Renovation and exasperation?

One thing is certain when looking for a maison secondaire …you can get really carried away with the choice of properties … and even more their POTENTIAL. When we were really seriously starting to discuss what we could do with a vast mill complex, I realised that it just had to stop. Doing it up would be a lifetime’s work. Doing it up at about 6 weeks a year would take longer than a lifetime …

If you want a holiday home, then that usually means that either you need to buy somewhere which is ‘done up’, or if it needs renovation you need time or money to get it to the state you want it within a reasonable timescale. Of course a ‘reasonable timescale’ may not be the same for everyone, but do you want to wait months or years for that shower, and do you really want to spend your holiday mixing cement for the sixth year running?

If you choose the first option of buying one which is ‘done up’, you need to read no further. However, it seems to me that many English people, including us, choose one which will need varying degrees of ‘renovation’.

So when you look at houses, just think of the work to get it to the standard you want and plan how that would be possible. It may be that you can do and may enjoy some DIY, but you need to think about all the major jobs such as rewiring, roofing and plumbing. There are all sorts or rules and regulations, which are different in France and knowledge of DIY English style may not be always all that helpful with your French home. You need to read up as much as you can.

For any house which needs ‘renovation’ you really have 3 choices: do it yourself with the help of friends, organise the local French Artisans, or employ a ‘maitre d’oeuvre’, an architect who also manages building and renovation projects. The first option may be fine if you have good friends, but friendships can became strained over a leaking roof or arguments over French/English plumbing systems, and could take a long time. It may be fine for a long term project or not too large a project..

The second option of organising French artisans is one which many people choose, and often with some success. The quality of work is likely to be of a high standard and the rates reasonable. However, from speaking to many people there is sometimes a bit of a problem with trying to find one and pin him down to when the job can be done. This may not be so bad if you are permanently in France, but trying to organise a plumber who is available on a long week end break, could be nigh impossible! It may be you would need someone to hold a key and oversee the work.

If you choose option two if there are a number of different ‘entreprises’ involved coordination could be a problem. Lack of fluent French and local knowledge can certainly put you at a disadvantage. Also, ‘Parlez – vous plumber?’ I don’t, in English or French!

Option 3 is to get someone who will organise and oversee all the work, a ‘maitre ‘d’oeuvre.’ You can get details of them in Pages Jaunes (Yellow pages) or by recommendation. This can be the most reasonable option for people who want a lot of work doing and would like it completed in months rather than years. He will get all the quotations, write a schedule of work and organise all the contacts with the ‘enterprises’. You also do not have to pay anything until you are happy with work completed.

After a few attempts at option 2, we opted for option 3 and decided to get a French maitre d’oeuvre. Although our house was ‘habitable’ to start, we decided to get all the work done which would probably need doing in the next five years anyway (windows, bathroom, wall lining, floor tiling and some repairs) . We were pleasantly surprised at the cost and also that there was a detailed ‘devis’ (quote ) which was kept to. The maitre d’oeuvre charged a fixed price, which was under 10% of the cost. (contact me if you would like more details of our experiences! ) Image not found.

Whatever you do you do need a broad project plan. Look at it stage by stage…and prioritise. Write it down. Don’t say ‘it’s all in my head’. You need to have costed it out realistically and at least try to keep to what you have planned to do. Of course there will be setbacks and you may never quite achieve everything you originally wanted, but hopefully you won’t have run out of money until at least you can invite a few friends down to your retreat, open a bottle of wine and not have to worry about that leaking roof.

Would love to hear of other’s experiences of renovation from afar. Was it exasperation… or did you get there in the end? What are your hints and tips?

Moneycorp Banner