If you are planning to buy with a view to restoring and/or renovating an old building in France, I have three pieces of advice for you-
1) Do your homework
2) Take the advice of, or better still involve a reputable local architect or master builder/draughstman
3) Do not rely on casual statements from friends, neighbours, the current owner (especially!) or fellow expats etc such as “you can do what you like inside the house” or “just do it, no-one will notice, just don’t ask the mayor round for a drink”.
Our French house is in an ancient village with a historically unique fortified “chateau” whose twelve sided structure consists of a Templar church at it’s heart, surrounded by what were the Knight’s houses, stables, blacksmith, armoury, servants quarters etc. clearly visible on the photo above.There was a single entrance on the far side of the church and what is now the circular “promenade” was then a moat. Beyond that, in the outer ring of buildings were the hangers-on, locals, farmworkers, general peasants & opportunists whose livelihood depended on serving the big guys in the fort!
Our house was cobbled together a long time ago from bits of the original buildings in the outer ring(side on view of sloping roof of the main house is visible about half way up this pic and about a centimeter in if you zoom in!)
The church and fort are NOT listed (I am not sure why) as historical monuments under the Architects “Batiment de France”whose role is to protect & preserve historic buildings and they must be consulted for any project located within 500 metres of a listed building.
However, whether listed or not, you may need to apply for both local and central government permissions (certain rules take precedence over others!) and/or a declaration of works for specific interior or exterior changes.. It will be useful to check initially with your local Mayor and his committee if the property is in a village or small town. (if some changes don’t need permission, fine, but do please check before you wield the sledgehammer) Contrary to some suggestions I have seen on expat forums, the rules are complicated and they apply whether you are French or not! It is possible to prepare for and seek these permissions yourself, but it can be a long and arduous process and misinformation and misunderstandings can occur that will throw your plans into chaos or force you to undo costly work and start again.
Don’t try and fly below the radar, if you are choosing to live or spend time in another country be respectful and be prepared to embrace their restrictions, rules and culture… or forget it.
Permissions and regulations have tightened up and changed significantly in France in the last few years and will certainly change again .If you only take on board handy hint number (2) above, please do that! even if you plan to do some of the work yourself.
Whilst we may not have listed building status to consider (which brings it’s own issues as, in the absence of official guidance, we must decide ourselves how best to carry out the restoration and renovations sympathetically and appropriately) I cannot emphasise enough how critical and how reassuring have been the local knowledge, expertise, contacts and communication that our French builder has brought to our project.
Don’t try to cut corners or bypass any of the proper stages of the process. Be brave, but be careful too.