French chateaux can be snapped up for a snip- By: Homes Overseas
Thought a chateau was beyond your means? Think again. Sure, buying a fairytale castle outright may still be the stuff of dreams, unless you’ve won the lottery, but there are ways the average second-home buyer can get themselves a piece of the Champagne lifestyle without robbing a bank.
For the incredibly fortunate few, this is still an option. London-based Sifex specializes in prestigious French property, with a website featuring over 450 chateaux nationwide; even so, the most accessibly-priced is still a cool €795,000 (£633,000), although for this sum you get a 12-bedroom property set in eight hectares of Normandy parkland, with tennis court and pond, six reception rooms, two bathrooms, and a guest house in the grounds. Need more space? There are outbuildings for conversion, too.
From here, the only way is up. When it comes to the crème de la crème, agents don’t put prices on their particulars (if you have to ask, chances are you can’t afford it). Former president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing is currently selling a listed 15th-century pile in the central Auvergne region, featuring 23 rooms, a chapel, and a dovecot, patio and fountain set in 15 hectares of garden, park and woodland. The price is undisclosed, and this prime piece of real estate is reportedly on the market because the owner rarely stays there – and because maintenance costs are high.
Sifex director Sarah Francis sagely points out that funding the purchase of a king-size property is only half the story: some renovation, modernisation and/or redecoration will probably be in order. Then there are running costs to be considered. She observes: “The costs of renovating a substantial property can be considerable; as a benchmark, we advise clients to consider spending €600 - €2,000 [£475 to £1,590] per square metre - the latter figure if it’s a total, structural rebuild - to renovate a ruin. If the property merely needs internal modernisation and refurbishment - installing new bathrooms, kitchen and a heating system, for instance - you can generally halve this amount. Naturally, when it comes to properties of a certain size, it’s a great advantage to find one where the roof has been well maintained.”
The upkeep of a super-sized home requires some very grown up sums of money, too. On the list are repairs, maintenance and cleaning, utility bills, residential and property taxes, plus gardening and swimming pool care. Paying for all this is one thing: finding someone to do the chores is another. Francis suggests:
“Provided there’s suitable accommodation, the owner can install a caretaker who will often be happy to live rent-free in return for looking after the property and tending the garden and grounds.”
Dreamy as it might seem, buying property in France, in particular a chateau means shouldering all the responsibilities, financial and otherwise, and on that basis, outright ownership of a country pile could almost be viewed as… well, a bit of a burden. So here are some more practical, accessibly-priced alternatives.
In the Languedoc region of the south of France, Chateau de la Redorte is a leaseback project created within a former stately home whose countess owner will remain in residence in a separate wing. This 18th-century chateau has been home to the same family for seven generations and is being restored to its former glory, with 42 apartments to be built within the chateau and surrounding grounds.
Designed as a country estate and spa, with a swimming pool, restaurant, bar and children’s club, Chateau de la Redorte is the brainchild of French developer Garrigae and marketed by Premier Resorts; one-bedroom, fully furnished and managed apartments start from €258,000 (£205,000). The beauty of this conversion project is that property buyers get access to an authentic, historic home with 21st-century facilities and convenience, but without the hassle (the management company takes care of all that), and guaranteed rental returns of up to 4.66 per cent per annum complete the package.
Château de Lavagnac sits in 180 hectares of Languedoc vineyards, olive groves and pine trees; soon it will look out onto a state-of-the-art 18-hole golf course, created by American architect Raymond Hearn. Plans are underway to transform this former stately home into a 75-room, four-star hotel, health spa and conference centre. Brand new, two- to five-bedroom contemporary-style houses (some with pools and garages) will be constructed within the grounds, with first deliveries scheduled for 2010.
Units will be sold as freehold and leaseback (there may also be a fractional offer), with prices starting from €299,000 (£238,000) for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment. For big spenders, €1.3 million (£1 million) secures a lordly six-bedroom villa on a very large plot. (It’s true that for the same price you could buy a small chateau - but then you’d have to shell out to renovate, modernize and maintain it.)
Shared ownership schemes
Or, how about having a share of the title with none of the trouble? Chateaux du Monde is selling shares in a stunning chateau in Charente, set among vineyards and bordered by a river. Surrounded by three hectares of lawns, mature trees and shrubs, this former family seat is being refurbished to create furnished apartments equipped with modern conveniences, available for part-ownership. An eighth share costs €72,500 (£57,750) and gives each owner six weeks per annum of gracious living in an environment steeped in history.
If all else fails, try timeshare. We’re talking chateau chic on the (comparatively) cheap, but it is not to be confused with co-ownership schemes; timeshare is about buying time in a property – you don’t get to own a share of the title deed. Aimed at those who want to spend their money on “time” rather than property-proper, this solution is popular in America and catching on in Europe.
A quick online search turns up a variety of companies (sometimes called holiday, vacation or destination clubs) offering accommodation in upmarket French homes. Le Chateau Plus gives its members 25 years of accommodation in unique properties, including chateaux. Destinations include Normandy’s 14th-century Chateau de Houetteville, where guests can enjoy some of the benefits of second-home ownership without any of the responsibilities.
Similarly, wine lovers can take up residence in a Burgundy chateau near Beaune for a few weeks a year; members of The Vintner’s Club get to stay in antique-furnished suites within a 15th-century mansion set in three hectares with wine cellar and tasting room.
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Louise Taylor for Homes Overseas - Property for sale in France, property investment advice and international property news.
International property experts since 1965.