When it comes to living in France, many people plan to move to expat hotspots such as the beautiful cities of Paris, Lyon or Nice. Others dream of escaping the bustling city life for a relaxed lifestyle in the French countryside, often with visions of a charming old stone house in one of the country’s many sleepy hamlets. France offers a variety of options for first-time buyers who are looking to renovate old properties, either as holiday houses or as a labor of love for themselves and their families. From rustic barns and little cottages to stoic townhouses and grand mansions, rural France has it all!
Tumbledown barns serve as some of the most affordable renovation projects you will be able to find, and there are plenty of these located throughout rural regions in France. These properties, with their structures often made from local stone, may be available in various stages of development or disrepair. Even though they may appear attractive, they could require a great deal of work to make them either inhabitable or sellable, from establishing basic foundations to adding roofs. They may also need to be connected to the sewage system. Plumbing, wiring and other interior alterations, such as painting and adding windows and doors are just some of the additional work that old barns require. Expats should also be aware that if a barn was originally meant for agricultural use, it will need a change of use in order to be transformed into a dwelling.
Village homes tend to be inexpensive to renovate, and since they were always meant to be dwellings, they usually already have basic facilities such as electricity and water supply. The south of France is known for its terraced village homes. If you prefer detached homes, head to any of the smaller towns and villages in the country. However, houses with attached gardens are hard to come by. If you’re looking to transform a village house into a holiday home, then not having a garden will save you the expense required for maintenance. Roof terraces can be added to village houses, but remember that you need the proper planning permission to do this. It is advisable to ensure that you can obtain these permissions prior to purchasing the property.
Some French properties, most of them farmhouses, consist of a main house with outbuildings attached. These serve as ideal renovation projects for holiday accommodation. Expats who are looking for larger scale projects and have the finances might consider buying a château in France. However, it is advisable to ensure that the cost of renovation and the sale price of the accommodation doesn’t exceed its market value. Certain châteaux may be classified as historic structures, in which case there will be additional permissions to acquire and regulations to abide by.
Overseeing The Project
Expats who will not be able to remain in France during the entire course of renovation may want to employ a project manager, as monitoring the development from overseas may prove difficult. Some expats choose to manage the project themselves, especially if they have the experience in construction; however, hiring a professional local electrician is be a good idea since France has its own electrical standards and regulations.
If you do decide to hire a project manager, ensure that they are trustworthy and will be present on the site during the duration of the renovation. You will also need to hire labor for your project. You may opt for either French or English-speaking workers. Hiring French labor may be viewed favorably by your new community. On the other hand, with English-speaking builders and craftsmen, there won’t be a language barrier, which might make your life easier. Remember that you need to employ only those workers who are eligible to work in France and have the required documentation, as without this, you might face penalties later.
A number of property buyers purchase real estate, provide the necessary renovations, and then put the property back on the market to make a profit. This requires a head for business and great attention to detail, as on completion of the project, the renovation expenses and taxes should not make it difficult to earn a profit from the sale. It is important to also keep in mind that the property market may have changed during the period of renovation.
Here are ten tips for first-time buyers to help make their renovation projects in France an easy, efficient, and rewarding process.
Getting To Know Your Property
Prior to purchasing the property of your dreams, it is advisable to find out all the important details about it. There are many rundown properties available in rural France, and not all of them can be renovated. There are restrictions imposed on some properties that make it impossible to carry out the repair work needed to make them habitable.
It is natural to become attached to a certain property and commit to buying and renovating it on an impulse. This is especially true in France, where beautiful dwellings abound in the lush countryside and are easy to fall in love with. However, acting on these instincts could lead to problems, such as ignoring faulty foundations or vulnerabilities to leakages. An expert report (expertise) is a vital document that the seller is required to give you, which provides information about the property. Different regions in France have varying requirements that the expertise must follow. Most will provide details about the quality of the electrical system or whether the property is located in an area that is prone to natural disasters. Some provide termite analyses too. However, expert reports do not offer any information about the quality of a property as a whole. To understand your property better, you can employ a builder to evaluate the structural quality of the accommodation and give you an idea of the renovation required.
Forms And Permits
The town hall (mairie) is the best place to go to get approval for your plans and discover the extent and nature of renovations you are permitted to undertake. The following forms and permits may be necessary in order to carry out your renovation work.
