What self-build dreamers in France need to know

People decide to build new houses or convert barns for many different reasons.

For some, it is about creating a dream home, with everything perfectly in place. Others see it as a way of adding value by doing work themselves.

Family circumstances and needing to be close to people where there are no alternative properties available also drive some home-builders.

In France, regulations concerning housing seem to change constantly. Some places which used to allow individual houses to be built now insist on new building being done in lotissements, or housing estates.

These are often the result of a commune adopting a plan local d’urbanisme (PLU), introduced in 2014, with the aim of tightening up zoning in France. 

PLUs are often detested at a local level – even though, in theory, they have to be drawn up by communities themselves – as representatives say department-level planners, backed by préfets, impose their will.

In some places, it can seem impossible to build or even renovate in the centre of villages, while plans for little rabbit hutch estates on the outskirts are nodded through.

There are, however, still plots for individual builds.

In general, if the land is near medium-tension or low-tension electricity lines, has water mains not too far away, and can be accessed without risk to road users, there is a good chance it might be approved for building.

Similar conditions apply for barn conversions.

The taxe Duflot, named after then-housing minister Cécile Duflot, meant that in some areas the taxe foncière on land deemed to be constructible increased 80% from 2015.

It was intended to encourage the release of land for building.

Instead it has often had the reverse effect, with owners fighting to have their land declared non-constructible.

Make sure of the status of any land you want to build on by asking at the mairie, which is likely to be more informed than a notaire in a town some distance away.

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