Then one day the phone rings and they want to come in two hours time !!

The quality of workmanship is often poor with things such as loose cable connections, and the collateral damage is high and of course they only do a cursory job of clearing up the mess they make.

Then of course there is the installation of unnecessary items of equipment (at extra cost of course) unless you watch them like a hawk and have good enough French to be able to argue the toss and stand your ground.

The likelihood that they will work continuously until the job is done is virtually non existant. They come and start, and then some 'emergency' arises and they don't come back for several days -- or weeks sometimes.

The golden rule is NEVER, EVER leave them unsupervised, and if at all possible, find a British chap to come and do the work ---- even if you have to pay him travelling time and petrol money, or wait for him to be available.

The British worker keeps to his appointment schedule, keeps you informed, does what he is asked to do, does it well, tidys up after himself, and is polite and courteous. The French artisans and small businesses have an awful lot to learn.

It's dangerous to generalise! I could say that 100% of the British artisans I've used have been crap and 95% of the French ones have been superb but that's because the 1 Brit I used was a disaster and on the whole, the French ones I have used were great.

To me nationality is not important, it's who can the do the best job at the right price and in the time frame I need.

I do think the most important thing is to make rules clear from the start and emphasise that you need the quote by a certain date, that it must include a provisional start date and duration, and any other priorities. You can't ask an electrician to quote for "wiring the kitchen" unless you specify how many double sockets, fixed appliances and lights you need, and where they should be, including height above surfaces or floor, plus provision for computer network, co-ax or phone. This is where language skills and preparation are invaluable. When we presented artisans with a Visio plan and printed spreadsheet list of requirements we got better results. The mason spotted early on that we could see the whole picture and checked details with us. When he said the top of a wall would be tricky and slow to build because of the old roof timbers, Phil immediately told him to liaise with the chippies and dismantle the roof an an earlier stage if it would simplify things, smiles all round.

We also found that if one artisan recommended the next trade the next guy was more likely to pull his finger out - this has always worked for us in the UK, too, most trades hate working direct for domestic customers unless a colleague says we are OK!

Having bought our place (in Verteuil Sur Charante, Charante), we have had three main artisan issues:

1. The property came with a signed 'devis' and the seller had paid a one third deposit for the work described. We reimbursed seller, met with the (French) artisan and agreed a major revision of the work we needed to have done. All okay, except we're still waiting for the new 'devis', despite emails, and it's now been 8 weeks.

2. The property had a leaking flat rood, over which was laid some decking. I determined that the roof had been installed by a locally settled English builder about three or four years ago. He dropped by to provide us with some 'advice'. He was full of patter, redolent of the 'old school' British builders, and only really happy after a cup of tea had been supplied. However, he refused to accept that his workmanship was the cause of the leaks, claiming it was the fault of the previous owner who had 'let ivy grow under the decking'. So, I spent six days lifting areas of decking and repairing the flat roof (having built my own house before now I'm fairly handy). I found four leaks, one of which could be argued as being caused by ivy roots, one of which was a lifted roofing felt seam and two were very poor application of flashing such that folds became cracks. So, okay in the end, but no help from the artisan!

3. Our main roof was completely rebuilt four years ago by a local French artisan who gave it a ten year guarantee - passed on to us when we bought the place. We discovered it was leaking in certain places and so asked that he come back and fix the leaks, which he did, saying they had been caused by slipped tiles. However, about four weeks later he turned up out of the blue claiming that the previous owner had wanted the 'minimum' amount of work done when he rebuilt the roof, and so the tiles had not been secured down properly. It was therefore vital that the tiles be taken off and replaced properly - for which he would give us a new guarantee! He then produced a devis for me to sign for 9,800 euros! I declined and emailed him to point out that if his orginal work had been properly and professionally undertaken, such that he could apply his guarantee, then any work needed now to correct things that had not been adequately done then must also be covered by his guarantee. As you may imagine, to date I have received no reply, although it's only been three weeks so perhaps I'm being impatient!

