5 Things I wish I’d known before I renovated in France

Written by on January 14, 2019 in Renovating in France

woman holding paintbrush painting a wooden gate, wearing overalls, rigger boots and sunglasses

I’ve been renovating my farm house in Pas de Calais on and off for 14 years. 99% of the work has been done between myself and my husband, the only exception being when we first bought the house and hired a builder to make some sagging and enormous wooden beams safe. It was a disaster, the work was shoddy and unfit for purpose. We had to re-do it ourselves. Ultimately it was a good thing, because it led us to make a decision to do everything ourselves. With 21 rooms to renovate, including some with dirt floors, it’s been a real labour of love.

There’s only been one other time we had professional help. A huge hailstone storm hit our village. The hailstones were the size of cricket balls and pretty much every roof in the village was destroyed. As our insurance covered the main building roof, we had professional roofers in. The outbuildings weren’t covered so we did their roofs ourselves.

We invested in tools, books and time watching YouTube tutorials. We also went on short courses for the work that we felt needed prior practice – from plumbing to brick laying.

Over the years we’ve met, interviewed and helped many expats in France with their renovation requirements and there are 5 key things we’ve learned.

Builders in France

Don’t just hire a builder because he’s British and can talk the same language as you – it doesn’t make them professional or even good. Be aware that there are cowboy builders in France as there are in the UK – both French and British.

Consider using an architect for planning permission

Hire an architect if you want to get your planning permission resolved in a timely manner. We tried to go it alone, after 18 months of constantly redrawing the plans and visiting the Department of Planning, the mayor’s secretary took pity on us. She told us to appoint an architect to fill the in the forms and do the drawings – 5 days later planning permission was confirmed. This may not be the same everywhere but if you’re going through the same pain we did, it might help.

Check building supplies prices

Wood is expensive in France (and big sheets of MDF seem impossible to find). This can considerably add to the cost of renovating, so work out your costs based on French prices, not what you’re used to in the UK. Be aware that electrical fittings and plumbing fittings are different in France from the UK. Some things are cheaper in the UK than in France and vice versa. It pays to do your homework and check prices. It’s easy to have goods delivered from online buying these days so you can maximise savings this way. Even companies like Screwfix deliver to France.


Notaires are not like UK conveyancing solicitors. I was shocked to discover that multiple extensions to my house had not been approved or documented. This was despite the notaire signing off on it. The out of date paperwork created an administrative nightmare when we wanted planning permission. Now, I may have just been unlucky but, I’d recommend you ask for a cadastral plan from the notaire or town hall and check that what’s on that bit of paper reflects the reality. If it’s not right, get the seller to arrange to get it updated before you buy if you can. If you go via an estate agent – ask them to check as well.

Book in advance

Specialist workmen like those who fit fires, plumbers, electricians etc. are often in high demand. Book them in advance as soon as you know you have a requirement to avoid delays.

Janine Marsh is the author of My Good Life France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream

Related Articles

Escape to the 800 year old Chateau du Masgelier in France

Fiona Jones from London fell for a 12th century chateau in the Limousin region. Undaunted at taking on a massive project on her own, she moved to France in 2014 to bring the neglected Chateau du Masgelier back to life. Featured on the superhit reality TV series “Escape to the Chateau DIY” Fiona talks to […]

Continue Reading

DIY in France: How to point a barn

So how did you learn to point a barn? My neighbours looked impressed and wide eyed as they spotted me up the local farmer’s ladder, balanced on a timber decking, tapping away at the crumbling stone jointing. But pointing a barn is not so very technical and needs no special courses or experience – just […]

Continue Reading

Get the low down for hiring artisans and builders in France

When it comes to renovating in France, if you’re not doing it yourself then you’ll need to source a builder or artisan. Unlike in some countries French builders and artisans tend to be very regimented about what they can/will and can’t/won’t do in my experience. In the UK it’s not unusual to get someone to […]

Continue Reading

Renovating in France Planning Permission Requirements

Whether or not you need planning permission for your renovation in France depends on what you are going to do. Applying for Planning permits in France A good starting place is the local town hall, and, even if you think you don’t need permission, it’s usually best to check, rules change. The Mayor or his […]

Continue Reading

The top six skills that gite owners need

What are the top skills you need to run a successful holiday let in France? People, preparation, practical building maintenance, parler francais? All are important – and most property owners already know more than they think. French Connections is a holiday property listing site that specialises in France, with 20 years experience of giving owners […]

Continue Reading


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.