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Should you buy a house to renovate, to refresh or without work?

This question may seem obvious to many, but the implications are far greater when it comes to a house in the countryside. When we began our visits to houses in Provence, we hadn't precisely defined the degree of work we were prepared to accept, so we first compared radically different projects. Once we remembered that we'd have to manage the site remotely, the decision was already simpler to make 🙂

It's essential to be clear on this point before starting the search, because at the risk of repeating myself, the implications are not insignificant (see previous article for more information).

To begin with, you need to know whether you'll have the time, the energy and the budget. Carrying out work, even remotely, requires time to monitor the site (even with a project manager), choose or validate the proposed materials, define the water and electricity circuits and simply make the trips back and forth to visualize the site. Energy, because the work is added to our daily lives - the kids, work, etc. And a building site generally takes longer than a renovation. And a project usually takes longer than expected, with its share of surprises, so we need to be able to absorb these unforeseen events.

Estimating the amount of work required remains the main challenge when buying your first home. As with any real estate project, you have a budget to stick to, and you don't want to commit yourself without visibility and have to live for a while in a home that's not finished or not to your liking.

To evaluate this budget, you need to define the degree of work required: complete renovation or simple refreshment. Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you answer this key question:

  • Structural work

When you're buying a house, these words don't have the same consequences as when you're buying a condominium: the roof, foundations, pipes and insulation are all elements that will have to be redone 100% out of your own pocket. When you buy an apartment, you don't pay much attention to these elements, because you know that there's a syndic and co-owners who will help you pay. But a house in the country has often not been lived in for several years, or has been jointly owned. In both these situations, maintenance is certainly not up to date and real repairs are very likely. For energy efficiency, you can install the famous heat pump so often suggested in Paris apartment diagnostics, but it's a real budget-buster.

  • Refreshing

Refreshing a house is much the same as refreshing an apartment. You'll need to apply a budget in proportion to the surface area (which is often larger), and think about a few special features. When we repainted our entire house, we had to wash all the walls, as we were starting with a Provençal lime-based paint. The time and therefore the painting budget were not just proportional to the surface area. As for the plumbing and electrical systems, the circuits in the garden may have to be redesigned, which will also have an impact on the budget.

  • The unexpected

In any project, there are unforeseen circumstances, and these are mentioned in most estimates. The bigger the job, the greater the risk, and since in a house you have less visibility over the budget, things can get out of hand. So be sure to factor in a budget and energy commensurate with these risks.

  • Work force

This is the sinews of war if you want to minimize surprises and, above all, get a good finish on time. But in the countryside, good craftsmen are overbooked, and the balance of power is often reversed: they dictate the course of action and availability. You can always use your network to get to the site, but calling in someone who knows how to work with local materials will limit surprises and allow you to sublimate your home.

  • Site supervision

When we think of work, we think of sketches, decoration, final renderings and deadlines. But to optimize deadlines, it's essential to monitor progress on a regular basis. Whether it's you or a project manager, you need to coordinate the various trades to optimize progress, because a poorly monitored project can derail your budget.

To support my customers in these reflections, I bring my experience and expertise to site visits, and I systematically suggest revisiting the site with an expert to put a figure on each of the necessary or desired works. This expert can be an architect or a general contractor, depending on the needs, but the most important thing is to have someone familiar with the region, its materials and associated issues. It's essential to work with a professional, because there's no one else to help you with these considerations: the real estate agent works for the seller, and there's no syndic.


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