France is a very popular destination with British expats. However, building a new property or carrying out extensive renovation works in a foreign country is not something that should be undertaken lightly, and it pays to know a little about the building trades in France before committing to such projects.
Many British expats decide to hire British bricklayers, architects, plumbers, electricians and carpenters etc., but this can be a mistake. French builders will have thorough local knowledge, and they will be aware of French building regulations. French tradesmen will also have an existing network of contacts within the industry which could prove to be very useful. If you decide to enlist the help of French builders, you need to know exactly what to look for in order to ensure you hire builders who know what they're doing. However, that can be tricky in a country you're not too familiar with.
How to find builders in France
The best way to find French tradesmen you can trust is through word-of-mouth. If you have friends in France who have used builders in the past, ask them for recommendations. If you don't have anyone to ask, consider introducing yourself to local people in your chosen area, and ask them to recommend bricklayers, plumbers and carpenters etc. If you can, ask to see evidence of houses they have built, as this will give you the opportunity to see the quality of their work for yourself. Another option is to ask for recommendations at the local ‘Mairie’, which is the French equivalent of a British Town Hall. It is also possible to find skilled tradesmen in France online. The Qualibat association has a website which is an online database of registered builders and puts tradespeople in touch with people looking for building professionals. You will also find real recommendations from real people on Internet forums and discussion boards. There are hundreds of expat websites on the Internet where people often share their experiences for the benefit of other users.
Perhaps the safest way to find a French builder is directly from trade organisations in the country. The ‘Union Nationale des Constructeurs de Maisons Individuelles’ (UNCMI) has builders of all types affiliated. For larger building projects that involve original designs the Fédération des Constructeurs de Maisons Individuelles (FFC) may be another option. The FFC is considered to be the eminent professional body for the building trade in France, and it provides legal and financial guarantees for the work completed by its members.
Checking your builder's credentials
Checking that your chosen builder is properly registered in France is very easy. Every registered builder will be issued with a Siret number - which should be displayed on their official paperwork.
Because all tradespeople in France have to register with the local ‘Chambre de Metier’s, you can make sure that the builder you have chosen is properly qualified by submitting the Siret number for verification. Your builder should also have insurance (‘responsabilité civile professionnelle’) which covers against accidents during completion of the works and a ten-year guarantee (Garantie décennale) which covers against structural failure on the works carried out.
In France, you can request that your builder provides you with an official quote for work - referred to as a 'devis'. This is an offer that indicates the cost of the work in advance. When you accept the quote the builder agrees not to increase the price and you agree not to add work to the project at the fixed price. If you sign a devis with your chosen builder, make sure it includes materials and labour, as builders often have different approaches to charging for their services.
As in Britain, builders in France are usually paid by instalments. The schedule of payments should be agreed in advance, but there will usually be a significant deposit payable at the start of any project. For small jobs, French builders may request that the entire cost of the project is paid up front.
Building a beautiful home in France, or a renovation project is a dream being realised by British expats every year. However, such a project involves a huge emotional and financial commitment, so ensuring you have the right tradespeople to help you is absolutely vital.