Do I Need a Building Survey?

Do I Need a Building Survey?

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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  •  Paul Coker
    2022-05-15 08:32:41
    Paul Coker
    Thank you for this wonderful article on using a Surveyor; a common practice we use in Canada, although we call them Home Inspectors. I have read a number of your articles and find them invaluable.Thank I have a couple of quick questions about Home Purchasing if I may: 1. You indicate that the final offer should be done after the survey naturally. Do people make a conditional offer indicating that there offer of X Euros is conditional upon a survey that they find satisfactory and then make a second final offer based on the results of the survey which may be lower than the conditional offer? In this way, they are reserving the home through the conditional offer until the survey is done? 2. In Canada, the seller has a Realtor and the Buyer has a Realtor? Is this also true in France? 3. Because there is no MLS directory in France for all Real Estate on sale as there is in Canada, would it be fair to say that one should be dealing with multiple Realtors in France in order to not be limited to what this particular Broker has on offer? Thank you in advance for all and any consideration to these questions.


    • Zoë Smith
      2022-05-17 11:17:22
      Zoë Smith
      Hi Paul
      Thanks for getting in touch! I think our series of articles on buying in France would be a really great place for you to start - we go through all of the different aspects of the buying process in France and answer all of the most frequently asked questions:
      Buying in France Essential Reading Articles

      Here are a couple of quick answers to your questions to get you started:

      1. The best way to do this is by adding a 'clause suspensive' to the Compromis de Vente - you can read more about how that works here Compromis de Vente: The First Step to Purchasing Your French Property

      2. The concept of a 'realtor' doesn't really exist in the same way in France. In France, you will generally buy or sell through a local estate agent (although private sales are, of course, also possible) and they tend to cover a very small area. When it comes to the sale itself, this must by law be carried out through a notaire and while it is very common for both the buyer and the seller to use the same notaire, it is an option to appoint your own notaire. Check out our article on this to get a better idea of how it works: Role of the Notaire in France when Buying Property

      3. This is one way in which FrenchEntrée can be a great help! Not only do we list properties from all over France, but our property advisors have contacts with estate agents all over France so they can help you narrow down your search criteria, before introducing you to the right estate agents for you (which will depend upon the areas in which you wish to buy). It's also important to note that we are a free service, so you won't pay anymore going through us than going to the estate agents directly. If you'd like to find out more, I would recommend signing up (for free) to become a FrenchEntrée member - our property advisors would be happy to speak with you more about your options. You can do that here: Become a French Entrée Member

      I hope this helps, and best of luck for your property buying journey!