Looking for a pied-a-terre? Grab yourself a French church

Property in France doesn't come cheap, but thanks to judicial reforms, there are several courthouses going for a song. And a decline in religious conviction means that there are also priories, abbeys and churches on the market – but both church and state are having difficulty bringing in the customers.

A reform enacted last year closed down 401 courthouses in small towns around France, as the cost of running them became too much of a burden. Now, for €200,000 (£175,000) you can snap up the former courthouse in Bar-sur-Seine, in eastern France – complete with peristyle and columns.

Or, on the Luxembourg border and "ideally situated close to the town centre and the cinema", the Hayange courtroom for €465,000 (panelling included. The decommissioned courthouses were first offered for sale by the state to their respective local councils. The majority were taken on and converted into public spaces such as cultural centres or galleries.

But many councils have no use for an old courthouse, so the government put them on the market. While the buildings stand empty, the state pays for their upkeep, so the prices per square metre have been fixed low. Nevertheless, several buildings have stood empty for several months now without finding a buyer.

The courthouse in the eastern town of Forbach – more than 2,000 square metres for an asking price of €650,000 – has been on the market for a year, but so far, no takers. "We also didn't have any use for it." said Jean-Pierre Jung, director-general of services for Forbach town council. "It could be transformed into accommodation, but it would be better as an exhibition space."

In the eastern town of Avallon, a couple of antiques traders were happy to shell out €325,000 for the courthouse. Forbach has had some interest from a book collector, but it seems there just aren't enough people in France who want to start private museums, and the cost of renovation and conversation of the courthouses has put off private buyers looking for a unique home.

Meanwhile, estate agents are taking an increasing number of religious buildings onto their books.

After the departure of the last nuns back in 2008, the congregation of Pamiers in southern France has decided to put their Carmelite convent on the market for €1m. "There are fewer and fewer people who practise religion, and often the church puts a building on the market so as to pay for repairs to other buildings it owns," said estate agent Patrice Besse.

He heads up the Patrice Besse estate agency, which sells distinctive buildings including chateaux, churches and fortresses.

The notion of selling religious buildings has become more acceptable, and selling a church is no longer thought of as sacrilege, according to Mr Besse, who says that churches tend to be transformed into cultural spaces rather than houses.

But again, it can be hard to find any buyers for these buildings. The mayor of Pamiers turned down the building when he was offered the first refusal, pointing out that the town has no use for it, and that it would cost a sum of €6m to restore it.

Other local officials have put the restoration figure at much less – €700,000 – and say that it should be transformed into a cultural space to revitalise the town centre.

"These buildings are not always good to live in," said Christophe Gonzales, the associate director of the estate agent Maisons et Chateaux.

"The majority go to social or cultural projects. It was an austere life in a place like this," he said.

"A nine-metre squared cell is not a good place for a luxury accommodation and it's not straightforward to turn it into something most people would want to live in," the estate agent added.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Recruitment Genius: HVAC & Mechanical Service Estimator

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Yorkshire based firm looking to...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty