For many people, owning a chateau in France is the ultimate dream, but for the determined few, the dream can become a reality. Take Melbourne couple Jane and Steve Hiscock. They were invited to a party at a chateau in Normandy and the next morning made an offer on the property. Within a week they were the proud owners of Chateau Du Jonquay – a picture perfect French chateau that looks like the home a fairy tale Princess.
“The owner was a famous New York interior designer, who had the property for sale because of the GFC in America,” said Jane. “Steve fell in love with it, but I thought we were looking to buy an apartment in Paris, so to me it was out of left field. We had been travelling to France for over 20 years and had always had a dream of owning a property in Europe – I just always thought it would be a flat!,” she said.
In 2010 the exchange rate, the GFC and French house prices worked in the Hiscock’s favour. The plan was to buy and renovate the property for the couple to enjoy with their family and friends, and immerse themselves in “undiscovered” Normandy, (compared to Provence).
“Our dream was also to assimilate into the French lifestyle, make French friends who live in the town, become fluent in their language, eat and discover their food and wine. We did not want to just become expats speaking English,” she said.
The immediate renovation required was a new slate roof – the majority of the work had been done by the previous designer/owner in terms of plumbing, electricity, heating, and refurbished bedrooms on all levels.
A second renovation to add a conservatory began last year however the scope grew into two new bathrooms, a refurbishment of the living room, a new dining room, an additional new French “la Cornue” kitchen and the opening up underground a 17th century cellar that the couple was not aware when they bought the property. This then led to the pool being refurbished and the landscaping all being replaced.
“It was like a can of worms once you started – more opportunities, and problems would be uncovered each week, so you really just had to keep going or you would have had only half a house. The only way was to go forward,” said Jane.
Working in a foreign country with foreign tradespeople was challenging and in France Jane found it difficult to find reliable trades that did the job correctly and turn up on time or turn up at all.
“It is lucky I have project managed many other buildings so I have a background in this. But, doing it in another country, in another language, took it to a new level. You had to always retain your sense of humour, and I don’t like things to beat me, so we were always going to get it done. My husband on the other hand was aghast most of the time but luckily he had faith in me,” she said.
Renovating in France may be difficult, however there are savings to be made when comparing to buying and renovating in Australia.
“France is a fraction of the cost to buy houses, compared to Australia, and so are their renovation costs,” said Jane. “But, you do pay “chateau” prices so it was hard to find the trustworthy trades. We were also keen for the work to be done professionally, not by “black market” trades. There is quite a bit of this in France. So it was difficult to get the right ones and therefore these guys were a lot more expensive,” she said.
The Hiscocks spent about the same amount on the renovations as the property price. “I thought renovating Victorian houses in Melbourne was challenging, but 400 year old French buildings does take it to the next level,” she said.
Jane recommends being on-site and project managing however this also has its challenges. “When you are so far away from home, even with friends and family visiting, one of the hardest parts is everything seems so far away and therefore feels like it’s taking a long time. Last year I had one of my sons and a friend come and work for me for several months because I couldn’t get any labourers. That was a real bonus, company wise and work wise. It was also fabulous to have friends drop in and offer encouragement and watch the progress, it kept me going,” she said.
So would Jane do it again or recommend the experience to others?
“It has been one of the best things we have ever done, but probably the hardest,” said Jane. “I recommend it but only if you retain a property holding in Australia. I would never do it if it was a primary residence, only a secondary, but as a holiday home it is way, way less expensive than Australia,” she said.
The Hiscock’s now offer the Chateau and neighbouring farmhouse for holiday accommodation, plus Jane has a business in advising others who want to purchase property in France.
To make contact with Jane just visit: http://chateaudujonquay.com