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French property roundup: Renovation grants to châteaux with vineyards

From government grants and building materials to the latest trend for vineyard châteaux, here is our weekly French property roundup.

Vineyards in the Cahors area of southern France.
Vineyards in the Cahors area of southern France. Photo: Pascal Pavani/AFP

Châteaux with vineyards

A restored chateau in the Aude département in south west France is now open for visitors, part of an increasing trend for œnotourisme or wine tourism.

Both tourism companies and private buyers have been restoring old properties in the wine-growing regions of France, particularly the comparatively-neglected Languedoc area, and opening them up to tourists who want to stay in a luxury location while experiencing the wine-growing culture around them.

The Château Capitoul between Narbonne and Gruissan is the latest example, set in 62 hectares of vineyards.

Simplified renovation grants

If you’re doing a home renovation or work to upgrade your property, particularly if it improves the energy efficiency of the property, you could be entitled to government help.

However at present there are a lot of different schemes and grants that can be accessed, so finding the one that you need can be difficult. Added to this is the fact that many private companies have taken advantage of the confusion to scam vulnerable people through cold-calling about supposedly ‘government approved works’.

This is the situation the government aims to resolve with the creation, from January 1st 2022, of a single online portal for those planning renovation works. You put in details of the work you want to do, plus your income and personal circumstances and the portal will tell you how much help you are entitled to and where to apply for it.

Worth bearing in mind if you have works planned, and some of the schemes are also open to second-home owners.

Tax hikes

This is the season when property tax bills arrive and you may have noticed that these seem to be getting bigger. The property owners’ tax – taxe foncière – has skyrocketed in recent years, here’s why and which areas are worst affected.

Building materials

Talking of increasing costs, building materials including steel, cooper, PVC and timber have all been in short supply in France – recently linked to global supply chain disruption – and consequently prices have risen. So if you’re preparing for a renovation project on your French property it may be more expensive than you had anticipated.

Let’s move to . . . Orléans

France’s smaller cities and towns are becoming increasingly popular with property-buyers who still want the amenities of a town but are put off by the crowds and high property prices of cities like Paris and Marseille. 

Despite being the former home of the spirit of France herself (Joan of Arc) Orléans is often overlooked by visitors and property-buyers alike, despite is beautiful medieval city centre, position in the heart of the Loire Valley and lively calendar of festivals and events.

Here Orléans native Gwendoline Gaudicheau beats the drum for her hometown

French property vocab

If you are planning to do any work on your French property you may need a déclaration préalable – planning permission. There are two levels of permission required for works, a permis 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.

In general before you do any major works on your home – or anything that can be seen from the outside – it’s a good idea to check with your local mairie. Some regions have their own extra restrictions in addition to the national rules, especially if you are in a historic area or a mountainous region, so it’s a good idea to get any works approved in advance by the mayor to avoid accidentally breaking the rules.

Property tip of the week 

When it comes to furnishing your new place, check out the local brocante (vintage sale) and vide grenier (second-hand sale) to get low-cost furniture, fittings or crockery.

These sales are regular events especially in rural France and can be a great place to snap up a bargain, as well as enjoying the atmosphere.

READ ALSO Vide grenier and brocante: The written and unwritten rules of France’s second-hand sales

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Plumbing Emergencies in France: Who to call and what to say

Plumbing ermergencies are common in France, so here's our guide to what to do, who to call and the phrases you will need if water starts gushing in unexpected areas.

Plumbing Emergencies in France: Who to call and what to say

How do I find a reliable plumber and avoid getting scammed?

First, try to stick with word-of-mouth if you can. Contact trusted individuals or resources, like your neighbours and friends, or foreigner-oriented Facebook groups for your area (ex. “American Expats in Paris”). This will help you find a more reliable plumber. If this is not an option for you, try “Pages Jaunes” (France’s ‘Yellow Pages’) to see reviews and plumbers (plomberie) in your area. 

Next, educate yourself on standard rates. If the situation is not an emergency, try to compare multiple plumbers to make sure the prices are in the correct range. 

Finally, always Google the name of the plumber you’ll be working with – this will help inform you as to whether anyone else has had a particularly positive (or negative) experience with them – and check that the company has a SIRET number.

This number should be on the work estimate (devis). You can also check them out online at societe.com. If you want to be extra careful you can also ask to see their carte artisan BTP (craftsman card). 

