More puzzles of French property ownership
Nobody wants to admit they have been ripped off by a rogue trader – especially if it was by Pat the Expat Plumber or Bob the Brit-aboard Builder.
I’m probably more embarrassed than most because I work for a property magazine and it’s literally my job to know how to hire French artisans and communicate that knowledge to others. But the year before I joined FPN I fell head-first into the expat trader trap.
It was January 2016 and we had just picked up the keys to our little stone cottage in rural Brittany. There were a few bits and bobs to sort out of course, such as the leaking shower and the fallingdown garage, the septic tank pump and the bombsite of a garden. But one of the most pressing things was the need to install a woodburning stove. So when a local expat couple agreed to be our keyholders, we asked them if they could recommend anybody.
Yes, they knew of just the man, an expat friend of an expat friend who was a stove installer. What were the chances? I don’t think for one minute the keyholders were deliberately trying to mislead us. No doubt they thought they were being helpful to a couple of clueless fellow Brits. Not only were we naive but we were in a hurry, trying to cram home improvements into whirlwind weekend trips to Brittany. In typical British style, we wanted things sorted and we wanted them sorted maintenant, vite, aussitôt que possible – none of which was very compatible with the gentle pace of life we’d come to enjoy. So even though I have a decent command of the language and had hoped to hire local French tradesmen, we leapt at the chance to get things done.
It makes me cringe to think of what we did next... or rather what we didn’t do. Firstly, we didn’t do any background checks on Mr Stove Man. We should have demanded his SIRET number (the 14-digit code identifying the geographical location of all French businesses) and fed it into Google so that we could see what he was actually qualified to do. If we’d done that we would have seen that his ‘ métier’ (trade) was listed as travaux de maçonnerie générale; he was a general builder and unlikely to be an expert in ‘installation de chauffage individuel’.
Secondly, we didn’t ask him to produce his décennale insurance certificate, which all tradespeople are legally required to hold because it guarantees their work for 10 years. If we had, we would almost definitely have seen that he was not insured to install stoves.
Thirdly, we didn’t get our trois devis, the recommended three quotes. We did ring a couple of plombiers chauffaugistes and left messages on mobiles, but they never called back – probably because they saw the +44 dialling code and assumed it would be an expensive or difficult phone call.
Fourthly, we didn’t ask to see any examples of Stove Man’s previous work or testimonials.
Ouf! Do I really need to humiliate myself more? Suffice to say, we paid Stove Man several hundred euros that simply went up in smoke. We never got the installation certificate he’d promised and we spent a lot more time and money putting his botch job right. It’s no consolation that I’m not the first Brit who has been conned by a cowboy and I won’t be the last, though companies such as Artisan Central ( artisancentral.fr) have appeared on the scene to vet artisans and help Brits hire reliable people. I should add, of course, that I’ve met some excellent expat tradespeople in France and a couple of unscrupulous French ones. The bottom line is that if you’re fresh off the boat, do your research so that you’re only left red-faced from curling up next to your lovely (and professionally installed) woodburning stove.
Ruth Wood confesses to falling into the expat trader trap