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Renovating a property in France

Renovating a property in France can be a dream project for many expats. The charming countryside, historic architecture, and the promise of creating your unique haven make in an enticing venture. However, before you dive into the world of renovation in a foreign land, there are essential steps to consider. 

Table of contents

How to renovate a property in France

Research and ground-work

Understand local regulations:
French property regulations can be intricate. Before starting your project, grasp the local building codes, zoning laws, and any specific regulations that might apply to renovations. 

Location matters:
Research the regions. Each area might have distinct architectural styles, and understanding the local aesthetic can help your renovation blend seamlessly into surroundings. 

Engage local experts:
Consider hiring a local architect or a project manager. Their knowledge of the local norms and network of reliable contractors can be invaluable.

What to check when buying renovation properties in France?

Structural integrity

  1. Foundation: Inspect the property’s foundation for cracks, shifts or signs of settlement. Any abnormalities may indicate structural issues. Pay attention to the walls, horizontal cracks could signify serious problems, while vertical cracks might be less concerning.
  2. Roof structure: Examine the roof structure for sagging or signs of water damage. A structurally sound roof is crucial for the overall integrity of the property. Assess the condition of the roof beams, trusses and look for any missing or damaged roofing materials.
  3. External walls: Check the external walls for cracks, especially around openings like doors and windows. Cracks in these areas might indicate settlement or movement. Additionally, inspect for signs of dampness, as this could suggest issues with the property’s water resistance. 
  4. Floors: Sagging or uneven floors could point to structural problems. These issues might be a result of inadequate foundation support or other structural deficiencies. It’s advisable to hire a structural engineer to assess the floor’s stability and integrity. 
  5. Basement and crawl spaces: If applicable, inspect the basement or crawl spaces for signs of water infiltration, dampness or structural damage. These areas often reveal early signs of foundation issues. 

Utilities and services

  1. Water pipes: Check the plumbing system for leaks, corrosion, or outdates materials. Replacing or repairing plumbing can be a significant expense. Assess the water pressure and ensure that both hot and cold water systems are functioning correctly. 
  2. Electrical systens: Evaluate the electrical wiring and systems. An outdated or faulty electrical system can pose safety hazards. Verify that the property complies with current electrical codes and standards. Consider the capacity of the electrical system to accommodate modern appliances and technology.
  3. Sewage and drainage: Inspect the sewage and drainage systems for blockages or leaks. A malfunctioning or outdated sewage system can lead to unpleasant and costly issues. Ensure that the property is connected to a functional and compliant sewage system.

Historical permits

  1. Review past renovations: Examine any documentation related to past renovations or alterations. This includes building permits, architectural plans, and records of modifications. Understanding the property’s renovation history helps you anticipate potential challenges and ensures that all changes were legally approved.
  2. Compliance with regulations: Check whether past renovations complied with local building regulations. Some older properties might have undergone renovations that do not meet current standards. Non-compliance could necessitate additional work to bring the property up to code.
  3. Architectural changes: If the property is in a historically designated area, inquire about restrictions on architectural changes. Some regions have strict guidelines to preserve the historical character of buildings.

What is the cost of renovating a French property?

Budget wisely

Renovating a property in France requires meticulous budgeting. Consider various elements such as labor, materials, permits, and potential unforeseen expenses. Establish a detailed budget outlining each aspect of the renovation process. It’s advisable to include a contingency fund of around 10-20% to cater to unexpected costs that may arise during the renovation.

DIY vs. professional help

One crucial decision is determining the extent of DIY work versus hiring professionals. While some tasks can be rewarding DIY projects, others demand skilled expertise. Assess your capabilities and the complexity of the renovations. Professional help might be essential for structural changes, electrical work, or plumbing installations to ensure compliance with building regulations.

Calculate your costs

Property size: Renovation costs are often proportional to the size of the property. Larger properties generally entail higher expenses, especially if significant structural changes are required. Assess the scale of the renovation needed and budget accordingly.

Choice of materials and fixtures: Your choice of materials and fixtures significantly influences costs. High-end materials and custom fixtures can escalate expenses, while more economical options may help manage the budget. Strike a balance between quality and cost-effectiveness to achieve the desired results without overspending.

Structural soundness: Starting with a structurally sound property can significantly impact renovation costs. Investing in a property with a solid foundation and minimal structural issues reduces the need for extensive and expensive repairs.

