HOW TO BUY A CASTLE
Throughout my life I’d presumed that if you owned a castle, you most certainly had a cool 50 million hidden in your pants.
However, I was more than intrigued to find out that this is not the case at all. One can in fact purchase a small decent-sized castle for under a million dollars, even half a million, and there’s a vast array for under two and some lovely ones for six…. Elaborate stone fireplaces, curvaceous balustrades, painted cherubs shooting love pings, flagstone, flying buttresses (flying what?), velvet to the sky, and moats.
Now, who couldn’t use their own moat?! Especially now! That’s the original social distancing.
When people are purchasing mid-city apartments with sketchy parking for a lot more, (penthouses in London fetch an average of $35 million) with no garden or grass and an elevator’s the only way home, this is seriously an appealing option to consider.
And what’s more inspiring, there are literally hundreds of ancient castles to choose from throughout Europe — England, Ireland, Scotland, many in France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Hungary, and as far east as Romania. Own a piece of history but note, they don’t all come with moats.
With today’s communication possibilities, why not sit with your devices before a huge 13th-century window surveying the wild acres stretched below, and it’s all yours!
So, how does one buy a castle, or a chateau if you’re in France?
The first thing to do is know your location. Are you country specific — France, Germany etc., or area specific, i.e. The Dordogne, The Highlands of Scotland, etc? How remote or accessible do you need or want to be? Close to Nice airport and The Cote D’Azur? Or just outside Paris for example?
Next, connect with a realty company that has a reputable history with castles. There are only a select few who do. The main realtors include Christie’s International, Sotheby’s, Prestige Property, Knight Frank, and Savills.
I spoke with Marcus Gondolo-Gordon, former Head of International at Sotheby’s Belgravia office. Sotheby’s Realty has over 800 offices worldwide, so they’re a good place to start, as they may have a castle, or at least an office, in your desired area.
Marcus mentioned that before purchasing one’s new ancient abode, some things to be aware of are:
Check the titles, the borders, rights of way, etc.
Check the utilities. Power/Water/Phone/Wi-Fi coverage/Mobile phone coverage quality.
Check access roads and infrastructure. Important anyway, but especially in bad weather.
Local shops/petrol stations. Know the area and supply of fuel deliveries etc.
Obviously and most critically: Check the structural quality of the building via a detailed survey. These older buildings are very costly to heat and maintain, so a good survey is critical to identify forecasted running and upkeep costs to ensure it is maintained and preserved. Often these properties are Grade 1 or 2 listed, which will hinder any extension or improvement and future works that may be carried out. “So do check and ensure what the listing category is, to be sure of this in advance.”
We bantered on what it means to own a castle, where generations of families have lived for hundreds of years, added to, renovated over the centuries, installed underfloor heating and Roman baths…
I’d say make sure there’s enough room to land a helicopter. But then I always say that.
Currently Sotheby’s has a number of castles in its catalog, for example:
Wondering what it’s like to actually live in a castle, I decided to call my friend Henry Dent-Brocklehurst, whose family owns Sudeley Castle in the English Cotswolds. Admittedly his castle is rather on the large size; coming in at 22 bedrooms, with around 2000 acres; however, I was interested to know, “So, Henry, what is it like living in a castle…?”
“Well, you’re basically buying into a piece of incredible history; all the ghosts, all the wars, all the kings and queens who’ve visited or stayed.”
“But how do you subsidize it all…?”
“We have tenanted farms on our property, and we open a part of the castle to the public from March to November. We also rent out to weddings and various corporate events”. Liz Hurley got married there. (“Enough for me!” exclaims Bob, our easily excited editor, who perhaps should get over his Liz Hurley crush…)
Henry was being humble. He has an adventure playground with zip wires, a 10-piece assault course, all year round guest cottages, and 40 staff.
Castle living does not have to be as wild and immersive as Henry.
If revenue is a concern, smaller European castles often come with their own working vineyards, olive groves, orangeries, guest rooms, or even equestrian facilities. There are all sorts of things you can do.
Castles also come with as few as 4 bedrooms. Cozy castles!
So where to buy, and what’s your style? Mystical, romantic, hilltop, hidden away, French chateau, stoic English, 12th – 18th century, Gothic, Renaissance, Medieval.
Bring on the grand chandeliers, courtyards, eleganza, ancient chapels, stunning views, 12th-century fireplaces, vaulted ceilings and, complete privacy, I say!
Prestige Property Group in Dorset, England, who have a large array of castles for sale told me: “The market in chateaux and castles is not a fast-acting arena, some properties remain for sale for several years. There are exceptions of course when a particularly attractive property comes to market at a good price. Generally, people who purchase these sorts of buildings are not location specific, they may be looking in the Loire and the Dordogne for example or they may be looking in Tuscany and Northern Italy.
“In recent years the profile of buyers has shifted from Russians to more of Chinese interest. This is particularly true of French chateaux where Chinese investors are looking for not only the building but also the vineyard to satisfy their interest in viniculture. The properties are normally bought outright. If it is a large estate the property may have tenant farmers managing the land and sometimes these leasehold agreements become part of the sales negotiation”.
Prestige has hundreds of European castles on their website.
Here are some useful numbers and links to help you on your way to complete social distancing in your new European citadel.
Sotheby’s International Realty
Ph: 44 203 770 1240
Ph: 44 (0) 1935 817188
Ph: 44 (0) 20 7839 9060
Ph: 44 (0) 20 7016 3866
South of France specific
Ph: 33 (0) 609 72 37 04
Worth noting, Italy is still selling off a number of its listed buildings including hilltop castles and palazzos, as the government needs to pay off their national debt. It’s a wonderful opportunity to buy in and who doesn’t love Italy?
And if you’re not currently in the market for a castle, here’s a 14-second zip into fantasy, care of Sotheby’s.