Real Estate

Want to Buy a European Castle? Now's Your Chance.

Want to Buy a European Castle? Now's Your Chance.
Image credit: Nick Rowland | Flickr

Looking for your own Irish castle? Always wanted your own medieval monastery in Tuscany? How about a palace in Provence?

Luxury real estate in Europe has gotten a lot cheaper in recent months with the stronger dollar and rising inventories. While "cheap" is relative—you still have to be rich to buy a castle—brokers say prices for high-end properties across Europe for American buyers are down 25 to 40 percent from a year ago.

That's lured a new wave of U.S. buyers to Ireland, France, Spain and Italy. Mark Harvey, a partner at real estate firm Knight Frank who specializes in French residential sales, said the number of Americans looking and buying in France has tripled in recent years, and now accounts for 10 percent of Knight Frank's French sales.

"The interest is huge right now," he said. And the summer calendar is quickly filling with a showings schedule for American buyers, he added.

Take, for instance, one of Knight Frank's listings in Provence—a favorite vacation spot for Americans. It's an 18th century chateau in Carpentras that's been restored with modern amenities. It's got more than 16,000 square feet of living space, with seven bedrooms, a grand entrance hall, reception rooms, a dining room, kitchen, library and a master bedroom suite with a dressing room. It sits on more than 86 acres with two hunting pavilions, a guest house, outbuildings, an orangery, a swimming pool and a tennis court.

The property is listed for 11 million euros. At exchange rates a year ago, that would have been around $15 million. Today, that's about $11.7 million—creating an effective price cut of more than $3 million.

Prime property in Paris is now running around $2,000 per square foot, according to Harvey. Compare that $2,700 per square foot for prime property in Manhattan, according to estimates from Jonathan Miller of the appraisal firm Miller Samuel.

"Americans are looking at prices in Paris compared to New York, Miami or San Francisco and discovering it's a good value," Harvey said.

Sotheby's has several listings in Paris that appeal to Americans looking for pied-a-terre, including a three bedroom in the 17th arrondissement that features high ceilings and great views for $1.7 million.

The currency drop isn't the only thing helping American buyers of European homes. With weaker economies and more of the wealthy moving to lower-tax countries, inventories for high-end real estate have been rising, and prices have been falling, throughout the region.

In Ireland, the Lisselan Estate in County Cork, a castle listed by Knight Frank, came on the market in June at 9 million euros. The price was cut to 6.95 million euros in December. Between the price reduction and currency change, the effective price cut was around $5 million.

And it's not just castles and pieds-a-terre, many American companies and investors have been coming to Europe for deals on commercial real estate and other investments given the attractive values, Harvey said. Many of those Americans are now also looking at real estate investments for themselves, he said.

"You see many of them moving money out of U.S. equities and into euro equities," he said. "When you look at the buying power of the dollar and expectations of a better economic cycle in Europe, real estate is a good play."

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