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BahamaMama

What is 'normal'?

18 months ago we bought a tiny little space in southern France. It was very old and very tatty but has massive potential and we are both prepared to live with its various quirks and anomalies whilst we work on getting it into the shape we would like.

Our biggest problem was the bathroom which was frankly, unhygenic. We found a plumber and after lengthy discussions agreed the job to be done. It turned out we would need a plumber, an electrician, a builder, a tiler etc. All the parties were finally engaged, quotes sent and formally accepted (signed documents) and it was agreed (I thought) that work would begin - as it is a holiday home and there is only one bathroom and we are not there most of the time, it made sense to me to give the key to the plumber and give him the deadline when we would be returning. He got the key 1st Sept and it is now February. Shortly after we left at the end of August he went in and removed all the fititngs as agreed.. however, nothing more has been done. The property is now uninhabitable as there is no toilet, shower, boiler or running water of any sort.

We have had to cancel our holiday planned for February as there are no facilities. I have been in regular touch by telephone to check on progress and from the middle of January there have been weekly calls. Nothing I do or say seems to make any difference and I now feel that I am being taken for a ride. Unfortunately this is my first foray in French contractors and I am not sure what is 'normal'.

There was always going to be a risk with us not being there but I feel this is really taking the mickey. Do any overseas Downsizers have experience of this and how did you handle it. I want to go down there and really put the pressure on, but with no toilet I think I am the only one that will be feeling the pressure Shocked

Any suggestions?
sally_in_wales

Re the no toilet, if you went anyway can you access the drain so you can tip a portaloo away properly, and is there a way you can get at water for washing and cooking? Maybe being there to breathe down their necks will do the trick?
MarkS

Does he have a SIRET number?
He should - and you can raise a complaint at the chambre do metiers (or something like that)

have a look on http://www.totalfrance.com/france/forum/index.php for regular stories of woe with french artisans.
BahamaMama

We had thought of that - we don't want to spend the money on a portaloo which potentially will only be used for a couple of days (and I really don't want to buy second-hand!!!). The water for washing and cooking is very tricky and potentially quite expensive as there is not a single working tap in the house. The house is in a town and we have no green space at all, no garden, nothing - which is ideal for a 'lock up and leave' but not so easy to go for a wee behind the bushes!

Not to mention the state the place is in, the cooker is gas so we can cook but it would be incredibly difficult to get anything clean enough. If we have to we will and we will tough it out but it does feel like we are being taken for a ride. 5 months to do a single bathroom is a little long, even at a relaxed pace!
Went

Re: What is 'normal'?

BahamaMama wrote:
Do any overseas Downsizers have experience of this and how did you handle it. I want to go down there and really put the pressure on, but with no toilet I think I am the only one that will be feeling the pressure Shocked

Any suggestions?


We are in Spain but have found untold problems with builders et al. We have learnt (through experience) that the only way to do business here is to have a water-tight contract with penalty clauses, one that lists every single item, job, requirement. We drew up a contract adapted from our own house build and had it checked over by an Abogado and now use it or a variation of it for all work we commission.

There is a possibility that you are being taken for a ride but also we have found that sometimes tradesmen think 'oh it will wait, cause they are away until...' attitude. I hope you can sort it soon, my heart goes out to you but do not lose spirit or hope and please enjoy the process rather than seeing as a 'nightmare'.
BahamaMama

'please enjoy the process rather than seeing as a 'nightmare'.'

We are looking forward to the time when we can look back and laugh Laughing
boisdevie1

Because you're rarely there chances are most tradespeople are likely to take the piss. I'd suggest making sure that the contracts are watertight. And might it not be worth engaging somebody local to act as project manager?
BahamaMama

boisdevie1 wrote:
Because you're rarely there chances are most tradespeople are likely to take the piss. I'd suggest making sure that the contracts are watertight. And might it not be worth engaging somebody local to act as project manager?


