Using a specialised Building Company

If buying an old stone house in the south of France does not appeal to you for whatever reason, then having your own house built for you is an option worth considering. The advantages of using a specialised company is that when it is finished you can walk into it without having to do any further work. You will also have all the technical and financial guarantees in place, which is not always the case when buying an older property or when using a private builder to carry out the work.

I spoke to a local building company to find out how using an approved building company can ease the stress of moving to another country. Some companies possess the advantage of offering an in-house architect. This means that should you not fall for one of the existing models of villas, you are able to design completely from scratch the home you are looking for. The role of the architect is to design the property and obtain planning permission. You can also use the architect to organise the tendering process and to choose a builder. Finally, he can also take on the role of project manager, ensuring deadlines are met and the project is carried out to your specification. This can be a bonus if you are unable to be physically present to check on builders, electricians and other contractors constantly.

Villa with Pool in Pezenas area, Languedoc RoussillonThe second expert you will need before beginning the process is an accountant. A French accountant will be able to guide through corporate law and the tax system.

A third person on your list has to be the notaire, who will ensure that you have the correct insurance cover for all stages of the building programme and will check against other issues and organise sales contracts.

Lastly, a visit to the mayor (maire) is vital, as his approval is crucial to the success of your project. Develop a good working relationship, show him your plans and vision, and keep him informed of progress.

I was advised not to appoint just any builder for constructing a new home. Find a builder who will provide ‘Assurance Dommages-Ouvrages’. This is a ten-year guarantee which is obligatory for new buildings, and will fund immediately any repairs before any responsibility is attributed to any party. If, for example, the roof needs to be changed due to faults, it can be repaired immediately. With a company who, in addition, uses their own approved contractors, you would not need to wait until the plumber or electrician admitted fault before an error was corrected. The Assurance Dommages-Ouvrages guarantee stands for 10 years even if the house is sold on to another party, and covers such events as cracks resulting from landslides. If buying a new house under 10 years old, you should ask for the guarantee from the previous owner. If it doesn’t exist, then it might not be advisable to purchase the house.

Financial security
The bank offering you a loan for the new property will only release funds partially as the project progresses, and will often visit the building site to assess progress before they will release money for the following stage.

Guarantees on timescale:
The contract with an approved construction company also includes a guarantee of the deadline which is agreed by yourself, depending on the size of the property. The minimum time limit for building a new home can be 12 months. If the building company overseeing the project fails to meet this deadline they can be forced to pay you 150 € a day past the date.

Garantie de Remboursement du Chèque d’Acompte
Any sums paid before the opening of the building site are refunded if the ‘conditions suspensives’ are not met, i.e. the supplementary clauses in your building contract which include the company’s responsibility for obtaining building permission and other authorisations, and obtaining of ‘assurance-dommages’.

Garantie de Parfait Achèvement (Perfect Completion)
This guarantee covers any faults on the snagging list that is drawn up at handover. Any faults that occur during the 12 months following handover of the house must be repaired under this guarantee and notified to the construction company by recorded delivery letter (lettre recommandée avec avis de réception).

Garantie de Bon Fonctionnement (Fixtures and Fittings Guarantee)
A two-year guarantee covers material damages on fittings unassociated with the work of construction, e.g. shutters that do not close, radiators that do not work. Again, these faults need to be notified to the construction company by recorded delivery.

Garantie Decennale (Structural Guarantee)
A ten-year guarantee covering damages affecting the soundness of the building, or related to construction work, e.g. a crack along the whole length of a wall or a structure that collapses.

Garantie de Livraison au Prix Convenu (Completion of Construction Guarantee)
The building company adheres to a guarantee agreement whereby, according to laid down conditions, the company takes responsibility for all the risks of failing to complete the project or of poor workmanship, and costs above the agreed price. The building must be completed in the event of the developer or company going bankrupt.

