A French Chateaux Can Be Snapped Up For a Snip

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.

Buying outright
For the incredibly fortunate few, this is still an option. London-based Sifex specialises in prestigious French property, with a website featuring over 450 chateaux nationwide; even so, the most accessibly-priced is still a cool EUR795,000 (£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 EUR600 – EUR2,000 [£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.

Buying leaseback
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.

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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 EUR258,000 (£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.

Buying freehold
Chateau 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.

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