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How to make sure you get the right builder or artisan in France

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If you plan to have a property built or renovated in France there are certain things that you definitely should do to make sure that you get the right builder to help you. All too often we’ve heard of British expats employing a builder in France simply because he too comes from the UK. So the language problem goes away for sure, but it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the right thing to do. Not all builders are great simply because they speak the same language as you. We’ve put together a short guide for you to consider when you’re thinking of hiring a builder or an artisan in France.

Before construction begins, building permission is required for almost all types of construction work in France (permis de construire). Or you may need another type of planning permission – a declaration of work (permis de travaux).

You’ll need to get authorisation from your local town hall (Mairie) to start with. And then apply for permission from various planning departments. It’s highly likely you’ll need to employ an architect for permission to construct. They should be able to help you with the planning permission paperwork.

You should really have this in place before consulting a builder because it can take quite some time to get the planning through in France.

Taking on a builder in France

When employing a builder in France, make sure they are properly registered. Without this you could get into serious trouble for not checking and the work may not be insured.

In France it is the householders responsibility to ensure that the trades-people they are using are properly registered and insured. There are big penalties on both sides for using unregistered trades-people. For instance if you were to employ an unregistered builder to work on your property and that builder had an accident whilst working on your premises you will be responsible for all costs including medical and social security charges. Definitely to be avoided and it’s easy to check that the builder, electrician or other artisan is qualified.

All builders are legally obliged to carry their insurance documents with them. These include both the guarantee of their work for 10 years (Decenal) and personal liability cover.

They must also carry a métier card with their SIRET number. This  proves them to be officially registered.

On this card you will also find their NAF number. This shows which work they are legally allowed to do. For instance an artisan might be able to install your bathroom but not be able to complete the electrical installations you require.

French Siret numbers are made up of 14 digits.

All legitimate trades & businesses must be registered with either the Chambre de Metiers, Chambres de Commerce, Tribunaux de Commerce, the URSSAF, Services Fiscaux, or their regional office of the INSEE.

If you’re not sure about the numbers or the qualifications, the staff at the town hall are usually only too happy to help you.

‘Qualibat’ is a great source of reference. It is a database of registered builders covering the whole of France. www.qualibat.com/

Put it in writing and get a quote

Spend time on writing up exactly what you require to be done and translate it into French if need be.  If you’re spending a lot of money it might be worth paying for a professional translation. Do your research and include as much detail as possible.

Try to get at least three ‘Devis’ (quotes for work) before you decide on a builder.

Devis can take a while to sort out, especially if you’re seeking a specialist craftsman such as a roof thatcher.

French neighbours and other expats in the area are often happy to recommend . And the town hall staff may also keep a list of recommended trades-people. If you can’t get a recommendation (and in fact even if you do) it’s a good idea to ask to see examples of their work or to speak with previous clients.

Make sure you check that the devis covers absolutely everything in your initial written brief. And make sure that it includes an agreed time frame for the work to be finished by. Specifically require that any extra cost must be agreed by you before any work is carried out.

It’s important for you to do this as your builder may not be able to finish in the time frame you want if he’s not aware. As some areas, particularly rural may be affected by seasonal changes, your builder can plan for local delivery issues, bank holidays or any other issue that might affect the completion date. Once you have chosen your builder make sure you and he sign two copies of the devis – return one copy to him and keep your copy safe just in case.

Paying for a builder in France

Do not pay the total cost of construction upfront. I know of people who have done this and the builders have disappeared. This happens in every country and France is no different whether you’re using French builders or non-French.

It’s normal in France to pay up to half of the amount required when you sign the devis.  Agree this with your builder in advance. This will facilitate the builder to purchase the materials needed for the job. Always make sure you see receipts for all the materials purchased. And agree in advance a date when the next instalment should be paid.

In general there should be two more payments. One at an agreed date and subject to progress being satisfactory. And the final payment on completion. Keep the receipts – you may need them later to reclaim tax or to put against a tax bill should you sell the house at a later date.

Keep track of the progress your builder is making. This isn’t easy if you’re not living in the property or not in the area, but you can keep in touch by phone/internet and ask the builder to send you photos of what he has done.

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