Building a new house in France


                                                                                                               Dedicated to the bravest of men


What man doesn’t dream of building a new house for his family? 

However, building a new villa on the French Riviera could be different from the way you would approach it in your own country.

I recommend that you weigh up the pros and cons before you start looking for a plot of land to build on.

Searching for a plot of land to build on in the south of France

At this first stage of the plot-buying process you experience your first disappointment.

There are almost no free plots of land with the label “For sale”  in the prestigious residential areas of the French Riviera like Cap Ferrat , Cap d’Antibes or Beaulieu sur mer.

Plots of land are extremely rare, and local investors searching for plots mostly buy old villas to either demolish or rebuild.

When there is an old villa for sale in a prestigious residential area, the buyer has a dilemma: if he demolishes the construction, sometimes he can’t rebuild a new villa of the same size as there may be new restrictions.

So the buyer has to rebuild the old walls within the existing footprint of the house, or just make a partial demolition.
That’s why you see more provincial style villas on the French Riviera than modern high-tech development projects.

If you are looking for a plot of land I recommend you to consider the countryside above Cannes (Mougins, Valbonnes, Opio) rather than the seaside between Cannes and Monaco for example.

In Mougins or Super Cannes, finding a flat plot of land of 30 acres or more with a panoramic view of the sea for less than €1,000,000 is very difficult.

If you are prepared to forget about sea views and the most expensive areas, it might be possible to find a plot land in Mougins, Valbonne and the surrounding area for around 600,000 euros.


For this money you can buy a plot of land of between 1500 and 3000 Sq m, which will have a beautiful view of the hills, and if you are lucky perhaps also of a local medieval village or the sea from the first floor.

Sometimes the plot for sale already has planning permission.

If you hope to find a plot on the French Riviera for less 500 000 euros, the price is very unlikely to include all of the following criteria: 

  • A prestigious and quiet area
  • South-facing plot
  • flat plot with an established garden
  • Comfortable living area of 300 Sq m.

The price of a plot of land

- The first criteria is the location

You can get a good feel from the surrounding villas just how prestigious, quiet and comfortable the area is to live in.

- A south-facing aspect is important for the house.

A southerly aspect is most popular in the South of France as the sun is high in the summer without overheating the house, and in the winter when the sun is low it provides a comfortable atmosphere and minimizes the cost of heating.

Never buy a plot of land facing north: your investment will not pay off, as it will be difficult to find a buyer when it comes to resale.

- The view is the most costly criteria, because your price on resale will increase proportionately depending on the quality of the view.

It’s difficult to find a flat plot with a panoramic sea view.

Usually, sea view plots on the French Riviera  are terraced plots of land with olive groves.

If you are looking for a plot of land In Mougins the view of the medieval village is a very important factor for buyers.

- Another important criteria influencing price is the potential size of the house to be built, which depends on the size of plot, but also on the local building regulations.

A comfortable size for a house with 4-5 bedrooms starts from 250 Sq m, and usually clients have the ambition to build approximately 300-400 Sq m.

  • Utilities (gas, water, electricity, sewerage)

Usually, plots for sale on the French Riviera are connected to mains utilities.

  • Planning permission.

A plot of land with planning consent granted is more expensive, because you can start building immediately, and you are sure of what kind of house can be built.

However, when you are buying into an architectural project through the existing planning consent, you don’t have the luxury of creating your own house. You can always modify the existing project, of course, and it’s easier than applying for new planning consent.

So where do new plots of land come from?

One option for finding a plot in a residential area is when owners of large plots are able to divide up their plot, and obtain planning permission that way.

As plots of land on the French Riviera are rare, real estate agents who specialise in selling plots of land are also an uncommon species.

Buying a plot of land is more complicated than buying a house or an apartment, so it is important to find a professional estate agent to guide you through the process.


The land-buying process in France

Buying a plot of land in France is slightly different from buying a completed house or apartment. Whereas you can buy a villa in France in 1-2 months, the process of buying a plot of land is longer.

If you buy a plot of land without planning permission, many buyers insert a conditional clause in the exchange of contracts (preliminary contract) about the obtaining the building permit.

Planning permission in France – how long does it take?

It will take a minimum of 2 months for the French architect to draw up a new project, and a further 2 months for approval by city hall.

Next, you need to put up a sign on your property about the planned building works, and then wait for 2 months, to see if there are any objections from neighbours and other third parties.

For the preliminary contract the landowner delivers a building certificate (certificat d’urbanisme), a document that defines building regulations for the area. The building certificate is valid for 18 months. 

In the preliminary contract the notary has to mention all easements ( servitudes).

So, in signing the preliminary contract you  know exactly  what you can build ( the living area, the height and architectural style), any restrictions on your plot, when you can start work, and when you will receive final confirmation from the city hall ( the permit to build) in order to sign a final deal.

When you sign a preliminary contract for a plot of land in France, as well as for a completed house, you transfer a sum of 5-10% of the total sale price, as a security deposit to the notary's account.

While the process of buying a plot in France may not be as quick as buying a property, the timing is at least predictable, and there are no unpleasant surprises, as long as you have a professional agent and architect by your side.


Choosing an architect on the Côte d'Azur

If you are planning to build a house on the Côte d'Azur, the architect will play a crucial role in your project. 

Depending on the configuration and orientation of your plot, the architect will advise you on the optimal positioning of the house on the plot, in order to maximise light, space and views.

The architect will check all the requirements with the Town Planning Department and confirm with you what you can build on your plot: the height, living area, architectural style, foundation requirements, depending on the type of soil in the area.

We usually recommend to our clients a local architect who has experience in building in the area and is familiar with the requirements of the local mayor.

Having useful connections via the architect in the local city hall is especially relevant, if you want to agree on some problematic points.

If you have a good architect in your country of residence whom you trust, it is possible to engage a local architect just to coordinate your project and sign all the necessary documents.

The choice of a French architect depends on many factors. The person you entrust with organising your living space should be on the same wavelength as you, and you should understand each other easily.

The architectural style of your home also influences the choice of architect.  

We try to find an architect who works in the styles and trends you have chosen, and who suits your temperament and creativity.

The cost of an architect in France will depend on the degree of his involvement in the project. You can entrust the architect merely with the architectural part of the project (the conception  of the project with detailed  drawings and its approval by the  mayor).

You can arrange for either the architect's supervision or full support, including the design of interiors and furniture selection, as well as the landscape design of your property.

Usually an architect will charge you between 7 and 15% of the cost of your project, depending on the amount of work and the level of expertise of the architect.

You can involve an architect and a designer (decorator) in your project.

Generally, if the architect does not do the interior decoration himself, he will have a decorator to recommend.

Also in France, there are architects who handle construction , interior design and landscape.


Builders on the French Côte d'Azur

Once you have chosen an architect for your project, you need to think about a  building team.

As a rule, our clients prefer to meet with several foremen in order to compare prices, quality, and to make the best choice.

For the success of a project and ease of communication, I always recommend to my clients to take a foreman with whom you can speak your native language.

At the same time, I recommend going with a local French architect who speaks English.

Usually, the architect cooperates with certain construction teams, but he should not impose them on you.

If you have a construction team, independent of the architect, this might be the best solution, as you will then have more independence and additional control.

The cost of building a new turnkey house on the French Riviera is between €2,500 and €5,000 per Sq m.

If the process of building a house on the French Riviera has been organised correctly at optimal prices, your house should be worth 30% more than the investment made at the end of construction.

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