• Certificat d’urbanisme – The town hall issues a planning advice certificate called a certificat d’urbanisme, which provides information about the rules and restrictions pertaining to planning on a specific site. This should not be mistaken for planning permission, as that needs specific, separate approval.
• Déclaration préalable de travaux – This form provides information regarding planning permission. It details the minor alterations you are permitted to undertake, such as adding a terrace or a yard fence, or putting in an internal wall.
• Permis de construire – This document is essential if the renovations are likely to change the property’s tax value; changes that impact the property’s exterior, such as roof alterations or adding additional doorways, tend to fall under this category.
• Permis de démolir – This permit relates to demolition renovation; that is, work that requires the demolition of structures, including cutting down trees.
It is tempting to go with a builder who speaks the same language as you, and who offers you a cheaper rate. However, when hiring builders for your renovation project, it is important to choose one with a siret number, which is a unique identification number for French businesses. This is essential for all dealings with the French administration, and is evidence that the tradesman has a fully registered enterprise in France.
Your builder of choice should also have an insurance policy. This provides assurance that they will not leave before the entire job is done. For a list of registered builders, visit the town hall in your area. It’s also a good idea to ask the builder for references.
To get an idea of the various requirements and specifications pertaining to planning and building in your area, request a local town planning document (plan local d’urbanisme) from the town hall. In some villages, you are permitted to use only a certain color for the property’s exterior. In other cases, you may not be permitted to add a roof terrace. Some towns and villages also do not allow any building work within a particular distance of a church. Your builder should be able to obtain all necessary permissions and inform the town hall of renovation work. This is especially important for expats who do not speak French.
What Is Included?
Your builder should provide you with a written quote for your renovation work. Before signing the quote, ensure that you know which services are included. Some builders provide a translation of the written estimate, but some don’t, in which case you’ll need to provide one yourself. The quote must include materials and labor costs. You may be required to provide some materials such as tiles. It is essential to know when you need to provide these, so that the work is not held up. Any changes that are made to the quote during the course of the building work should be approved and signed by you.
Renovating a rural property in France can be a large-scale project that runs for a considerable duration of time. Therefore, it is crucial that you plan your budget accordingly. New expenses can come up during the course of work, so it’s a good idea to factor in an amount for unforeseen costs when managing your budget. As well as building costs, there are also expenses for lighting, white goods, furniture and so on, all of which can considerably add to your budget.
Ensure that your builder has décennale insurance, as this assures the client a guarantee of services for a period of ten years based on the type of work being undertaken. You can also opt for third party insurance (responsabilité civile), which covers you if the builders accidentally damage the property during the work.
Consider Heritage Properties
If your rural property is listed as a heritage property, you may be eligible for financial assistance from the fondation du patrimoine, which is responsible for the restoration of historic properties in rural France. This assistance is provided as tax relief for up to half of the costs during the course of the renovation work. It is valid for up to five years. In the case of those who do not pay income tax, the institution pays a grant for up to 20 percent of the expenses spent on the external structure.
The grant is only paid upon completion of the work, and the renovation carried out must abide by the restoration regulations of the institution. Keep in mind that such assistance is only available for properties that are publicly visible. So, if your chosen property is in an isolated area, it may not meet the eligibility requirements. For properties that qualify, an application can be made at the regional office. Expats should be aware that the process may involve a great deal of bureaucracy and delays.
Looking For Properties
The usual process of purchasing property is to choose from properties listed for sale at real estate agencies or online. However, rural France is a treasure trove of charming properties in need of renovation, many of which are located in isolated areas that go completely unnoticed. Expats who decide to spend some time scouting around for such properties may be in for a pleasant surprise. Another great tip is to contact the local mayor of the area, and ask him or her to introduce you to the owner of a property. In this way, you can save on agency costs.
Begin In Winter
Use the wintertime to start the groundwork on your renovation project. Take advantage of this time to evaluate the materials and equipment you will likely require during the course of renovation. If you are hiring a professional builder, start the discussions in winter itself, and get specific, so that the builder knows you are serious about the project. Larger scale renovation projects often require planning permissions. This means that you need to have the drawings and plans ready to submit to the appropriate authorities. It can sometimes take up to three months to get the necessary permissions, which means that if you begin the process in winter, you will be ready to begin actual work at the start of summer.
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