Fees to take into account:
Once you have bought your piece of land, you will need to pay the notaire 10% of the price of the land. Note: this is on the land only – you do not pay a percentage of the future value of your house. This is one advantage of having a new property built.

TVA of 19,6% on the new building is included in the price charged by the building company.

The taxe foncière is a property tax paid by the owner of any building.

The impôts locaux are local taxes, which cover services such as waste collection and roadside maintenance. You can find out the level of this tax from your local mairie.

How to avoid Risks:
Appoint a ‘conducteur de travaux’, which in a large company will be in-house anyway. This person is a project manager and will only take on experienced workers.

How long does planning permission take to obtain?
This can take approximately 2 – 3 months, and will be quicker if building in a lotissement or new housing estate. It can take up to 6 months but depends on the local planning office. If a property is to be built ‘hors lotissement’ this means it is not on an estate earmarked for development. It also means you will probably have a lot more land around the property, consequently it will cost more but you will have more privacy. There again, your local mayor is a good source of information. He will know just where this type of property is to be found.

What size of property can I build?
Planning regulations cover the type and size of house that can be built in any given district of a town or rural area. Once a piece of land has been found that will fit your requirements, the construction company will be able to find out for you the local restrictions before you go ahead and sign on the dotted line. If you are not using a builder to source your land, the local estate agent or vendor is required to supply you with this information. If you are seeking permission to build a swimming pool, for example, you will also be well advised to get an expert to survey the land to ensure that movement does not occur regularly in that area, which could cause cracking.

Price of land (le terrain)
I was advised that to build a decent-sized house you need at least 800 m². Around the Grau du Roi you will pay around 300 euros per m², whereas at Aigues-Mortes, a piece of land of 600 m² next to the marina with a mooring, will cost 218,000 euros. Further north towards Quissac or Sauve you can pay much less, at 120 – 150 euros per m². Towards Rochefort, which is situated close to Avignon, you could find a piece of land 1394 m² available for 130,000 euros. If you are looking for land under 1000 m² within 20 km of Nîmes you are looking at paying 150 euros per m². The price can vary considerably between villages depending on how dense the population is and how desirable the location. Our local mayor informed us that it is now difficult to find land to build on in our commune, but I found out that land in the nearby garrigue hills was cheaper and would allow you to have a fairly sizeable garden for an equivalent amount. The only drawback was the distance from the main road, the non-existence of shopping and social facilities and the absence of a secondary school. If you are looking for land in the commuter belt of Montpellier, which can reach as far as the outskirts of Nîmes and is expanding northwards into the Hérault, you will pay more for it. But if you consider the beautiful regions of Bagnols-sur-Cèze or the Cévennes land will be considerably cheaper than near the city of Nîmes.

The process of using a building company.

° Once your piece of French land has been found and the plans have been agreed, the next stage is to pay for the land by signing the compromis de vente (sale contract) in the presence of a notaire. At this stage you only pay 5%.

° Following this, the project can begin. The builders apply for permission to build. The buyer signs for the land, obtains the ‘permis de construire’(building permission), and obtains a mortgage along with certificate (NB the supplementary clauses ‘clauses suspensives’ in your contract must be fulfilled).

° As work proceeds you will be requested to pay set instalments, as laid out in your contract (Contrat de Construction d’une Maison Individuelle).The maximum percentages that can be requested at different stages:
-5% on signing of contract (as stated above)
-10% on obtaining building permission
-15% on opening of building site
-25% on laying of foundations
-40% on finishing of the walls
-60% once the building is made watertight
-75% once the partitions are finished and the windows are in place
-95% on completion of plumbing, electricity supply, carpentry etc.

° Utilities
The building contract does not include work to connect you to the electricity/gas company (EDF/GDF), the water company (SAUR), or the telephone lines (PTT). These will be laid as far as your boundary, but you are responsible for the connection or installation of meters. You can instruct your building company to carry out this work at extra cost (approx. 500 € for all meters ‘compteurs’ which usually go into your garden wall).

© Helen Jennings

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