Consistent cost increases
Throughout the latter half of 2020 and the whole of 2021, the construction industry saw a massive downturn in production due to the pandemic, particularly on large scale commercial projects. Fast forward to 2022 and the side effects of coronavirus are beginning to be felt on an economic level across all trades in the industry and experts are telling us that this could cause, by domino effect, inextricable situations.
The main hurdles being faced by all in the construction sector is the steady rise in material prices and the huge delays in supply chains: The figures issued by the federation of BTP in France state that there has been a +50% increase in the price of steel since the beginning of 2021, 28% on copper and 22% on zinc. Other materials that have seen continuous increases over the last 18 months are wood, plastic products, insulation and bituminous materials.
Whilst these prices have been rising, construction companies have not been able to systematically adjust their invoicing rates accordingly and are facing a consequential collapse of their margins.
Combination of covid & Brexit
So, we understand the global impact that COVID has had in general on the larger players, but what does this mean for those smaller enterprises and tradespeople operating in France, and in particular those providing their trade to French homeowners seeking English speaking services? Also, what are the consequences, you may wonder, for those who have moved across the Channel and are bold enough to take on a full renovation project themselves? To answer this we thought that the best way to determine what’s really happening ‘en France’ was to talk to artisans who are living and working here whilst trying to negotiate these complexities on a daily basis.
The good news, it seems, is that most trades in France have been very active throughout the Covid pandemic and are continuing to be so. Those supplying a service to the Expat community have seen a property buying boom as ‘get Brexit done’ drew to a close and many newcomers wanted to take advantage of the WARP agreement and to have their feet on French soil by the end of December 2020. This in turn has served to keep respected trades busy into 2022.
What Artisan Central members have done to navigate through the pandemic
Elizabeth Harvey co-owner at Makers Bespoke Furniture based in department 53, Normandy, says that their experience has been mostly positive throughout the pandemic:
“We honestly thought that the pandemic, coupled with Brexit, was going to be a complete disaster for us – but it has been the opposite! Last year was an amazing year for orders, and we can only presume that lots of time spent at home and not being able to travel has meant that people have more to spend on their homes and the things in them.”
Paul Wilkins of Paul Wilkins Electricien based in Lorigne, Deux Sevres, reiterates this sentiment of steady workflow: “Business has continued to be brisk despite the pandemic. I originally abided by the laws of lockdown at the time, but when those were lifted it meant I could work to the protocols as and when they changed ” also adding, “house buying continues to be buoyant in my area, the immobiliers have been very busy. I have had requests to look at diagnostics for purchasers before signing and to produce a devis for rewiring properties as a negotiation tool for the buyer, which in turn leads to a job when the purchase has gone through”.
Jon Tuson owner of EURL Maison Bretagne, a building contractor firm, based in Dinan, Brittany also explains “We have seen the number of enquiries increase by +30% over the past 12 months despite the complications of the pandemic, although due to the instability of material prices, it is becoming harder to adhere to clients budgets or negotiate costings which are resulting in (larger) jobs being longer and harder to secure”
Matt Kirk artisan and owner of Menuiserie Kirk, a carpentry and joinery company based in department 50, Normandy, shares this experience “I have definitely seen a decrease in commitment to a devis, which in turn is making the situation harder because trying to hold those prices for any considerable amount of time is proving more and more difficult on a monthly basis”
In response to the materials crisis, many of the artisans we spoke to were still trying to calculate any losses made over the last 12 month period with many unsure how severe the financial consequences had been as of yet.
“I have attempted to keep my prices level, knocking a bit off labour but it’s getting to the point where my prices are going to have to increase,” says Matt Kirk. “I have seen massive increases in sheet goods, exotic timbers, homegrown timbers, fasteners and fixings, paint finishes and ironmongery. I’ve not seen glue go up yet, which is a bonus!”
Roofer Joe Milsome and owner of JM Toitures based in Ruffec in the Charente, explained that he has cautiously adjusted his pricing whilst trying to remain fair but has found that clients have been understanding of this “We have raised prices slightly but took on a bit of price inflation to help keep costs down for clients. In general, I have found clients to have been understanding of increased costs and subsequent delays”
Meanwhile, Carl Hewson, owner of Lion Rouge a company that supply and fit UPVC windows and doors throughout France, has taken a flexible approach to price adjustments “Once a devis is signed, the price given remains the same. I absorb any price rises or currency fluctuations – I win on some, lose on others, and generally, it evens out. I do, however, always factor in a little on each job, which has served me well in covering these variables.” Carl also believes that buying materials in bulk is also a good way of controlling the spiralling costs “Any items I can store I buy in bulk ahead of time preventing any shortages. We are fortunate, however, to have the storage space to allow this”
The other major consequence resulting from the Covid 19 pandemic, which seemed common for the majority of artisans we spoke to, were the delays on existing projects and in turn, delays to start dates on new projects signed off by clients. As most of the World was in complete lockdown for several months throughout 2020 and into 2021, large manufacturers supplying materials to the construction industry were unable to produce goods during these periods and the effects are now beginning to show, creating huge delays in lead times and deliveries into the material yards that serve the smaller artisan enterprises. Without the relevant materials to hand, artisans have been forced to become savvier about how they prepare for jobs and adapt their work schedules accordingly.
“Communication with clients is key, particularly in this current situation,” says Jon Tuson, Maison Bretagne, “Even if we are not sure ourselves when exactly a delivery of construction materials will arrive, we are honest with our clients and keep them constantly updated. This has resulted in a whole lot more time and therefore money spent on administration services. Luckily we have an office that deals with this, but still, it’s been tough to juggle all the constant delays, updates and changes to project schedules when the information coming through to us from suppliers is not always accurate.”
What does the future hold for English speaking Artisans?
In conclusion the situation for artisans in France, it seems, is still complex and not without its fair share of problems. These same issues have also impacted the self renovators as some materials continue to be scarce for all and RRP prices reflect the same price increases felt by artisans on professional rates. With the added complications of customs inspections and duty charges as a direct result of Brexit putting a sudden stop to the possibility of bringing materials over from the U.K. Options are certainly now more restricted.
With no clear end in sight, artisans are left with no option but to keep on adapting to the situation as it plays out. Despite these uncertain times, however, things still look bright for those in a trade who have built a solid reputation, and in remaining flexible and open to adapting their business accordingly, they are sure to sustain a healthy business in a market where building trades saw annual growth of +12.5% in 2021 ( erasing the decline suffered in 2020 of -9% ) and where growth is predicted to reach +2,5% in 2022.