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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...