It is a truth universally acknowledged that an Englishman in possession of a house in France must be in want of a builder.
Brits are famous for buying wrecks the French wouldn’t touch with an extra-long baguette. They then spend years doing them up. Years because it takes them so long to find someone to do the work. There are whole books about this subject. A Year in Provence might as well have been called A Year waiting for a Plumber.
Some ex-pats are so freaked out by the whole concept of finding a builder in France they import their own. When Nick Sole and his wife Sally wanted to install a complicated geo-thermal heating system in their home in Nizas in the Hérault, they opted for contractors from Newcastle. “It was a huge mistake,” says Nick. “But I was nervous about the language issue and also thought I could trust the company in question. In reality we ended up spending a lot more money than we would have done locally, the job took several months longer than it should have done and we’ve also missed out on up to 60 per cent of subsidies the French provide for green heating.”
As a result of their bad experiences with the heating contractors, Nick and Sally hired local builders to do the rest of the work on their gîte. “My advice to anyone is to look at the local options before importing workmen,” says Nick. “Unless of course you’re after a plumber and then it’s quicker to have one walk from Poland that it is to wait for a French one.”
But even if you can find a French plumber, will you be able to understand him? “People are scared of misunderstandings and problems due to the language barrier,” says Paul Beaufils, an estate agent in Béziers. They need worry no more. My husband tells me there is no shortage of British builders in our region. “They’re like the FILTH, the traders who fled London in the 1980s for Hong Kong,” he says. “Only now it’s failed in London, try the Hérault.”
However using them can irritate the locals. Tracy and Rob McVeigh renovated the Hotel de Vigniamont in Pezenas using a totally French team, but some friends of theirs used a local British builder. “The mayor’s office has thrown up every obstacle it possibly could,” says Tracy. “We renovated our place and turned it into a hotel in just under nine months. Eighteen months later our friends are still waiting to move into their home.” Tracy recommends just getting over the language issue. “Our French was by no means good, but we bought a copy of the Concise Dictionary of Building Terms and just got on with it,” she says. Sounds like a must-read.
Some Brits have opted for multi-cultural workforces. Michael Derrington used a team of builders from Scotland, England and France to do up his house in the Languedoc. “They all worked really well together,” he says. “There was no hassle at all and I think although they all came from different places they had the same common aim, to do a good job. And of course have a good lunch. In my view this is key; my skills as a cook came in very handy.”
For those of you who are worried about finding a local builder, there is a service called www.renovateinfrance.com. It was set up last year by Tim Hammond to help Brits in France with building and renovation projects. “Everyone you speak to seems to have problems finding and managing tradesmen,” he says. “We set up the company as we understood there was a real need there.” The website has hundreds of recommended, English-speaking, local artisans. It is free for customers. All you have to do is log on, enter a project and wait for emails from workers desperate to answer all your DIY problems.
Nick and Sally Sole’s property is for rent on www.languedocapartments.com
Paul Beaufils www.buyahouseinfrance.com Tel: 0033 4 67 32 59 49
Tim Hammond www.renovateinfrance.com, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tracy and Rob McVeigh, www.hoteldevigniamont.com Tel: 0033 4 67 35 14 88.
Michael Derrington’s property Villa Janet is for rent on www.villarenters.com
Taxes are going up in France and for once it’s not the French tax man’s fault. Brussels has dictated that the reduced VAT rate of 5.5 per cent on any work carried out on properties that are two or more years old must be increased to the full rate of 19.6 per cent. Unless the French can negotiate an extension to the reduced rate, the rise will come into effect on January 1st 2006. According to my local carpenter the French are still fighting and the rise is by no means a certainty. But if you can get work done before the end of the year, it might we worth your while.
If you’re planning to lock your French home up for the winter it is worth checking with your insurance company that you are still covered for eventual break-ins, flooding or other disasters. “If your house is unoccupied for more than 30 days you need to notify your insurers of arrangements you have made to safeguard the property like a neighbour checking on it regularly,” says Robin Innes, senior manager of FLG Insurance Brokers. “In fact it is important to have someone on the ground as many policies state that a burglary or burst pipe has to be reported within two days or your claim will not be paid.” It may not be just the fact that you’re away that means you can’t claim. Dave and Jan Denholm found that repairs to their roof after damage caused by strong winds were not covered by their insurer at all. “Groupama told us that as the damage was caused by natural events we weren’t covered,” says Dave. “In addition, we were only reimbursed 50 per cent of the costs for the damage to the inside of the house.”
Helena Frith Powell is the author of More France Please, We’re British published by Gibson Square Books and available from Books First at £9.99 plus p&p on 0870 165 8585.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. Helena is also working on a thriller called Thin Ice that will be published in spring 2021 as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and in paperback in April 2018.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019