10 tips to improve your peace of mind

building toolsThousand of of property owners across France anxiously await the arrival of a mason, plumber, carpenter, gardener or pool builder, to refit the shower, build the oak terrace, seed the lawn or dig the pool. If this includes you, please read on. These basic tips for how to legally protect yourself when undertaking building works could potentially save you legal fees and stress.

When choosing an artisan to do some work, these ten steps to peace of mind:

• Obtain a good devis: At the root of many court cases is a lack of communication. The devis is the first step to a good, honest conversation with your builder. They should be detailed and specific: ‘terracing around the pool’, ’tiling the shower’, is insufficient. Compare at least two quotes.

• Deadlines: Always add deadlines to your devis: the start and completion date. If you have a personal deadline – say a summer rental – add that to the devis. This puts the artisan officially on notice of your time requirements. While few French builders will agree to penalty clauses (which in any event are difficult to enforce) these recorded time lines will be helpful if you ever go to court.

• Obtain a devis for every change of plan: I have yet to see a building project that didn’t change in the course of the works. Typically every project goes over budget, because the client decides to double the insulation or upgrade the tile to marble, or maybe, because the cost of steel beams doubled in six months due to a peak in demand. Don’t let these changes take place in a casual conversation without anything in writing. This can be a costly mistake. Set a target variation amount for your project, say €1,000, and ask for and sign a devis for any deviation that goes above that level. Adding this one sentence will save you a lot of headaches.

• Keep a project notebook Record every change, write down the estimate and both you and the artisan sign and date it. This will also protect your contractor.

• Ask for proof of contractor’s insurance: Always ensure the builder is properly registered and has proof of insurance. If the devis seems too cheap it may mean that the builder is not paying insurance fees. It will be difficult to obtain financial reparation if something goes wrong.

• Use experienced builders: An inexperienced contractor won’t know all the building codes and norms defined under French law. Even more so when a carpenter suddenly takes on a plumbing job. Always ask for recommendations. If you use an inexperienced, uninsured, unregistered builder, you are exposing yourself to an inordinate amount of risk.

• Pay the VAT: There are good reasons to do so beside the fact it is the law. You are in fact paying for a 10-year guarantee, the décenale.

• Advance payments and factures (bills): In France it is customary to pay one third of the devis on account. After that any further payments usually require a facture for works completed. Foreign homeowners tend to pay too much in advance and/or pay bills without a facture, sometimes on the basis of a phone call or an email. Do not share your bank account with your artisan. When in France, do as the locals do. Ask for proper devis and receipts for materials, pay only on the receipt of itemized factures, and, in addition, if you are outside of France ask for photographs of the completed work.

• Keep a social distance from your contractors: There is a tendency among foreign homeowners to become too familiar with their artisans. It does not hurt to share an occasional beer at the end of the workday but strive to maintain a professional relationship while the works are ongoing, or you will lose your ability to negotiate and correct mistakes. Postpone niceties until completion and then host a pendaison de la crémaillère (house-warming party). You’ll have friends for life.

• Subcontractors: Do not pay subcontractors directly, without following the same process: devis, insurance check, recommendation check, signature and facture.

While we can’t guarantee that you won’t have any problems during your renovation, following these ten steps will offer you a heightened level of legal protection and peace of mind. You will also be better prepared for any possible legal action and the negotiating power that comes with it.

• Anne-Marie Gordon

This article is not intended as legal advice to be acted upon as each case is unique. For specific questions always consult a legal professional.

Anne Marie Gorgon of Anglo-French Lawyers Group, is a dual-qualified (French and British) Avocat who specializes in French property purchase and litigation, Family law and inheritance across France.

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