The following article, ‘The art of finding a tradesperson in France’, was first published by French Property news in October 2020.
The contract has been signed and you’ve got a moving date. At last, your French property renovation project can begin! All you need now is a good artisan or two, to help you get the work done and ‘la belle vie’ can get underway. [Insert record scratch sound effect here].
Not so fast! There are plenty of good artisans (aka tradespeople) in France. But demand is outstripping supply right now, with many of them busy handling a backlog of work caused by lockdown and serving the needs of a flurry of British customers arriving in France ahead of the Brexit deadline.
In a situation like this, it can be tempting to go with the first person who’s available, but if that person turns out to be anything less than what they say they are – whether it’s a well-meaning ‘handyman’ who’s not adequately covered to carry out the work you need him for, or the dreaded ‘rogue trader’ – you stand to risk losing everything you’ve invested.
Instead, take time to read (and apply!) the advice below, on how to find a trusted tradesperson in France, and you’ll be well on your way to the good life…
The proof is in the paperwork
There are some key documents that you can and should ask to see when you first make contact with an tradesperson in France, which will tell you if they’re properly registered and insured to do the work you want to hire them for. If he or she can provide you with this information, you’re probably onto a good thing. If not, you might as well stop right there.
When artisans are registered in France, they’re issued with documentation which provides proof of their affiliation to the Chambre de Métiers and/or the Chambre de Commerce. If they belong to the former, they will have been given an INSEE certificate, and if it’s the latter, they’ll have an ‘Extrait Kbis’ (also known as an ‘Extrait K’). These documents should outline all the activities the artisan is registered to carry out – ie. not just their APE (‘Activite Principale de l’Entreprise’), but anything else they say they can do for you, too.
An artisan will also have been assigned a SIREN (business identification number) and a SIRET (a SIREN with 5 extra digits, which denote the location of the business). It’s not unusual to hear an artisan say “I’m siretted”, as a way of reassuring you that he or she is legit, but that’s not enough; this only tells you that they’re registered for something. The INSEE certificate or ‘extrait KBIS’ is where you’ll find the details of what, exactly.
It is mandatory that all French artisans have the following two forms of insurance:
- L’assurance responsabilité civile, which is essentially what’s known in the English-speaking world as civil or public liability insurance and covers any accidental damage to a person or property, which occurs during the course of the work being undertaken.
- L’assurance décennale, which guarantees the work itself it for 10 years in the case of ‘gros ouevres’ such as roofing, structural building, plumbing and electrical works (smaller jobs, such as painting and decorating will normally be insured for up to two years).
We’ve had quite a few enquiries lately, from potential Artisan Central members who, unfortunately, have the incorrect or inadequate insurances. Some artisans seem to think décennale insurance isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. But the fact is: it’s the law. Other artisans don’t realise that they need a separate insurance to cover any activities they carry out in the course of their work, which actually fall under the heading of a different trade. Project management or ‘Maitre d’oeuvre’, for example, is a specific activity which an artisan should be insured for – they cannot simply just claim to do this.
Some artisans seem to think décennale insurance isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. But the fact is: it’s the law.Micala Wilkins, Artisan Central
To be on the safe side, customers should request a copy of an artisan’s full insurance document, and that should include a list of everything they are insured to do – ie. not just an attestation but the annexe document that comes with it, too.
Even if you’ve already a suitable tradesperson in France and don’t have any interest in comparing costs, you’ll need a ‘devis’, or quote. This provides a detailed description of the proposed work, including a schedule for the work and the cost of any materials needed. It usually includes details about their insurance, too, so if you’ve not already checked their level of cover, you should definitely take the opportunity to do it now.
You’ll need to sign and date the bottom of the devis and send the original back to the artisan, keeping a copy for yourself as a reference. This provides you and the artisan with an initial contract or agreement and it serves to protect both sides should there be any disagreements later on. Just be aware that if the document is written in English, you’ll both need to sign a French translation of it in order for it to be legally binding.
Be aware, too, of the artisan’s business status. If a tradesperson in France operates as an SARL, SA or EURL, they’ll be able to buy materials for the project and include the cost of these in the final invoice. However, if they’re registered as a Micro Entrepreneur (also known as an Auto Entrepreneur), they can only order the materials on your behalf – it’s you who’ll have to pay upfront, and it’s you who’ll have to deal with any problems that arise if the materials turn out to be faulty.
At the end of the day…
If you have undertaken extensive works with a general contractor or project manager, then an RDT or ‘réception de travaux’ form should be used to sign off the job between the two parties. This shows that you’re both in agreement that the work is complete. For smaller or more isolated works carried out by a tradesperson in France, there’s only a ‘facture’ (invoice) for you to check over, and the 10-year insurance or ‘décennale’, which will take effect from the date on which you pay it in full.
In either case, always remember to keep a copy of these documents. Should there be a problem at some point in the future, the artisan will be legally obliged to come back and fix it within a reasonable timescale. If they’re reluctant for some reason, you’ll be within your right to contact their insurance company (whose details should be on both the ‘devis’ and the invoice) and make a claim.
In most cases, however, it’s unlikely that you’ll have any unresolvable problems – especially if you’ve followed the advice given here. Most tradespeople in France are as keen as you are to get the job done to a high standard. This is their bread and butter, after all. And as our members will attest, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing another happy customer settling into ‘la belle vie’.