So, my experience is a mixed one - good in parts

Fair enough Steve, I agree that I should probably not have used the word 'French'. I should have said that the situations I describe are what happens in my experience when using non-British artisans who are local to this particular area of France (Vendee). To put things in perspective, I have owned property in Vendee for 25 yrs, and have lived here full time for 14 yrs. I speak reasonable French, and have a fair knowledge of building matters. I hope that standards of local workers in other parts of France are different, but unfortunately in this region the standard is pretty low.

My experience includes such things as a professional French house building company that could not determine the correct 'Point Zero' on the building site from the architects plan, could not correctly mark out the 'datum line' on the interior of a building being reconstructed despite the use of laser equipment, could not install 3 sets of patio doors level with each other in the same elevation of a building, had constructonal timber delivered to site which was warped, twisted, and only fit for firewood, and who employed a specialist gang of roof tilers who could not lay tiles in a straight line.

Add this to the Ramoner / Chauffagiste who comes to sweep the Chimney and then just leaves, saying that he is too busy to service the boiler, despite the fact that this is what he had been engaged to do.

Oh yes , four visits from two different Chauffagistes who between them could not find a blocked fuel filter on the boiler which I eventually found and dealt with myself.

Aerial installers who cannot make co-axial cable connections properly --- had to fix that myself of course.

The there were the two masons who 'forgot' to leave a doorway in the internal wall they were constructing from one side of the building to the other, despite having the plan laid on the floor in front of them.

The list goes on and on. Certainly my experience here in Vendee is that if one is forced to use local non-British workers, then watch them like a hawk !

I sincerely hope that other areas of France have a local workforce that is more skilled, can actually read a constructional drawing correctly, and works to a far higher standard than that prevalent here.

Never had a particular problem with French artisans in over forty years of dealings except for the occasional tardiness in getting work done. Most expat artisans too have been ok with only an incompetant plumber proving an expensive mistake.

Robert, what bad luck you've had! Our mason was accurate to 3 mm, unlike our "architect" who drew up the plans for us based upon the plan cadastrale. The bournes were in position all around the property to mark our boundaries, at least until our neighbour's contractors started work and the bournes disappeared: both buildings planned by the same architect who could have looked at the ground and measured accurately. More accurately than the plan cadastrale, which resulted in our accurately-measured-according-to-the-plans garages being half a metre over our boundary. When this was discovered and discussed with our close friends who are our neighbours, we progressed as per the plans, but will someday have to have the bournes replaced by the Geometrist and ask a Notaire to rectify the documentation for our house and both left-hand neighbours, probably paying one of them for a small triangle of driveway, all of which may cost more than we paid the architect. Moral of this story: check plans against actual measurements and agree and mark boundaries between your and neighbour's land. We trusted the architect (as one would in the UK) but in France it is the owner's responsibility to ensure the pros don't make errors. Another feature of French activities is that it's never their responsibility, always your problem, so however much you trust the artisans, always check as work progresses.

Just after we started work over here we saw an episode of Grand Designs about a woman who was having a house done up, of similar age to ours, further up the Jura. She managed the project from the UK and was shocked when she visited by how little had been done and how little it conformed to her vision. Phil moved over here to stay next door during all the demolition and big works, sending me photos every day so we could both spot problems as they arose. Being on hand for those weeks was the best investment of time Phil could have made, and by forming a good working relationship with the teams, nothing went wrong.

We watch all contractors carefully, here or in the UK. The way they always do it isn't necessarily the way we want them to do it. We're paying. They go home, we have to live with it for decades.

I agree with those who have said that it all depends on the artisan and not the country of origin. My plumber, local French, has been superb. So have my Dutch mason and my British engineer. I've been careful to research those that I hire and, so far, that research has paid off.

Indeed it is mainly a management problem for those small business guys. Not to mention their hassles with administration, social and fiscal contributions which are giving them headaches. And, I agree, often they underestimate the scale of work when bringing all works on a project into context. In general I find most artisans in France inventive, - they do not give up on the first problem. We have been doing works on a few properties and it took a while till we found those whose quality of work was good in combination of time they spend, result and costs.

