Surveys: Do I really need one?
I’ve heard that the French don’t really do surveys, so do I need to do one? In the UK I wouldn’t dream of buying an older house – we’re looking for a character property in the Loire Valley – but should I take the ‘when in Rome’ attitude to surveys in France? What sort of things would a survey cover that I wouldn’t be able to spot myself? And what ballpark cost would I be looking at for a survey for a three-bedroom house? If I go ahead with a survey, at one point should I organise it – before or after I’ve signed the ‘ compromis’ sales contract? Name supplied
John Snell of Brittany House Surveys (brittany house surveys. com) replies: It’s a myth that the French are not bothered about the condition of second-hand houses and gives the nonsensical impression that French buildings are miraculously immune from defects.
In fact, most French buyers will consult a technically qualified professional – usually an engineer or architect but also perhaps a chartered surveyor or a roofing or timber specialist. In French, a survey is broadly described as ‘ une expertise’, the surveyor being an ‘expert’. The Compagnie Nationale des Experts Immobilier (CNEI) registers and regulates the many professionally qualified, accredited and insured ‘surveyors’ in France in much the same way as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. The main objectives of a pre-purchase survey are to: Decide whether to proceed with the purchase To anticipate (and by implication budget for) any repairs the property might require To consider whether any closer investigations (legal or technical) are required to satisfy the first two aims. Conducting your own appraisal of a building’s condition requires an eye for detail, emotional detachment, an enquiring mind and a basic understanding of building pathology. For example, a few slipped or missing slates from a roof are cheap and quick to replace, but it raises two important questions. Why did they detach? Is the whole roof hook-sick/tired? And when did they move? Has the roof support frame been exposed to weather for a long time?
With French houses, the principal issues revolve around water (damp) caused by rain, ground source and human activities.
A survey should also consider the immediate environment, looking at outbuildings, boundaries and considering potential environmental problems such as noise or pollution.
A survey on a three-bedroom property with a conventional layout will probably cost about €500.
If you go ahead, always always get it done before you agree on a price and certainly before you sign. It gets people’s backs up if you batten down the price and then go back two weeks later asking for €3,000 off to sort out a damp problem.
Once you sign the compromis de vente you only have a 10-day cooling-off period and it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get a survey, quotes from tradesmen and a renegotiated price all within this tight time-frame.