Whether renovating a house or putting finishing touches to those dirt-prone skirting boards, there are distinctive advantages to being cross-border savvy. Some items, such as paint and electric drills, can be purchased more cheaply in Switzerland, while timber is better picked up in France. As a rule, Swiss workmanship and material quality trump French, but are often pricier.
Prices from outlets such as Hornbach and Coop Brico-Loisirs in Switzerland or Leroy-Merlin, Bricorama, Bricomarché and Lapeyre in France often vary significantly. For bespoke kitchens or double-glazing, check out quality suppliers in the UK, Germany, Austria and Poland. They can be far cheaper even with transport and import duties.
Contractor collusion, however, exists on both sides of the border. So is gross overcharging. One “reputable” Geneva electrical firm tried to bill CHF 900 for a one-hour job laying phone wires. The client refused to pay and the company finally agreed to CHF 300. A Morges building contractor came up with only one exorbitantly high bid to install windows, but when the client protested he then obtained three more. The difference in price was over CHF 3,000! Sometimes, just assume it’s not all above board and insist on comparative estimates for services and materials.
It’s also worth checking out the many – and cheaper – skilled Portuguese, Italians, Poles and, increasingly, British contractors in the region. But make sure they’re reputable. Half-finished houses, dangerous masonry and flawed carpentry have become nightmares for some.