Hiring builders and tradespeople in France
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Finding a reliable builder or artisan in France can be a challenge, but Rosie Ellis is here to help.
It's natural to arrive in France with the wide-eyed gaze of a kid in a sweet shop, amazed at the amount of property and land you can get for your money and attracted by the more laid-back approach to life (two-hour lunches with wine!). You can, though, get lulled into a false sense of security that renovating a French house will be a straightforward and amazing experience. In some (rare) cases this is 100% true; however, for most of us 'plain sailing' is not the phrase that springs to mind.
It's not my intention to discourage you from your dream project or be the voice of doom when talking about the complexities of home renovations in France. Far from it: the experience can be a paradox of wonderful and horrendous, rewarding yet challenging and life-changing in both a positive and negative sense. However, if you are bold enough to embrace these rollercoaster-like twists and turns of emotions then the end result is (almost always) worth it. In order to get through the process with your sanity intact, though, finding the right artisan workforce is paramount.
Where and when to look
When it comes to the actual work, even the greatest of DIYers will need a helping hand with the more complex aspects of the renovation process. Finding the right tradesperson, however, can take as long as it took you to find the actual property, depending on which region or area you are in.
Some more remote places in the French countryside, while charming and idyllic to live in, may be more difficult in terms of finding a workforce. There may be only a couple of suitable local artisans and they could well be booked up for the next six months or longer. In this respect I would suggest that it's a good idea to start researching tradespeople well in advance. There are several ways to find the trades you require, although it is wise to bear in mind that each artisan is usually more specialised in just one or two domains i.e. masonry or tiling or window fitting, and general builders are more of a rarity compared to the UK. Your search can be as easy as starting with your neighbour and asking if they can recommend someone they have previously used or even calling in at your local mairie where they will have a good knowledge of the local workforce. Alternatively, there are the national directories such as Les Pages Jaunes (Yellow Pages) online, or the artisans-du-batiment.com/trouver-un-artisan web listings, run by the builder's union CAPEB where you will find listings of artisans in and around your local area.
If you are struggling with the language barrier and are more inclined to use English-speaking trades then there are other online directories dedicated to the expat market which can be very useful. A simple search using keywords such as 'artisans' 'trades in France' or even 'builders, electricians, plumbers in France' will usually present you with a list of different databases. If you have a large project that will require planning permission then it may be preferable to start your search with an architect or project manager who can quickly advise you on the dos and don'ts and submit plans to the local authorities such as the Architectes des Bâtiments de France (a national body safeguarding built heritage) on your behalf, handling all the paperwork and red tape that comes along with it. They should also have a good knowledge of trades around your area that they regularly use - tried and tested if you like - that they can recommend.
How to do background checks
Once you've made the first steps in researching the trades you require and finding those in your region, the next step is to make contact and ask them to for a quote (un devis) for the work you want doing. It's a good idea to get a couple of quotes from different artisans, if you are unaware of costs, for comparison. But do remember that the cheapest is not always the best; reputation and time served in their respective trades counts for much more.
This leads me on to the matter of checking the validity of artisans and making sure they are insured to do what they say they do. The easiest way is to ask them for their registration documents or INSEE from the Chambre de Métiers or a copy of their KBIS which is registered with the Chambre de Commerce. A KBIS is more detailed but an INSEE document will have a Siret number and APE/NAF code which can tell you the principle activities the artisan is registered to do. This Siret number can be easily checked online using such portals as infogreffe.fr or insee.fr.
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Insurance documents should be made readily available by your tradesperson; an attestation is usually a single document that lists the primary activities he or she is insured for, but it is important to know that usually the full version of the document will have an exhaustive list of sub-categories. This is useful as the activities listed on the registration documents should correspond with the list of activities on the insurance documents, and vice versa.
Get the right testimonials
Along with checking an artisan's insurance and registration documents, you should ask them for any photos of previous work they have carried out and request to see testimonials from previous clients. These can often be found on the artisan's website Facebook or Facebook page, although perhaps the most effective way is to ask for the email or phone number of a previous client who doesn't mind being contacted to get a true gauge of the artisan's workmanship and reliability.
The most important thing to consider before employing your chosen tradesperson is that in the eyes of the law the responsibility of checking he or she is correctly registered and insured is as much yours as it is theirs. Every artisan must have public liabilities insurance at the very least and all major works should come with a 10-year 'décennale' insurance. Reputable tradespeople who carry out smaller jobs such as decorating or tiling usually provide a two-year insurance on their work and materials as standard
Rosie Ellis is Operations Manager at Artisan Central, which provides an online directory of pre-checked, skilled tradespeople working throughout France