RENOVATING & BUILDING
If you are reading this website then you are probably dreaming of owning, or already own your own home in France. The laid back lifestyle: croissants for breakfast, red wine at every opportunity, plenty of fêtes and lots of sunshine… what more could you ask for?
For many this dream turns into reality, however, before taking the plunge I would advise you to look into lots of different aspects of buying property. I will touch on a handful of them here.
Finding a property
Most of you will choose an Estate Agent. The law states that to run an estate agency you must have a carte professionnelle (issued by the Préfecture after submitting reams of paperwork illustrating that you are trustworthy), a financial guarantee and full professional indemnity insurance.
The Carte has to be renewed every 10 years while the financial guarantee and insurance must be renewed annually. If you don’t hold the carte you can either be a salaried employee in an estate agency or work as a self employed 'commercial agent'. If you choose the latter you will work under the carte of the agency but you will also need your own 'white card' attestation (signed by both the agency and the prefecture) as well as your own PI insurance.
Unlike in the UK, going into an estate agents can be a daunting task. The French believe in selling you what you want. For this reason, many estate agents will sit down with you and after grilling you regarding what you’re looking for, will show what they think is suitable. No addresses will be given, you will be expected to go on a visit with the agent themselves in order to find out where the property is.
Many properties are placed on the market with several different estate agencies at a time and they may all have a different price. Some agencies are starting to use the UK method of placing a ‘For Sale’ (A Vendre) sign on the property but this is still quite rare.
Making an offer / Buying
In France it is usually the buyer who pays all the fees. The price displayed in a French agent's window should include the agent's fee (the price will be followed by the letters FAI. if this is the case). However, it will not include the notaire's fee which is an average of 7%.
Unlike in the UK, the French believe that once you make an offer on a property, if they agree to it, you want to buy. The UK system of making an offer and then deciding if it’s OK, is not understood and quite often causes offence.
Once you have agreed a price then both parties sign a ‘Compromis de Vente’. After signing, both parties have 7 days in which to withdraw from the sale. After these 7 days you pay your deposit, which is an average of 10% of the purchase price and you are legally obliged to buy the property/land unless you have added any ‘get out’ clauses to your contract. Your ‘Compromis’ will generally give a completion date. This is the latest date you can sign for the property and receive the keys.
Many dream of buying a property in need of renovation, carrying out the necessary work and making their fortune. It invariably doesn’t work this way!
In the UK, my husband renovated old buildings and converted them into stunning houses. On arriving in France we bought an old Savoyard farmhouse and over the years carefully renovated it. I am well aware how difficult it is to keep up the enthusiasm on those cold winter evenings when you’re wearing two hats to keep warm, the pipes have frozen, there’s no warm water and the dogs are in bed with you as extra heating… If you are thinking of buying a holiday home to renovate, do you want to spend your holidays building, painting, visiting builders merchants and stone quarries?
If the answer is yes then read on!
Most people, coming from abroad, have dreamed of finding a derelict property and renovating it to their dream house. They're going to knock walls down here, add bits on there, add some extra windows here, make the garage into an extra bedroom... STOP!! Not everything is possible in France and you could end up in lots of trouble for not adhering to the rules.
Planning permission is obtained at the Mairie and as a general rule is required for almost any changes you may do to your house: any new build, any renovations to the exterior of a building (for example, adding patio doors to a room), any increase in surface area (for example turning your garage into an extra bedroom)…there are rules for everything. What you can do to your house will depend on the zone your house falls in, and it's no good asking a friend or neighbour as your property could fall into a different zone.
The good news is that, unlike in the UK, planning permission is free. Dependant on what you are planning to build/renovate will depend on what type of planning permission is required.
Generally, for any changes to an existing building and/or any additional building less than 20m² (including a car port or garden shed) you will be required to fill in a works declaration. A decision on your proposal will take approximately 1 month. Please note that this is conditional on you supplying the requested information.
Any new builds, over 20m², will require full planning permission. This is dealt with by the Mairie, but the decision is taken at a regional centre. On average, this takes 4 months, but can take longer (it can be faster but you’re best not getting your hopes up!).
Planning permission is also required if you want to change the use of a part of your house, ie. A garage into a bedroom/studio. An attic space into a room.
