This Paris Life

Expert Insight, Breaking News, and Insider Stories on Real Estate in Paris

Owners of religious buildings in France struggle to sell medieval properties

The market for religious buildings in France has seen a fall in demand over the last decade which means many sit unused and unwanted. So if you ever wanted to grab a piece of France’s historic patrimoine, now is the time.

You’d think anyone with the cash would jump on the chance to buy a cut-price church. But the numerous costs involved and pressure from local activism has created a buyers market where properties remain unwanted for years.

Patrice Besse, an estate agent that specializes in the sector, says that “there are one hundred churches and chapels on the market and around 200 abbeys and convents. He says prices can go from zero – some local authorities simply want to relinquish the tax liabilities involved – to several hundred thousand euros and even more for exceptional items. Who’s buying them?

A recent successful sale was the Loir-et-Cher néo-gothic style cathedral which went to Monique Pozzo di Borgo, an art collector, for €24,000 at auction. The starting price was just €5,000. An old Roman church in the southern region of La Drome just went up on french classifieds site Le Bon Coin, along with two other old buildings – no price set – just make an offer.

It’s a buyer’s market according to Benoit de Sagazon, author of Patrimoine-en-blog: “There are many listings but it’s a market with a lot of constraints,” he says. “Some years ago the trend was to buy chapels to turn them into lofts or restaurants. But people quickly realized they are not made for this.”

Examples include the Chapelle du Grand Seminaire in Quimper, northwest France, which was acquired to be turned into a theatre and concert venue. But now, the owner has put the site back on the market for €798,000. And in Denain, north France, the Church of the Sacred Heart was bought in 2012 to be turned into a school for dropouts (decrocheurs). But it failed to meet security conditions and is now somewhat of a white elephant for the owners.

Maud de Beauchesne, head of the Art department at the Bishops Conference says that many potential buyers are put off by the “symbolic responsibility” of taking on the buildings. “The sites have a lot of history and memories, built primarily as sites for reflection.”

Still, if you’re looking for a beautiful shell in a village somewhere in France that you can turn into a fabulous show place, this might be an idea worth considering.



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