Building & renovation in Meribel – where do I start?

Building in France – a guide

If you are contemplating a building or renovation project in Meribel or Courchevel you may find some of the following information in our ‘Building in France – a guide’ useful.  There are some key differences between building in France and the UK and these can often come as a surprise to even a seasoned UK property developer.


there seem to be no ‘general builders’ in france?

Unlike the UK there are no real ‘general builders’ in France who will act as a main contractor and be your one point of contact for a project.  This is due to insurance and regulations governing qualifications.  Each trade has a different insurance policy code ie. There is a specific insurance policy for electrics, for plumbing, for carpentry, to tile.

Each skill that is added to an insurance policy has it’s own dedicated code.  Each additional activity that is added will increase the cost of the premium.  The tradesman will also have to ‘prove’ that he is competent in each skill – even to the extent of how to paint a wall.

The result is that each project (even small renovations) will often require the attendance of several different trades.

What is an artisan’s carte professionnelle?

Each tradesman should carry a carte professionnelle issued by the chambres de Metiers et de l’Artisant.  This card details the activities that the tradesman is registered & judged as competent to undertake.  If the activity is not listed on their card they are not registered to undertake that type of work.  The card is somewhat like a UK driving licence that lists the vehicles that you are licenced to drive.

This card proves that the tradesman is  registered with the local chamber de metiers and that they are judged as competent in the activities that are listed on their card.  The card is renewable each year.

If there is a site inspection each artisan will have to produce their carte professionnelle.

The carte professionnelle does not prove that the artisan has insurance.


is building work insured?

Each artisan must, under law, have a valid decennale assurance policy that insures their work for 10 years.  The decennale will detail the type of work that is insured & this should match the activities that are contained on their carte professionnelle.  No decennale = no guarantee of work.


can i employ a main contractor?

Legal main contractors do not really exist in France except for large commercial projects.  This is, in the main, due to insurance considerations and the constraints placed upon builders by the boundaries imposed on trades and the activities that may be undertaken.  A main contractor will have a version of the Maitre d’Oeuvre decennale that insures them to oversee other trades.  The cost of a main contractors decennale is prohibitive for any but the largest companies.


who do i use to organise my build or renovation project?

This is the specific role undertaken by a Maitre d’Oeuvre in France ie. The project manager.


What should i look for in a maitre d’oeuvre?

The maitre d’oeuvre will, to all intents and purposes, be your eyes, ears and voice on site.  He is there to represent your interests and not those of the artisans.  A successful relationship between client and maitre d’oeuvre is dependent on full trust between the parties.


The maitre d’oeuvre is in both a powerful and vulnerable position.  An unscrupulous maitre d’oeuvre may award contracts to artisans based on self-interest rather than in the best interests of the client.  An unreliable client will be late with payments to artisans causing the delicate balance of relationships on site to be adversely affected.


Choosing the right maitre d’oeuvre is essential:

  • Legal & Insured – The first thing to check is that the maitre d’oeuvre is legal – there are many who are not and who continue to pull the wool over the eyes of naive clients.  This is easily established by asking for a copy of their assurance decennale.  If they cannot supply this then alarm bells should sound.  Assurance decennale is a statutory legal requirement in France – there are no exceptions or alternative interpretations of the law.  A legal project manager in the UK is not legal in France unless they are in possession of a decennale valid in France.
  • Experienced – Does the maitre d’oeuvre have experience of the type of project that you have in mind?  Are they able to provide you with a portfolio of previous projects that they have been responsible for?
  • Reputation – Are they respected by the trades rather than just liked by them?  Artisans will want to work with a maitre d’oeuvres who is pro-active, efficient and able to drive a project forward.
  • Integrity – Are they truly independent of the trades and do they have a reputation for representing their clients’ interests above all others?
  • Trust – Do you have 100% confidence in your proposed project manager?  Do they tick all of the boxes above and inspire confidence in you?


Why do i have to pay an artisan so much in advance?

One of the many tasks that your maitre d’oeuvre will undertake is to source quotes from the various trades that will be involved in your project.  If you wish to accept a quote from an artisan you will need to sign the ‘devis’ and pay a deposit at the time of signing.  Contractors will normally insist on a 30% deposit of their quote upon signing.  This can be up to a year in advance of commencing work in the Alps and often takes British clients by surprise.

This deposit is non-refundable and gives the contractor a level of protection in case of the owner deciding not to proceed with the project. The justification behind this is that the contractor has allocated his time (a short window in the Alps) and should the project fall by the wayside he will be financially out of pocket. It is akin to the deposit that someone would place for a holiday.

Upon commencement of work most trades will require a further 30% of their devis. The remaining 40% will, in most circumstances, be paid according to a schedule agreed between Maitre d’Oeuvre and the contractor.


What If I am late with my payment to a contractor?

Artisans do not tolerate late payment of their invoices in the Alps.  Clients usually have 7 days to pay their invoices in full.  The view is that the work has been done (verified by the maitre d’oeuvre) and that payment is due.  In the event of non-payment it has been known for artisans to return to a site and to undo their work!

News of late and non-payments travels very quickly in the Alps and it can cause reluctance by other contractors to attend the site.  Late payments will also put a strain on a clients relationship with the maitre d’oeuvre;  his reputation on site will have suffered and his authority on site will have been undermined.


Is building in the Alps expensive?



Why is building in the Alps so expensive?

There are a multitude of reasons for this. On a national level social charges and taxes are higher than in the UK. Insurance premiums are also substantial. TVA adds a further 10% – 20% on the cost of a build depending on the type of work undertaken.

On a local level the cost of living does not decrease outside of the ski season.  In addition:

  • Materials – are expensive due to both taxes and the logistics of getting them to the mountains
  • Labour – a lack of competition between the trades and a lack of local skilled artisans.
  • Travel – the local terrain demands much of vehicles, with frequent replacement of tyres and brakes.