Obtaining permission to build in France is a simpler process than it is in the UK, and that is why thousands of people build their own dream home there every year. However, choosing exactly how to go about the building process depends on how much time and money you are prepared to commit to the project. If you can speak French and have time on your hands, project managing your build can be a very rewarding experience. However, it can be difficult from a distance, or you may simply not have the time to spend on such a complex project. Hiring a project manager can be a good option or there are development companies in France that will take care of everything for you. Whichever way you choose to build the home of your dreams, you should be prepared for what lies ahead.
The building process
1. Find a plot of land
Local newspapers, real estate agencies and various online property directories will have information on land for sale in your chosen area. Land for sale in France will usually be described as 'terrain à bâtir'. Unless otherwise stated you will need to apply for permission to develop the land for residential purposes. A ‘permis de construire’ is the equivalent of a building permit in France, and the process of applying for one should begin at the local Town Hall - referred to as a ‘Mairie’ in France. If the land you are trying to build on has already been approved for residential use, the property listing will state 'viabilisé constructible'.
2. Buy land with the assistance of a ‘notaire’
In France, property transactions are overseen by a 'notaire' - a type of lawyer who deals with this area of French law. A 'promesse unilatérale de vente' will be signed by both you and the seller, which is a promise that you will be sold the land at the arranged price. At this point you will generally be asked to pay 10 percent of the purchase price as earnest money, and the necessary legal arrangements will commence. The purchase process will take from approximately one to three months and is finalised by the signing of the final deed of sale (‘acte de vente definitive’). This is done in the presence of the ‘notaire’ and legally completes the sale.
3. Decide who will take control of the project
You can hire a 'constructeur' who will combine the roles of builder and developer. Your constructeur will take control of the day-to-day activities on the site whilst reporting to you at regular intervals.
If you really want to influence the design process and create something truly unique, you can hire an architect. It is important to ensure your chosen architect has professional credentials by checking them with the 'Ordre des Architectes'. Once you and your architect have drawn up a set of plans, they must be submitted to the local Mairie for approval. A planning notice will be placed on the proposed site for two months, giving locals the chance to observe the plans and lodge complaints if they wish to do so. After this process you will be issued with a 'permis de construire', and building work can finally commence. It is also possible to hire the architect to supervise the construction and report to you at regular intervals.
Buying off-plan from a developer
Another option is to build a new home in France with the help of a property developer who will have existing plans you can choose from. All the legal arrangements, the buying of the land and the plans will be completed for you. You will inspect the plans and the plot before committing, but there is often the chance to ask for small changes before building work commences. How much you can influence developers can vary from company to company.
While the off-plan way of building your own home doesn't give you as much freedom as a self-build, it is usually cheaper, quicker and hassle-free. You simply pay for your home, and the property developer takes care of everything else - handing you your keys when the project is complete. However, it is vital to check exactly what is included in the build before committing to a purchase of this nature. Does the cost include carpets, wall coverings and fixtures? Will you be compensated for delays?
Whichever option you choose, with expert help, an adequate budget and a lot of hard work, you could be able to make the French home of your dreams become a reality.