building survey being conducted with a man in high vis and hard hat

There is no requirement in France to have a pre-purchase ‘building survey’ done. There are laws requiring a vendor to provide diagnostiques including: termites, asbestos, lead paint, energy efficiency, electrical and gas installations, plus environmental risks such as earthquakes and flooding. Even septic tank drainage systems now have to be inspected and approved by an official body called SPANC. These are far more comprehensive than any UK laws protecting the house-buyer.

However note the important elements that are not covered by these worthy inspections, e.g.:

• subsidence and heave
• structural cracking
• damp and condensation
• wet-rot, dry-rot, woodworm
• roofing defects
• general fire-risks
• health-and-safety risks, pests and vermin, etc.

To Summarise, Here Is Some Helpful Advice:

• Try to look clinically at a property and not get the tinted spectacles syndrome. Look for cracks, damp-stains, missing roof tiles, etc.

• Use your nose as well as your eyes. If you can smell damp it needs checking out.

• Wonky walls and ceilings might be charming but they could also be expensive to put right, especially if subsidence is occurring.

• Remember that the agent is being paid to sell the property. He/she is not an independent adviser or your new best friend. Don’t ask the agent to recommend a surveyor, get your own one. This applies to a lawyer too. Avoid conflicts of interest, as a surveyor who gets work via a seller’s agent is unlikely to be acting 100% for you.

• If you are out of your depth regarding any ‘defects’ you have spotted, employ a chartered building surveyor. When considering a surveyor, ask him/her how many years experience they have in France and ask for references, qualifications (RICS hopefully) and the limit of their professional indemnity insurance (PII). The minimum cover the RICS insist on is £250,000. A good professional will not be offended by these enquiries, so don’t be embarrassed.

• If you need to save money on a survey, either have a ‘verbal-only’ one or a ‘clos et couvert’ done. The latter solely reports on the walls and roof, so you can see if the basic structure and envelope is OK. I don’t recommend either of these but they are better than no survey. If you intend on renovating a property a clos et couvert might be adequate.

• There is a new RICS Condition Survey about to be officially launched next month. I will be using it in France if it suits my clients’ needs. It is basic and easy to understand. It uses a traffic light system to grade defects. It has no maintenance advice, very little narrative, no costings and such and solely concentrates on the present condition of the property. It will be the lowest cost survey available, ignoring valuations, which are not done for your benefit anyway.

• Negotiate your final offer after having a survey done, not before. You could save a lot of money over and above the survey fee. This is a big purchase you are considering, so get professional advice. 95% of buyers employ a lawyer but only 20% have a survey done. Weird!

• If you have to have more than one survey done before you find the ideal home, ask your surveyor for a discount each time. I have done up to three and even four surveys for a few luckless clients. With each one after the first, I discounted the fee to save them money. It’s worth asking!

• The surveyor shouldn’t tell you whether to buy or not. This is your decision alone. The surveyor presents you with the findings and a professional summary and you weigh up the options. The survey may include cost estimates but note that these will be guide figures only.

• The only way to know what the property is going to cost to put right is to have fixed-price builders’ quotes. This may involve having floor plans done pre or post purchase. Builders like scaled floor plans as they can ‘take off’ quantities and assess the work(s) in more detail. I provide digital floor plans for an extra fee. Most chartered surveyors should provide this service if you need it.

If you are searching for an English speaking surveyor in France, search our FrenchEntrée Directory of Surveyors. Most professional surveyors will give you a full structural survey with a number of pages, rather than a short one page summary, so before employing a surveyor ask them about their survey format.

If you are looking for builders in France search our FrenchEntrée Builders Directory

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