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French chateau for the price of a suburban semi

Swapping a London semi for a French chateau would mean a huge lifestyle change - but it is not an impossible dream. The Connexion gets tips on what is involved in buying and restoring a historic building

At first glance, the dream of selling a semi-detached house in the suburbs and buying a chateau in France with the money seems too good to be true.

Specialist agent Patrice Besse, who has been selling chateaux for 20 years, says there are hundreds on the market in the €300,000 to €400,000 range, but “of course, it depends on what you call a chateau”.

Given a description of a largish building with a tower, possibly a moat, set either high over a village or apart from it and which the villagers call “le Château”, he said there were many properties on the market that could fit the bill.

“For that price you will not find anything matching that description within an hour of the Paris region, or large cities like Lyon, Marseille or Bordeaux,” he said.

“But if you are prepared to go away from main cities, there are some wonderful chateaux available, both ancient ones or newer ones built in the 1850s, which can make very nice homes.”

Most of the interest now is in chateaux which are not too isolated from cultural and other centres, and especially not too far from roads, railways or airports with links to Paris.

“There are people who love the idea of getting out of Paris and are prepared to spend much more time in the countryside, while still being able to get in for work meetings and things,” he said.

“They are spending much more time in their big homes in the country than in the past, when it was mainly just for summer holidays and occasional weekends.”

In his experience, relatively few buyers arrive saying that they want a chateau.

“It is a word which inspires fear because of the image of expensive running costs and having to deal with listed building restrictions, but when they see what is available, many fall for the chateau even though they were first looking for something different.

“Often it is the surrounding environment, with a bit of land all round the main house, which makes the difference.”

Most chateaux sell within six months of being put up for sale, with exceptions being when the price was too high to start with, Mr Besse said. 

Importantly, many could be lived in straight away, usually in parts of the building which had been made comfortable while work was still needed on other parts.

“How much people need to spend is the variable, but many have already had the basics of good electricity, plumbing and heating systems put in.”

An example of a chateau for sale with the agency at the moment is the Manoir de la Sausserie (see photos), in the Orne department, with an asking price of €390,000.

During the 100 Years War (1337-1453), it was owned by Thomas Montgomery, who was close to the Duke of Bedford, the English king’s brother.

At the end of the war, the chateau was left deserted until it was acquired by the Doynel family, who are now selling it – five centuries later.

Five stages of restoration have been carried out, and some rooms could be lived in straight away, although the present owner lives in an adjoining 19th century farmhouse.

See also: Owning a French monument historique has its advantages

Have you bought a chateau for less than €400,000? Share your story at news@connexionfrance.com

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