Guide to renovation projects

Guide to renovation projects

Whether you’re looking for a cheap barn to convert or a ‘grand designs’ project, Karen Tait discovers France delivers on all counts

The idea of renovating a tumbledown barn, cottage or even château in France has an enduring appeal. Luckily for would-be renovators, France offers a wealth of opportunities from rural retreats to townhouses, compact cottages to rambling mansions, and properties just requiring a ‘refresh’ to those which need everything doing.


Some of the cheapest properties in France are old barns to renovate – there are thousands of them dotted across the countryside and within hamlets, from those that are just about still standing to solid examples with good roofs, and from tiny shacks to enormous hangars.

They’re often built from attractive local stone, which adds to their appeal, but don’t be fooled by how much work they require. They’re likely to have no foundations or services (water, electricity, drainage, sewage), they might not have a roof, will probably require additional floors, along with staircases of course, and will need damp-proofing, wiring, plumbing, plastering, windows and doors adding/changing, repointing and much much more. Choosing paint colours is a long way down the line!

Agricultural buildings require a change of use before they can be converted into a home. They are sometimes sold with a CU (Certificat d’Urbanisme), which represents outline planning permission.

For just €10,000 you could buy a stone barn in cheap departments such as Creuse, Limousin, which has been granted permission to convert into a dwelling.


A good option for a cheap project is a village house. Again these range in condition, size and price, but as they were built to be habitable, they usually have the basics at least, including a roof, electricity and water (although these may well be prehistoric). It’s easy to find a cheap doer-upper, needing, for example, new wiring and plumbing, new kitchen/bathroom, and decoration.

Many village houses are terraced, especially in the south, while in smaller hamlets you’re more likely to find detached cottages. If you’re not bothered about outside space you’ll find loads of properties to choose from but village houses with gardens, whether a project or already renovated, are not so easy to find. Of course, no garden equals no maintenance required, which can be an advantage, especially for holiday homes. A small courtyard can be a good compromise, or you could consider creating a roof terrace, but note that you will need planning permission so it’s advisable to check if you’re likely to get it before you commit to buying a property.

One example currently on the market is a detached stone and slate property in Finistere, priced at €35,000. Located in a hamlet of four houses, it comprises a ground floor with two rooms and a fireplace, an attic suitable for conversion and a garden area of 200m2. There’s no water supply, but one is close by, and it requires rewiring, septic tank, and work to the roof and floor.


Properties that offer a main home (habitable or to renovate) along with outbuildings suitable for conversion into holiday accommodation are particularly popular with Brits moving to France.

Whether one gîte or a whole complex, there are plenty of suitable properties on the market. Sometimes a whole hamlet even comes up for sale. Farmhouses and associated agricultural buildings are particularly suitable for this kind of project.

One such property is a stone farmhouse with various outbuildings, set in 3,000m2 of land close to the Lot Valley in the Midi-Pyrénées, for sale at €154,000. At present the property has 100m2 of living space on two floors comprising a lounge/dining room (60m2), kitchen and bedroom. There is also a vaulted cellar and a 100m2 attic which if converted would double the size of the house.


While the appeal of a renovation project is often the cheap price tag, there are some very grand properties in need of TLC too. While a commanding château for half a million euros may seem a bargain (it’s all relative, of course), note you could easily spend the same again to bring it up to standard.

Any château needing work requires deep pockets and bags of patience, and can turn into a labour of love that takes a lifetime. As with all renovation projects, it’s crucial to determine that the purchase price of the property plus the cost of the works doesn’t take the overall cost over the property’s market value.

Châteaux and other historic buildings are also likely to be listed which brings added complications – although, of course, most people who fall in love with historic properties are keen to renovate sympathetically.

To give you an example, at the moment just €318,000 would buy you a beautiful 15th-century château in Cher (Centre region), with a moat, lake and outbuildings forming a U-shape round a courtyard. Set in a peaceful rural environment this could be something quite magnificent but it’s estimated that a budget of at least €1m would be required.

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