Print Posted By Lost in France on 27 May 2006 in French Property - Buying French Property

French Property Surveys

Misconceptions Over Surveys, Cracking, Insurance & Guarantees

The percentage of English speaking buyers of French property that bother to commission a survey or pre-purchase condition report is very small. I hear the same reasons for not having a survey over and over again.

Top of the list is usually:

The French don't bother, so why should we?
That is closely followed by: 
It is still under guarantee.
If a problem arises, we can claim against the insurance.
It has stood for x years, so it's unlikely to fall down now.
All of those thoughts are flawed, especially in the South West. 

The French frequently commission a survey which is known as an audit technique immobilier or more simply as an expertise. They are undertaken by architects, maitre d'oeuvres and experts who all have professional indemnity insurance, which is known as RCP. If the French do not opt for an expertise, they often ask a local builder to inspect the property for them. The risk that they run is that builders are experienced at following the designs and plans of others and are not trained nor experienced in determining the cause of a problem. Also they will not benefit from an insurance backed guarantee against errors within the builder's advice.
Old French buildingThat brings us on to guarantees and insurance. Foreign buyers often misunderstand the level of cover offered by French insurance policies and guarantees.

Self build improvements and new properties do not usually benefit from any form of guarantee. A lot of repair work undertaken by professional & registered contractors does not have to come with a guarantee, the example that has expensively surprised a lot of my clients is roof repairs!

When a new property is built by or the construction is supervised by a professional it should come with a ten year guarantee. However be warned, that guarantee has to be purchased from an insurance company and it may only be of benefit to the original policyholder and not benefit subsequent owners of the property.
In the UK property owners take comfort in the knowledge that their house insurance covers them against subsidence, provided of course that it occurred after the start of the policy. It is not possible to buy insurance against subsidence in France! When UK insurers started to sell policies on French property, I phoned one to enquire if they were providing cover against subsidence as they did in the UK. I was told that the marketing team had indeed asked for it, but their underwriters had vehemently said NO.
{loadposition contentad}When I take instructions from a client, amongst other things, I ask if they have any particular concerns. Invariably they mention the roof and cracking. Now you already know why even a recently repaired roof should be inspected and you should be aware that subsidence is by no means the only cause of cracking. There are a large number of reasons why cracks occur and frequently no action is required. When a repair should be done what should concern you is at what cost?

Remedying subsidence can be very expensive, but repairing other types of cracks can vary from a few hundred to several thousand euros. Determining the cause of the cracking and suggesting a remedy can not be generalised upon here. My reference source on the subject runs to over 200 large printed pages and a CD ROM. That information then has to be put in context with sound local knowledge. Even just within the South West, let alone the whole of France, there are a large variety of ground types and topographical features such as rock strata, soils, underground faults & watercourses, flood plains and even earthquake zones.
So, if it has stood for x years, why should it fall down now ? It may not fall down, but it could cost a lot of money to repair and keep maintained. All problems have to start sometime, so you need to know if they are old or recent and if they are static or getting worse. The environment is changing and not necessarily for the better. Climate change in this region is a fact not a theory. Recent droughts and abnormally high levels of rain have caused many properties to shift on their foundations, if indeed they have any at all. Improvements in the recent past can change the way a building breathes and affect the stresses and loading within the building causing unforeseen problems. All surveyors have seen 'improvements' to the finish that have caused substantial damage to the fabric of the structure.
I think that the best advice that I can give to prospective buyers, is that if you would normally be cautious and seek reassurance by commissioning a pre-purchase condition report at home, then you should do so in France.  If you do commission one in France, you should ensure that the surveyor/expert/architect is not only professionally qualified, business registered with a SIRET and insured in France but also that he/she has sound appropriate experience and knowledge of the region.

About the author

John Marshall has practised throughout Europe and particularly in France since 1984. He has lived on the borders of the Aude and Pyrenees Orientales since 2002. He is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors registered with RICS France and is amongst other things a member of their Building Surveying Faculty and Building Conservation Form. He is also a member of the Compagnie Nationale des Experts Immobiliers.

Contact him by telephone +33 (0) 4 68 20 26 48
by email [email protected]

© John Marshall 2006


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