Before starting on your plans to build a new garage that you can then rent out to seasonnaires, it’s well worth checking that you have the right to build. The local council has a COS for each section of land in it’s control. The COS identifies the amount of SHON (surface hors oeuvre net), allowed on your land.
Your work can be opposed by a third party within 2 months of your work panel going up.
In the Chamonix valley an inspection will be carried out some months after declaring the end of works to ensure that you have not built more than applied for, such as an apartment instead of a garage! If you state that you will be putting wood on the outside of your property and you use stones, they have the right to tell you to take it down/change it.
If you are buying an apartment and want to start renovations, check that you have the right. Not only the Mairie but most co-propriétés, have restrictions on what you can do to the outside of the property, eg. Colour of paintwork, balconies, shutters, new openings.
For example, if you own 1000m² of land and the COS is 0.15 you will be allowed to build on 150m² of your land. If the existing buildings have 150m² or more, your planning permission will be refused at the first hurdle. If you have less, you will be allowed in to increase the size of the property up to the limit.
The law states that a request for a building permit for a building with 170m² SHON or more, cannot be approved unless a qualified, registered architect has "established the architectural project".
The owner of a house of less than 170 square meters SHON may submit their own application.
Be careful when asking advice from friends about planning permission. The Chamonix Valley is divided up into thousands of different zones. Each zone has its own planning rules and restrictions. The house next door may not have the same rules as you. For example: Our house falls into two zones. The house itself has different rules to our garden and we are not the same as our neighbours' who live only a few meters away. Take care!
On receiving your authorisation from the Mairie, your permit is valid for 2 years. You must start work during this period and must not stop work for a period of more than 1 year. You can apply to extend the validity of the permit for 1 year extra.
A work panel must be placed at the site, stating the name of the person on the planning permission, the number of the approved planning permission, the work you are doing, the existing surface area and the surface area which will be created.
Building/Creating new apartment/studio
If you have found a property that you think looks good to divide up into different apartments/studios or you have been thinking of making an apartment in your garage to rent out for extra space, take care. The rules concerning this type of work are very strict and not every building is suitable. The rules and requirements for each apartment will change dependent on the zone the property is in.
Building from scratch is also full of pitfalls which are easily avoidable if you are aware of them. My husband and I have both renovated and built from scratch, here in the Chamonix valley and as such I am aware, first hand, of the paperwork required, the stresses of hiring not only the people that you know about: the builders and joiners, plumbers and electricians, but also those you're not even aware exist as they don't in the UK.
If you are planning on building a chalet from scratch and wondering why there aren't lots of other people doing the same, it might be worth your while making an appointment to see me and we can go through all the pros and cons - of which there are numerous! We have also built a chalet from scratch and as such I can speak from experience.
Once you have received your planning permission there are still 2 months in which a 3rd party may contest the works. You are required to place a panel outside your property stating the work agreed, the number of the building permit and other details. The 2 months delay starts from the date you display this panel.
If you are planning on hiring local tradesmen to do your work, then make sure they are fully French registered and have ‘Assurance Decennale’. You will also need to have an additional insurance called Dommage et Ouvrage Assurance. This is in addition to buildings insurance and covers you against the builder or one of his men having an accident on your property. It will also help you to claim against bad workmanship.
How I can help
Do you need planning permission?
What are the processes involved in planning permission?
Finding tradesmen, electricians, landscapers etc.
Need help communicating in the builders yards?
Want to compare prices at the different builders yards?
Need to order ready mixed concrete?
Want to order firewood?
Need your chimney cleaning?
Want to tarmac your driveway?
Want to demolish something?
Need to contact your co-propriété for permission?
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Communiquer 74: Sarah Barnes Tel: 00 33 (0)18.104.22.168.95 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: The information contained in this website should be regarded as a guideline only. I try and update the information as often as possible but it is possible that certain information has been missed. I would love to be the font of all knowledge but unfortunately I am not! All situations are different and the information contained here may not be applicable to all cases. Please get in touch if you would like me to check any information in relation to your personal situation. My role is to be your voice, to ask the questions you would like asking and those that I know you should be asking. During the course of my work I have gained knowledge of lots of different aspects of French administration and can generally advise you on what is important and what isn't. Dealing with the French system on a daily basis means that I can help you do things far faster and can assist you through the minefield.
The factsheets may be printed for personal reference, but may not be published,copied or re-used for any other purpose without permission.