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, France, 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 four magic words that led us to a foundation that 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.
Two months after applying, our project was accepted by the foundation—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 we a hefty reimbursement check came 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.
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