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How to get a second opinion on a French house insurance pay-out offer

Hiring an expert en bâtiment might be cheaper than getting damage assessed by an architect, but their job is not regulated by government

An expert en bâtiment could help push for more money in subsidence claims Pic: Francesco Scatena / Shutterstock

Chartered building surveyors do not exist in France but the job of expert en bâtiment is getting more attention, especially with subsidence claims and other natural catastrophes. 

When buildings fall down causing damage, French courts inevitably turn to architects to determine liability but they can be reluctant to get involved in disputes between insurance firms and their clients. 

Typically, someone whose house has been damaged by subsidence, and who has gone through the procedural hoops to confirm it was the result of a natural catastrophe, will have it assessed by an expert appointed by their insurer. 

Offer based on expert’s report

The insurance company will make an offer to pay out the claim based on this expert’s report. 

Usually, the sum agreed corresponds to the cost of work to make the building safe and everyone is happy. 

However, if the property owner is dissatisfied with the insurer’s offer, they can get a second opinion (contre-expertise) from their own ‘expert’. 

Finding an architect to do this for a reasonable price is probably the safest way to go, although most avoid this sort of work. 

An alternative is an expert en bâtiment, but it is a big step down from the professionally regulated world of the architect. 

Their job is not regulated by government, and although diploma courses are offered, few take them. 

Instead, the main qualifications are building ones – either a certificat d’aptitude professionnelle (CAP), usually obtained after an apprenticeship, or the more advanced brevet de technicien supérieur (BTS), backed up by at least 10 years of experience as a builder. 

Currently a bit of a Wild West

Two trade bodies are attempting to bring some order into what is currently a bit of a Wild West. 

One, the Fédération Française des Experts Bâtiments (FFEB), insists its members have building qualifications and 10 years’ experience, and issues a professional card. 

You can check if someone is a member of the FFEB by email, but there is no list of members on its website. 

Instead, it publishes the names of people falsely claiming to be members. 

The second body is the Groupe Experts Bâtiment, a commercial firm that has built up two networks. 

One is of self-employed experts who, if necessary, are trained by Groupe Experts Bâtiment in, for example, insurance law. 

The other is an in-house network of agencies where the company employs its own experts. 

Groupe Experts Bâtiment’s website lists contre-expertise in insurance disputes at the top of its services offered. 

Get personal recommendation

Another way to find a reliable expert is to ask around and see if there is someone local with a good reputation. 

One thing all experts have in common is that they will want to be paid. 

They are free to charge whatever they want, and internet searches show price ranges from €200 through to €2,000 (or even more if you employ an architect). 

While this might seem a lot of money, it could be worth it if the repairs not covered by insurers in their first offer amount to tens of thousands.

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