Unfortunately it was the plumber that was supposed to be acting as project manager, that rather backfired!
Contadino

From seeing projects go awry here, I think it's a combination of slapdash project management, and absence of the client. The 6 month restoration project opposite our house took 2 and a half years, and would probably still be running, if the client had not withheld payment and insisted on face-to-face meetings with the builder and PM every Saturday morning (which he had to drive 1,000km round trip for.) I have not heard of a single project that was delivered within 6 months of scheduled finish date.

It's just part of the penalty you pay for having a holiday home - here at least.
madmonk

Sorry to add to your woes, 2years to finish a concrete patio to take the water away from the house, he was French and sadly the English were no better with jobs they should have done.
hardworkinghippy

Unfortunately rural France is like that. Neutral

Getting someone to even give a quote can take months, getting them to start the job can take ages and getting them to finish it - even if you're on site - is a frustrating business.

Frankly, the best way to deal with it is to learn the skills and DIY. If that's not an option then I'd say contact a building company in the nearest city and although it will cost you a lot more you'll be more likely to get it done.
Green Rosie

Have you come across the site AngloInfo:

http://france.angloinfo.com/

There may be a specific section where you are or the general part of the site might offer some advice/pointers for your problem. I sincerely hope you can get things sorted as soon as possible.

We are just starting on the process of renovating our buildings and will certainly take on board what Ian said about having watertight contracts with penalty clauses.
ksia

I'm with hardworkinghippy - it's just like that.

We arrived in the July but it was still mid-spring before we could have a shower. Luckily we had a working toilet already. I got really fed-up of them in the end as they'd come round do a bit of work and then we'd not see them for ages so I'd phone and they'd come round again. I'm just in the habit now of phoning them. To be fair to our plumber the day our toilet stopped working (it was an electric thing) he was round immediately and we were without a loo for less than 24hrs - the time it took to put a hole in the wall for the new pipe for a normal loo. Being in the countryside has it's benefits at times like these!

We're wanting to do up an out-building - it's too big a job for us so we need outside help. It's taken me 3 months to get a builders quote...and this is a friend of a friend (tho my friend's wife did say he does good work but she wouldn't use him as you never know when he will turn up..!) After 2 months I gave up waiting for his quote and asked builders in the next village, they came Sat and I had the quote the following Mon...here's hoping their work is good as they've already won me over with their customer relations!

Sorry, I've rambled - just wanted to illustrate it's not just you - so don't take it personnally! I think, at first I did, and that just makes you more stressed.

I really feel for you. Is there a hotel or bar in the village that you could stay in or 'frequent'? I know it'll be weird but then you could be on sight to see things with them. They'll realise you are intending to return and hopefully you can agree on an end date. At least for the water/ toilet part of the job then at least you can use your place.
BahamaMama

thanks for the reassurance guys! In some ways I was hoping our experience was the norm as I am completely stuck as to what I could do or could have done differently. Unfortunately staying on site to goad them into action is not an option, much as we would like to be over there.

We are resigned to not going over this month but we will go next month and if it is not finished we will terminate their contracts and do it ourselves. Fortunately we have the skills, my french is good enough to get the materials we need and we will just have to buckle down and sort it out.

Hey ho, at least I am not alone....
madmonk

Leroy Merlin do a english to french booklet with some useful translations for building materials, unfortunately they are not the cheapest but their booklet is handy.
Blue Sky

hardworkinghippy wrote:
Getting someone to even give a quote can take months, getting them to start the job can take ages and getting them to finish it - even if you're on site - is a frustrating business.


Hmmm. I'm still waiting for a quote for our fosse septique let alone the work beginning. We got the permission through some time ago. We got a price but getting it written on paper so we can apply for a grant/loan is proving slow.