How much does it really cost?

Renovating a property in France involves diverse expenses that can vary based on location, materials, and the scope of the work. While individual quotes from builders will provide the most accurate figures, here’s a rough guide:

Painting: Budget approximately 25€-40€ per square meter for painting. The choice of paint and the condition of your walls can impact costs. If additional work like filling holes or removing wallpaper is needed, expenses may increase.

New Windows:

  • Removal: 50€-100€
  • Installation: 150€-300€
  • Double-Glazed Window: 100€-1,000€

Material options influence costs, with PVC being the most affordable, followed by wood and aluminum.

New roof: For a new roof with insulation, budget around €60 per square meter. If the timber structure requires replacement, plan for approximately 200€ per square meter. Material choices will influence costs, and consulting with your roofer is advisable.

Heating: Heating costs vary widely, with options ranging from gas boilers to wood stoves and heat pumps. As a basic estimate:

  • Gas Boiler: Around 3,000€
  • Wood Stove: Double that of a gas boiler
  • Heat Pump: 5,000€ to 10,000€, depending on the model

Electrics: Approximately 110€ per square meter for rewiring. Ensure the completed work is checked and certified by the Comité national pour la sécurité des usagers de l’électricité.

Insulation: Investing in insulation not only brings long-term energy savings but can also make you eligible for tax credits. Costs for various insulation materials:

  • Mineral Fibre, Felt, Glass or Rock Wool, Fibreglass: From 3€ per square meter
  • Expanded Polystyrene, Cellular Glass, Vermiculite: From 10€ per square meter
  • POR (Polyurethane): Approximately 20€ per square meter

Installation costs can range from 20€ per square meter for floors to 100€ for exterior walls.

Plumbing: Plumbing expenses can vary based on the extent of work and property size. As a reference, plumbing for a 50-square-meter apartment may average around 5,000€.

Professional installation for lower VAT rates

VAT Rates on Materials: In France, the VAT (Value Added Tax) rates on materials are lower if installed by a professional. When hiring professionals for certain aspects of the renovation, you may benefit from reduced VAT rates, contributing to overall cost savings.

Financing considerations: If you are seeking a renovation loan from French banks, they typically release funds against professional invoices. This means if professionals are handling specific aspects of the renovation, financing becomes more straightforward. However, if you opt for a DIY approach, securing financing might involve additional considerations, such as a ‘pret à la consommation’ for materials at potentially higher VAT rates.

Understanding permits for renovating houses in France

The regulatory landscape for building permits in France is nuanced and depends on the scope of your renovation project. While minor changes might not necessitate a full permit, it’s essential to understand the rules governing renovations. Some alterations may fall under the umbrella of déclaration préalable, a simplified form of permission for smaller projects.

Consult with local authorities

To decipher the specific requirements for your renovation, it’s advisable to connect with local authorities. The town hall or planning office is a valuable resource. They can provide insights into the need for permits, applicable regulations, and any specific conditions that might apply to your project based on the property’s location.

Applying for planning permits in France

Prepare documentation: Gathering comprehensive documentation is a crucial step in the planning process. Essential documents often include:

  • Detailed Renovation Plans: Provide a clear outline of the proposed changes, including architectural drawings and specifications.
  • Proof of Ownership: Documented proof establishing your ownership of the property.
  • Additional Paperwork: Depending on local regulations, there may be additional paperwork required, such as environmental impact assessments or historical considerations.

Engage with the community: In certain instances, especially for larger projects, community engagement might be necessary. This involves presenting your renovation plans to the local community or neighbourhood association. Building positive relationships with your future neighbours can foster goodwill and smooth the process.

Renovation projects that alter the exterior of a property or significantly change its purpose often require more extensive permits. While these processes might seem bureaucratic, they are designed to ensure that renovations adhere to safety standards, zoning laws, and the overall aesthetic harmony of the community. Engaging with local authorities early and being well-prepared with documentation can streamline the permit application process and set your renovation on a solid legal foundation.

Ready to get started?

Check out the series of video Richard at French Connections has uploaded on YouTube about renovating houses in France. Check out his YouTube Channel here

Final notes

Embarking on a property renovation journey in France can be an exciting and rewarding experience. With thorough research, proper planning, and adherence to local regulations, you can turn a neglected property into a charming abode.

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