French building boom leads to shortage of builders for property renovation projects

If you've got construction work planned you may struggle to find a builder this year, after a surge in demand as French owners undertake renovation and improvement works on their property.

French building boom leads to shortage of builders for property renovation projects
(Photo by Philippe HUGUEN / AFP)

Swimming pool installers are also seeing boom times, with almost 200,000 polls installed last year alone.

French builders were just as busy in the first six months of this year as they were before the pandemic, according to a study by the Confederation of Crafts and Small Building Companies (Capeb) published on Tuesday.

The growth of the building industry was driven by energy renovation, which grew by 3.3 percent in the first half of the year from the same period in 2019.

Overall, maintenance and renovation grew 2.2 percent from pre-pandemic figures.

“Being confined and working from home has prompted French people to change their homes in order to live better,” said Capeb president Jean-Christophe Repon.

READ ALSO How to avoid being conned by rogue tradespeople in France

Government funding for energy renovation

Growth in energy renovation – which includes retrofitting and power-saving upgrades – is key to France meeting its climate change commitments as buildings account for 28 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions, Andreas Rudinger of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations wrote in an article last year.

France has been actively encouraging people to undertake energy renovation projects. In January, the government opened up its MaPrimeRenov’ scheme – which offers grants of up to €20,000 to make properties more energy efficient – to all homeowners, including for second homes.

Around 200,000 people requested grants in 2020, when the scheme was reserved for modest-income households, but the government expects to help 800,000 further homeowners in 2021, housing minister Emmanuelle Wargon told Le Parisien in April.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: How to access France’s €20k property renovation grants

So what does this mean for people looking to renovate their property? Well, you might have to do a bit of searching to find someone who’s available to do the job.

At the beginning of September, 14 percent of small builders said they still hoped to recruit more staff.

Builders employing fewer than 20 people added 26,000 jobs in the 12 months to March 31st, according to the report.

The Capeb is predicting a total of 25,000 new jobs will be created in 2021, but Repon warned that “the lack of skilled labour is a real concern for our businesses”.

Rising prices

If you are able to find someone to do your works, you may have to pay more than before the pandemic.

In addition to high demand for builders, a global shortage of raw materials has made prices shoot up and caused delays to supply chains.

Three-quarters of small builders say prices of materials have risen, and 57 percent report disruptions to supplies according to a survey by Capeb and research company Xerfi. 67 percent of businesses said they have occasionally had to delay jobs.

Carpenters and locksmiths are the most likely to be affected, with 86 percent reporting a rise in costs, followed by plumbers and heating engineers (81 percent) and painters and decorators (80 percent).

READ ALSO France to bring in new environmental rules on log burners and open fires

While the offer of materials is slowly picking up, global demand has exploded, according to economist Philippe Chalmin, who specialises in raw material markets. From the summer of 2020, the Chinese economy kicked back into gear, and “Chinese demand exploded for a great number of industrial products,” Chalmin told Le Figaro in May.

“If Chinese demand is subsiding slightly now, this growth has been replaced from the end of 2020 by the recovery of the American economy, which is being kick-started by stimulus packages.”

While major companies operating large construction sites have reported little impact on their turnover, smaller firms or independent workers who undertake home renovations are more likely to feel the effects of rising prices and shortages.

Tradesman Stéphane Payen told Challenges magazine that his quotes “used to be valid for three months. Now, no more than a week.”

The Local now publishes a weekly roundup of French property news, which is available HERE.

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French police launch new service to keep empty homes secure

Leaving your property empty puts it at risk of burglars or squatters and this is a particular worry for second-home owners, whose homes are often vacant for prolonged periods.

French police launch new service to keep empty homes secure

French police run a scheme called Opération Tranquillité Vacances which involves householders telling their local police that they will be away, so they can keep an eye on the property.

The scheme has run in various forms since 1974, but now an online platform has been set up allowing property owners to make their declaration in just a few clicks.

It’s largely targeted at French people who are going away over the summer and leaving their homes empty, but it’s not limited to French nationals and can be used all year around.

Under the scheme, householders and businesses can ask their local gendarmes to keep a watch over their properties while they are away for a period of up to three months.

READ ALSO How to get rid of squatters from your French property

Police and gendarmes patrols visit houses on their list at various times during the day or night, checking shutters, gates, and back gardens to make sure all is as it should be – and to act as a deterrent to any criminal groups checking the area.

The new online service is not limited to French nationals or French residents, but it does require a FranceConnect account to operate, meaning that you need to be registered in at least one French database (eg the tax office, benefits office or in the health system).

The form can be used to cover both main residences and second homes (résidence secondaire) but there is a limit of three months at a time for the property to be vacant.

You can find the form HERE and it can be completed between three and 45 days before your departure.

You can also register in person at your nearest police station or gendarmerie unit. Take ID and proof of address, such as a recent utility bill, if you do it this way.

Summertime is high-season for criminals in France, who target homes that have been left vacant while their owners are away on holiday.

Opération Tranquillité Vacances was introduced in 1974 as a means to keep crime rates down during the summer holiday period. It was extended to include other school holidays in 2009, and is now available all year round.