Sorry to hear of your problems BM. I hope it gets sorted out soon.
ejc-free

We're just about to start work converting an adjacent barn to give us a new kitchen and have been advised that when we return the forma quote with our deposit cheque, if there are no dates included, we clearly write on the quote the date the work needs to start qnd the date it must end by. If there are dates on the quote to write "lu et apprové" & sign when returning it

Then if the artisan cashes the cheque he is accepting the full terms & conditions including the dates, so you have a binding contract. Without any dates on the quote or in a contract there is no binding agreement, so the artisan can spin the work out....
BahamaMama

ejc-free wrote:

Then if the artisan cashes the cheque he is accepting the full terms & conditions including the dates, so you have a binding contract. Without any dates on the quote or in a contract there is no binding agreement, so the artisan can spin the work out....


That is my next problem, the builder has cashed his cheque 40% fo the total amount and done nothing. I am quite prepared to throw them off the job but I am loathe to just throw the money away, I am learning so much so fast!!
Layla

Well, a friend of mine here in Slovenia told me of a following story (that happened in Slovenia also). Mostly there are good people here, but now and then there are 'bad apples'.

There was a guy who was leading on older ladies and such (advertised in church magazines even!) and he would have very cheap prices but wanted to be paid in advance or so. Then he wreaked the bathroom and left, doing only half the job or less.. And he disappeared... (my friend was sub-letting with the lady and was without loo or proper bathroom for more than 2 weeks!!)

Not saying this is what's happening in your case, hopefully the guy is still around, other people know him etc... Just do be careful & try to set it up so you don't pay all upfront..
There was another guy here in Slovenia who did roofs this way.. Did them well for a few people, then started not doing it at all and disappearing with the money.. (It was on TV)

Of course these are just a few (frankly the only two I ever heard of.. mostly other people are okay..) And there was even a movie on slightly unreliable services abroad (about the divorced lady who moved into a villa)..

Did you ever agree on a date? And could there be any 'conflicts of interests'? (eg anyone else interested in the place, or people disapproving 'foreigners moving in'?) What is the overall opinion of this man? etc.

If I were you, I'd try to get any local friends involved, to check up on things.. ask their opinion of this man.. It would be better if someone you trust and are friends with could oversee things.. Do you know anyone there or in vicinity who could help & take a look?
Bulgarianlily

Just to add a story of a good builder. We built our strawbale round house last year and three local builders, brothers, put in the timber frame, the roof and the stub wall under the house, I and my OH did the rest. Owning to my own massive stupidity, (well it was the first house I built!) I forget to put in the chimney when the roof was being built, so I decided to run it through the wall, (in concrete pipe), and make a freestanding chimney to go up through the eves, to reduce the risk of me screwing it up and having a major leak in the house. I didn't get round to sealing the hole I made in the overhanging part of the roof, or make the chimney tall enough, before we moved in beginning of December. The oldest brother came round a couple of weeks ago and 'tutted' at the chimney, with good reason. He turned up yesterday, and spent four hours fixing hole, extending the stack and rendering the whole thing. He basically said (in Bulgarian) 'I am not having my friends live with such crappy work!', and refused any payment. After a lot of bargaining, he took away a joint of lamb and a jar of marmalade.
BahamaMama

Bulgarianlily wrote:
Just to add a story of a good builder. We built our strawbale round house last year and three local builders, brothers, put in the timber frame, the roof and the stub wall under the house, I and my OH did the rest. Owning to my own massive stupidity, (well it was the first house I built!) I forget to put in the chimney when the roof was being built, so I decided to run it through the wall, (in concrete pipe), and make a freestanding chimney to go up through the eves, to reduce the risk of me screwing it up and having a major leak in the house. I didn't get round to sealing the hole I made in the overhanging part of the roof, or make the chimney tall enough, before we moved in beginning of December. The oldest brother came round a couple of weeks ago and 'tutted' at the chimney, with good reason. He turned up yesterday, and spent four hours fixing hole, extending the stack and rendering the whole thing. He basically said (in Bulgarian) 'I am not having my friends live with such crappy work!', and refused any payment. After a lot of bargaining, he took away a joint of lamb and a jar of marmalade.



Very Happy

Friends in high places!! We have 'nearly' finished the work that had us tearing our hair out, it is always going to be difficult trying to project manage remotely but the work that has been done is top class and we are still on good speaking terms with the builder/plumber etc.
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