Have you ever driven past a picturesque abandoned property, perhaps an old farmhouse or cottage, and imagined how you could breathe new life into it? We spoke to someone doing just that. Karen, originally from the UK, has bought a spacious rural property in the stunning Charente, and is renovating it into a family home. We caught up with her to find out how it’s going.
Tell us about your renovation project – what sort of property have you bought?
We’re in a small hamlet just ten minutes from the beautiful village of Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, in the rural Charente. It’s a small village house from the 1800s with 1.5 hectares of land and with barns to completely renovate. It’s been in the same family since it was built, so it was a bit of a wrench for the lady to sell it, but it was the right decision.
It’s an amazing project. It was a crazy thing to do but the right thing!
Did you start your search looking for a renovation?
No, not necessarily. We were looking for a specific type of house, these traditional farmhouses, but not necessarily to renovate. However, we fell in love with this one as soon as we saw it. We’d already renovated two properties, mainly from ‘half-renovated’ and my husband does a lot of building work, so we do have experience with these kinds of projects and we know that it’s so rewarding.
If you’re going to buy within the next twelve months, don’t miss your free tickets to Your Overseas Home. It’s designed specifically for serious buyers, so you can get detailed information on renovations from estate agents, lawyers and currency providers.
When you’re looking at potential renovation projects, it’s so important to visit twice or more. When you first see it, it has amazing possibilities and you’re a bit blinded to the current state – you see it as you’re dreaming of it being. Then, visiting again, you start to realise how it is now and plan the sort of work you’d need to do.
Are you looking at doing much of the renovating yourself?
We’ll be doing most of the work ourselves. We’re both working full-time so will be doing it bit by bit. We’ve got our own property on the market now, so we’re expecting to move in summer and do a bit of camping! We’ll start working on the bathrooms and so on then, as it’ll be easier to get that done when we’re in situ.
Just make sure to get several estimates and be brave to do it yourself!
Doing it ourselves means it’s going to be much cheaper. For example, we recently got an estimate for the roofing materials of €5,000. Someone else doing it will be around three times more expensive. Just make sure to get several estimates and be brave to do it yourself!
What are your plans for the finished house? Any particular projects?
We’re really looking forward to it being our family home. We’ve added two children since I moved into my current home and it’s straining at the seams. I’d like a veggie patch, maybe some donkeys – it’s a work in progress!
One of the fantastic things about doing a full renovation is that you get to make it exactly what you want. The girls want a secret door between their bedrooms – and why not?
One of the fantastic things about doing a full renovation is that you get to make it exactly what you want. My husband’s doing some special projects like building a polished cement worktop for the kitchen (that certainly isn’t going anywhere afterwards!). The girls want a secret door between their bedrooms – and why not?
Your property is quite historic – how easy or difficult is it to make changes to these kinds of homes in France?
Well, when you’re doing work like replacing existing windows, then you need a declaration de travaux, or declaration of works. This will normally take around two months to come through, but you’re almost guaranteed that it’ll be accepted because it’s an improvement to the façade (and therefore the village).
For bigger work, like our barn, we’ll need proper planning permission because it doesn’t exist as somewhere you can live in – we need a change of use. For this, you need to apply through the mairie, and a good estate agent will always be able to help you with this, especially as you do need to understand French. In our mairie, the secretaries are lovely and will always check and double-check everything you submit and print anything you haven’t done then and there.
A good estate agent will be able to help you with how to apply for planning permission
When it’s your first time doing a renovation, do always seek advice and check restrictions. For example, if you’re near a church or in a listed building (or near a church in a listed building!), you might have restrictions on the colour of cement, the colour of shutters, or to not have PVC windows. Our renovation’s absolutely perfect as, although it’s older, we can do what we want with it, so always go to the mairie and they’ll be able to tell you.
If things are listed, you’ll need to pass your application through the mairie onto ABF/Architectes des bâtiments de France for approval. Expect around an extra two months to get this done.
If you need legal advice on your purchase, don’t hesitate to contact our France specialists in the Resource Centre for free recommendations of trusted solicitors.
Are renovations generally a good investment here in the Charente?
It’s a strong investment, as long as and especially if you do it yourself. There will be capital gains tax when we eventually sell on many years down the line, but the profit will surpass that.
My advice from previous renovations would be, ‘don’t take any shortcuts’. At some point, if you are wanting to sell, you don’t want problems to crop up.
I know exactly how the house is going to look, the outside was exactly what I wanted, then I walked into the barn and it all came together.
The house has to be for you, but also think about what other people like. We’ll have one bathroom upstairs and one downstairs, for instance, because that’s what people expect nowadays.
It’s an amazing project. I know exactly how the house is going to look, the outside was exactly what I wanted, then I walked into the barn and it all came together. It was a crazy thing to do but the right thing!
Could you renovate your dream home like Karen and her family? To be put in touch with tried and tested estate agents in France who can help with finding renovation projects, and for advice on the purchase process, simply fill in our enquiry form below and our friendly France specialists from the Resource Centre will be in contact.