Ten tips on buying a renovation project

We Brits are known as both courageous and slightly bonkers in France thanks to our penchant for buying complete wrecks and spending immense amounts of time, effort and money in restoring them. For many this is an incredibly rewarding and satisfying process but, for some, who bite off more than they can chew, the whole experience becomes a nightmare and a financial mess from which it is hard to bounce back.

So what should you take into consideration when it comes to buying a renovation project in France? Nadia Jordan, FrenchEntree’s property finder in the Ariège and Haute Garonne, presents 10 factors to consider before taking the plunge:

1. Get a builder’s estimate… then double it!

Everyone underestimates the cost and time needed to bring an old property back to life, especially if you intend to retain as much of the original building and character as possible. Remember too that you will not necessarily recover all of your investment on selling the house, so make sure you are doing it for yourself and not just to make money.

2. Find out whether the property is connected to all the utilities

If it is no longer lived in, it may not be connected to the electricity grid or even the water mains. A rural property is almost sure to require a new septic tank, which can be very expensive.

3. Be realistic

How much of the work you are able or want to do yourself and how much you can afford to pay somebody else to do it for you. If you are going to do all the work yourself, it is going to take much longer than if you pay a team of builders and artisans to do it for you, but it will also cost a great deal less.

4. Be sure that you are happy with the location

You can change almost anything else, but not where it is located. Here in the foothills and valleys of the Pyrenees, the position of the house is particularly important if you want to take advantage of the long hours of winter sunshine and enjoy a view of the mountains. A bargain wreck of a house may offer fantastic potential and could undoubtedly be transformed into a grand design, but if it is on the shady side of the valley or in a flood plain, no amount of hard work and money can transform it into the perfect house.

5. Check on planning rules

The planning regulations in France are much less strict than in the UK but there can be restrictions depending on the area and the type of property. For example, in certain parts of the Ariège, the type of roof covering you can have is specified and, in others, Velux windows are not allowed. If these are a major part of your plan, it is worth checking with the Mairie beforehand.

6. Find out about grants

Grants are available for certain ‘green’ improvements such as insulation, solar panels and wood burning stoves. If starting from scratch, it certainly makes sense to make your house as eco-friendly and energy efficient as possible.

7. If you intend to live in the property while undertaking the renovation

Make sure you know what sort of conditions you can cope with. What might be fun for a couple of months in the summer will be less so during the cold winter months and I have yet to see a restoration project that has been completed within the allotted time frame.

8. Take advice before removing walls

Even thin partitions can have a structural function and provide rigidity to the frame of the building. Open-plan living might be very fashionable but many old French houses are just not designed this way.

9. Talk to your neighbours

Tell them what you are planning to do and take advice on where to get materials and which artisans to use.

10. Find a builder who you like and trust

This is vital, so take your time, check references and previous jobs and make sure that you get a written quote (un devis) and understand what is and isn’t included. Remember, any changes you make to the plans as the work progresses will be charged extra. It is also worth noting that French artisans are a laid-back lot and will not always turn up when they say they will and will always take a two hour lunch-break. So, for everyone’s sake, it is best to understand that the frustrations of France are also part of the charm and this is why we are all here. Go with the flow and you will enjoy your project much more.

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