While house hunting we checked out an old farmhouse. On the surface it looked like a fine property with a big, quality farmhouse on three hectares of land. But there were a few major problems that reduced its value to the point where we wouldn’t make an offer.
The land is already in use
Pretty, eh. But the land was under an agreement where a farmer had the rights to farm it for the next eight years. You have three hectares/eight acres but can’t do anything with it, like pasture animals or farm it yourself. You can’t even choose who gets to farm it for the next eight years. This is an area of French law I need to learn more about, but having three hectares that you can’t use for eight years is a non-starter. And I’d rather avoid the situation where the paddock next to the house becomes a home for pastured cattle and your house becomes a home for flies. Under these laws you have little control, but locals are reasonable about working with you unless you hit the exceptional case, but that’s a risk I don’t want to take.
The kitchen extension is now a modern apartment
Often these farmhouses have an extension on the Western side that houses the kitchen. In this case the kitchen had been renovated into a modern apartment complete with glass staircase with no handrail. My mother refused to climb it. The kitchen was nice and would fit in well with a downtown apartment building but in a farmhouse it was out of place and too prone to get dirty. The worst aspect of this was that it took the kitchen away from the main house and the owner was building a little dark kitchen at the back of the main house to compensate.
The owner was hoping to turn the old house into a gite
Obvious thinking tells you that if you have some excess space in your house you can rent it out. The gite is an extension of this, a concept supported in French law where you can rent out self-contained spaces for income. The problem is that the Southwest of France is full of retired English folk who want to supplement their income with a gite so the supply is a glut and you can’t make much money at it. Now in the case of this house the owner has split a fine farmhouse into a modern apartment and a house that is missing a full kitchen. It isn’t functional as a house. To make it functional you’d have to open up the wall between the house and apartment (as it used to be) but then you have two opposite styles of construction in the one building and poorly optimized space usage. Since the extension was built to be a self contained apartment not as part of the main house, the rooms are small.
The owner, not a country boy himself, has over-invested in this property. He’s spent a lot of money on renovations and wants to recoup it. As a farmhouse it is crippled for the reasons I list above and not worth anything near what he was asking. If he wants to sell it is a going gite then he’s facing the problem that the market is saturated with gites for sale. He will not get all his money back.
If the farmland was not in use for eight years and the apartment had not been built we would have made an offer. The basic house had so much quality and I loved checking it out. The construction of the main walls was better than anything else I had seen. The joinery in the roof was amazing. Putting logic aside and just using my emotions, it was painful to look at this stunning house and see its value eroded as it stopped being a bourgoise house and became an apartment with a fancy gite.