Own a Château in France: A Dream or a Nightmare?
Volume XIX, Issue 16
Friends love to send me links to interesting articles they think I might like and this one caught the eye of several of them…as it did me. It’s a New York Times article in their International Real Estate section about house hunting in France focused on a medieval estate near Provence.
What’s funny about this is the coincidence with a webinar I will be doing sponsored by the Washington DC Alliance Française on June 5th titled “Own a Château in France: A Dream or a Nightmare?”
The Alliance Française first came to me with the request to make château ownership the topic of the webinar—a dream that so many people have to be the “châtelain” or “châtelaine” of a château in France. It sounds so romantic, so exciting, so powerful…to be the lord of a castle, and why not in France where magnificent châteaux are so abundant, as well as inexpensive!?
First, I laughed out loud to the request and then admitted to the fact that the advice I give our clients is against owning a château! Hence, the webinar’s title: Own a Château in France: A Dream or a Nightmare? That’s the only way I would agree to doing the webinar, if I could take time to explain how and why that dream could easily become the nightmare you weren’t expecting.
It’s impossible to come up with a set quantity of châteaux in France, as there are different interpretations of the word. There are manor houses that one might consider to be châteaux, but aren’t necessarily classified as such. Still, the estimate is close to 7,000 as France’s Centre des Monuments Nationaux lists 6,450 châteaux (or manor houses), 900 of them of which are owned by the state, the rest are held in the hands of private owners, many of them owned by families that have lived in them for generations. They come in all sizes, large and small and all prices, too.
Of this number, there are many for sale. In the Ile-de-France alone, Seloger.com currently lists 39 for sale ranging in price from 357,000€ to 15,750,000€! In Provence, there are 26 listed on Seloger.com ranging from 326,804€ to 13,250,000€. In the Dordogne, 56 are listed ranging from 325,500€ to 3,368,000€. What a bargain!
The parts of France with the highest concentration of spectacular châteaux tend to be in prosperous agricultural areas. The Loire Valley is known to make up the finest group of Renaissance castles just about anywhere in Europe, for that matter. Seventeenth-century châteaux are considered those of the “Grand Siècle”—or great century, when France was a formidable European power and French culture was at its finest. There are many around the Bordeaux vineyards, in the southwest and those in Dordogne, known as the “Land of 1,001 Châteaux.”
The finest of all is, of course, the Château de Versailles, the royal residence of Louis XIV, just outside Paris, that became the benchmark for all châteaux the world over. But, do you really want to be like Louis XIV? We have clients buying a very large and expensive château near Poitiers, even after I begged them not to do it. We are working on the administrative aspects of the transaction on their behalf and that alone would scare the pants off most buyers. There is nothing simple about the transaction or what they are about to experience as owners, not to mention the associated costs, mostly hidden from the outset of the purchase.
The moment you become the châtelain (owner), you will become the guardian of national heritage and that carries some serious responsibility and weight, so I hope you are prepared to take that on. With it comes the responsibility and costs of restoration of the château and ongoing maintenance. Some estimates are between 750€ and 1,500€ per square meter just to get it up to livable standards. Multiply that times the size and it could easily be three times what you paid for it to begin with!
There are some government grants available to help defray the costs, but you won’t be free to do what you want as the government wants to preserve the historical aspects of the property. Want to add an elevator to reach the top floors? Forget it. How about a satellite dish so you can have Netflix and Internet access? No way, José. And that hot tub you’ve been dreaming about? Think again.
Don’t forget, there are ongoing maintenance costs as well. A medium-sized château could easily cost about 80,000€ a year to maintain. Hope you’ve got plenty of dough in your bank account to keep it afloat. A château like our client’s near Poitiers will cost double that just to keep the gardeners salaried and maintain the grounds alone, which are particularly spectacular.
And the bottom line is whether the property makes a good investment or not? Sadly, no. Just do the search to see how many there are for sale and consider why that is! The people buying châteaux today are foreign buyers who dream of being the châtelains, but haven’t thought through the consequences. Another aspect to be considered, besides the costs is the effort. You will be dealing with maintenance issues continuously, so either you devote your own time to it or you hire people, but even that takes time —the sheer management of the workers. And where will you find them?
Most affordable châteaux are found in more remote parts of France, so that means a possibly long drive to pick up a baguette for breakfast. I had one client show me a château that interested him, but it was a one-hour drive to the nearest city where his spouse would be working and where the kids would be attending school. Driving that far each day didn’t sound like fun to me, or very practical. And how far is it to the nearest TGV station? Do you really want to be so far away from civilization?
The real estate agents who list the châteaux won’t discourage the buyers, naturally, and will try to make it seem like the dream…that it might not turn out to be. Our goal is not to necessarily discourage you, but to inform you so you enter into this idea with your eyes wide open. We wouldn’t want that dream of yours to become your worst nightmare.
Tune in to our webinar on June 5th to learn more about the châteaux of France and discuss the topic openly with me and all of our participants!
Saturday, June 5, 2021
Hosted by: Alliance Française, Washington, DC
Visit our events section on our website to learn more and register for the event.
The Adrian Leeds Group