artisan builder

Things to Consider Before You Sign on the Dotted Line

We all make a large financial commitment when buying and renovating our homes in France. We want to ensure that the money we pay out is actually being used for the intended purpose. This guide hopes to help both renovators and artisans make sure that the experience is a productive and enjoyable one. If at some point, however, you find yourself in a dispute, you should seek professional legal help.

Start with Three

It is up to you to check out who you plan to employ, so for large projects make sure to see more than one artisan or builder – about three is usually a good number.

Have a Plan

It is vital to have a well defined idea of what you would like to achieve in your renovation or new build. Even if you have plans they are likely not to have details much beyond sizes of doors, windows, walls and roofs. It is up to you to fill in the rest of the details. Your paperwork, such as a permis à construire, or a déclaration préalable, should already be in place or in the process of being so. Some artisans do offer this as a service, but if you do not use the artisan who provided the paperwork he can charge you for the time taken to create the documents and may have intellectual property rights to any designs he creates. Some mairies will help you fill in the paperwork so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Meeting Prospective Artisans

The first thing to do is ask to see these documents:

The metier card: all artisans are issued with this by their chambre de metiers, and are legally obliged to carry this. It will contain their Siren number and the APE number (designating what primary trade the artisan is registered for).

The KBIS – in cases where the metier card does not contain all the information for example when an artisan has recently expanded his business.

A copy of their insurance document:it is obligatory for all artisans to carry insurance for personal risk and to guarantee their work for 10 years. This décennale means their insurance company will cover the costs of any accident that occurs during the renovation, as well as the costs of rectifying any damage caused through bad or incomplete work. It does not cover materials failure due to no fault of the artisan.

Once you have seen their paperwork, the next step is to ask to see examples of their work plus any written references (follow up on the references to make sure they are current and credible).

Asking for a Devis

Get a quote – devis – from each of your prospective artisans. You need to allow time – about 3-6 weeks – for an artisan to put a quote together. The quote should detail in French, the outline of your works with the costs of labour and materials. The materials can be grouped in one amount or listed separately. If the quotes are solely in English you may have problems later should you need to go to court. Legally all documentation must be in French. You will be given two copies of the devis – one for you to sign and keep; the other for you to sign and return to the artisan*. [Note from de editor: a member of our forum has kindly pointed out that although it is not mandatory for the artisan to sign the document, it is a good idea to make sure that both parties sign and note “agreed”, particularly if there are specific start/finish dates written in the devis.]

The devis should detail how the artisan wants to be paid. Never pay the full amount up front. CAPEB – a professional body for builders in France – suggests the following:

  • First instalment – to be sent with the signed devis. This is a deposit of up to 50% of the works depending on the size of the job.
  • Second instalment – a stage payment, an agreed amount that should be paid when the work has reached an agreed level.
  • Final instalment – when the work is complete, an owner can withhold a portion of this money as a retainer in case they are unable to inspect the works immediately or have any due concerns. If you are going to do this, however, you must inform the artisan in writing for your reason. Bear in mind that artisans have a legal right to charge interest on any unpaid amounts.
    If for any reason you are paying cash, make sure the artisan signs a receipt for the money.If something goes wrong…You have signed your devis, the work has commenced. Suddenly your artisan is asking for more money or the work is not progressing as hoped?Before panicking, ask the reason for the discrepancy or delay. Many factors genuinely affect the work: inclement weather, suppliers not coming through, illness, an artisan covering two jobs, vehicle breakdowns and other artisans being unavailable as promised. If possible, schedule an on-site meeting.

    Taking action

    If you are in a dispute seek professional help. Everything must be done in writing, and every letter should be sent by recorded delivery lettre recommandée avec avis de réception (LRAR).

    Even if everything is going well, it is good practice to keep a detailed diary of all contact with your artisan, including photos of the work.

    • With thanks to Karen Johnson, Entrerprise Andrew Johnson renovation services

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