READ MORE: What is a SIRET number and why is it crucial when hiring French tradesmen?

Who is responsible for paying for work?

If you own the property, you are typically the one who is responsible for financing the plumbing expenses.

However if you’re in a shared building, you must determine the cause and location of the leak. If you cannot find the origin of the leak, you may need a plumber to come and locate it and provide you with an estimate. You can use this estimate when communicating with insurance, should the necessity arise. 

If you are a renter, the situation is a bit more complicated. Most of the time, water damage should be the landlord’s responsibility, but there are exceptions.

The landlord is obliged to carry out major repairs (ex. Natural disaster, serious plumbing issues) that are necessary for the maintenance and normal upkeep of the rented premises (as per, Article 6C of the law of July 6, 1989). The tenant, however, is expected to carry out routine maintenance, and minor repairs are also to be paid by the tenant. If the problem is the result of the tenant failing to maintain the property, then it will be the tenant’s responsibility to cover the cost of the repair.

Legally speaking, it is also the tenant’s responsibility to get the boiler serviced once a year, as well as to maintain the faucets and joints, and to avoid clogging the pipes.

READ MORE: Assurance habitation: How to get home insurance in France

If you end up in dispute with your landlord over costs, you can always reach out to ADIL, the national Housing Association which offers free legal advice for housing issues in France. 

What happens if the leak is coming from my neighbour’s property?

Both you and your neighbour should contact your respective housing insurance companies and file the ‘sinistre’ (damage) with them.

If you both agree on the facts you can file an amiable (in a friendly fashion), then matters are much more simple and you will not have to go through the back-and-forth of determining fault.

If having a friendly process is not possible, be sure to get an expert to assert where the leak is coming from and file this with your insurance company.

As always, keep evidence (lists and photographs) of the damage. Keep in mind that many insurance providers have a limited number of days after the start of the damage that you can file. Better to do it sooner than later, partially because, as with most administrative processes in France, it might take a bit of time.

Vocab

Plumbing has its own technical vocabulary so here are some words and phrases that you’re likely to need;

Hello, I have a leak in my home. I would like to request that a plumber come to give me an estimate of the damage and cost for repairs – Bonjour, j’ai une fuite chez moi. Je voudrais demander qu’un plombier vienne me donner une estimation des dégâts et du coût de la réparation. 

It is an emergency: C’est une urgence

I have no hot water: Je n’ai pas d’eau chaude

The boiler has stopped working: La chaudière ne fonctionne plus.

I cannot turn my tap off: Je ne peux pas arrêter le robinet.

The toilet is leaking: Mes toilettes fuient.

The toilet won’t flush/ is clogged: Mes toilettes sont bouchées

There is a bad smell coming from my septic tank: Il y a un mauvaise odeur provenant de ma fosse septique

I would like to get my electricity / boiler safety checked: Je souhaiterais une vérification de la sécurité de mon installation électrique / de ma chaudière

I can smell gas: Ca sent le gaz

My washing machine has broken: Ma machine a laver est cassée

Can you come immediately? Est-ce que vous pouvez venir tout de suite?

When can you come? Quand est-ce que vous pouvez venir?

How long will it take? Combien de temps cela prendra-t-il ?

How much do you charge? Quels sont vos prix? / Comment cela va-t-il coûter?

How can I pay you? Comment je peux vous payer ? 

Here are the key French vocabulary words for all things plumbing-related:

Dishwasher – Lave vaisselle

Bath – Baignoire

Shower – Douche

Kitchen Sink – Évier

Cupboard – Placard

Water meter – Compteur d’eau

The Septic Tank – La fosse septique

A leak – Une fuite

Bathroom sink – Le lavabo

The toilet – La toilette

Clogged – Bouché

To overflow – Déborder

A bad smell – Une mauvaise odeur

The flexible rotating tool used to unclog a pipe (and also the word for ferret in French) – Furet 

Water damage – Dégât des eaux

The damage – Le sinistre

And finally, do you know the French phrase Sourire du plombier? No, it’s not a cheerful plumber, it’s the phrase used in French for when a man bends down and his trouser waistband falls down, revealing either his underwear or the top of his buttocks. In Ebglish it’s builder’s bum, in French ‘plumber’s smile’.

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