Surveyors in France

A guide to using surveyors in France

Surveyors and surveys in France - do you need them?

Congratulations. You have, after months (perhaps longer) of fevered property hunting, found your dream property in France. There it is, perhaps chocolate box pretty, with stone walls and pretty blue shutters blinking in the hot sunshine, or maybe an exciting renovation project (House Renovations in France), having seen better days but crying out to be restored to its former glory. Now all you have to do is listen to your notaire, and do the deal.

Are there surveyors in France?

There is, however, a cautious friend back in the UK who throws a potential spanner in the works. "What about getting a surveyor round?" Therein lies the rub. To organise for a surveyor to come round, or not bother? You will probably have been informed that, in France, using a surveyor is not only not necessary (French mortgages (French Property Mortgages and Leasebacks in France) are not dependant on surveys), but also "just not done". You could well be informed that it is not possible to find a surveyor, particularly one who speaks English but is qualified to work in France (Jobs in France). You could also be told that the local notaire will instruct "experts " who will tell you all you need to know.

There are surveyors in France! You can see a list of surveyors in France in our Services area: Surveyors in France

Surveyors in France often not used by the French

You don't know any better, your French isn't up to the job of researching the question (Learning French), so should you just accept the information you have been given? In general, the French rarely bother with surveyors, and can even be quite upset that you have deemed it necessary to have a survey done on a property in which they have been happily living for many years... !

The "experts"

Whether or not you decide to have a survey (and yes it is possible to find a surveyor in France, more on that later), you will almost certainly be told by your notaire that you will need to have an "expert" or two visit the property to check it out for termites and asbestos. This is a legal requirement, and is certainly necessary as if you do have problems with either of these you need to know how to deal with it before either your house falls down or you are unable to continue your renovation due to asbestos removal difficulties. What these "experts" can't do, however, is give you a general survey or valuation of the property. They are experts in their respective fields, but that is all you should expect from them.

Can you have a property survey done by a surveyor in France?

Despite what you may be told, the answer to this is an emphatic "Yes". There are surveyors in most areas of France (Introduction to France), or who will travel, who are qualified to do a survey on a property for purchase or valuation purposes. Contact details can be found in the France based English language glossy magazines on sale in England and sometimes at airports and city or large town newsagents in France, in local publications, or on the Internet. You could also try contacting the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, to see if they can pinpoint suitably qualifiedly people in your area of France.

But do you want a surveyor to do a survey?

So now you know it is possible to have a surveyor do a survey in France, the next question is whether or not you want to have one done. Is it something that you can undertake yourself, with a little preparation and research? What are the pros and cons of DIY surveying in France, as opposed to calling in the professionals?

The DIY choice of surveyor in France

There are certain things that you can do for yourself, of course. It may even pay to do a preliminary check of the property you are considering before deciding whether or not you need to instruct a surveyor. For example, if a house smells of damp, or if you can see signs of damp on the walls, then it probably has a damp problem! If the property has clearly antiquated electrical sockets and fuse boxes (Connecting utilities (water, gas, electricity, telephone and sewage) in France), a re-wire is on the cards, so factor that into the budget when deciding if you can afford the property. If the house is occupied, you can of course ask the owner some questions, such as when the septic tank was last emptied or checked, whether there are any problems with the land (Land for Sale in France), such as flooding or neighbour's rights of way, and so on. That is, if you understand the answers!

Benefits of professional advice by surveyors in France

Having said that there are certain aspects of a survey that are common sense that you can probably take care of yourself, we will now turn our attention to the benefits of taking professional advice. That is, of instructing a qualified surveyor to give your potential dream home in France, the once over before you part with your hard earned cash. A written survey is likely to be quite expensive, so is it really necessary? Are there other, cheaper options that can still give you peace of mind?

Consider a verbal survey from a surveyor in France

A written survey is the British norm, and you may well feel that you would like the confidence that this piece of paper will give you when it comes to purchasing your property. There is another possibility, however, which is also useful and less expensive. Oliver Cockell, a France based British architect who lives and works in the Perpignan area (Perpignan Property Guide, Retirement in Perpignan) in the south of France, also offers verbal surveys. These are conducted in the same highly professional manner as a written survey, but as they take considerably less time to complete, saving on the time consuming paperwork, they cost around 50% of the price of the traditional written survey. These are very popular with British clients, but do make sure that the person you are instructing has the necessary qualifications.

Who is qualified to do a survey in France - must they be surveyors?

A written survey must be carried out by a registered architect, building surveyor, or structural engineer (Building or extending property in France). Structural engineers tend to be involved only in new builds, or in major renovation projects, so it is most likely that you will be seeking the services of an architect (Architects providing a service in France) or building surveyor. There are, of course, many excellent surveyors or French architects who are more than capable of carrying out a survey, but if you are not proficient in the French language, or simply prefer to work with a professional who understands the British mentality of house purchases (and it really is different from the French viewpoint!), then it makes sense to seek out the services of a British surveyor or architect such as Mr Cockell, who is registered with both the British (Architects Registration Board) and French ( Les Ordres des Architects) professional bodies. An architect (or surveyor) who is only registered in Britain is not qualified to submit work in France.

