Why do some people insist on a survey while others just accept the comment that it’s not done? Purchasing a property in France is probably one of the largest financial investments in your life. I remember reading how a property purchaser had said:

“She was glad she didn’t have a survey because if she had one and all the defects had been pointed out she would not have bought the house and that would have been a mistake.”

If you are happy to buy a property no matter what is wrong with it, or no matter what the work costs, then advice from a surveyor is probably not needed. I say “probably” not needed because you may still need them to prepare a repair specification and then supervise the works to ensure they are to a good standard.

Many people are unaware that no building control exists in France and leave quality and good practice in the hands of the various tradesmen. If some builders cut corners in the UK with building controls what do you think happens in France? To be fair, most builders are conscientious – it is the DIY builder that gives surveyors sleepless nights with their plumbing and electrics! Not to mention their casual approach to structural matters.

A Chartered Building Surveyor is not looking for reasons why you should not buy a property. On the contrary, we are here to put you in an informed position, to help you keep to your budget and enjoy the property to the full.

A prospective client once said to me:

“If I instruct you to undertake a survey and you find defects and I don’t buy the property I have wasted my money.”

Perhaps it is the fault of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) professional members, that the public have this impression of us. If finding defects was what we were about then I would have to say it could be a waste of money. But again I stress we are engaged by a client to assist with the purchase of a home in a foreign country. Here is what we should do, step by step:

Step 1 is observing the defect, but that is just the beginning.

Step 2 is following the trail of evidence to the root cause of the defect.

Step 3 is assessing the seriousness of the defect and determining how it is affecting other parts of the structure.

Step 4 is deciding what actions could be taken and estimating the financial implication of each.

Step 5 is advising the client of the best course of action to take within their budget.

Another prospective client said to me:

“I can see the crack what do I need a surveyor for?”

It is not for the obvious visual defects that professional expertise is required, but for the points raised in steps 2 to 5. Anyone may use the term “surveyor” but to undertake a thorough investigation and come up with solutions and costs requires a surveyor trained in building pathology.

A professional member of the RICS may have that training; he will not only be a “Chartered Surveyor” but, if fully trained in construction and construction defects, he will be a “Chartered Building Surveyor”. This legally protected title may only be used by a surveyor who has met the high standards of the RICS.

The following statement is taken from the RICS website:

RICS was founded in London in 1868, and granted a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria in 1881. The Charter requires the institution “to maintain and promote the usefulness of the profession for the public advantage.” This commitment to act in the interests of society in everything we do continues to be our guiding principle.

Over 100,000 members based in 140 countries makes this the world’s largest property professional organisation. MRICS or FRICS after a surveyors name denotes whether they are a member or fellow of the institution. Complaints by members of the public are always investigated and may result in disciplinary action if upheld. It is this approach that gives clients confidence in the institutions members.

To check a surveyor’s credentials visit www.ricsfirms.com (enter France, leave location empty and select Building Surveying from the list). This will reveal a list of qualified firms registered with RICS France.

Why should you bother to check on individual surveyors? In the UK a surveyor only works within his competence or training. For example, if he is a valuation expert he does not undertake building structure investigations. However, in France many untrained surveyors undertake pre-purchase surveys even when they are not in their area of expertise. Of the 625 “Chartered Surveyors” in France only 27 are “Chartered Building Surveyors”. Check they have a Siret number and APE code; it is illegal to work in France without these 2 items. RICS France is based in Paris and you may contact them at the following address:

RICS France
26, rue de la Pépiniére
75008 Paris
Tel: 01 42 93 55 10
Email: [email protected]

If you as a client are unhappy with the work of a Chartered Surveyor ask for his formal complaints procedure. If you are still not satisfied then you can contact RICS France or the RICS head office in London:

Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
12 Great George Street
London SW1P
United Kingdom

Address your complaint to the Regulation Department.

What else should you consider before appointing a surveyor?

I have mentioned the importance of a surveyor’s expertise. A surveyor who is only involved with modern residential property will struggle when faced with a 200 year old French farmhouse. For this reason many surveyors have undertaken specialist training to work on and appraise historic building fabric. This usually involves a post-graduate university course of a minimum of 2 years and will result in a PG Diploma or MA in Architectural conservation.

France is not as litigious as the UK; the expert you choose should be able to give good advice based on their knowledge and skill and not rely on caveats to protect them self. Check his Terms of Engagement which needs to be agreed before you finally instruct him.

Remember a “Chartered Building Surveyor” is engaged to help you secure the property of your dreams but at the same time ensure there are no hidden surprises which might turn it into a nightmare.

By Philip Atkinson BSc (Hons) Dip Arch Con MRICS FBEng
Chartered Building Surveyor
Property Surveyors France
RICS reg no. 0827424
Tel / Fax 0033 5 63 57 41 45

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