How to Build a House in France

Written by: Tricia Harris, French Property Centre (eight years an estate agent in Provence).

Many house buyers come to France dreaming of a characterful period property – beautiful stone façade, huge open fireplace, original floorboards and windows, established garden – but the reality is that these properties often require initial, and on-going, renovation costs to meet modern day standards of comfort. Then there are the running costs to consider as that open fireplace, the gaps in the floorboards and window frames, and the lack of insulation can all be a drain on your finances.

I’ve had two period properties and two new-builds in France and there are pros and cons to both: weighing the undeniable aesthetic benefits of a characterful older house against enjoying your own preferred layout, a 21st century heating/cooling system and the certainty of knowing where the drains lead and that they are up to standard! See our Building Plots for Sale

The cost of having a house built in France

First of all, you will need to consider your budget. As a general rule, a build costs at least 2000€ per square metre of living space. Some developers in cheaper areas of France might quote you around 1300€/:m² but don’t forget to factor in the kitchen which invariably does not come as standard, plus the many forgotten costs such as taxes, connection costs to utilities and especially the cost of the garden from fencing to planting.

I’d like to bet that in the excitement of designing your new house, you opt to upgrade your flooring from the basic tiles included in the quote. And what about that nice (expensive) shower you saw somewhere? The budget can easily run away with you!

The three ways of getting a house built in France: how they impact your budget and schedule:

  • Using a Developer to build your French house

    Major developers buy large plots of land to build several houses on. You can buy off-plan from a choice of house styles and prices. This is a turn-key option which may allow a certain amount of choice of fittings and requires little intervention on your part before the house is delivered to you. A housing development, called a ‘lotissement’ in French, requires street lighting, pavements, etc.

    This can be a cost-effective way to buy a new-build but if you do not want close neighbours, this might not be the option for you. You can get brochures and advice from the show house on the site of a planned development and also at estate agents in the area you choose to build.

  • Using an Individual House-Builder in France

    A local builder may have a plot of land to offer you, but if not, you can find your own plot of land through an estate agent then ask a couple of house builders to quote you for what you want. They have ready-made plans of a number of different house styles but equally you can do a little sketch of the layout you have in mind and their draughtsperson will draw up plans for you. A good house builder works like a production line so once the plans and the internal fittings are agreed (from flooring and bathroom fittings down to the interior door handles), changes become problematic as amendments mean going backward in the process (back to the draughtsperson, the fittings buyer, maybe even back to getting planning approval again if you are adding a terrace, pool or garage). You need to consider the time it takes to sign off the final plan before building can start.

    You will not be allowed access to the house without being shown around by the foreman. You receive the keys on reception day. There are established payment stages e.g. 15% on opening the site, 25% on completion of the foundations, until the final 5% paid on reception, when you have had the chance to check is all as it should be.

    While this can be a costlier option, it is relatively stress-free. The builder looks after everything from obtaining the planning approval to supplying the conformity documents and local tax declaration forms. Bear in mind that this option often only seems more expensive because no corners are cut!

  • Overseeing your own house build in France

    Overseeing your own build requires an enormous amount of time and you would need to be close to the site at all times. If your French is up to it you could employ all the trades yourself from draughtsperson or architect to the tiler if you wish. Each would quote you based on the building plans and would involve a 10-year guarantee for the work. The quote, as for all quotes in France, would be legally binding. Unless you have professional experience of this, it would be wise to employ a project manager. If you choose to use an architect, they would often volunteer themselves and their trusted builders and artisans, which clearly is not the cheapest option.

    From my own personal experience of having employed a project manager, and living and working within a few minutes of the building site, I cannot stress how much time was involved in chasing up trades who didn’t arrive when planned, overseeing schedules and in being asked to make rapid decisions when there were unforeseen problems. Those with time and experience might relish this, but for my second build, I found it preferable for my peace of mind, to pay just a bit more for an individual house builder to take on the whole project from A-Z.

