Ring­ing the changes

Are you ready to be con­verted? For­mer re­li­gious, agri­cul­tural and aca­demic build­ings can make unique homes in France, as Karen Tait dis­cov­ers

French Property News - - Lo­ca­tion -

For many Bri­tish buy­ers, only an older French char­ac­ter prop­erty will do but if you’re look­ing for a real wow fac­tor, why not con­sider a prop­erty that was never orig­i­nally in­tended to be lived in?

Barns with cathe­dral ceil­ings, vast beams and floor-to-ceil­ing glaz­ing… churches or chapels with stained glass win­dows… mills com­plete with the old work­ings and a peace­ful river set­ting… old school­houses with large class­rooms that are per­fect for open-plan liv­ing… quirky pi­geon­niers… this is the stuff of dreams, whether al­ready con­verted or of­fer­ing all the prom­ise of a ‘Grand De­sign’ project.

“Own­ing an agri­cul­tural or com­mer­cial prop­erty can be a unique ex­pe­ri­ence,” says He­len Robin­son of agency Bordeaux & Be­yond ( bor­deauxbe­yond.co.uk). “Barn con­ver­sions are ideal for large fam­i­lies, with dou­ble-height ceil­ings and vast re­cep­tion spa­ces to ac­com­mo­date ev­ery­one, plus at­trac­tive ex­posed beams and stonework. They of­ten come with size­able plots of land too.”

Ready to move into While the buy­ing process for these kinds of build­ings is the same for other prop­er­ties in France, there are var­i­ous con­sid­er­a­tions you need to bear in mind, how­ever.

If you’re buy­ing a con­verted prop­erty, the main thing is to check that all the cor­rect plan­ning per­mis­sion was ob­tained when the work was done, in­clud­ing change of use.

“Make sure that any work that is re­quired to be cov­ered by a 10-year guar­an­tee has been car­ried out by French-reg­is­tered com­pa­nies, who are in­sured to carry out the work that has been in­voiced for,” says Robert Wel­ton of Bel Air Homes ( prop­er­ties-brit­tany.com).

“A prop­erty that’s not cor­rectly cov­ered is a risky in­vest­ment; re­selling can be dif­fi­cult within 10 years of the work be­ing car­ried out.”

There are prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions too. “Lots of barn con­ver­sions are large with dou­ble­height ceil­ings and ex­posed stone walls, so take run­ning costs into con­sid­er­a­tion, es­pe­cially heat­ing,” says He­len Robin­son.

“If you’re buy­ing a church or a prop­erty with a re­li­gious past, are there any graves? If so, you are usu­ally un­able to move them and there may be visi­ta­tion rights for sur­viv­ing fam­ily mem­bers,” she adds.

If liv­ing in a con­verted church, chapel or other re­li­gious build­ing with all those beau­ti­ful dec­o­ra­tive fea­tures is your idea of heaven, you should check that any prop­er­ties you view have been de­con­se­crated.

Water­mills come with some disad­van­tages as well as the many ben­e­fits pro­vided by the set­ting and char­ac­ter fea­tures. “If you love na­ture and old stone, this is the place for you!” says Anna-caro­line Thi­bout of Sex­tant Prop­er­ties ( sex­tant­prop­er­ties.com). “But the pres­ence of wa­ter nearby can cre­ate hu­mid­ity and cool the house. If it is sur­rounded by wa­ter and hu­mid­ity has dam­aged the foun­da­tions, work may be needed.

“There may also be flood risks, es­pe­cially in win­ter, while when it is very hot the mud in the wa­ter can give off un­pleas­ant odours. Mills are gen­er­ally in val­leys, so check the ori­en­ta­tion in case the sun is hid­den by the hills.”

Con­verted rail­way sta­tions and sig­nal boxes also come up for sale sur­pris­ingly fre­quently, es­pe­cially af­ter a rail­way line closes. “They of­ten be­come a coun­try path for walk­ers and cy­clists,” com­ments Steve Gil­ham of Al­liance ( al­liance­french­prop­erty.com). “So in these in­stances the rail­way com­pany sells off the build­ings.”

Don’t get car­ried away For those cre­at­ing their own home, barns are par­tic­u­larly at­trac­tive. “There’s a great choice in France with some bril­liant ren­o­va­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties that you could only dream of af­ford­ing in the UK,” com­ments Rhona Mar­shall of barnsetc.co.uk.

“A barn is a blank can­vas so take your time dur­ing plan­ning to work out ex­actly what you and your fam­ily want from your new home, right down to where you will need plugs for wall-mounted tele­vi­sions. Spend­ing time get­ting the plans right will save you money dur­ing the con­ver­sion. And my sec­ond piece of ad­vice is sim­ply this: em­brace the space!”

FPN’S ar­chi­tect colum­nist Neil Vesma agrees. “Con­verted spa­ces can pro­vide light and air and vol­ume that a tra­di­tional house does not, and are also bet­ter suited to a funky con­tem­po­rary style for that wow fac­tor. Many peo­ple go for a large liv­ing/din­ing/kitchen space, but be aware that the larger the vol­ume, the more echoey the room will be.

“Take ad­van­tage of the views,” he adds. “Have a cov­ered ter­race to pro­tect you from the hottest and wettest weather, and keep all the be­d­rooms sep­a­rate from the day­time spa­ces to avoid any late-night ar­gu­ments be­tween gen­er­a­tions.”

He­len Robin­son warns buy­ers not to get too car­ried away by the vast agri­cul­tural prop­er­ties on of­fer. “Con­vert­ing these un­usual prop­er­ties of­fers the chance to cre­ate a tailormade space

Con­tin­ued on p115

A barn is a blank can­vas so take your time to work out ex­actly what you want from your new home

Fancy a project? This mill in Dor­dogne is for sale at €97,000

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