Friday, September 30, 2011

New build property in France

Buying property in France
The most common image that comes to mind when people talk of buying a house in France, is that of an old, traditionally French country house, perhaps a little shabby around the edges and in need of a little restoration (House Renovations in France). This, certainly, is what we see regularly on the television programmes as we eagerly follow an earnest young couple through the trials and tribulations of restoring their old water mill/ ancient farm/ Maison de Maître to its former glory. It's great TV, it's a wonderful experience for the couple, there's a superb new home and life at the end of it all, but it's hard slog. And it can go wrong.

Property in France - old property or new build?
Restoring or even living in an old property in the French towns or countryside is not for everyone. Maintenance will always be an issue, and there will often be design problems that mean that the layout does not quite work for you. So, if this doesn't appeal, but you still hanker after a dream home in France, what other choices do you have?

New property in France
If you don't want to renovate, and you haven't the time, money or inclination for constant maintenance, perhaps the answer lies in a brand new property. This avoids many of the pitfalls associated with old French homes, and can certainly be an attractive proposition for those who are based in the UK and can only spend a limited amount of time in France. Having settled on the idea of new property, however, there are still decisions to make within the decision.

Where is the new property?
Geographically speaking, you can find new property or building plots all over France (Land for Sale in France). There are, however, restrictions on the actual siting of new build projects and plots. As a general rule, new construction in France is not allowed in the countryside... it needs to be either on the edge of a built up area or reconstructed from the ruins of an existing property that has the necessary planning consent (even if this means almost totally new built).

New build or self build in France?
There are three distinct categories of new property to consider. There is "New Build", which essentially means brand new property that has been built (but not lived in) and is ready for you to purchase and move into. Then there is "Off Plan" which refers to property that is not yet built, but for which the plans have been drawn and the project is ready to go. Finally, there is "Self Build", which is pretty "self" explanatory. Of course, even within the last category, there are degrees of involvement.

Self build property in France
This seems to have an obvious meaning, although of course, it isn't as clear cut as it sounds. There are varying degrees of involvement with the category of self build, ranging from the purist DIY, where literally you wield the hod, lay the bricks and put your back into the entire project, through partial DIY where you oversee the works yourself, to the remote version of self build which entails you employing a project manager to oversee the whole thing. The important difference, however, between new build and self build is that in self build it is you, the purchaser, who buys the plot of land and who makes the decision about what to build on it. (Building or extending property in France.)

Advantages of self build property in France
The advantages of self build are pretty clear. In terms of design, you call the shots, so complications of planning permission notwithstanding, you end up with the house you really want. It's new, so there will be little or no maintenance, and the quality of the materials has all been decided by you, so no nasty surprises lurk the first time there is a storm... hopefully!

Disadvantages of self build property in France
Well, if you want an easy life, don't pick the fully DIY option! It can be extremely hard, physical work, and there can be endless problems along the way. Your French will need to be pretty good, as you will have to deal with all the authorities and workmen (Learning French). You will have to apply for planning consents, arrange for the connection of utilities (Connecting utilities (water, gas, electricity, telephone and sewage) in France), source all the materials and push the barrow too... unless you have a long suffering wife who is strong enough! If you employ a project manager to oversee everything for you, there is the extra expense to consider, so make sure that you have budgeted for this. On the subject of budget, also remember that in France renovation projects are taxed (TVA) at 5.5%, whereas new build property is subject to TVA at 19.6% (Tax in France).

New build property in France... ready and waiting
If you choose new build, that is, a brand new house or apartment (Apartments and flats in France), gleaming and ready and waiting for you to move in with your family and belongings, what can you expect? Clearly, you have no influence over the design of the property, but one assumes that you have chosen a design that suits your needs and tastes. The property is already built, so you can see exactly what you are buying. You have the assurance that it has been built to comply with building controls and planning permissions, and, of equal importance, no delays. You have no hassle, nothing to do, but move in and enjoy.

New build off plan property in France
Buying off plan is another ball game. Here the property you agree to buy has not been completed... may not have even been started. You inspect the plot, inspect the plans and decide from there whether or not to buy. The best advice in this instance is to really study the plans in detail. A bricks and mortar residence can look quite different from the ethereal thing of your dreams, conjured up from a hastily studied drawing and a half read contract. Make sure that you know exactly what is included, so that there are no nasty shocks when you move in to find that there is no fitted kitchen, no access to a swimming pool and a lowly salle d'eau (shower room) instead of the luxury bathroom you had hoped for.

Can you influence the plans on new build property in France?
This depends on the individual developer. Certain modifications are quite common, (e.g. partial removal of an interior wall to create more open plan living, and modification of bathrooms to include baths and or showers) and many developers are amenable to this if notification is given early enough. Some developers stick rigidly to their plans, however, so this is another issue that you need to clarify before signing any agreement.

How to buy new build property in France
The purchase of a new build property is relatively straightforward. You agree the price, purchase the property with whatever method of finance you have decided to use, and if there has been an agent involved, he or she is paid by the vendor. If you are buying "off plan", however, your payments will be staged as the development progresses. You begin with a deposit which is necessary to secure the deal, with a second instalment due before the property is legally signed over to your ownership. You than pay in agreed instalments until the final payment which is made when you receive the keys to your property... which can be quite sometime after you become the legal owner!

New build buyer beware!
Up to a point, the old rule of buyer beware applies to new build properties in France as well as to old existing houses. You agree to buy the new build property from a plan, and pay a deposit. This may not be returnable even if the builder decides not to go ahead with the project, possibly for lack of funding, failure of planning consent or other reasons. Read the contract carefully, as this situation can occur if the vendor has added a clause allowing him to pull out without penalty if the market collapses, there is insufficient interest in the development to make it financially viable, etc.

Safeguards and new build property in France
There are, however, many safeguards built into the purchase of a new build or off plan property that are non existent in the purchase of an existing property. French Law is very much on the side of the buyer in an off plan deal, and it is well worth taking time to discover your rights. There are many guarantees that the builder must cover, and these include vital things such as cover in the event of the builder going bankrupt or failing to finish the development. You will need to check the insurance details of the developer, to make sure that he has the necessary cover. Your notaire can advise. If timing is important to you, be sure that there is a clause inserted to cover failure to finish the project on time.

And finally, a word from the front line about new build property...
David Hamilton, who has recently built a home in the Aude (Aude Property Guide), in the south of France, has the following (somewhat tongue in cheek!) words of advice to would be self builders. "French construction works are always delayed, there is no record of completion on time in France... ever! Just build in an extra year to your programme. Better still, engage a French architect (or at least a French qualified one), pay him the 11% fee, get him to draw up all the plans, and write the specs for costing (Surveyors in France, Architects providing a service in France). Ask him to recommend you to the trades to sign up and manage the programme. This allows you to walk away and just sign cheques at the appropriate intervals. BUT... make sure you buy all the fittings and fixtures for installing by the trade contractors, or you could be living in an incomplete shell for a year or two. Spend your time on completing a thorough design exercise and don't start any works until all the design questions are put to bed and priced for inclusion in the works."

So there you have it. New build property in France in a nutshell. Bon chance!