Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Buying a House in France ... For A Pittance

A few years ago, I sat next to a lovely woman on the Eurostar from Paris to London. She was Scottish but worked as a French/English translator in Paris. We were the same age and had shared similar lives. I liked her immediately. I liked her even more when she told me where she lived. She and her French husband had just purchased a castle in Normandy, she said. They'd bought it three months before, for the same price as their two-bedroom apartment in the Bastille area of Paris. She was still incredulous. "May I ask how much?" I politely enquired. €300,000, she replied, still delighted by the price. Then she told me the extras. A carriage house, a gate house, a grand estate of 10 acres, stables, a parterre garden and river frontage too. Okay, so it was a little run-down, but they'd bought a hammer and drill too. All this for the equivalent of $380,000 Australian dollars. You can't buy a smart apartment in Melbourne for $380,000, let alone a chateau with a charming carriage house.

As the train rumbled along, I thought of the A$400,000 I'd sold my one-bedroom apartment in South Yarra for the year before. I thought of the building, and how a prostitute had moved in next door. And then I thought of the chateau, with the gatehouse and estate. Thinking of these stark difference in property prices between France and Australia made me sick for the rest of the trip.

I would have forgotten this amazing story but for a couple we met the other day. They own a store in High Street, Glen Iris. My partner and I were window-shopping for an investment property in the area when I noticed they'd arranged their window display around one of my French books. So I thought I'd pop in to thank them and say hello. We chatted for almost half an hour. They revealed they were only doing "the retail thing" for another year, and then they were off to France to buy a little chateau. "You can pick them up for a pittance!" said the gentleman. The sentence was starting to have a familiar ring.

I'm not going to tell you the conversation my partner and I had in the car on the way home, but I think it had the word 'pittance' in it about ten times. And there were exclamation marks too. Lots of them. "French chateau' and "pittance" in the same sentence has a lovely ring to it, don't you think?

Intrigued, I trawled the Internet tonight, looking for chateaux of my own. I have a little money. I thought I'd see what I could buy.  This is what I found. I tell you, it was lust at first shutter. Even if it's derelict, it still beats a call girl yelling out her clients' names at half-hourly intervals right next door.

Now my partner's already set his heart on relocating elsewhere. He hadn't thought of France as a potential home.  He doesn't even like wine. So it might be an uphill climb to get him to reconsider a little chateau. But looking at these makes me wonder if we're looking for property in all the wrong places?

(PS The manor above, which is also described / pictured below, has had a price reduction from 492,900 Euros to 430,000 Euros. Bargain, I say.)

Manor house / mini chateau set in mature grounds, also suitable for business such as a boutique hotel. 5 bedrooms, 8 acres of land, views over the valley, landscaped gardens, bluebell wood, stables, heated swimming pool. Price reduction from €492,900 to €430,000 (Euros). (A$547,000)

Historic 18th century priory set in its own 8,000m2 (2 acres) park in a small village. 8 bedrooms, each with ensuite, large kitchen, scullery and landry room, and 2 salons with views over the garden. Also comes with attractive outbuildings, including stone built barns, two of which have recently been re-roofed, which could provide further development potential. €655,500 Euros / $A830,000.

Historic 18th Century Priory, built on the site of a 14th-century monastery, located on an elevated position overlooking its outbuildings, houses and land. Also comes with a 3 bedroom detached house, formal gardens, and agricultural land, which is rented to a local farmer. €659,000.

And a few more, all of them within "a pittance" budget. I like the middle one. But I'd be happy with the last one too.


  1. They are all gorgeous, wonder what taxes,/rates are? In Sydney you'd be lucky to get a garage for that price! I'm sure you'll keep up posted on what you decide to do

  2. Holy cow! Aren't they amazing? Now we are jealous that you even have that option! Good luck- what wonderful musings to have...

  3. I'm brazilian and go to France every year. My dream is to be a house in Normandy! This post is great! I'm glad because I haven't money to keep this houses:(

  4. * My dream is have a house... Sorry! My english is so bad:(

  5. The price of these things is astonishing. So glorious. And yes, compared with Melbourne real estate it is all out of whack. Although one is a city, the other the country. But even comparing our grand country homesteads with this, they still come out the financial bargain winners.

    However, how about the cost of renovations? Then again, you guys are dab hands at doing stuff yourselves, so that is not a reason to stop you.

  6. Well these are just beautiful aren't they and of course it does help that the Australian $ is strong too at the moment.. Made me smile as it was like that when you went into Peony to say thanks for stocking your book (when we first met!). You know Janelle you are a "one-off" and as I said when I first did a post on that meeting some 3 years ago or so, not many authors would thank a store for stocking their book - it's so refreshing and I would imagine fairly unique - you really are a lovely person! Sarah x

  7. A very nice blog you have here. Will start to follow. Thought you might find Content in a Cottage up your alley - passionate about dogs and books (and the simple life). The link is for Content's Library pages - breathtaking.

  8. They all look beautiful, but all photographed during the warmer months! All I can think of is the heating bill and keeping the wood dry for the fireplace.

  9. These lovely old houses are going for a pittance in Ireland these days as well, and I sometimes look at them with stars and wisteria in my eyes. I hope you will follow your inclinations - the country house life is divine.

  10. Oh Janelle! No wonder you're so captivated by the idea. Our Australian housing prices are so ridiculous;y overpriced. Loving your dream! J x

  11. It's incredible, a one bedroomed flat in Edinburgh will cost 300, 000 euros, I've banged on to hubs about this sort of thing for years but he's just not a fixer upper type.

  12. These houses are beautiful! And yes- so cheap relative to crazy oz prices. My one concern though would be the hidden costs of maintaining such old houses and making them livable with respect to the modern comforts we are so used to.

  13. Dear Janelle
    A lovely idea - and a dream for most. The price tag vis a vis Oz real estate almost makes it do-able, particularly if you're a writer whose work is more transportable than most, and/or if you have a good stash of money behind you after you've paid the purchase price. Pretty clearly most of these cottages/chateaux, dreamy as they look, would require major renovations to provide the comfort level most Aussies expect, particularly if you and your man are not the hands-on type. But it's a great temptation. Have known a few who've done it and been happy for several years but ultimately most found the 6 month in France/six months in Oz constant travel difficult in the end and have then tried to sell, not always easy in today's market. Also you need to be very careful about the French legal system. Good luck with it whichever way you decide!

    We're currently in Budapest enjoying an exceptionally warm late April/early May, beautiful weather. Here there are many properties for sale (not chateaux I think though) at quite low prices as some years ago Hungarian banks offered low interest rates on loans secured with Swiss francs. Now the Swiss franc has risen and the Hungarian forint has gone down substantially leaving the poor buyers with a much higher debt than they originally borrowed even after paying money off their homes for years. A very cautionary tale told us by our brilliant driver/guide, Zoltan. Hungary is just beautiful at the moment, fields green-green-green or brilliant yellow, the purples, mauves and pinks and white of lilac blossoms dripping by the roadside, horse chestnuts in flower and the spring green leaves everywhere. The city of Budapest itself is wonderful and so romantic driving along the riversides. We love it here and will be sorry to leave in a few days. Best wishes, Pamela

  14. The run down place 2 doors down to me is for sale for $1m. On 14 perches. Which is teeny tiny. The world has gone MAD! Real estate makes me feel ILL. ILL I tell you. I say move, why not? But I agree with the lady above- they will be COLD! Am doing a post on Hermes soon x


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