Make a List of Recommended Artisans
Before you reach for the local ‘pagesjaunes’ (yellow pages) you need to ask around the neighbourhood. Anyone you know that has lived in the area for a while will have recommendations to offer you, and dire warnings as well. Listen to these recommendations – personal recommendations are the best way to find good workers.
It is often difficult to separate those with a vested interest in their recommendation from those making a genuine personal recommendation based on work they have themselves had done.
Many new arrivals in France ask the person that they know best for their recommendations – the estate agent that they bought the property through. This is unlikely to be the best way to find good workers, and those recommended will sometimes be relatives or personal friends of the estate agent. If you do ask your estate agent for recommendations, insist on speaking to existing and former clients of the workers, in private, about their work. Even then, they may well be new arrivals like yourself, and not in a position to actually compare quality of work and the price paid.
The old lady who lives in the house down the road, or the ex-pat who has lived in the area for a few years, are often your best chance of getting a valuable recommendation.
If somebody recommends a whole list of English builders to you, their recommendations should be ignored. In a French town it is just about possible (although unlikely) that the best electrician, plumber, or mason, is English. Anyone who suggests that ALL the best workers in town are English – no chance. They must have chosen their workers based on language rather than abilities. That is not the best way to get good work done at a good price.
Next suggestion – never deal with any builder, be they from France, the UK, eastern Europe or anywhere else, that is not properly registered in France. All registered workers will be able to show you a SIRET number (see separate section for how to verify a SIRET number). If you do not check this, you are exposing yourself to problems with the quality of work, problems with guarantees and insurance, problems with tax when you sell up. I am not saying this because I have a great moral problem with people ‘working on the black’. The French bureaucratic system for starting a business and employing people is such a disaster that many people are more or less forced to work in the black economy – it is simply a question of quality of work, price paid and tax issues.
One easier possibility is to choose ‘teams’ that always work together, or a building contractor who will subcontract the individual parts of the project themself. All builders will have their preferred electricians and so on. If the different teams all know each other, you will probably find that they let each other know about delays and problems with your project over lunch or a drink in the bar. When you have chosen your mason, ask him who he usually works with, or ask other people nearby who have had work done for details of the teams who worked for them.