If you dream of owning a house in France but have limited money to spend, you might be tempted to tackle a renovation project. Think you’re up for the challenge? Before you jump into ‘fixer-upper’ territory, read on for some essential food for thought (and see our recent Cautionary Tales of Property Renovation blog article too!).

Know the language

Before you go down the renovation route, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with French real estate terminology. The term “almost habitable” usually means it needs new wiring, plus a new kitchen and bathroom, as well as decorating: this could cost at least €40,000 in renovations, assuming you do the work yourself. Remember to factor in the true cost of the work (including all materials, fixtures and fittings) to the purchase price of the home you hope to make over.

Calculate your costs

In general, the less you pay to purchase your French home, the more renovating you’ll have to do. An eyesore can be transformed, but you MUST start with a property that is structurally sound. Renovation costs are a function of the size of the property, and your choice of materials and fixtures. If you have the will and the skills you can do the work yourself, but you may need to call in experts for certain jobs.

It is worth noting that TVA rates on materials are lower if installed by a professional and if you’re financing the renovation. If you are seeking a renovation loan, French banks will only release the funds against professional invoices. If you are doing the work yourself you would need a ‘pret à la consommation’ for the materials at a higher rate.

Here are some estimated minimum prices:

New roof€10,000 +
Roof terrace or loggia€10,000 +
Rewiring a 2- or 3-bedroom house€6,000 +
Plumbing – including a water heater€5,500 +
Tiling floors and walls€27/m² +
New kitchen€3,500 +
New bathroom€5,000 +

Bring in a builder

Consider asking a builder to look at the property you plan to purchase before making your offer. Ask your artisan to tell you about the condition of the roof, the extent of plumbing needed, and perhaps make some design suggestions that would help retain the original charm of the house. If you get on well, you might consider using him to help you with some of the trickier aspects of the work.

The great outdoors

Outdoor space is a must for many French property hunters. If you can’t afford a house with a garden, think outside the box: consider anything with a small courtyard, a balcony, or even non-attached land. To add outdoor space where none currently exists, think in terms of a roof terrace, a loggia, knocking down an old barn to make a garden, or taking the roof off an old barn to make a courtyard (for any of the latter you will need planning permission and a building permit, so be sure to investigate the feasibility of this BEFORE signing any purchase documents).

Permission and paperwork

To make any structural changes to a property you will need official permission, so consult the relevant mairie (town hall) officials and find out what the chances are of approval before you buy. Include a clause suspensive in the compromis de vente (the legally-binding purchase document you will sign with the vendor) that lets you walk away from the purchase without penalties if you cannot get the relevant permissions.

And finally… dare to dream

Renovation is not for the faint hearted, or those who lack imagination. You need to have the ability to visualize the finished product: look past the dirt, the cobwebs, the old furniture, the lack of a bathroom, and the ancient WC. Provided the basic structure is sound, a wreck can be renovated to create an attractive French home.

Dennelle Taylor Nizoux

Dennelle Taylor Nizoux

Dennelle is the President of Renestance and a bilingual American who’s lived in France since 2000. She loves so many things about France, its language, culture, geography, quality of life... that she started a business to help others realize their dreams of living in this incredible place.

All articles by: Dennelle Taylor Nizoux

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