Renovating a Burgundy home while beating the bank

How to save costs when renovating

How to save costs when renovating - Credit: Archant

How to finance a renovation in France without incurring hefty fees from the bank

When Giles and Jane bought their French maison secondaire in April 2000 they did not foresee all that lay ahead. The property was just habitable, but they knew it required work to make it truly comfortable. What they didn’t realise, was that over the years a compelling vision for the property would evolve which would require both hard work and hard cash.

The couple have always loved France and enjoyed a month there each summer with their three children. Each region has its own attractions, but having decided to invest in a French property they agreed it would be in Burgundy, and particularly in the Auxois-Morvan region with its rolling countryside, distinctive white Charolais cattle, medieval towns, and proximity to the great wine villages. In February 2000 they spent five days travelling from village to village seeking ‘A vendre’ notices, which were invariably attached to badly positioned or uninhabitable buildings. Then, at the end of a farming village on their last day, they came across a non-descript house, but with a view which stretched for more than seven miles across three ranges of hills. Two months later they owned this house.

Their French project has had three distinct phases: modernising and restoring the house and neighbouring barn along with constructing a boule court in the grounds and developing a garden. Both the house and barn required new roofs which, like so much of the work on the house, needed specialist builders.

All this has been very expensive, requiring the frequent transfer of money between the UK and France. At first they used their bank for this, resenting the high charges but knowing no cheaper way of making these transactions. “We had to pay £25 upfront every time we needed to move money. We quickly realised we were effectively paying twice that amount because of the bad exchange rate the bank was giving us. It cost a small fortune”.

In 2012, Giles and Jane discovered TransferWise, which charges just 0.5% of the transfer amount and takes no mark-up from the exchange rate. They have since saved nearly a thousand pounds, invested back into the project, and it has become much easier for them to manage their money across two countries. “Since we discovered TransferWise we just send across as much money as we need at the time with peace of mind that we won’t be ripped off by hidden charges. It has made our lives so much easier.”

Now retired, Giles and Jane divide their year between their suburban house outside London and their rural home in France where their friends are not only French and English but also German, Swiss and Dutch. “The French project is now almost complete. It has been a challenge and an adventure, sometimes very worrying but ultimately incredibly rewarding. We now have a great balance between our lives in France and England – it’s the best of both worlds.”