How to Renovate in France on a Budget
So you’ve bought your fixer-upper in France. The romanticism of Peter Mayle has snared you into the dream (or perhaps my blog?). You’re not a millionaire but you’ve got essentially a ruin of stones to work with. At least that’s a start.
You most likely don’t know anyone. You’ve heard horror stories about local tradesmen. Everything in the DIY stores seems more expensive. You’ll have to be careful about your budget…
We had a budget of only 25,000 euros to completely renovate our tiny house. We were able to accomplish this because we did most of the work ourselves. I have to admit, that Robin is a certified tradesman so this helped enormously.
If you’re planning on doing the same, here are some tips on how you can spend the least amount of money possible while not compromising on your materials or safety building codes.
Do Your Research
This is essential. Calculate what you will need and order online. You won’t believe the price differences for the same products online in France. The French have yet to embrace buying online which means there are temptingly low prices to be found. Make sure to read product reviews before you buy.
The Craigslist, Kijiji or Gumtree of France, without the weirdos. A treasure trove of Le Creuset pots, French panties, beautiful old tables as well as building materials on the cheap. Do not underestimate the glory that is Le Bon Coin. Also great for once you’ve gotten to the decorating stage. Just about all our furniture came from ads on this site. Great for the budget reno!
Buy in Bulk/Be Organised
There’s nothing that wastes more time in a renovation than having to go back to the store every day for something you’ve miscalculated or forgotten. Think before you buy. Ask online companies if they can waive delivery charges or if you can get a discount if you buy a certain amount at once.
Make your own Lime Wash (Chaux)
Paint is expensive in France. If you like the rustic look, chaux is a great option. Chaux is a lime wash that allows your old walls to breath and leaves beautiful texture. You can buy pre-made chaux mixture at the store for 50 euros for 5 litres or make your own for 15 euros and have enough for your entire house! See our recipe.
Use the Same Builder’s Merchant’s
Go to the local builder’s merchant of your choice and use them as much as you can. You won’t be a significant discount if you’re not a registered tradesmen. However, if they know you, and even if you don’t spend a ton of money, you will generally get a small discount. This varies from product to product.
Get Rid of Waste Yourself
You’ll have to try to evaluate this beforehand. We didn’t realise that the former owner decided that it would be a good idea to unnecessarily install 2 layers of all the wood paneling and tiling. That’s another story… Either way, we saved money on hiring skips by taking our rubble to the déchetterie (dump) ourselves. Tip: be nice to the men that work there who can become irate if you don’t sort your déchets properly. Give them the odd piece of copper every once and a while…it softens them up a bit.
If you have some experience, you can ask your workers if they would bring down the price of their quote if you help them. We painted our own doors and windows at the joiner’s workshop. Robin did a lot of the donkey work when we had our wall knocked down between the kitchen and the living room. He prepared the wall for the facadier (renderer) before he came to plaster our outside walls. If you need to hire an electrician, you can do all the chasing and install the electrical boxes in the walls beforehand.
Befriend a Tradesman
If you’re not in the trade yourself, this can be tricky. However, find a friend in someone in the industry and you’ll have at your hands innumerable advantages. It’s all about who you know in Southern France. A tradesman that takes pity on you might be able to counteract the “foreign” price that all foreigners are subjected to here in Provence. You might even be able to borrow tools!
Renovate in the Winter
The wind can be miserable here in Provence during the winter months but that is about the only thing weather related that really gets in the way of renovating. With the second home owners and tourists gone, tradesmen often have less to do. Prices may vary favorably as a consequence. Also, in winter you won’t encounter wasps and bees nests in your roof space.
Voila! Our tips on how to renovate in France on a budget.
Are you renovating a house in France on a budget? How are you getting on? What difficulties have you had? Do you have anything else to add to this list?