American buyers help French chateau market avoid downturn

Rising running costs mean more chateaux up for sale but US buyers still see great value for money

Two chateaux on sale for €2.2million (left) near Toulouse and €1.365million near Niort
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Sales of chateaux have decreased slightly in the last year but have largely avoided the downturn in the general property market, say experts.

However, the number of chateaux on the market has exploded.

Jean-Stéphane Vilain, from Agence Hamilton, says that around 1,500 chateaux were on sale in 2019, whereas there are around 3,000 today. He explains this in part by rising renovation and energy costs.

Prices, though, have remained fairly stable over the last year, although some agencies report a drop of around 5% in 2023.

The slight fall in the number of sales can be explained by the surge in activity in 2022, said Hervé de Maleissye, estate agent and partner at the Cabinet Le Nail, which specialises in high-end properties. Cabinet Le Nail reports less chateaux on its books this year, as opposed to other agencies.

Read more: ‘Restoring a medieval chateau in France is more than lifetime project’

Jump in number of American buyers

With prices rising in towns, the development of remote working and a favourable financial climate, there has been a significant increase in French people buying chateaux and seeking a new way of life post-Covid, he said.

At the same time, foreign buyers, who made up around two-thirds of pre-pandemic sales, left the market due to the Covid travel restrictions but are now starting to return.

In 2023, they represented about 20-30% of buyers but are expected to flock back, with a rise in US buyers especially.

Mr Vilain estimates Americans made up two per cent of non-resident buyers in his agency before the pandemic, but this has now jumped to 14%.

He believes the trend will continue and some branches have been developed specifically to help American and British buyers.

There is support for financing, renovation and renting out the property when they are not there, for example.

The increase in US buyers was noted by most agencies, but Cabinet Le Nail did not sell to any Britons in 2023.

However, Britons are “very lively and still observant”, even if not buying, said Mr de Maleissye.

Read more: US-French couple breathe life into 1960s bubble house

Overview of the market

Mr Vilain estimates that there are more than 40,000 chateaux in France, with 11,000 having a protected heritage status.

Most cost between €700,000 and €2,500,000, although some sell for as little as €300,000 or as much as €30,000,000.

While the chateau market is complex, it tends to be more stable than property generally, which has seen 900 estate agencies close in the last year due to falling sales.

Over the past couple of years, a rise in interest rates for borrowers has been counterbalanced by a stock market that performed well, and there are enough wealthy buyers to sustain the market, said Mr de Maleissye.

The chateau market is not as exposed to rises in interest rates as the traditional market, as first-time buyers are rare and buyers often do not need to borrow.

Another difference is that “increases and decreases are both anticipated by the market”, said luxury property expert Catherine Jolion-Haas, from Châteaux et Patrimoine.

However, the market also relies on a much smaller volume of sales, which can make it more difficult to predict.

Read more: From €135,000: Five renovation projects to give grand homes in France

‘Value for money’

Chateaux in France are still considered good value and Mr Vilain says 2024 is a good time to buy because “the prices do not reflect the potential value of chateaux”.

Mrs Jolion-Haas is more circumspect, saying that it depends on the buyer’s personal situation and the chateau, but worthwhile opportunities do exist.

France does present lots of benefits, said Mr de Maleissye, namely lower prices and lots of space.

All warn, however, that buying and living in a chateau can present challenges and clients should not expect a fast financial return.

It is important to have a good idea of the costs of renovation and maintaining the property before purchasing.

Even so, Mr Vilain insists the dream of chateau ownership is more attainable in France than many people might think.

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