They say an Englishman’s home is his castle – and that goes as much in France as back home. There’s something about French châteaux that just draws us back, whether it’s the romantic dream of a beautiful, historic home, or the practicality of an exciting business opportunity. I spoke to Jacqueline Reddin-Williams from Beaux Villages Immobilier about buying a château of your own.
A perfect home with endless possibilities
The motivations to buy a château are as varied as the homes themselves.
For some, it is purely the romantic dream of living in a place of grandeur and splendour, steeped in history. And with many occupying magical settings deep in the countryside, near old villages and towns that hardly seem to have changed for centuries, the pull is undeniable.
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For others, it goes beyond owning a beautiful home to an astute business decision. Châteaux in France provide some of the most spectacular wedding venues, boutique hotels and health and wellness retreats, with others run as high-end chambres d’hôtes.
Some of those looking to buy a château will look for somewhere that’s a ‘blank canvas’, where they can start their business from scratch. However, what many do not consider at the beginning is the possibility of taking over an existing business. This way, you can benefit from the value of an already-loyal clientele, perhaps an established web presence, and existing relationships with suppliers.
Interestingly, statistics show that the majority of these kinds of properties are bought by overseas buyers, rather than the French themselves – testimony to the love affair we British (and others) have with these homes.
This is a wonderfully exciting opportunity that can result in a fascinating, life-changing journey.
Jacqui Reddin-Williams from Beaux Villages Immobilier has decades of experience in the luxury property market. When I spoke to her about the choice buyers face, she told me how important it is to remember that buying a property in France is a clear lifestyle choice, and buying a château is no exception.
‘This is certainly not a project for the faint-hearted, nor for those on a strict budget. But for those with the financial freedom to do so, and, more importantly, the spirit of adventure flowing through them, it is a wonderfully exciting opportunity that can result in a fascinating, life-changing journey,’ she says.
Making the most of your viewing trip
Whatever your reason to buy a château, one of the most important steps will be your viewing trip. And for this to be a success, you will wish to consider two key elements.
Firstly, it’s crucial to have the right agent on your side. ‘Find and work with an agent that really listens to your requirements and is flexible enough to work with you as your thoughts and requirements evolve throughout the viewing process,’ says Jacqui.
Find and work with an agent that really listens to your requirements and is flexible enough to work with you as your thoughts and requirements evolve throughout the viewing process
‘In this market sector more than any other, their knowledge of the seller will be as critical as what they know about the building and its environment. A much-loved family home may be on the market for the first time in generations and a sensitive approach will be essential to ensure a successful outcome.’
‘Ensure that agent works on your behalf, reaching out to other agents in order to find you the perfect fit. There is a wealth of property available at such value here, but the true dream comes when the perfect property is matched to the perfect person. You need to have complete trust and confidence that the person you have chosen to work for you absolutely understands your requirements, listens carefully and that the end result is not only the perfect match but one that creates something truly unique.’
Secondly, treat your viewing trip as a final deadline for organising the other strands of your purchase.
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A seller will expect you to be ready to commit to a purchase before they will wish to allow you to visit their home. Make sure you have an agreement in principle from your lender if you are borrowing for fiscal reasons, and have already spoken to your currency exchange expert about safely transferring your money to the notaire.
And discuss with your lawyer how you will structure your purchase, considering inheritance. Even after Brexit, the so-called ‘Brussels IV’ rules, whereby you may be able to position your château under UK inheritance laws, will still be applicable, so it’s worth taking advantage of a legal specialist’s expertise.
With these elements already complete, you will be in perfect position to immediately make a considered (and conditional) offer when you see the perfect home. You won’t need to go back home to discuss and sort out finances or legalities, only to find that, by the time you’re ready to offer, someone else has already done so. Or that the seller has dismissed you as a prospect. Remember that, in France, once a buyer has made an offer and the compromis de vente is signed, the property will be taken off the market. The seller will not be at liberty to accept further offers unless the buyer decides not to proceed within ten days.
Be open to adventure
Buyers will generally start the hunt for a château with a relatively fixed idea of what they want: often a country home they can use full-time, possibly with some renovation work to do. However, it’s not uncommon for buyers to see a home they might not have considered and simply fall in love – a coup de foudre.
‘I had a couple who came to me looking for a beautiful country home. The original brief was simply that. When I showed them one property, they just absolutely fell in love with it,’ recalls Jacqui. ‘Previously it had been run as a business providing holiday lets and as a wedding venue when out of season. When we explained this, they decided to continue to run it as such. The wonderful thing about this was that this decision was not driven primarily by the requirement of an income but to honour the purpose for which it had been previously used and loved.’
It’s not uncommon for buyers to see a home they might not have considered and simply fall in love – a coup de foudre.
Likewise, a renovation doesn’t necessarily fit into a set box. ‘As logic dictates’, Jacqui says, ‘in order to renovate a château, you cannot just buy off-the-shelf items and many purchases need to be bespoke – windows are most obvious here.’ Keep in mind, too, the generous expanses of outdoor space provided by these properties; landscaping gardens that have been unchanged for quite some time, or breathing new life into old outbuildings can throw up some unexpected challenges, as much as any indoor work.
There will inevitably be surprises during the course of a renovation. And in many ways, it’s these quirks which add so much character to these historic properties – and the thrill of discovery is a big part of the joy of renovation.
Whether a property requiring full renovation or small interior changes, the end result will be more than worth it to have your dream home – a dream turned into reality in one of the most gorgeous regions of France. Whether it’s the privilege of owning your own slice of history, making the most of the space to bring the whole family or old friends together, or the simple pleasures of sitting out with a glass of wine in your own domaine of a warm summer’s evening, there’s certainly nothing quite like owning your own French château.
To find out more, click through on the images above to view some of our best châteaux. For introductions to Beaux Villages’ specialists in luxury properties, and to discuss your project further, simply fill in our enquiry form below with your requirements.