I may add here a option: when various artisans are involved in a construction-, renovation-, or extension project we invite for a BQ those artisans with whom we have made good experiences. Depending on projects, e.g. involving plastering, concrete etc they should not be done during the summer heat. However during the BQ, when they are sitting all together, they then can exchange their schedules, - when who of them is doing what and when. They do not want to let their colleagues down. This eliminates slip-ups on the schedules, the main root of more and more problems with delays and long chantier sides. We saw among each other they do not like changing times they have agreed on. It works very well, - especially when working with local artisans.

It is wrong to say French artisans are not efficient and to compare them e.g. to German artisans, because in Germany are artisans from Poland, Czech and other EU con tries who came with their “standards”, and they are really bad…

I must say I would trust French artisans over any of the English trades here! The artisans we have used have been polite, hardworking and clean. If offered a drink they would accept but keep on working and not use it as an excuse for a "break". I have just set up a FB page "Reno Ranters France" to allow people to have a mouthpiece where they can "let loose" after some terrible and costly disasters with English "tradesmen" (for want of a better word!). So give me French workers any day.

I am a qualified and time served carpenter joiner operating out of a small workshop in the Ariege 09. In the five years I’ve lived in this area I’ve noticed that I’m losing out on bigger renovation work to Brits who are able to work for cash, many of whom have a primary Gite or Chambre d’hote business. I’m not too bitter about this and understand that newcomers to France prefer paying 15-20 euros an hour for cash as opposed to the 35-40 euro rate we have to charge as fully registered artisans, due to the astronomical cotisation and business rates. I would however caution the first time renovator. Unless you have an extremely good understanding of building work tread carefully, these guys are not registered, very likely have a “P&O” qualification and if by chance they do have a Siret number, you can more than gaurantee they got “a mate to write them a letter.” Funnily enough in a country that prides itself with a fully qualified workforce all it takes to trade over here is a letter of attestation. The second thing to be wary of is the Decennale - a ten year guarantee that every tradesman has to provide by law. I pay over 1600 euros a year for this as I have to cover the two trades I’m qualified in. This is the system that is supposed to insure building to correct standard, there is no building control in France as we know it in the UK. We as artisans are relied on to get it right. If something is wrong, the insurance covers us, if we’ve not played by the rules we are liable. Obviously your 20 euro an hour handy man is unlikely to be able to provide his insurance details. If you’re happy taking this risk for a cheap deal then good luck. Don’t get anyone but a French qualified plumber to do plumbing work… I’ve yet to see an expat “plumber” get it right. You are not allowed to pass pipes along the inside of a wall for more than 40cm…

On the subject of French trades, this is an arbitrary opinion based on very little evidence but it seems to me that the younger generation have a better work ethic, they seem keen, and most importantly won’t bugger off for that famous three hour lunch break. I’ve had a few run ins with local tradesman on the whole its a mixed bag. 10 percent or so of my clients are French and have told me that they prefer the “Anglo Saxon work ethic” I personally don’t see how hard it is to shoot off a few emails and turn up in time, but there you go.


I did a lot of work on my house and used a French maître d’oeuvre who submitted devis for each job and each team doing the job - I found the main difference with British builders I have seen at work in the UK was that they didn’t have a ghastly radio blaring away all the time, they worked from 8 until 6 or 7 with an hour and a half at lunch time, they didn’t take any breaks and they didn’t go through an extra 4 or 5 pints of milk a day. They also left every room usable which was absolutely not the case with the UK lot.

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We used local artisans in a neighbouring village to completely renovate our farmhouse 9 years ago. The only Brit artisan was a carpenter who charged me far more than his devis and the work has not stood well against time. The French mason, carpenter, tiler, roofer, plasterer, electrician and plumber all produced excellent work and spot on devis. However all of them did need to be chased and cajolled throughout the renovation - but it was achieved on time 5 months after starting - mainly thanks to my wife who’d do a “rotweiller” on them at lunch times in their houses if they hadn’t turned up as promised in the morning !

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