Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

More Than Opulence, Wealthy Buyers Seek History ; Castles in High Demand despite an Otherwise Stale Market in Europe

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

More Than Opulence, Wealthy Buyers Seek History ; Castles in High Demand despite an Otherwise Stale Market in Europe

Article excerpt

Castles and other "super prime" properties are in high demand amid an otherwise stale market in Europe.

When the global tour operator Tui decided to develop a residential resort in Italy, it considered a historic site to be the obvious choice.

"Tuscany is the heart of historic Europe," said Martin Schluter, the managing director of Castelfalfi, Tui's new resort located 63 kilometers, or 39 miles, from Florence. "Property buyers and visitors who are attracted to Italy, and Tuscany in particular, like the atmosphere of a historic, traditional village."

Castelfalfi is an original medieval borgo, or village. The site, covering 1,100 hectares, or 2,718 acres, is now owned by Tui, and the company is renovating the old houses, streets and castle into a high-end residential and leisure resort at a cost of EUR 250 million, or $325 million.

Of the development's 41 apartments, 10 have been sold since the project's introduction last autumn at prices starting from EUR 230,000. They are scheduled to be completed in June 2013.

The European property market is continuing to suffer as the economic downturn lingers and social upheaval erodes some buyers' willingness to commit. But the market for homes at the very top of the range, what the industry calls "super prime," is more buoyant than ever -- and within the niche, historic property is in high demand.

Inquiries for historic residences have grown so markedly that Engel & Volkers, the German real estate agency that covers all of Europe, recently created a special division for such homes. The choice was unusual, since even agencies like Sotheby's International Realty and Christie's International Real Estate, which deal solely in prime property, do not have such a specialty.

"Buyers in this sector are a small target group but very high net worth and very international," says Florian Gross, the managing director of residential sales for Engel & Volkers, based in Hamburg. "Investors specifically wanting historic property make up about 20 percent of the 4,000 or so prime market clients registered with us."

Mr. Gross said some buyers in this group consider the history or character of a home more important than its location. For others, period property within easy reach of a main city is most important, he said, with Berlin, Munich, Paris and London topping the list.

Popular period properties include classical mansions, castles, palaces and cloisters; a large amount of land is important to buyers. "Most purchasers are European entrepreneurs. They have sold a company and want to invest in a nice castle or estate," Mr. Gross said. "We're seeing increased demand from Asia, but it still isn't quite as strong in Europe. We find Russian and Chinese buyers are currently more interested in London and southern Britain."

Engel & Volkers recently sold a 17th-century estate in Sablon, Belgium, for EUR 800,000; a 19th-century, Bavarian-style residence near Munich for EUR 7.9 million; and a historic cloister near Hanover, Germany, which was bought by a well-known European artist for EUR 2.4 million.

Properties now listed by the agency include Schloss Neiderweis, an 18th-century German palace that stands on 12 hectares, and a medieval castle in the Piedmont region of Italy. Prices for these properties are available upon request.

According to Tancred Lidbury, the associate director for Europe at Christie's, potential investors from the Middle East are interested in Georgian-era properties with land in Ireland and Britain, while Chinese buyers want French chateaus with vineyards.

"Such residences are a status symbol; buyers want to have a taste of a gentrified European lifestyle," Mr. Lidbury said. "I recently sold a Georgian estate in Berkshire to a Middle Eastern client who wanted to live near the queen."

East European and Russian buyers are also keen to find European properties that give them a sense of reclaiming a heritage lost through the postwar decades. …

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