Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Buying older properties in France

Many British and Irish buyers seeking a principal or second home in France are sometimes attracted by the idea of buying an older property that they can 'do up', perhaps with the assistance of family and friends, and if necessary a professional builder. The process is not without its problems.

Major building works including external alterations and extensions are invariably subject to French planning consents, and in the case of buildings sited within an area of historic interest, will require approval from the architects at Batiments de France (roughly equivalent to organisations such as English Heritage). Planning permission may be subject to restrictions such as height, dimensions, type of materials to be used and colour schemes, to name but few. All building and alteration works above 170m² require the services of a professional architect, and is advisable in most (older) buildings even below this size.

The initial survey, paid for by the vendor, may indicate the presence of lead, asbestos, and termites, as well as the condition of heating and electrical systems, gas installations and thermal efficiency. All these may have a bearing on the price you are prepared to pay.

In the case of older buildings, common problems can include damp; uneven floor and wall surfaces; lack of right angles (for example if you are installing a fitted kitchen). The electrical installtion is unlikely to conform to current normas and may have to be renewed, bearing in mind that French wiring relies on separate circuits for items such as hot water, cooker, heating, lighting etc which emanate from and return to the central distribution panel and fuse box. The French do not use the 'ring main' system.

Heat and sound insulation may require improvement, particularly in the case of parquet floors resting on wooden beams in many typical older village houses, as well as more recent (1950s onward) precast concrete structures, where noise transmission levels can be a deterrent, particularly in apartment buildings. In many cases there may be no double glazing, with heat lost through drafty ill-fitting window frames.

It is certainly prudent to have a professional survey done before committing to purchase, and if possible get some idea of likely renovation costs. In practice, fully renovated older homes can cost little more than those requiring work, provided the improvements have been carried out by approved French artisans, and are to your taste. It is a truism that homes that have been renovated by their owners, and are accordingly offered without guarantees, are extremely difficult to sell, should the time come for you to move on.