Once you’ve found your perfect lot of land in France, you’ve got your architect to help you put your dream home down into an actionable plan, it’s time to find a trustworthy builder or developer. Penny in Normandy investigates how to find the right builder for you, how much to expect costs to be and what you should look out for.
How much does it cost to build a home in France with a builder?
As we’ve seen in Part 2 of our series, as a very rough guide, you should budget around €1,500 per square metre to build a home in France, and the final cost will be influenced by land costs and final finishes. To give you an idea, the website www.construiresamaison.com (‘construct your own home’), shared a real-life example of the costs involved to build a 140sqm home in Nîmes (an increasingly desirable location where property prices are rising steeply), with three bedrooms, a bathroom and two separate WCs and using a building firm:
- Land cost: Comprising just over 1,000 square metres, the land is situated in a small estate close to the town centre. It was sold ready to build on, and connected to water, gas and electricity. The land is of good quality and comes complete with soil studies carried out by the seller. Price: €125,000
- Expenses associated with the land purchase: Notary fees, taxes, service fees and a deposit relating to works relating to the land parcel: €9,254
- The house: A bungalow in a traditional style with local architectural elements, to which have been added modern touches like large bay windows, gas central heating: €182,000
- Costs relating to the construction: Builder’s costs, insurances and the cost to connect the plot to the town infrastructure: €6,004
- Fitting-out: Painting and decorating, kitchen and appliances, furniture, garage, fences and landscaping, lighting: €58,000
- Total: €380,258. A swimming pool is estimated to add another €25,000 to the overall budget.
- Total cost per square metre: €2,716
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Local builder v developer?
Your options to build a new home in France range from managing and doing some of the construction yourself, using skilled artisans to carry out specialist tasks like electrics and plumbing, through to engaging a builder or developer to construct a home, whether in a standard design or to your own specification.
Developers tend to offer standard designs, ranging from traditional to contemporary styles, and they often propose a package that includes a land purchase for which permissions have been obtained, and to which services like gas and electricity have already been connected.
How do you find a builder in France? What should you look for?
If you are starting from scratch and looking for a developer or builder in your chosen area, then a website such as www.seloger-construire.com can help you narrow down your choices. You can also search online for a plot, although local enquiries in estate agents and notaires are often more fruitful.
Another great way to find a builder is by word-of-mouth from trusted friends and neighbours. Ask to see examples of their work and get references from satisfied clients. The internet can be useful to research reviews of building firms, but remember that these aren’t always accurate, and both good and bad comments can be overblown.
Never be tempted to use an unregistered builder to carry out building work in France or to pay cash, as this can get you into trouble with the authorities that impose stiff fines and even criminal penalties.
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Registration and insurance
It’s essential (and obligatory) to use registered, qualified and insured tradesmen in France. You, as the homeowner, will be on the hook for the quality of the construction work when you come to sell your house, whether you’ve built it yourself or used a professional, and French builders are legally obliged to hold special insurance known as l’assurance responsabilité civile décennale that will cover their work for 10 years. Details of their insurances should be given on all quotes they offer.
It’s essential (and obligatory) to use registered, qualified and insured tradesmen in France.
The internet is your friend when it comes to checking out the bona-fides of your chosen builder. Registered professionals will have a 14-digit SIRET/SIREN number, with which you can search online for their qualifications and specialisms. You can also use the internet to find out more about your builder – are they a sole trader, a local firm, a subsidiary of a larger group, or a franchise related to a well-known brand for example. The website www.qualibat.com is another good resource to find high-quality and reputable builders in France, and you can search by specialism and find out more about the different trades and specialists, such as RGE-registered builders through which you can reclaim the costs of certain insulation and environmentally-friendly materials.
You can also research sites like www.bilansgratuits.com to find out more about your builder’s legal and financial status, and even pay for a full report to see copies of his financial statements.
Find out when his company was created, and how long he has been operating and in what form, a limited company (SARL) or public limited company (SA) for example.
If you are using a developer, the next stage will be to browse the types of home on offer. You will need a clear idea of the style you are looking for, the square metre area you will require, and the number of bedrooms. Some developers allow you to customise extensively, and even do the fit-out yourself once the main work or gros oeuvre has been completed.
If you are building to your own design, then you will either engage an architect to draw up plans or you will need to work up a detailed specification of the proposed dwelling on which the builders can base their quotes. These quotes or devis will be very thorough, and you need to understand them in order to ensure that your specifications (quality of finishes and materials used) have been correctly priced. It’s always a good idea to get competitive quotes.
The building process
Building works in France generally follow a set process:
First on-site meeting
The first stage of the process is an initial site meeting. Either you will attend with your builder, or if you are project managing the trades, you will gather them together in a single meeting so that plans are clear from the outset. You can confirm logistics, finishes, equipment and any options as work progresses.
Groundworks and construction of framework
The site will be levelled, and the foundations excavated, including trenches for the services like water and electricity, as well as a septic tank if you are not connected to the main sewer.
The foundations will then be laid.
The first phase of the building project will consist of installation of the timber or steel frame such as beams and lintels, construction of the exterior walls, roof and tiling, and placing of windows and doors so that the house is water-tight.
The second phase of the project is the installation of electricity and plumbing, heating equipment, insulation, interior walls, floor coverings, toilets and bathrooms, external finishes and painting, and testing to ensure proper ventilation and insulation.
After the second oeuvre has been completed, you will be handed the keys.
Throughout the building process, you will need regular meetings with your builder or your sub-contractors. If you are working with a builder, payment is made in accordance with the following schedule:
- 15% at the beginning of the work
- 25% when foundations have been made
- 40% once the walls have been erected
- 60% once the property is water-tight
- 75% when the internal walls are complete
- 95% once electricity, plumbing, windows and heating have been installed
- 5% at the handover stage
If you are planning to self-build, it’s important to have sufficient budget – for a house of 100m2, you will need at least €115,000 to cover the likely construction costs (materials (€60,000) plus the cost of subcontractors (€55,000).
Although you will save around 30-60% of the cost of a new home by supervising subcontractors, and even carrying out some of the work yourself, it’s important to be realistic about the length of time that this will take,
Although you will save around 30-60% of the cost of a new home by supervising subcontractors, and even carrying out some of the work yourself, it’s important to be realistic about the length of time that this will take, the stress involved, and the importance of engaging skilled trades such as electricians so that the work can be signed off by the authorities.
Find out how to raise the funds for a self-build in France with your free France Finance Guide.
Things to look out for
Finally, there are some sharp practices in the building trade in France (as elsewhere) – here are some things to watch out for:
- A land sale dependent on using a certain builder. This process is illegal in France, and if you wish, you can require that the land sale be separated from any building contract
- Low prices. Developers are generally well organised and centralise their purchases in order to negotiate better prices. If the price seems too low to you, be aware that the best craftspeople are never cheap, and neither are good quality materials. Don’t be tempted to skimp!
- Oral promises. Make sure you get everything in writing, including ‘free’ extras that may be offered along the way
- Paying deposits. Certain developers will ask for funds on account before a contract is signed. This process is unlawful unless you receive a guarantee of reimbursement
- Payments in cash. This is frowned upon by the French authorities and can result in heavy fines and even imprisonment for you, and your builder, so beware!