Guide to Building Your Own Home in France


New Build Zone

Although purchasing a property is often considered stressful, it is far less stressful and less risky than a renovation. When purchasing a property for renovation, it is much harder to budget the total cost involved as many factors must be taken into account. Should any detail be wrongly calculated or missed, costs may rise above budget.

It is necessary to receive the correct approvals and coordinate the various contractors, all of which are interdependent. The work must be monitored continuously as it progresses, any unforeseen problems must be dealt with as they occur, and any disputed responsibilities between the contractors resolved. Changes to the original plans or delays in the work will ultimately increase the financial pressure and may postpone occupancy.

All of these concerns are only accentuated when renovating in a foreign land where language, regulations, and working practices may complicate the process. Despite this, a properly prepared and managed renovation provides two advantages over purchasing a finished property. Firstly, the opportunity to modify a property to one’s own design, within reason and secondly, the possibility of maximizing the property’s full potential, thereby increasing its value well above the cost of the renovation.

The Third Option

There is however a third option which, although quite uncommon in Britain, is extremely popular in France and other developed countries because of the advantage it offers over purchasing a finished property or renovating an existing one.

There is no reason why a Briton wishing to own property in France should not benefit from this same logic, which provides the reason for this guide; namely to select one of the fully insured house builders who will take full responsibility for building a property to your design on a piece of land in the location that you have chosen.

In Britain if you purchase a new home, the builder will give you a choice of various built or soon-to-be-built models, located on designated plots of a particular site (usually a new housing estate) for which you will pay the going rate. In France there is a far greater choice of location, design and size, very often on individual sites where yours may be the only house under construction and where your finished house can cost you much less than were you to purchase an equivalent existing dwelling.

Ideal Location

The possibility of building your ideal house in your ideal location offers even greater flexibility than a renovation. If undertaken correctly, the total build costs will be less than the purchase of an equivalent finished property. The builder is your sole point of contact; he submits the planning permission and takes full responsibility for the various contractors.

Any delays to the build or any imperfections caused by the contractors are his responsibility, and if he does not complete the build in the specified timeframe then liquidated damages are applied as compensation for the delay in taking ownership. Liquidated damages are penalties which are applied as a reduction to the purchase price, as a result of delayed delivery of the finished house due to the fault of the builder. You will be required to approve the architect’s plans and release funds as the work advances.

The builder provides a ten-year guarantee upon completion and is fully insured so that should he become financially insolvent then his insurers will guarantee any repairs for the ten-year period. This system gives maximum choice as regards location and design, avoids the risks and stress involved with a renovation, and can be substantially cheaper than purchasing an existing dwelling.

House Builders

In France, house builders range from local family companies to those operating regionally or nationally. In all cases you must follow the build carefully and as a general rule, the larger the builder the more supervision is required. This is because the larger builders have a greater number of personnel and contractors, which means a greater degree of delegation and a longer chain of command.

When using a national builder, you will typically first meet a salesman, who will either come to your home in order to give you a quotation or invite you to his office with the same objective in mind. You will probably meet the salesman on a number of occasions before accepting an offer. Once you have accepted the offer you may meet the builder’s architect, and will probably only meet the site manager closer to the start of work. When using the smaller family builder you may just have one point of contact, or possibly two.

Although the smaller builder may require less supervision, he may be more expensive because he will not have the same purchasing power as national builder. In both cases, using a good project management company can be an extremely wise move…

Project Management Companies

You may decide to oversee the whole project on your own, or you may decide to use a project management company to oversee selected parts of the project or the whole thing from beginning to end. These companies often use British staff and can provide the following services:

– Finding a site
– Finding a lawyer
– Finding a builder
– Contractual negotiations upon your behalf
– Finding a services provider
– Inspecting each stage of the build
– Explaining and interpreting the various documents and meetings with the builder, the services provider and the utility companies
– Resolving any after sales problems

These companies can handle much of the legwork for you, which is especially useful if you do not live in the area in which you wish to build, or if you are not fluent in French. Any fees you pay to the project management company should be set against the savings you are making on the travelling costs involved in attending on-the-spot meetings or inspections were you to handle the project yourself.

An efficient project management company will obtain the lowest possible price when purchasing the plot for you and when negotiating with the builder and the services providers. It will also ensure that the house meets the required quality standards as well as being on hand in the case of any subsequent problems.

These companies either offer a free service or a paying service. Don’t be fooled; in both cases you will pay. The ‘free’ service is offered by a project management company who will invoice the builder for the service he provides you. He brings the builder a customer and the builder charges you a higher price so that he may pay the project management company its commission.


These companies are often tied to one builder and so their negotiating possibilities are limited.

The paying service may appear the less attractive option, but at least you know what you will have to pay from the beginning, and you should obtain lower total building costs. The project management company should be completely independent and able to act entirely in your interests.

The problem with these project management companies is that however good they are, you will only be able to judge the quality of their services as work progresses, and you will already have paid them for the work they have undertaken on your behalf. Despite their fees, a good project management company will save you money and stress in the long run, especially if you are far from the construction site and your French is poor.

Using a project management company means trusting them, and so I would advise selecting one recommended by someone who has used them in the past.

David Murray

The above is an extract from chapter one of David Murray’s Build Your Dream House in France, published by Robert Hale Ltd.
May 2008

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