French property: Renovations, decorating, safety, holiday letting
Find out how to renovate and decorate your new French home, plus learn the French property safety standards and how to create a holiday sublet for rent.
Congratulations if you're the new owner of a French property! Once you've bought a home in France, you have several options for renovating and decorating your French property, plus the potential to create a holiday sublet to rent. Here's a guide on how to go about renovating, decorating and furnishing your new home; your legal obligations to maintain the safety of your property; and how to make a little spare money by renting out an empty outbuilding.
Renovations, decorations and fitting it out
You may move into your new French home and be completely happy with it the way it is. But it's far more likely that you'll want to make a few changes or even undertake major renovations. Either way, you'll probably need to buy a whole host of household items to furnish and equip your new home.
If you are planning to keep the property for a relatively short time, then cosmetic changes (new colour scheme or decorations) may be enough; if you're planning on staying longer term, then you may want to carry out more major work. Always bear in mind whether the work you do will add value to the property and ensure you have proper planning permission to carry it out. Ask at your local town hall (mairie) for the Code de l'Urbanisme, which covers all the French planning rules and regulations.
Whatever the level of work, plan and budget thoroughly, and always build in a contingency. Ask neighbours to recommend local tradesmen to carry out the works and always get several quotes (devis) beforehand. If you're not going to be around all the time to supervise the works you'll probably find that schedules will slip, so see if you can organise someone to project manage in your absence. It's a good idea to use French-sourced materials in your home so that they can be installed or connected to existing services without any problems.
Here are some of the main places to go to buy what you need:
Building materials, fixtures and fittings and DIY
Whether you want to build or decorate an entire house or just need a hook to hang a picture, then head to giants like Bricorama, Leroy Merlin, Mr. Bricolage or Point P. Ciffréo Bona specialises in building materials, and Kiloutou has for hire all the equipment or machinery you need, from a digger to a damp detector.
While most of the DIY stores will sell some laminate and wood flooring and tiles, Mondial Moquette offers a wider range of flooring as well as carpets, while Saint Maclou specialises in flooring, carpets, wallpapers and paints.
Castorama sells all things practical for inside and outside the house – including the kitchen sink. Lapeyre sells fixtures and fittings for kitchens, bathrooms and doors, and offers an installation service.
When it comes to buying appliances and other household items, check out the huge French hypermarkets like Carrefour, Auchan and Leclerc – you'll find at least one of them on the outskirts of almost every large town. They stock almost everything you'll need to furnish your new home at great prices: TVs, phones, computers, white goods, kitchen appliances, bedding, crockery, DIY, garden furniture and more. Just about the only items you won't find here will be indoor furniture, carpets, flooring and curtains.
Darty stores specialise in household appliances, TV/audio goods and phones at competitive prices and have a fast and efficient after-sales service. Department stores BHV (a little like the UK's John Lewis) and FNAC are also worth a look for a wide range of household items.
French chains selling sofas, beds, and other household furniture, household appliances large and small, and garden furniture, include BHV, BUT and Fly (also sells nicely designed kitchens). For cheap and cheerful go to Conforama. Or there's always IKEA.
Go to Gamm Vert or Botanic for garden plants, equipment, tools, furniture, fencing and ornaments, even solar panels – as well as everything you might need for your pets (even livestock). When you're planning what to do with your outside space, bear in mind the level of maintenance a garden will need, especially if you're not going to be living in France all year round.
Maintenance and safety
All homeowners in France have a legal obligation to maintain their property to certain regulated standards.
To protect against fire, you have a legal obligation to clear away any dry undergrowth around your property at least 50 metres from the house by 1 July of each year. This will limit the spread of a fire and allow firemen easy access to your property if there is one.
Most houses in rural areas will have a septic tank ((fosse septique) in the ground which deals with the waste water from the kitchen, bathroom and toilet. You must have the tank pumped out and checked every four years by an approved company, and have the certificate to prove it.
There are strict rules about owning a swimming pool in France. You need to make sure that your pool conforms to French safety standards, for example, by fencing it or having special alarms fitted. See our article for details on the latest regulations.
Rent your French property
Lots of rural French properties have a dependence (outbuilding) that can be converted into a money-spinning gîte, considering the following points:
- When you're planning to convert a barn or outhouse, make sure layout and design are practical, and bear in mind running costs.
- Keep décor simple and fresh (think about cleaning and maintenance).
- Make sure the kitchen is well equipped with plenty of utensils and crockery that can be easily replaced.
- You'll need two sets of bed linen, a TV/DVD, Wi-Fi access (ideally) and some durable garden furniture.
- Think about how you'll publicise the gîte and take bookings, how you'll organise changeover times (will you be there? If not, who will?), who will keep the gîte clean and the garden under control, plus maintain the swimming pool if you have one – and budget accordingly.
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