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Building & Renovation

How to Build a House in France

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Unless you are intending to self-build, you are going to need to enter into a contract with a building professional, but there are different approaches that can be taken.

In fact, four main types of building procurement can be used.

Turnkey Building Contract

If you are content to leave the project to a single builder, there is a specific contract for the construction of an individual dwelling that can be used, called the Contrat de Construction de Maison Individuelle (CCMI).

In practice, the use of the CCMI contract is more common amongst developers than builders, as they are generally used for standard house types taken from a catalogue of designs offered by the developer.

However, it is possible to use the contract with the plans of your own architect, and if you do find a good builder willing to accept its use on these terms, then you should take up their offer!

This is because the contract offers greater protection to the client than other forms of contract, although you need to ensure that you get professional advice from a solicitor, lawyer or architect on the precise terms.

The value of the contract lies in the fact that it offers the (theoretical!) guarantee of a house built to an agreed standard, price and delivery date.

In the event that the builder fails to comply, there are penalties that can be imposed.

If they go bankrupt, the contract also offers a financial guarantee of completion.

There is also the standard ten year building guarantee, backed by an insurance policy.

If you are proposing the fund the build through a French bank, then it is highly likely that you will be asked by the bank to use a CMMI contract, or at a minimum to provide an insurance policy against building defects, called an assurance dommages-ouvrage. This insurance is not cheap, but does protect you in the event of a dispute with the builder.

If the bank is willing to lend on the basis of neither a CCMI contract, or a defects insurance policy, then expect the percentage level of funding to be lower, and the interest rate you pay to be considerably higher.

You can read more about this type of contract in our guide to the CCMI French building contract.

Individual Building Contract

If you are unable, or you do not wish, to enter into a turnkey project with a single contractor you will need to enter into separate contracts with individual contractors for each part of the building package.

These contracts are called contrats d'entreprises or contrats louage-ouvrage.

There is very little regulation concerning the operation of these contracts, so there are few standard forms.

They are simple contracts for skill and labour, under which one party agrees to provide a service for another party at an agreed price.

If you are concerned about the use of such a basic contract, it is also possible to enter into a CCMI contract for the main structure of the building, and then individual contracts for the remaining works.

Architect Design and Build

Where the dwelling is at least 170m² the use of an architect to submit the planning application is obligatory.

While you may have used an architect to prepare the plans, it is also possible to engage them to take responsibility for the building phase.

If you use an architect for the complete design and build, then you would need to use a contrat louage-ouvrage, in the same manner as for a builder.

There are standard forms of such contracts offered by the Ordre des Architects, some of which are in English, and which you should be able to use with a reasonable confidence.

However, whether you have enough confidence in your architect to project manage the construction is another matter. French architects do not traditionally have strong training and experience in managing a construction site, so you need to choose with care.

Indeed, not all architects are willing to manage the construction phase, simply because of the professional insurance obligations that are required.

Architects are obliged to offer a ten year building guarantee, in the same manner as a builder, but make sure they actually hold a ten year building guarantee insurance policy.

You can read more in our guide to using an Architect in France.

Project Manager

If you are content with using your architect to draw up the plans, but less convinced about their performance on site, then the use of a project manager to oversee the construction phase is another option.

That way you get the best of both worlds - the design expertise of the architect to ensure the aesthetics of the building, and the on-site technical competence of the project manager to ensure the dwelling is built to standard, price and programme.

A project manager is known as a maitre d’œuvre, whom you will find in a bureau d'étude. Some architects have also received specfic professional training as a project manager.

If you are uneasy about the split responsibility, and the property is less than 170m², it is also possible for a project manager to prepare and submit the planning application, although you would need to check out their competence and experience in this task.

The precautions to be taken, and the contract documents to be used, are the same as that for an architect.

Conclusion

Whatever procurement approach you take, the most important consideration is to choose your professional team with care. A strong contract is not going to make a poor builder a good one, but a good builder or project manager can make up for deficiencies in the contractual arrangements.

You can read more in our Guide to Building a New House in France.

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