If you dream of buying a French chateau, make sure you understand what you’re taking on before you get the key to the castle
Dick and Angel make it look so easy, don’t they? Find a rundown château for £280,000, work some magic and turn it into a media sensation, a home and a business all in one. That’s right – £280,000 for a 45-room château with 12 acres of land and a moat. Dreamy, huh?
There’s no doubt that a huge amount of work has gone into the property starring alongside the Strawbridges in their hit TV show Escape to the Château – and a considerable amount of money too. That burden would have been eased by the involvement of Channel 4 who followed the restoration and reinvention of the château. Presenter fees would have helped offset the huge cost of a project like this and, when you are being featured on TV, other benefits come your way, too. Companies are often pleased to offer heavy discounts or even free products if they are going to be featured on a wildly popular programme – and there’s no denying that Dick Strawbridge and Angel Adorée are truly, wildly popular!
The coverage that the programme gave to Château de la Motte Husson was also key to giving the new Strawbridge/Adorée business a fast start. From working days in the château gardens to an extensive online gift shop and wedding and event planning and hosting, there are now multiple money-making strings to the couple’s bow, and the advertising that came with the programme was undoubtedly valuable and welcome.
The spin-off series Escape to the Château DIY was another huge success, following other British couples who are renovating châteaux in France.
So, what is the appeal of being the château chatelaine? There is the undeniable romance, of course, of buying and doing up or even ‘saving’ one of these bits of French heritage. And then there are the sheer economics. Who wouldn’t be captivated by the idea of swapping a four-bedroom semi in one of the UK’s bustling cities for a characterful and sizable château in France?
Plan for success
So, what should you consider if you are inextricably drawn down the château path? The first thing would be to really do your homework and cost the project properly. If you are working on a château scale then absolutely everything gets multiplied – the materials, the time needed, the amount of labour you’ll need to buy in and, of course, the budget. Take decorating as an example. For a decent-sized UK sitting room of, say 30m2 with average height ceilings, you would be looking at 10-12 rolls of wallpaper. Now think about a château sitting room of around 60m2 with a ceiling height of 4m and suddenly you need 30-plus rolls.
Another key element to take into account is the status of the building itself. Many of the older châteaux are registered with Bâtiments de France (the French equivalent of English Heritage) and permissions might be needed if you want to change anything about the exterior of the property, whether that is painting the shutters a different colour, creating or enlarging windows or adding a swimming pool or garden buildings. For the most historically important buildings, these permissions are hard won, if they are granted at all.
Location is the third big factor to consider. If your heart is set on a particular style of property or if you are looking for the biggest bang for your buck then you’ll need to go where the opportunities arise. In the ‘affordable châteaux’ market you won’t get loads of choice in a particular area. Instead, be prepared to go where the properties take you.
Talk to an agency that covers a wide geography and give them the fullest description of the type of château you’d be interested in and let them do the legwork for you. Some of these properties, having been handed down through the family for generations, will be coming on the market for the first time in hundreds of years – or possibly for the first time ever! Others don’t even make it onto the open market but will be listed in a discreet portfolio. Oftentimes with châteaux it’s not what you know, it’s who you know…
Land of plenty
It’s true that big properties tend to come with large amounts of land, and while it might be enticing to think of owning swathes of French countryside, all that parkland and woodland needs to be looked after.
Properties that once had a home farm, staff cottages, stables and other outbuildings are sometimes broken up into smaller lots over the years with chunks of land being sold along with one or two buildings leaving the main château building with reduced grounds. In a lot of ways this is the ideal find; a château with a manageable hectare or three that will provide ample space for garden, veg patch and even a pony for the kids without taking all your time (or a paid gardener) to maintain it.
So, should you do it? Is there a ‘key’ to getting your castle?
If your motivation is to become rich beyond your wildest dreams, then this may not be the most straightforward route. But if you are an old-fashioned adventurer and you can afford for it not to always go according to plan, then you are in a better starting position.
Words like ‘realism’ and ‘responsibility’ contrast heavily with ‘dream’ and ‘excitement’. If you can marry these two polar opposites, then yes, come and look for your château and open a breathtakingly wonderful chapter in your life.
Julie Savill is Marketing Director at Beaux Villages estate agency in France