Reality TV and a couple of bestselling books have given French builders a bad rep. The internet is alive with tales of renovating property in France. Some are comical – cavalier carpenters who disappear for a three hour, boozy lunch – some are horror stories of mould, rot and soaring, unbudgeted expense.
My own experience was a good one. We received a recommendation for a jack-of-all-trades who can organise practically anything for a small- to medium-sized renovation. Painting, building, tiling, plumbing, electrics, you name it, Madjid was our man.
Our apartment is tiny and every square centimetre is precious. We decided to rip out the large built-in wardrobe and kitchenette with breakfast bar. After decades of chain smoking renters, cigarette smoke was ingrained into every fibre of the walls. A thorough going over with a paint brush was in order. We would finish off with high quality parquet flooring. The terrace—the best feature of the apartment—was crying out for attention. It had an uneven concrete surface, topped with unsightly fake grass (see before picture). We imagined beautiful patio tiles, climbing jasmine and simple outdoor furniture (see after picture).
We received the quote from Madjid and ran it by someone who knows a fair offer when he sees one. He advised us to haggle a bit on the paint work, and to question the cost of the balcony tiles, to make sure that the quality would meet our expectations. Everything else seemed correct and we signed the quote, and handed over the keys.
It is important to understand what your budget will get you. If you’re imagining antique, reclaimed wood for the floors, or a special type of tiling for the bathroom, the basic quote from the builder will not cover this. A general rule of thumb when renovating in Paris is to budget for around €1000 per square metre. This includes kitchen and bathroom so if you don’t need those, plan for something between €500 – €600 per square metre (painting, floors, tiles and simple building work). The quote includes all materials, even white goods, such as fridge and dishwasher.
The main challenge was, unsurprisingly, communication. It wasn’t just that communication between Madjid and I was conducted in a language foreign to both of us, there was the added cultural complication. Madjid was very proactive if he needed a decision or an answer to a question regarding materials or budget. However, he wasn’t forthcoming with updates. My emails of “how are things going? Could you send me an update? Could you forward me some pictures?” generally went unanswered. Unbeknownst to us, the team was hard at work. When I went there to see the progress for myself, I opened the door to find the renovation in full swing. Many renovators express how important it is to constantly follow up with French builders. What I liked about Madjid was that he soldiered on without micromanagement. Even if we had no clue what was going on.
If the thought of running a renovation remotely makes you too nervous, there are numerous architects, property managers and project managers who can do the follow-up work and communicate with the building team for you. Because we weren’t under time pressure, and because we had received a solid recommendation, we felt comfortable managing the project from abroad.
Expect that the renovation will take longer than you think. We assumed that because the apartment is so small, we could be finished within a month or so. However, there can be long lead times on materials, the builders are managing many projects at once, and it takes time to take care of all of the finishing touches. Once the renovation is complete, the fun part starts – making the space your own. Ours is still a work in progress, but I love how it is coming along. Check out the before and after pictures and see what you think.