We’re Buying a Castle

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Yes, we’re buying a castle. In France. Or at least that’s the plan. There are plenty of reasons why. And to be honest, there are all kinds of reasons why we shouldn’t. But for now, this is a dream Lindsey and I are pursuing full steam ahead. What does that look like? Essentially, we’re living each day with one foot in the present and one in the future.

Here in San Diego, we are finishing all of the projects we’ve had on the list for our gorgeous custom home on half an acre. We give to our local community and do all we can to make more people smile wherever we go, COVID or not.

While we do that, we’re scouring real estate sites abroad to see what’s out there and how much it will cost. And we’re doing all we can to prepare ourselves for the adventure that comes with buying a castle in a foreign country.

This adventure is incredibly exciting, but it’s also super scary.

The Vision

When we started thinking about this in January 2020, it was a simple dream. We’d just visited a $40 million castle estate while on my son’s early high school graduation trip. On the way down the coast, driving through the rolling hills of Lompoc, we envisioned life in a castle set on acres of rolling hills. Here in the U.S., that’s likely out of reach for the average American, so we treated the idea with some ethereal whimsy. Then, completely out of the blue, Lindsey searched online for landscape inspiration from France and wound up on a real estate listing for a French castle on 3 acres for an astoundingly low $530,000. Yes, it needed a ton of work (more than $1 million, in fact), but we were blown away that we could actually buy a castle for that amount of money. The dream was born on the spot and we haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

Over the course of eleven months, we’ve reimagined that dream and created a vision. Now, more than anything else, we want to find an authentic castle to restore and open to the world. And our hope is that everyday Americans with a love for history—who like me, may never have experienced travel abroad—will enjoy an old-world destination for all.

Criteria

We are looking for some very specific features. Our goal is to create an experience for every guest that truly elicits a feeling of magic and splendor. A place where every guest is immersed in the delicacies and rewards of the life reserved for 1700s French nobility and the likes of Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette.

The look and feel of the castle is priority #1. 

Must-Haves include:

  • Wow factor
  • 7+ bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms
  • Turrets
  • Cellars
  • Space for an indoor entertainment venue
  • Space for an outdoor entertainment venue
  • Separate caretaker’s living quarters
  • At least 12 acres of land to create privacy for guests
  • Located within 60 minutes of a commercial airport
Challenges

This adventure is incredibly exciting. But it’s also super scary and filled with incredible challenges. So many, in fact, that I’m not even sure where to start. As I sit writing this in beautiful Balboa Park, these are the things that come immediately to mind:

  1. COVID is still a thing, so any visit to France to actually tour properties is on hold at least until the summer.
  2. We will lose face-to-face connection with our family.
  3. We don’t yet speak the language fluently (and in my case, yet at all).
  4. We don’t yet have a visa to establish residency.
  5. If we can’t establish residency, we will have 3 months max to do the work each year.
    1. For scale, we built a retaining wall out of recycled concrete in our backyard this year (a total of 60 linear feet by 3-4 feet high)  in 3 months.
  6. We don’t yet understand the policies regarding American citizens purchasing what in most cases will likely be historical French landmarks or monuments.
  7. We don’t yet have $1 million to purchase and restore a property of this size.
  8. We will have to sell our home in San Diego, which will leave us without a permanent home here in the U.S. (especially problematic if I need to keep my day job).
  9. We don’t know anyone in France, so creating community and friendships is an unknown.
  10. We don’t yet understand business structure and creation (important to know before purchasing a property).
  11. The local work pace is different than U.S. work pace, especially problematic when and where we will need local help.

I could go on, but these are already enough.

Dreaming of the castle life

Buying and owning a chateau is financial suicide.

Risks

Never one to back down from a challenge (or based on the above list, 11 challenges), I’m still on the positive side when it comes to buying a castle in France. I mean, seriously, and I continue to remind Lindsey (and myself): we are talking about BUYING A CASTLE. But, that’s not yet counting all of the cost. In addition to these challenges, there are some super big risks that come with this venture.

  1. Losing everything. And I don’t just mean losing our home. Depending on the timing (real estate costs may increase when the economy recovers), if we buy now, I may need to give up my 20-year pension. I’m three years away.
  2. Resale value. If we buy a castle using all of the proceeds of selling our home AND castles don’t appreciate in value AND we aren’t able to generate income with the property, we may have to sell BUT be stuck with it.
  3. Castles are costly. From everything we’ve seen on TV and read online, castles and/or chateaus are money pits. One particular chateau owner in France actually said buying and owning a chateau is “financial suicide.”
  4. Opportunity costs. If we didn’t buy a castle, what could we have done here in San Diego, Or elsewhere. I’m not a huge fan of debating ifs and thens, but this is an important part of any big decision.
  5. Our health. In order for us to do all of this on our budget, we’re going to need to do a huge amount of the restoration work ourselves. Lindsey is an absolute rock star when it comes to DIY and interior design. I will be doing all of the heavy lifting (back-breaking work picking things up and putting them in the right places). I turn 50 in August. I’m pretty fit and love staying strong, but mass and volume may eat into my stamina and overall longevity.
Never quit.
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