Renovation For Retirement
Taking on the renovation of an historic property in France has been the occupation of many a retiree from the U.K. and the U.S. The romantic appeal is undeniable, and, thinking the idea through more practically, property prices in rural France can be really cheap.
I know this because my wife, Kathleen Peddicord, is perpetually paying attention to this market.
This week, for example, she sent me a Skype message to draw my attention to a 200-square-meter property for sale in a small town in Midi-Pyrenees. It’s on the market for €97,000, or about €500 a square meter. I don’t know current renovation costs in this part of France, but I figure maybe €1,000 a meter, depending how fancy you renovate. That means you’re looking at €1,500 a square meter all in, which is a reasonable total. Still, that translates into a total cost of €300,000, which may not fit everyone’s budget. The property listing is here if you’re interested.
Or, for about the same money, I noticed today, you could buy an entire French town to renovate and restore. I made the mistake of telling Kathie about this over breakfast this morning…
It’s the town of Courbefy, which is returning to the auction block for a second time May 21. The town was put up initially for auction last month but got no bidders at the reserve price of €300,000.
Courbefy was abandoned in the 1970s. Since then, several groups have tried to turn it into some kind of tourism destination, with no luck.
With the press coverage the upcoming second auction has been receiving, this one could be more successful. Many potential buyers have been showing interest, including one Paris group that is considering the offer as a land buy. They want a place to raise cattle…meaning they’d tear down many of the 19 old buildings standing (or near-standing, I guess) on the 20 hectares the town occupies. What a shame that would be.
France has plenty of options for the would-be renovator, as does Italy. Most are in the countryside, but not necessarily far from a town or city. Our stone farmhouse in Istria, Croatia, waiting to be renovated, is about 30 minutes from the main town on the coast but only 5 minutes to the nearest town with a shop and a restaurant. This kind of setting can be appealing for a quiet retirement.
Of course, a renovation project is a lot of work, which is another benefit in retirement…it gives you something to do. And doing this kind of work in the foreign country you’ve chosen for retirement can be a great way to become part of your new community. You’ll get to know the local tradesmen and vendors, and, immediately, you’ll have a circle of acquaintances who likely will become friends. This is how Kathie and I initially made new friends when living in Waterford and Paris.
Renovating our house in Ireland years ago gave us the opportunity to get to know much of Waterford County beyond where we were living. We traveled around in search of workshops and stores in Waterford and beyond, discovering parts of this country that, otherwise, we might never have known. The same thing is happening in Medellin, Colombia, where we’re currently renovating an apartment. We’ve traveled all over Medellin and the surrounding towns in search of antique shops, lighting stores, furniture craftsmen… Again, the renovation project is helping us to penetrate quickly from the tourist to the local community.
The inventory of old historic properties for renovation is great in Europe, especially in France and Italy, but not exclusively so. Colonial towns in Latin America also offer interesting options…in Casco Viejo in Panama and Granada in Nicaragua, for example…in Cafayate (for small town) or Buenos Aires (big city) in Argentina…in the old town of Montevideo in Uruguay…
Not necessarily historic but nevertheless interesting options are to be found, sometimes at very appealing price points, in places that have experienced dramatic growth in the last 30 years. Our apartment in Medellin is a good example. It’s in a building that qualified as high-end when it was erected 35 years ago, but, since, the place had been allowed to deteriorate. Most of the apartments in the building, including ours, haven’t been updated since they were built. They need complete overhauls, but the as-is price points make the proposition interesting from an investment point of view. Panama City and Puerto Vallarta offer similar options.