Follow these tips to make sure you choose a good builder to carry out renovation work on your French property
Matthew Chalk runs Brittany-based building company MC Renovation
Whether you’re hoping to renovate a period property or make over a modern home, it’s essential that you use registered, qualified and insured tradesmen in France.
Ideally you will get recommendations from your neighbours or friends, but your local mairie is also a good place to start as they should be able to provide a list of trustworthy artisans. Don’t be afraid to use local French artisans. It is useful to have an English-speaking builder but not essential, and by using local artisans you are also contributing to the local economy.
1. Check that they are registered and qualified
First and foremost, make sure your artisan has a registered French business and is qualified to do the work they offer to undertake. To do this, ask for their SIRET number. This is a 14-digit code issued by France’s national statistics bureau identifying the geographical location of all French establishments and enterprises. The online Pages Jaunes (Yellow Pages) should also list the SIRET numbers of builders. Once you have the code, do an internet search for the SIRET number and it should bring up the details of the artisan. You will then be able to see what they are qualified to do. It could, for example, be travaux de maçonnerie générale (general building work), or something more specialised such as travaux de plâtrerie (plastering). If they are registered for bricolage (DIY or home improvements) or gîte maintenance, that does not mean they are suitably qualified to start re-wiring your home or building stud walls.
2. Check that they are properly insured
Always ask to see artisans’ décennale and civil insurance. The décennale (l’assurance responsabilité civile décannale) is an insurance policy guaranteeing major structural work for 10 years. Builders are legally required to hold such a policy although some smaller builders don’t because it is too expensive. The civil insurance insures against any accidental damage. Normally, the insurance references will be on the bottom of the quotes.
3. Find out if they are registered as an RGE
If you’re having work done to your principal residence, it might be worth your while hiring an RGE-registered artisan. This label, which stands for Reconnu Garant de l’Environnement, means you can claim up to 30% back on certain energy-related works (material only) depending on your situation. If you choose an RGE artisan, it means that, at some point, their work has been audited by Qualibat, a qualification-awarding body that promotes high standards in building work. Some 20,000 enterprises were turned down for this qualification in 2016 so it is the sign of a good artisan and is very popular in France.
4. Ask for testimonials/references
Always ask to see examples of previous works. Good builders will be keen to show off previous jobs thy have carried out. Perhaps ask for testimonials or photos. Never agree to take on work on the ‘black’. This is illegal (you could be fined) and will be of no benefit to you should you wish to sell the property at a later date and provide documents for the notaire. Nor will it give you any protection against poor workmanship. Steer well clear. Also be wary of the recent wave of social media sites where you post works you wish to receive quotes for. This type of fishing is a cowboy builder’s dream. You are wide open to trouble.
5. Thoroughly check through the building quotes you get
Take in three different quotes and look thoroughly at what each artisan is offering. Builders’ quotes in France are extremely detailed. Are they all offering the same finish, for example? An oak staircase is more expensive that a pine one. How much insulation is going in? What type of skirting boards will there be? What type of flooring? Does the work conform to RT2012 (strict new energy-efficiency requirements for all building work)? The list is endless so look carefully. The devil is in the detail, so make sure that the quotes cover exactly what you discussed and what you want.
6. Regularly check up on the building work
If the time-scale is important, make sure this has been discussed in advance and both parties are clear on the deadline. If you live far away from the property, it’s a good idea to ask for regular photos to be sent at each stage or on a weekly basis. My clients look forward to Photo Friday. Get to know your neighbours and ask them frequently by phone if the works are going alright. And never pay the whole amount up front. It is normal for an artisan to take a deposit once the quotes have been signed. Note that by signing the quotes you are entering a legally bound contract.
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