Many people dream of purchasing a dilapidated chateau, mill or 16th century cottage and lovingly restoring it to its former glory with style and taste. While this idle daydream absolutely has the potential to become a reality, it does require careful planning as there are strict regulations governing the preservation and renovation of properties classed as “monuments historiques”. Don’t be put off – if you do your homework, that shabby chateau in Charente can be yours!
In France, ‘grade-listed’ buildings belong to one of two categories: it can be listed as a monument historique (historic monument) or on the more prestigious “inventaire supplementaire des monuments historiques”. For properties in both categories, you are required to obtain official approval from the Ministry of Culture before embarking upon any renovation projects, in compliance with article 9 of the law of 31st December 1913. Listed buildings are protected by “le service departemental de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine” (SDAP for short) – this roughly translates as the “departmental office for Architecture and Heritage”. The SDAP is an inter-departmental government service with links to the Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development and the Ministry of Culture and Communication. It has a number of roles, dealing with architecture, cultural heritage, landscapes and urban development, and, broadly speaking, exists to ensure the preservation and protection of buildings of architectural and cultural interest. The SDAP aims to promote well-integrated, environmentally sound architecture and urban planning, providing an advisory service to town planners in the development of urban projects, overseeing the application of legislation regarding listed buildings and protected areas, and give an architectural opinion regarding requests for planning permission.
Once you have successfully purchased your listed building and drafted plans for your refurbishment work, you will need to go about obtaining a permit. The process is notoriously lengthy – between one and four months – so be prepared for a long wait between submitting your proposal, receiving an answer and beginning work on your new home. It is useful to know that you may well also be able to benefit from one of a number of grants available. The sum that you will be granted depends on the category into which your building falls; for example, for buildings listed as “monuments historiques”, while there is in theory no limit to the amount that you can request, around 35% of the cost of the renovation work will generally be covered by the state. It certain cases, however, this figure can be as high as 50% – for example, for an owner with limited income. For buildings included on the “inventaire supplementaire des monuments historiques”, you can you will be granted on average around 15% of the total cost of the renovation. As with buildings classed as monuments historiques, in certain cases this figure can rise to around 30%. The maximum sum that can be awarded is 40% of renovation costs. In both cases, the owner must fund at least 20% of works – in other words, the grant must not be higher than 80% of the total cost. Normally, you will receive the money as the works progress – you will be reimbursed upon submission of invoices that you have paid. In order to access these grants, you should contact the Direction regionale des affaires culturelles (DRAC).
In conclusion, buying and renovating a historic building in France is possible no matter what your budget – it just requires careful thought and planning.