Monday, March 5, 2012

Building diagnostics

It is a legal requirement in France for certain diagnostic tests to be undertaken (at the cost of the owner) when a house or apartment is put on the market for sale. Over the years the tests have become more complicated and currently include not only those for lead, asbestos, termites, dimensions (loi Carrez), gas and electrical installations etc but the most recent addition a 'certificate of energy efficiency' (DPE  = diagnostique performance energique) which must be carried out and the results published the moment a property is put on the market. The other tests were normally only undertaken at the time a buyer signed a compromis de vente (initial sale contract).

The latest DPE tests were introduced at comparatively short notice and there were concerns at the time that there were insufficient qualified testers to cope with a sudden increase in demand (every property coming onto the agent's books!) and emergency training programmes were hastily put together. At a time of high unemployment many feared that it would lead to abuses.

This has proved to be the case, according to a recent report by DGCCRF (the French government department dealing with consumer protection and fraud). Their inspectors recently checked 559 diagnostic 'experts' and found that 60% (337) of them lacked proper qualifications, produced widely differing results and were guilty of over-charging - a situation that the report describes as 'tromperies' (deliberate fraud) - though there is no mention of what legal sanctions, if any, have been applied.

This is a disgraceful situation, given that vendors are obliged to have the tests done, and the only advice I can offer is to shop around and obtain a number of comparative quotes, and always check that the diagnostic expert is properly qualified and insured. His/her credentials should form part of the report which is an important safeguard for the potential buyer.

Finally, note that as part of the government's easing of planning restraints from March (allowing an additional 30% to be added to existing properties, subject to local approval) that the former SHON/SHOB (allowable constructible area) is now referred to simply as the surface plancher (floor area) and much easier to calculate.