The 7 biggest mistakes people make in renovation and building projects in the South of France and how you can avoid them.
After many years demolishing, renovating and building in the South of France you get to learn a thing or two. The insights below cover some of the mistakes people make when they tackle building or renovation works in the South of France. Perhaps it’s the sunshine or the wine but it pays to read them through. If in doubt why not contact us first? We are candid, direct and honest. Even before people have committed to buying a property we have helped buyers avoid very costly errors.
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The 7 biggest mistakes in French renovation & building projects
Form over function
"It's amazing how people allow themselves to get caught up in fanciful ideas about the colour of the walls while the roof is falling in."
- Your roof is one of the most important elements – don't spend on anything else until you're sure it's sound, every € you invest underneath it is at risk if you have problems later
- Treat water with the greatest respect, make sure you validate how external surface/roof rainwater will be handled. Rain can be severe in this area and damage substantial when it occurs
- Site plumbing & drainage in the most efficient place, don't move services to meet an impractical design idea if you can help it. It's always expensive and tricky to move services
- Address any major issues while you can, particularly if you're carrying out large works, get all the structural dirty work done at the same time if at all possible
- Some buyers tend to over optimistically accept poor electrical installations. Don't talk yourself out of seeing it as it is. Replacing it later is costly and very disruptive
"Start from the top down, we cannot make this point too strongly. Yes the roof is boring, and you want to do the pretty bits inside, but beware, a leaking roof will eventually cause immense and costly damage. Better still get the roof checked before you buy so you know how much life is left in it."
Know where to add value
"Try to make money before you lose money."
- Quality concrete swimming pools almost always increase the value of your property
- Any outside space, however small, adds value
- Good bathrooms and kitchens add value
- Complex structural remodelling will be expensive and may not add the value you expect
- Large modern spaces add value as more people want open plan living
- Try to preserve period features, even if you cannot see a way to use it yourself, a designer will surprise you with how seemingly unusable features can be incorporated into a design
"You don't have to treat your project like a property development, but know what adds value and what does not, especially if you already know it's not a lifetime property choice."
"Stick to the rules or face the consequences."
- Never buy a property on the word of an estate agent or owner who supports your building or renovation intentions without verifying it yourself - you may find out later you are unable to do any of the things you wanted. Check your plans in advance with the local Mairie or with renosud
- Understand your Surface de Plancher limitations, the local plan [PLU] and all critical regulations affecting the site
- When you own the property, never take a builder’s word for it when it comes to planning permissions – it's your liability
- The Mairie [local council] has enormous control over your plans, never try to be clever, bullish or clandestine about your intentions - you will almost never win in a fight with your Mairie, so don’t even try
"A potential disaster lurks in your willingness to accept somebody else's word for something as important as planning consent, especially from an estate agent, the owner; or a builder who has an interest in selling you services. If your purchase or project depends on get planning consent get it included in your contract before you buy as a condition of sale: clauses suspensives"
No architectural plan & supporting documents
"Without a building plan chaos reigns."
- Confusion will reign in the absence of a professional building plan such as renosud proplan™
- Builders will assume what they are not clearly shown with disastrous consequences, we call it assumption construction - not a happy outcome
- Good builders love accurate plans because they don’t waste time fighting with a foreign client
- Unscrupulous builders love fluffy back-of-an-envelope planning, an open door to poor builders and con artists
- Without a plan your project becomes a game of Chinese whispers and when blame arrives it will be your fault
- Be particularly wary if your project involves structural works, many builders have no formal qualifications in specifying the engineering and configuration required. This is often done by a separate Bureau d'Etude [concrete engineer] but many builders don't bother to take recourse to an engineer. That's OK if he really knows what he's doing but potentially disastrous if he doesn't
"The last thing a good builder wants is a decision by decision wrangle about what you want when there isn't a plan."
Devil in that detail
"Make sure it's the devil you get to know."
- Never assume anything if possible, even the most mundane detail can cause havoc
- Builders often use basic fixtures & fittings and materials to keep the cost of the quotation down to win the work. Do you really want their choice of cheap and nasty fittings?
- Location of plugs & sockets is important, think it through and clearly
- If you leave heating & aircon options to the builder you will get the solution he thinks is right which is often wrong
- Specify door and window openings and position to make sure they’re where you want them and opening the right way
- Make sure you tell your builder what should remain the French have very different ideas about quaint old features. they often end up in the skip; or your smiling builder will ‘have them away’ to sell for cash telling you they were broken in the demolition stage, only to turn up at the local bric-a-brac dealer
"The heartache starts here, doors hung the wrong way around, power sockets and in the wrong place, cheap bathroom fittings, this is where your plan will reign supreme [if you have one]."
"When the cat's away the mice go bonkers."
- Always be wary of any estate agent who claims to be a building project manager. Many have become very good at the builders pitch to sell houses
- Treat with healthy suspicion anybody who says their recommended builder does not need project managing. We have fantastic contractors, but every single one of them need managing
- Consider project management as an investment in your sanity, securing the outcome you want and protecting your financial interests. This will make the investment in management expertise a rational and sensible decision rather than an inconvenient expense
"Be wary of estate agents who recommend builders, or worse still, an estate agent who claims to be a project manager. In our experience project management is an exacting and detailed job, you cannot simply ‘tack’ it onto selling houses. Invariably, the motivation for an estate agent telling you everything you want to know, is to sell you a house. Many of the best agents already know renosud and often recommend us directly, choosing instead to be good estate agents rather than disastrous project managers.”
Starting without the end in mind
"There's nothing more distressing or wasteful than undoing something to do another thing you should have planned for - try to plan the whole journey in advance."
- Try to understand the whole plan rather than snippets before you start your works, even if you can only afford to phase the actual works
- Future proof your design with utilities already in place for when you need them later
"It's hard to have a complete or semi-complete picture, but try to resist rushing into actual works before you've really thought through your future final plan, it will save you money, heartache and a potential divorce later."