Finding an architect in France

Your estate agent can give you the names of local architects who have satisfied their clients. It is certainly worth getting two or three quotes as prices vary greatly. You are legally required to use an architect for houses of more than 150m² of floor space (surface de plancher’). For smaller houses, you could choose to use a draughtsperson who will be less expensive. Sometimes the expertise of an architect is really indispensable. They will come up with ideas you won’t have thought of, and will be able to advise if your ideas are feasible or not.

Finding suitable building plots in France

Land values vary massively around France.On Finding suitable building plots For example, a plot in Provence is likely to cost 10 times as much as a plot in Dordogne. As with any property, you will have notary fees to pay (principally land registry taxes). There are taxes on the land once construction starts including an archeological study (rarely carried out but always billed). These building taxes often seem to equate to the property taxes you will pay once the house is built. Plots are sold with or without ‘viabilité’. This is with or without the water, waste and electricity services connected. Sometimes the plot is advertised as having services on or near to the boundary, i.e. serving nearby properties. The cost of connection is obviously based on the distance services have to come, so close-by services, or water and electricity meters already in place, will affect the price of the plot. In certain cases where the site might be on soft ground or on rock, a survey may be required to check whether deeper foundations might be required.

The notary will advise you of whether there are any particular concerns about the situation of the plot such as flooding risks, proximity to hazardous waste or other risks. As with house purchases, it is very helpful to use a local notary who knows the area well. They know where problems have occurred in the past, be it family or neighbour disputes over the land or experience of local streams flooding, but they can also be reassuring about certain factors that are very common to an area which are not of any practical concern. Plots that are close to a place or monument of historical interest might be subject to the regional planning department permission as well as the local one. Restrictions on the style of the building can come into play in these cases. The house might have to conform to the style of the surrounding properties, particularly the roof style and possibly even down to the colours of the shutters.

If you want to build a house of cutting-edge design, you are likely to need to find an out-of-town plot. Ask the question of your estate agent. They should have copies of the planning regulations for the area in which the plot is located. If not, you can request sight of a copy of the very detailed PLU (local planning regs) at the Planning department at the town hall’s ‘service d’urbanisme’. Some town hall websites give you access to the PLU too. To find the plot’s exact location within the plan, you would ideally need the cadastral reference for the plot. Check out our available building plots!

Guarantees on all French new-builds

All new houses come with a 10-yr guarantee for the construction itself (not fittings). House-building professionals are obliged to take out an insurance against building faults which is very expensive and is obviously incorporated in the cost of your build (around 7-8% of the house value). It is called ‘assurance dommage-ouvrage’. It means that even if the constructor goes out of business, any building faults will be rectified for 10 years after the completion of the build. It is also strongly recommended for individuals who build a house for themselves as it reimburses all building costs for which there is an individual 10-year guarantee each trade supplies.

Without this insurance, the person having had the house built is personally responsible for any repair or rebuild costs for 10 years, even if they have sold the house to someone else. You would have to chase up your builder or roofer to put right the problem and if they are not around anymore, you would have to pay for the work yourself. Imagine selling your house after 9 years and cracks appear in your pool. This is not the problem of the person you sold to – it’s legally your responsibility.

Other costs of getting a house built in France

A developer and a house-building company will usually give you an all-encompassing quote, but other costs to consider, especially if you are overseeing your own build include:

  • €1000-5000 Planning permission
  • €1000-3000 Connection to electricity, water, telecommunications
  • €8000-12000 Installing a septic tank if not connected to mains drains
  • €400-500 Thermic study to comply with energy regulations

Having a house built to entirely suit your way of life is very satisfying. On a practical level, new houses are extremely energy-efficient and comfortable. It’s a longer-term plan though - you need to expect a 12-month building period. The cost of trying to replicate that stone-built cottage you dreamed of is likely to be prohibitive now. If that is really what you want, you need to look for older properties and accept their little quirks!

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