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From taxes to toilets: All you need to know about renovating a house in France

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From taxes to toilets: All you need to know about renovating a house in France
Get the DIY lingo. Photo londondeposit/Depositphotos
15:17 CET+01:00
Doing any renovation is a complicated and lengthy project - but doing it in a foreign country adds a whole new level of challenge. Here is our A-Z guide to renovating a house in France.

A is for Agent d’immobilier - when you’re buying you will almost certainly need an estate agent. Here are five tips for dealing with estate agents in France.

B is for Bricolage - DIY. The stores M Bricolage, Brico Depot, and Brico Pro will become your second home while you do the restoration and you will probably spend more time talking to their staff than you do talking to your own family.

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C is for Chene - oak. Most wooden items - doors, window frames, shutters etc will come in either pine - the cheap option - and oak - the mid price option. Surprisingly, it is no more expensive than PVC for windows.

D is for Declaration préalable - planning permission. The planning regulation system in France has two levels, a permit de construire or a declaration préalable. Which one you need depends on the size of the property and what you're planning to do with it.

E is for Electricité - Electrics are not a subject for amateurs anyway (risk of death and all that) but even if you are a qualified electrician you will need to take advice as the building code concerning electrics is significantly different to the UK. Your work will need to be signed off by a qualified local electrician and you may need to do it all over again if you haven’t adhered to French standards.

F is for Fosse septique - Before you purchase a house, check whether or not it is connected to the sewage system. Many houses in rural areas are not and with prices varying from €1,000 to €3,000 for a septic tank (plus labour costs for installation) it represents a substantial extra cost in your budget.

G is for grenier - your house may or may not have un grenier (attic) but you will see the word everywhere in ‘vide grenier’ the French equivalent of car boot sales or yard sales. Generally cheaper than the brocante (vintage market) they can be a great place for picking up odds and ends.

H is for haie - whether your house has une haie (hedge) or un mur (wall) before you start anything it is crucial to check where the boundaries of your property actually lie, so that you’re not accidentally encroaching on your neighbour’s land. The pack of documents you get from the notaire at purchase time should have a map showing the exact boundaries.

I is for Internet - the quality of the internet connections in rural France are patchy, to say the least, so if you’re buying a place with the intention of running your own business from home, definitely check what sort of internet connections are available in that area.


Check out your local brocante or vide grenier for bargains. Photo: AFP

J is for Jardin - once you’ve got the house sorted you might want to start gardening. In general the French climate, especially if you’re further south, is great for growing fruit and veg and most village dwellers have a vegetable patch.

L is for Loi Montagne - in mountainous areas there are extra rules about the construction of the roof and the foundations. Earthquake zones also have extra building regulations. Find out before you start what the rules are in your area and don’t assume that local builders will point them out to you.

M is for Mairie - Your local mayor has more power than you realise and most works will have to be signed off in advance by the mayor. If in doubt, check before you start - the mayor has the power to halt unauthorised works and issue fines. Get on the right side of the maire and his or her staff, however, and they are a goldmine of crucial renovation information.

N is for Notaire - a position unique to France, the notaire is a legal expert who can offer advice, but acts on behalf of the French state. Some functions in France, such as buying and selling property, cannot be done without a notaire.

O is for Offre d'achat - a formal offer to buy a house. Once you make this offer, either verbally or in writing, it becomes legally binding. However, it is illegal to hand over money at this stage, you need to wait until the seller makes a promesse de vente (promise to sell).

P is for Plombier - again, there are some important differences between French and English plumbing standards and if you import things like shower heads and toilets from the UK make sure the connections to the pipes fit - not everything will be the same size.

R is for Realism - when we asked successful home renovators what the most common mistakes were the number one answer was that people under estimate both the cost of the works and the time it will take. Be realistic and don’t expect to get everything done quickly and cheaply.

READ ALSO: How to convert a rustic barn into your dream home

S is for Siret - a crucial number that allows you to check that any tradesman you hire is qualified and insured.

T is for Taxe d’habitation - the local tax (equivalent of council tax in the UK) is in the process of being phased out, except for second homes. It varies substantially from region to region, so check before you buy exactly how much your bill will be. You will also need to pay Taxe foncière, which is the property owner's tax, plus a local charge for rubbish collection whether you live there full time or not.

U is for Urbanisme - this will be familiar to anyone going through the French planning permission process. A plan locale d'urbanisme is a local planning policy document that can dictate, for example, which areas of green land in and around villages can be built on. Not all areas have them, but it is vital to check that your plans comply with a local plan.

V is for Volets - shutters will be a new experience for most Brits but they are worth every penny - helping to keep your place cool in summer and cosy in winter.

Z is for Zone tendue - An area where a tax on empty buildings is enforced. Targeted at second homes and holiday homes, the areas where this applies include Ajaccio, Annecy, Arles, Bastia, Bayonne, Beauvais, Bordeaux, Draguignan, Fréjus, Genève–Annemasse, Grenoble, La Rochelle, La Teste-de-Buch–Arcachon, Lille, Lyon, Marseille–Aix-en-Provence, Meaux, Menton–Monaco, Montpellier, Nantes, Nice, Paris, Saint-Nazaire, Sète, Strasbourg, Thonon-les-Bains, Toulon, and Toulouse.

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