Ask The Experts – Renovations

Ask The Experts – Renovations

Ready to (re)build your dream home from the ground up? From renovation costs to planning permission, Stephen Davies shares some handy tips – and crunches the numbers

Q. We have a small budget but are willing to put in the work, is buying a barn to renovate realistic?

A. There are many variables to consider, if the barn is a reasonable size and in fairly good condition you ae essentially buying four walls and a roof. How you make best use of this space is up to you and you do not have the constraints of existing walls and layout. One of the advantages is that you won’t need to demolish anything and get rid of any accumulated rubble. “Willing to put in the work” is an admirable sentiment. But you have to be realistic about your capacity and expertise. I would also add here that many barns are quite big and a realistic view of what can be done within the space should be considered, not only in terms of “is there enough space?”, but also “is there too much space?” Pick and choose carefully at every stage of the project from the type of building you want and how much you want to pay to what you need to do to make it viable.

Q. We’ve always dreamed of owning a small château but we’re not sure how much a full renovation will cost.

A. It’s a question of scale. A house with one bedroom is obviously going to need a lot less paint than one with seven, it will also have a larger roof, wall areas and windows so will require more materials and labour should remedial works be required. Renovations do not rigidly follow any rule of thumb as there are too many variables. However some experts quote figures between €800 and €2000 (and beyond) per square metre. These figures are flexible as they take no account of how much work the individual is prepared to undertake for free. Work on the assumption that any project will cost more and take longer than wanted. But, on a more philosophical note, the level of desire is inversely proportional to the funds available.

Apartments in France

Q. I’m looking at small properties with the potential to expand. Is getting planning permission difficult in France?

A. Planning rules and bureaucracy are complicated all over the world. They are no different in France. Planning rules are set at national level and administered locally, the local Mairie being the point of contact for all applications and assistance. There you can find out what circumstances apply to any building and plot of land by consulting the local land plan, the Plan Local d’Urbanisme (PLU). This document dictates what you can and cannot do and how to apply to get the required planning authorisations in place. This can be done at the point of sale to ensure that any work required is in fact possible before you commit to buying. Note that even if the local Marie assures you informally that “it will be all right to do the work”, you still need to apply for planning permission. Such assurances are not legally binding.

Q. Is there funding available to help renovate historic/listed buildings?

A The Agence nationale pour l’amélioration de l’habitat (ANAH) can be approached regarding the general condition of accommodation and insulation in houses. Some heritage agencies can also be approached for help and guidance regarding maintaining the architectural and historical aspects of any historic or listed propery. These agencies don’t have an obligation to offer up-front funds for any project; it usually takes the form of “matched funding”. The local Mairie is the portal to these agencies. It won’t do any harm to ask; the worst thing they can say is no!

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Stephen Davies is a long-time FrenchEntrée contributor on building and renovation matters in France. He runs "Renovate in France", a resource of architectural and support services and information for those starting, or already “en-route“ on a renovation, and works full time as a designer, planner and project manager on renovations and new builds.

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