Renovating in France

When the builders move on site, you’ll need to be on hand to make sure things go according to plan, says Ian Blackshaw...

When it comes to the execution phase, you will need to be on hand, if not all of the time then certainly some of the time, especially if you are undertaking the conversion while living in the UK. This will avoid all kinds of mistakes, misunderstandings and errors on the part of the builder and his workmen, which may well delay the progress of the works as well as adding to the cost.Regular communication with the builder can be maintained by email, fax and telephone. In this respect, it is always helpful, depending on your French, to engage a builder who speaks English – of course, not all do – and so this is a wonderful opportunity to improve your French. My wife, for example, is now fluent in French building terms! Also, a friend of ours, as a result of her building experience, is now able to converse in the local village patois, which is quite an achievement!If you are undertaking a g�te conversion at a distance, it is advisable to have periodic site meetings with the builder as each phase of the building works is completed or nearing completion. Annotated working plans will certainly help to avoid mistakes; for example, where electrical plugs (prises) and switches (interrumpteurs) are to be sited in each of the rooms (pi�ces). These are basic matters to be settled early on in the building process. Changes and modifications later on could prove costly. Likewise, the location of all sanitary ware needs to be settled at the outset, as this involves laying pipes both inside and outside the building.Inevitably, during the execution of the works, unforeseen building problems quite often arise and need to be dealt with quickly, in order not to delay the overall project. Unfortunately, this will involve extra cost, which will need to be agreed and documented accordingly, in order to avoid problems on completion of the project when final accounts need to be settled! Of course, where these problems are the results of mistakes on the part of the builder, they must be rectified at the builder’s expense and in a timely manner. Again, any and all such arrangements should be documented.Time is moneyYou will also need to stay on top of things with the builder to avoid time slippages in the execution of the project. If you are not around, French builders have a habit of leaving the job and doing work for other clients, especially if they have taken on too much work and made too many promises about doing and completing work for their clients. They seem to have an uncanny knack, however, of knowing when to reappear on site!Unfortunately, delays also occur for reasons beyond the builder’s control, due to illness and work accidents, for example. In this respect, when choosing a builder, it is prudent to find out what safety measures the builder takes to secure the site and his workers. Our builder, for example, was very safety conscious – not only for humanitarian reasons but also for economic reasons – and had won several awards and commendations from the department. In France, it can be costly for a builder if one of his workmen is unable to work because of an accident on site. Our builder’s electrician was on short time – only able to work during the mornings – for six months but on full pay while recovering from breaking his arm in a fall on another building site. The site also needs to be secured for visitors’ safety, such as materials suppliers. You should also make sure that the builder is adequately insured against such risks.Delays may occur because of bad weather when outside works are involved. In the same way that the summer holidays may cause havoc with your schedule, so may the winter months because of bad weather. All these factors need to be taken into account when estimating how long the works are likely to take. This is important if you wish to have the g�te ready to atch a particular season. If possible, you should include a penalty clause in the devis in the event of delays that are the fault of the builder. Or, alternatively, give the builder a financial incentive to complete the works ahead of time to your satisfaction! In either case, these clauses need to be very carefully worded.Ian Blackshaw is an international lawyer ian.blackshaw@orange.fr www.7valleysbandb.com