What can a professional surveyor spot?

A professional surveyor or architect can not only spot problems and potential problems that the untrained eye may not notice, but also has a far better understanding of the implications of such problems, and can advise you on the likely cost of putting these right. For example, as Mr Cockell points out; "A crack in a wall may indicate faulty or inadequate foundations, or perhaps a defective roof truss which is applying lateral pressure on an external wall. A damp wall may suggest external ground levels to be above internal floor levels which in turn could result in damp or dry rot beneath hidden floor constructions."

Surveyors can provide a useful bargaining tool in France

A lay person may well see the crack, or the damp, but would be unlikely to foresee the implications. Forewarned is forearmed, and a survey done by a surveyor or architect can also prove a useful bargaining tool should you discover that your dream home has some costly defects, but you still wish to go ahead with a purchase.

And if you don't use a surveyor in France?

It may well be that if you opt not to use a surveyor or architect and have a survey done, that all will be well and that you will have saved yourself a nice little lump of money. Unfortunately, however, it also may be that you will find yourself with an expensive boat load of problems. Ian Graham, from R-P-S Chartered Surveyors, who has forty years of experience in dealing with properties in France and Spain, has the following to say; "Sadly, a percentage of the work carried out by R-P-S on behalf of UK clients involves advising on problems arising as a direct result of not seeking professional advice prior to committing to their purchase... such problems can arise from relatively minor matters, where R-P-S are quickly able to put their minds at rest, to more extreme cases involving structural defects, and worse still, sadly inadequate budgeting, all of which should have come to light in a traditional form of pre purchase survey."

What if your surveyor in France misses something important?

A surveyor or architect in France should provide a good written survey covering pretty much everything, including existing structural defects and current condition. If something important is not picked up, a client may sue for professional incompetence, and professionals will, of course be insured against this eventuality. It is, however, important to understand that in certain circumstances there may be exclusion clauses written into the survey. These are necessary in situations where, for example, floor joists, underfloor drains, roof rafters in sealed areas etc. cannot be checked as the house is currently occupied, and to do so would cause damage to the fabric of the house and disruption to the habitants.

Over to you - to use a surveyor in France or not

It is, of course, entirely your decision. You may feel, as do many of the French, that a house that has stood for over a century will probably continue to stand for a few years longer, and therefore a survey is surplus to requirements. You may have a certain amount of expertise in the building trade and feel confident that your knowledge is sufficient. If you do decide to obtain peace of mind and use a surveyor in France, however, make sure that the advice you seek is from a registered and qualified professional. A survey, rather like fully comprehensive insurance, can be an expensive luxury, or it can be worth its weight in gold. No one can decide but you.

Contacts

Oliver Cockell, based in the south of France, can be contacted on oliverc@free.fr, or 0033 672 894 047. Ian Graham can be contacted via the website, www.surveysinfrance.com. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyor can be contacted via www.rics.org.

Additional articles which may be of interest:

Property in France - Types of houses in France
Owning Gîtes and Chambres D'Hotes (B&Bs) in France
Life in France

About the author

Joanna Simm moved to the Languedoc area of south-west France in October 2004 having found her property through French Property Links.

your questions...

1. A person in need of an engineer in the Gard (added 18/10/13)...

We are both architects. We have a house between Ales and Uzes 30700, and are in need of advice to look at a propped beam in a remise. Can you recommend an engineer in the area please?

Our reply...

Thanks for contacting us. I'm afraid I'm unable to recommend an engineer, and can only suggest you contact some companies using our Business Directory.

Should anyone reading this be able to recommend someone, please do get in touch.

2. A question about a soil survey (added 27/3/14)...

I will be putting in a new septic tank to the new rules outlined. But I think I need a soil survey. I am in Normandy 10kms from St Lo.

Our reply...

Thanks for contacting us. I would suggest you check with the people at your Mairie, who regulate all things to do with septic tanks, as well as SPANC. They should be able to recommend someone, or you could use our Business Directory.

your comments...

1. A comment from a visitor to the site (added 22/1/13)...

There are Chartered Structural Engineers working in France who are only too happy to carry out Structural Surveys. In my experience the vast majority of English buyers require structural surveys. It is the Chartered Structural Engineer who is the most qualified to assess the structural integrity and stability of a property. In many areas of France, where subsidence is a major problem, the service a structural engineer provides is invaluable. It is essential to note "Chartered". This denotes that the engineer has passed all the exams of the Institution of Structural Engineers and is entitled to be known as a Chartered Engineer. He is also entitled to the letters M.I.Struct.E after his name.

The Chartered Structural Engineer can also supply detailed calculations for extensions to both new and old buildings.

The last point I would make is that Chartered Engineers, such as myself carry, the all important, full Professional Indemnity insurance.

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