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Maintaining the renovation dream – some do’s and don’ts of restoring a property in France.

The prices are low, the houses are beautiful: what’s not to like about the idea of doing up an old French farmhouse and making it the home of your dreams?

Many have trod this path.  Most end up with the dream intact. For some it quickly turns into a terrifying nightmare.  So what do you need to know so that after a hard day’s labour you can turn in for a night of undisturbed sleep?

Adrian Lithgow of Agence Eleonor gives us an overview of what to expect.


the renovation dream

Adrian Lithgow of Agence Eleonor


How much, how long?

First, be realistic about the cost.  If you are having someone in to do all the work for you this is about 1,500 euros a square meter of habitable space for a quality finish.  No matter how long you stare at it this figure won’t shrink.

Then you need to be realistic about the time.  This means you should take the number you first thought of and double it.


The Team

Once you know where you stand with money and time, there are crucial decisions you can now take.  The main one is are you going to do the work yourself, use professionals, or jog along with a mix of the two?

If you are going alone then you are probably a professional. If you aren’t you will need to bring in some builders.  So the first choice to make is do you go with expats or French?

Obviously this also depends on how well you speak the language.  Working methods differ too and, at the risk of a very broad generalisation, expats are not only easy to communicate with but they are used to being more flexible, whilst the French professionals are trained to French standards and regulations and work to a more strict regime.

the renovation dream
the renovation dream


Saving money

If you are restoring a property as a second home, whoever you go with must be properly registered.  This is so that you can claim back your expenses against the Capital Gains Tax due on second homes when you come to sell, and you will need proper receipts from registered artisans to do so.

Whenever you can, be on site when not just major but also often seemingly minor decisions need to be made.  A builder might have a very different idea about what height light switches should go for instance, or exactly where your power sockets are located.  Unless you have specified the positions beforehand, making changes once they are installed will involve an additional cost.

Apart from having an architect to oversee operations, one way to manage the different aspects and, perhaps, even save cash is by working alongside your tradesmen.  This is a sure fire way of learning new skills and means you can see what is going on at every step of the way, and intervene if necessary.

It is also wise to buy materials yourself, or at least avoid handing over thousands of euros in notes to a builder who says he is just going to pop down to the brico and fetch it all back in his lorry.  You may not see him again for months, if at all – sadly it can happen.

One important thing to remember is the renovation dream is don’t overinvest in your property.  A farmhouse is always going to be a farmhouse and not a manor, no matter how much travertine you put on the floors.  There is an upper threshold of what houses of different types can fetch on the market so you could be disappointed when it comes time to resell.

If you are restoring a place to sell on, remember that you want your buyer to feel there is still something in it for them.  Like you, they want to make some money out of the deal, so leave some potential for them to realise.

However if it is for you, or for gites, then feel justified in giving it a high-quality finish.  Your guests need a bit of luxury, and after all the work you’ve done you deserve to be pampered too!


First published in the July and August 2020 issue of The Local Buzz

Images: Agence Eleonor and Shutterstock

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