Firm foundations

Looking at having some building work done at your property? Make sure you understand the basics, says Alexandra Thevenet

If you are planning on having a house built in France, renovation work carried out or general building work done to your property, there are ways to prepare for the project to minimise the risks of problems arising at a later stage.

Understanding who does what

The person who instigates the work to be done is called the ma�tre d’ouvrage. The ma�tre d’ouvrage can contract with various people to get the work done.

An architect (un architecte) helps to define the project from a financial as well as a technical point of view. The architect can be involved in selecting the relevant artisans to carry out the work defined in the project. The architect can also oversee the work being carried out by the selected artisans. He/she then becomes the project manager, called the ma�tre d’�uvre. Architects in France are strongly regulated in terms of qualifications and professional insurance that offers their clients high-level protection. By law, an architect must be involved in all projects involving a building surface of 170m� or over.

Building companies, called constructeurs de maisons individuelles or pavilloneurs, only deal with the design and construction of new houses, and usually do not deal with renovations. Building companies offer package deals which are strongly regulated and automatically include guaranteed costs, prices and deadlines through an independent insurance cover that is compulsory for those companies to be able to trade. Payments are also regulated according to a plan de paiement, with specific instalments at various stages of the work being completed.

Les artisans, regardless of speciality (builders, plumbers, painters, electricians etc) are not bound by pre-established regulated contracts, and the ma�tre d’ouvrage must then ensure that a contract is established that will define clear terms and conditions.

Most Read

The project manager/ma�tre d’�uvre can be in charge of defining and designing the project, assisting in its realisation, checking the project complies with regulations, and managing who does what and when.

An architect is qualified to carry out all these tasks but it is wise to be incredibly careful when choosing a ma�tre d’�uvre who is not an architect. The title does not reflect a regulated activity, which means that anyone can call themselves a ma�tre d’�uvre, regardless of actual experience, qualifications or even a basic professional insurance to cover their clients.

Top tips for the ma�tre d’ouvrage

In a bid to limit the risk of issues emerging as the project unfolds, it is strongly recommended that the ma�tre d’ouvrage follow these simple steps:

* Ensure the artisan is fully and properly registered: a SIRET number – the company ID that proves it is a legal and legitimate business – must be provided and can be checked on On this site you can see if the company is currently registered or no longer registered. This service is free. Further information is available on the company’s or artisan’s financial health for a small fee. This will provide information on potential debts contracted by the company or on the early stages of the bankruptcy process called redressement judiciaire. It is also worth checking that the activity declared is the activity actually being carried out as this will have implications in terms of the insurance cover.

* Ask for a quote, called un devis. A devis is nothing short of a contract from the moment the client signs the quote with the mention bon pour travaux’ or bon pour accord’. It is therefore crucial that the devis, if it is to be signed, mentions far more than a mere description and estimated cost of the work to be carried out.

* Check the terms of payment, called les conditions de paiement. They include a non-refundable deposit, payable when the contract is signed. The commonly accepted level of deposit is between 20-30%. Stage payments can be organised depending on the size of the project with the remaining balance usually due when the parties agree that the work has been fully completed. Alternatively, the full balance can be paid, upon agreement between the parties, when the work is fully completed.

* Completion deadlines, le d�lai d’ex�cution. This is subject to negotiation and many problems can arise from this aspect of the project. There are two options here: either no deadline is mentioned, or a deadline is agreed and mentioned in the devis/contract. A deadline itself will be useless if there is no mention of the consequences incurred if it is not met. Such mention is called the clause p�nale (e.g. if a deadline is not respected, it will result in €80 per day damages being paid to the client by the artisan). The clause p�nale, however, is not completely foolproof and it is therefore recommended that a cahier des charges normes P03001 be approved and signed by both parties. This is a pre-formatted legal document, with no room for negotiation, clearly defining the relationship and respective responsibilities of the ma�tre d’ouvrage and the artisan at every step of the project.

* Obtain proof of the artisan’s professional insurance cover:

� Responsabilit� civile professionnelle (public liability insurance) covers any damages incurred by the artisan/company on the client’s premises (e.g. a tree being knocked down by a tractor).

� Assurance d�cennale: this is a 10-year guarantee covering the quality of the work carried out in terms of its lasting qualities (e.g. strength of a wall), and to ensure it fulfils the purpose for which it was intended (e.g. a toilet may look perfectly fitted in a bathroom, and yet not be properly connected to the sewage system!).

Finally, for bigger projects, the ma�tre d’ouvrage should really carefully consider taking out a dommages-ouvrages insurance policy. This offers a further guarantee should the work not be properly carried out in terms of deadline or quality, or should the artisan not be covered by a d�cennale for instance. Note the dommages-ouvrages policy is compulsory for people doing major work to their properties if they are likely to sell the property at any stage. This will protect the seller from being sued by the new owners in case of problems arising with the work carried out.

As with any project, the more preparation and care you put into selecting the key players and doing the groundwork, the lower the risk of problems emerging as the project unfolds.

Alexandra Thevenet

The Link