In France, all tradespeople must be qualified and registered. To register, they must prove that they have the qualifications and/or at least five years’ experience in their trade. Registered workers can be identified by a SIRET number, which is a 14 digit number unique to them issued by the Chambre de Metiers. There are several sites where you can use this number to double check that your tradesperson is properly registered, and if they are in good financial shape:
All tradespeople in France must be insured, and they will have to be registered to get this insurance. This will cover them for all their work, and guarantees it for up to 10 years, although materials will need separate guarantees. It is important to be wary of employing anyone who is not registered, and the penalties for this are high
Asking around locally is a good way to initially find a reliable tradesman. Ask to see their work, and for references. Make sure you receive a written quotation (devis) from several tradespeople. You may find that their prices differ, but the cheapest is not always the best, so personal recommendation will always be really important. Alternatively, your estate agent should be able to give you a list of recommended contractors.
Also ask to make staged payments, leaving the final payment until the end, when you are satisfied that the work is completed. Talk about timescales and costing at the beginning, and make sure you have a clear plan of action. Many tradespeople will offer you trade prices at various shops and stores for items such as light fittings, taps and so on.
The advantage of employing local tradespeople is that they will have knowledge of local materials and building methods, and although VAT (TVA) is applicable, if your house is more than two years old this will be at the reduced rate of 7%, as opposed to 19.6%. Do bear in mind, however, that a major reconstruction which would effectively involve a new dwelling will not be eligible for the reduced rate, as it would be deemed to be a new build. Your tradesperson should be able to let you know if the work you are doing comes into that category.
Once you accept a quotation, the contractor is bound to complete the work and any modifications along the way in accordance with what you have written down and signed. Most French contractors work well and do not stint on hours! The norm is a 39 hour week; they will likely start early in the morning and then go off for a 1-2 hour lunch break.
You are perfectly at liberty to employ a British builder, and the obvious advantage to this is that they speak the same language! However, the methods of construction do differ and on balance, employing a French tradesperson probably wins since they will not only be familiar with local traditions and building methods, but this may help you with integration into your local community.
The important things in France are to have everything put down in writing, to have patience, (nothing is done with any great speed - especially in rural parts), and to remember that there are a great deal more bank holidays in France! Accepting the way things are done here and going with the flow, once you have found a decent contractor, is the key to happy renovating!