Buying a Château in France.
For many of the international clientèle who visit the Sifex websites - the dream of owning a Castle in France is what attracts them and they browse regularly and avidly, frequently for many years, until they reach the point at which their dream is about to become a reality.
France has a wealth of these unique historic Châteaux for sale and in many cases, the prices still represent remarkable value. The advent of the Internet stimulated worldwide interest in the French market for the lifestyle France offers and the excellent communication and transport networks – and this was especially evident in the Château market. Buyers coming from all corners of the globe caused prices to rise to levels hitherto unseen. The subsequent financial crisis, triggered by the sub prime loan problems of 2007, saw a correction in French property prices over the years that followed. Obviously global financial market conditions will always impact on how relatively inexpensive a piece of history or 'family seat' in France will be. Château hunting in the lesser-known and less populated departments of the Massif Central became popular after prices rose throughout the Midi and Southern France. The Limousin enjoyed a flurry of attention for reasonably priced castles, as did Auvergne, the Milau viaduct bringing the Mediterranean closer.
Recently, the 'Macron factor' has rekindled interest in France. Property transactions – always a 'life-style' choice, are returning to levels last seen before the banking crisis. Macron's vision of reform has boosted equity investment and renewed enthusiasm from affluent investors to take advantage of the best value in years in the luxury property sector in France.
At the time of writing, investing in a historic French Château is more affordable than ever, with prices stabilising at their lowest level since 2000. The choice remains extensive, although castles requiring renovation (as in the popular TV programme ' Escape to the Château' featuring Sifex clients) are becoming harder to find than their habitable or totally restored counterparts.
The French have a phrase – 'pas de nuisance', to describe un-blighted properties. It is good to check for 'nuisances' before viewing. You don't want on arrival to hear a TGV whistle past, or the constant background buzz of an autoroute nearby. Equally important is to ensure the outlook is not of a château d'eau or water tower– or nowadays, a wind farm or 'parc éolien' on the horizon.
If you are buying from a private seller, then researching the setting of the property falls on you. Even if you are using a trustworthy agent, it is still worth asking questions about the surroundings of any property you are planning to visit to avoid a fruitless trip.
When considering the purchase of a substantial property, there are really three major areas of potential expenditure; the purchase price, the cost of renovation and the running costs. On the question of renovation, as a benchmark our agents advise that you could expect to spend anything between 1,200€ and 2,500€, i.e. an average amount of 1,850€ per square metre (the former probably for outbuildings – the latter if it is a total rebuild) on a renovation project. If the property merely needs internal modernisation (e.g. kitchens, bathrooms and heating) you can generally halve this figure. It is best to find a property where the roof has been well maintained if possible.
In the case of listed or 'classé' properties, a grant for renovation may apply, provided funds are available. If the 'bâtiments de France' agree to this, they will need to approve the architects and craftsmen to ensure the quality of the work is good enough to merit the expenditure of the grant. Listed properties are subject to various rules including restrictions on development within a certain distance of the listed part. If a property is eligible for 'listing', this is likely to take months.
On the question of the running costs, Château running costs are inevitably greater because in most cases the surface area is much larger. Whilst some owners seek to defray expenses by letting for events or summer holidays, an owner of a prestigious property could well expect to spend between 45,000 and 90,000 Euros a year on running costs including lighting, heating, insurance and maintenance and of course a caretaker. In this day and age, many of our international buyers are looking for a part time residence and spend only a few months of the year in France. It is still relatively easy to find good caretakers, either those prepared to live on the property or local people, to work as cook/cleaner/gardener/handyman etc. and if you are considering letting your property, live in help is all the more vital.