Restore Your French Dream House and Save Thousands
Six years ago, I received a birthday present worth over $70,000. No, I’m not friends with Oprah. The gift came in the form of a book about restoring farms and village houses and it was a nod to the massive restoration project my husband and I were about to undertake. We had recently fallen in love with—and bought—a crumbling, pigeon-infested 150-year old maison bourgeoise in northern Burgundy, only two hours away from our apartment in Paris.
Although we adored the house, the place was practically a ruin. Hardly a beam, pipe, or window worked as it should. Jagged cracks raced up the walls and zigzagged across the ceilings. Doors were propped next to the frames in which they belonged or lay rotting on the floor. The scope and estimated cost of the project were staggering, often causing us to lie in bed at night, staring vacantly at the ceiling. But it couldn’t be helped. We knew that this was our house. For us, the only question was how to restore its former magnificence without tumbling into a deep financial hole. I didn’t know it then, but when my friend handed me that slim book on restoration, the answer had arrived.
Buried in a short paragraph in the back pages were the words “La Fondation du Patrimoine.” This foundation (the FDP), the book said, was dedicated to preserving rural heritage buildings in France. But when we searched for further details online, we discovered that it does much more than that. It also helps private citizens finance the restoration of qualified French houses and buildings. My husband and I looked at each other. Could our house be eligible?
It was. A quick phone call to the Foundation revealed that buildings eligible for financial assistance must be of a traditional regional style (read: “old”), located in the countryside, and in close proximity to a protected landmark. Our house clearly met the first two conditions—but near a historic landmark? Then my husband remembered a conversation we’d once had with the mayor of our little village: The 16th-century stone church at the village’s center was a protected monument. We called the FDP again. “Sounds like it qualifies,” they told us. “Send us a detailed file and we’ll let you know.”
We flew into a frenzy of preparation. Much was at stake. If the FDP agreed to help us, we could be reimbursed for as much as 10% of all renovations that were visible to the public. What’s more, we would be able to deduct 50% to 100% of these costs from our French taxable income. Considering that a significant portion of our renovations would be visible to the public, including the house’s façade, roof, doors, and windows, we knew that the FDP contribution could be a substantial sum.
It took about two months to assemble the file. Aware of the French love for documents, we gave them a lot—probably more than necessary. FDP guidelines required us to include cost estimates from the workers and photographs of our property, but we also had our architects whip up a detailed narrative describing their vision for the renovated house and demonstrating how it would remain consistent with the regional style.
We threw in maps of our property and even attached an early 20th-century postcard that featured our street with the house in the background. Like overachieving school kids, we carefully arranged all these documents in a three-ring notebook, separating each section with color-coded dividers. Then we turned it in and waited.
Two months later, the FDP told us that our application had been accepted (and that it was one of the best files they’d ever seen). We would be reimbursed for 8% of the renovations visible from the public domain and could deduct 50% of the costs from our next tax return. Hallelujah!
Our workers immediately swung into action. The renovations had to be completed within two years to receive the benefits. Given the advanced state of dilapidation—and that we were only available to oversee progress on weekends—the time limit loomed large. But somehow the major work was finished, and with just weeks to spare. It was a happy day when an FDP official inspected our house, pronounced it “très belle,” and shook our hands vigorously. It was an even happier day when we later received a hefty reimbursement check in the mail.
All told, we received a whopping $70,000 in tax breaks and cash for doing something that we would have done anyway… restore the house of our dreams. But without the FDP’s financial assistance, we’d have cut more corners and gone deeper into debt. We’re proud to affix to our home the FPD plaque as a tribute to their contribution.
Only one problem remains, a difficulty that plagues me every year: What the heck kind of birthday gift can I buy for the friend who once gave me the book worth $70,000?
For more information about La Fondation du Patrimoine, see here.
Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, simply click on the below button to subscribe to International Living magazine at the special introductory price of $49. You will get instant access to the current issue of the magazine as well 10 years of back issues. As an added bonus, we will also send you a FREE report – How to Retire in Paradise on $30 a Day. (You can cancel your subscription at any time.)