Renovating a French Property?


A French Architect Offers Some Expert Advice

FrenchEntr&eacutee’s Tracey Smith tracked down local architect Guillaume Bayard. He is a firm favourite with English clients here in the south west, as he has a great command of the language and also prints his contract of works in English too; quite a rarity!

As the downshifting movement continues to gain serious momentum, the number of Brits who seek run down properties to renovate increases at a steady pace.

So what’s involved if the place needs a little work? Here we explain the process of hiring an architect and walk you through a typical project.

Guillaume, could you describe a common project for a UK client?

Certainly. I would say the most regularly sought information from my UK clients is on a house purchase for them to renovate and live in or visit for holidays. Usually, it’s an existing stone building, en pierre and they sometimes wish to extend it.

Tell us, what are the first steps?

Well, I offer a free consultation with the client to discuss the viability of the project. This is important. If we decide to proceed, I prepare a contract with every step clearly outlined in English.

What happens next?

Usually, they don’t have any plans or drawings for the house and I have to measure the plot and start by drawing an architectural plan.

How long does this take?

From measurement to returning the plans to the client, it is approximately 1 week.

Let’s say the project requires French artisans, masons or carpenters for example, to undertake necessary work. Who takes care of that?

Initially, I work with a quantity surveyor and between us we prepare ‘ball park figures’ for the client, detailing the work involved. If they wish to proceed, I contact the local artisans and get 2 quotes for each of the proposed works.

This can be one of the most difficult things for non-French speaking people to organise. Getting a quote, or devis from the artisans can also be a time consuming process – some reply within a week, some perhaps one month!

I find it can be expedited quicker if I take this task away from my clients.

Tell us a little about planning permission. What do you need and how do you get it?

The rules and regulations, regles d’urbanisme are as follows, if you don’t change the exterior appearance and just do works inside, you don’t have to apply for permission to go ahead.

It is only required when you are changing the destination, or the use of the property – ie, purchasing a barn and turning it into a house! Voila!

I see. So what do we do if this is the case?

If you are changing the use of the property, you have to deposit a planning permission file with your local Mairie and the Mairie has, by law, 2 months in which to reply to you.

What does this process cost?

Actually, it is free.

What if they just want to create a small extension to the house, or change a window to a door for example?

They simply need to make a declaration of the work, declaration de travaux, and present it with detailed drawings of the outside of the property, showing before and after images.

Detailed interior drawings are not necessary.

A reply takes one month to get back to you after you have deposited it.

Could you give me an approximate cost for preparing the declaration de travaux with drawings for changing windows, or window to door, or windows in the roof etc, a small project?

Approx 600 Euros, inclusive of tax.

And for a larger restore/renovate of a property. Could you give an idea of prices to prepare the plans?

Around 2,000 – 3,500 Euros.

Interestingly enough, if you plan to renovate a barn, the actual build price can be much the same as if it were a new build.

I think many people arrive without firm ideas of renovation/build costs and it is better to budget these before purchasing the property.

You need a firm idea of what you are letting yourself in for, before committing to large project.

Also allow a flexible contingency, in time as well as cost.

Can you give us an idea of lead time? If you inspect a property today for example, for a complete renovation, when could the client expect the work to actually commence?

Between my first meeting with the client to the start of the actual work, I would expect it to be 4-6 months and then, the work on a large project could take a further 6-12 months. It is a long process and you should be under no illusion it will all happen quickly.

So there you have it folks, straight from the man who knows.

If you are about to buy a little place in the countryside and ‘do it up’, make yourself completely aware of the process ahead of you, budget time and costs critically and allow a good contingency.

Finally, if in any doubt, seek the advice of a professional like Guillaume. A free initial consultation on a chunky project could end up saving you money and heartache!

Guillaume Bayard can be contacted on 0553 368208 or by email.

Tracey is editor of the Downshifting Zone. Visit her website ( ) for more downshifting stories.

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