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Property Renovation – a very human affliction

Is it part of our DNA? A human predisposition towards construction? Or maybe it’s a throwback from caveman times? I’ve tried to blame it on ‘Grand Designs’, ‘Location Location Location’ or ‘Changing Rooms’ because as soon as I reached a certain age I couldn’t so much as look at a dilapidated old farmhouse without feeling an overwhelming compulsion … to renovate.

Now I know my limits. I’ve refitted a bathroom, restored an old wooden staircase. At my most daring I tried two-tone colours in my front room. It didn’t work. But some people like a real challenge. Not only do they want to reconstruct an entire building, they want to do it across the channel, in a land that speaks a different language, with a rather different work ethic. These people are the warriors of the renovation world because they want to renovate … in France.

There are properties a plenty for sale on the French property market. Many of them with that key prerequisite … they ‘need work’. Picking one is not the hardest part. Just today I saw this five bedroom chalet set on a vast plot of land by the ski area of Les Houches.

For a bigger challenge you could look to this 17th century seven bedroom farmhouse in Lavancher with ancient wood crying out for restoration, south facing views of the Mont Blanc range, and a beautiful peaceful garden.

Both offer idyllic settings, breathtaking views and period features. I can already hear the laughter and joy of my family and friends as we enjoy holidays, birthdays and Christmas together in our new Alpine home… It doesn’t take much to spark an alpine dream. And if you get it right you could end up with something like this.

But get it wrong and you could end up on the bottom of everyone’s Christmas list. A large scale property renovation cannot be undertaken lightly. There are articles aplenty regarding the legal and financial implications of buying a French property. But we wanted to give you some top tips regarding the renovation work itself. Some of our most successful renovation warriors have contributed to the top tips below. Please take note and then, take a deep breath and enjoy the journey.

Architects are key – your architect is going to be pivotal in ensuring you achieve what you want from your property, even more so than your builder. Get an architect who speaks English and while you’re at it, it would serve you well to get a builder who speaks English too. Minor misinterpretations across a language barrier can have far reaching effects on a construction site…

Parlez-vous françaisyou can’t achieve fluency over night, and the French don’t expect you to. But at least get some basic French lessons. And study, study, study the vocabulary related to building and construction. You really need to understand it. The French will appreciate it AND it will help forge relationships with the people you are working with.

Primary residence beware – If at all possible don’t do renovations on your primary residence, while either living there, or with a set deadline that you need to move in by. There will be delays. There will be unexpected problems. The problems will become nightmarish if a delay in move date results in you becoming homeless.

 

Get a mood board – one of the top tips we think we’ve ever received is from a lady who went mood board crazy. She found visual images of everything she was trying to achieve for every single space in the chalet she was renovating. That way all the contractors involved could see the end goal and all the different features, finishes, textures she was expecting. In response she asked them to send her weekly photos of the work … and so a photo exchange was born.

Site visits – you need to budget the time and the finances for lots of site visits. You need to see the work yourself, speak to the contractors, make sure they understand you and check up on everything. One man visited his chalet to find huge and ancient roof joists had been replaced with brand new ones, after he had specifically requested the old wood stay. He caught it early enough to get it changed back. That missed site visit could have had far reaching consequences.

A big contingency – things will go wrong, things do go wrong. In general they cost more than you thought. Make sure you don’t just have a little bit put aside. Make sure you have a lot put aside or you may find your renovation work grounds to a halt at the first sign of expensive trouble.

Man on the Ground – you need an English speaking Project Manager, on site, project managing all the work. You need someone who understands, in English, exactly what you want and need. You need someone to represent you when issues arise. You need trusted council available for weekly, sometimes daily calls. Alpine Angels have provided this service for many of their clients. Who ever you choose to work with, don’t underestimate how essential this person will be for you. You need someone on your team.

For more help on property renovation or to find your ideal restoration property contact alpine angels

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