The finished product? New-build property in France

Don’t let the recession stand in the way of buying your dream house; build it instead, says Georgina Caldwell…

If the current economic crisis and the resulting weak sterling has thwarted your plans to buy a property in France this year, then a new-build project might provide the perfect compromise. Perhaps you had grand plans to buy the house of your dreams or to take on a renovation project but sterling’s poor performance has sent the total cost soaring over budget. Maybe you had visions of your extended family staying en masse, but now even one guest room seems a stretch. All is not lost. Build costs for a new-build project are considerably cheaper than a comparable conversion project and infinitely more flexible, so there is no need to wave goodbye to your dream house.

The average new-build project – that is, a two-storey, three-bedroom house – costs at least €20,000 less than a comparable conversion project, weighing in at €150,000, versus almost €170,000, according to Steve Gilham at Alliance French Property Group.

Admittedly, new-build houses can’t compete with the character and charm that a traditional property can bring to the table, but that also means that they come free of all the problems that inevitably arise when you awake an ancient building from its slumber. New-builds are predictable (providing the land has been properly investigated prior to construction, the contractor selected wisely and the proper permissions obtained). Afterall, with a new-build, your builder isn’t going to suddenly discover a case of dry rot/asbestos/subsidence, blowing the budget and the timetable for your build.

And new-builds aren’t restricted to a soulless concrete box. There are a whole host of styles and options available – from ultra modern to replica-character, replete with reclaimed tiles and bricks. “A lot of UK clients are loooking for a traditional appearance and character but this can be built in using traditional materials,” says Gillham. Meanwhile the quirky wonky lines, illogical floor plans and erratic plumbing are conveniently eliminated from new-build houses.

Indeed, new-builds are ultimately lower-maintenance, thanks to higher construction standards, not to mention the fact that they come with a 10-year structural guarantee, absolving you of any responsibility (and for responsibility, read cost) should anything go wrong.

New-build properties are also better insulated and therefore cheaper to run – if you invest in a high level of sub-floor, external wall and roof insulation from the outset, you could eliminate the need for central heating altogether, instead relying on a wood-burning stove. Further savings on running costs include the two-year exemption from property tax (taxe fonci�re) available in some areas and lower registration taxes (€600 on a property valued at €100,000 compared to almost €5,000 for a similar resale property).

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Rock bottom

Cheaper build costs and lower running costs are all very well, but the real cost-saving benefit of building a house from scratch – especially in these uncertain times – is the flexibility it will afford you.

Firstly, it goes without saying that new-build properties are flexible in that you can choose exactly where and what to build, within the confines of planning restrictions, of course. You can site your property on your plot to take advantage of a spectacular view, you can flood your kitchen/breakfast room with early morning sunshine and orientate your dining room to catch the last rays of light in the evening. You can create disabled access and ground-floor facilities – all of which would be either prohibitively expensive or logistically impossible to achieve in a pre-existing building.

However, while tailoring the finished product to your exact specifications without paying over the odds is a considerable advantage, even better is the flexibility to tailor the build itself to your budget. There are several options for the budget conscious to save on build costs, allowing you to plan for your dream house, while paying only for your bread and butter house.

1) Finish-it-yourself: If you’re a dab-hand with a paintbrush and a power drill, you can have the house built to the level covered by the 10-year structural warranty and then complete the work yourself. Typically, a house finished to this level will cost 30% less than a completed project.

2) Stage-build: If your dreams are bigger than your budget, why not build your dream house in stages? If you obtain planning permission for a two-storey house, you can phase the works, initially designing the accommodation to fit on the ground floor and building a structural first floor, to be completed at a later date when finances permit.

3) Get the foundations right: Similar to the stage-build, if you intend to extend your property at a later date, you could have the floor slab laid to your eventual specifications, building only on the portion that you can afford to complete now.

4) Two for one: If you buy a building plot with permission for two dwellings, you could build one property now to use as a show home, building the second property when you have secured a buyer – making a profit into the bargain. You could even let out the second property, either to a permanent tenant or as a holiday home.

Saleability is the other big advantage of new-build property. As a general rule, the French prefer modern homes. There is also a considerable number of incentives aimed at encouraging them to buy new-build property. First-time buyers, investing in their main residence are entitled to a generous loan at 0% interest to help them get on the property ladder, while those looking for a buy-to-let are encouraged by the Loi Scellier, Robien and Borloo schemes, offering various tax incentives to investors.

All in all, new-build property can be an infinitely flexible and low-cost option for those looking to buy a property in France.

CONTACT: Steve Gilham, Alliance French Property GroupTel: 020 8669 6576www.alliancefrenchproperty.com