Make sense of ... building a new home in France

It may seem daunting but having your own home built for you from scratch in France is a realistic alternative to buying an existing property

29 April 2020
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Thousands of people build their own homes every year in France – here are some key steps to bear in mind.

First, you need to budget wide, accounting for the land, the work of the professionals and utility connection costs among many smaller elements. No VAT should be payable by a member of the public buying building land, though there is stamp duty and the construction of a home is subject to VAT at 20%.

If you have not owned your own home in the last two years, it may be possible to obtain a means-tested interest-free loan for part of the costs as
long as the house will be your main home.

Means test ceilings vary, depending on how many people will live in the home and where it is in France. You can use the online calculator here to see if you could benefit

Options to find building land include seloger-construire.com or immobilier.notaires.fr or estate agencies. The cost as part of the project may be 10-55%, with prices varying from €20,000 for a plot in the southern Vendée to €500,000 in the centre of Nantes.

The first essential is to check it is constructible, ie. designated as suitable for building. Consult the PLU local plan at the mairie. The information may be on its website. Zones described as U (urbanisés) may be built on, those identified as AU (à urbaniser) are intended to be built on at some point, while A (agricultural) or N (natural) means it cannot be built on.

You should also find out if there are any planning restrictions, such as how high you may build. There are special rules for zones in the mountains, on the coast, close to a historic monument or in a conservation area.

You can apply to the mairie for a certificat d’urbanisme, which clarifies specific rules relating to the plot.

A notaire can advise on issues such as legal servitudes, eg. public rights of way.

The simplest option is to buy land on a housing development scheme – en lotissement – which will come with a certificate including its perimeter and surface area and any servitudes.

Otherwise, you will need to organise bornage, an official check of the perimeter, to make sure there will be no neighbour disputes later on. This can be done by a géomètre.

It is also advisable to have an étude de sol (study of the ground) by a géotechnicien. You will need to apply for planning permission, permis de construire, from the mairie and in conservation areas, you need approval from the Architectes des Bâtiments de France.

If the house will cover more than 150m2, you must have an architect, otherwise it is optional. Architectes-pour-tous.fr can help you find one. Many people, however, just use a building firm choosing them by word of mouth. Ideally, look to see if they are affiliated to a national body such as Union des Maisons Françaises.

The website aamoi.fr supports people having their own home built and has useful tips.

Once you have a devis – estimate – from a firm for work, read it carefully.

Before work goes ahead, you will sign a contrat de construction d’une maison individuelle (CCMI), which can be with plans supplied by the builder or without if you use an architect, or you plan to create your own design. Many builders offer catalogues of standard designs.

Ask a notaire to check the contract is in order before signing it. It must identify the plot correctly and provide details of dommages-ouvrages insurance that will rapidly pay out if you were to have a dispute over issues such as leaks or cracks.

Other standard insurance guarantees inclu­de a 10-year garantie décennale, requiring repairs to any matter compromising the building’s solidity and habitability.

It should include a guarantee of delivery, and technical characteristics including linkage to utilities, as well as the price and the time period.

If you are relying on a loan, it should include this so you can withdraw if you do not obtain it. You have a 10-day legal withdrawal period.

Many constructeurs can help you find land and obtain a loan. Where the builder sells the land, this is a vente en l’état futur d’achèvement (VEFA), which requires a notaire.

Building your own home can be cheaper than a ready-built one, but it helps if you can do part of the work yourself, and if you use local materials of good but not premium quality. 

Other advantages are that your house can be exactly what you want in terms of energy efficiency, layout and orientation and meets the latest norms.

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