The Hamptons market has been slow to warm up this year; Connecticut mansions are on the discount rack, as are Catskills farms and Miami condos. It’s a “buying opportunity,” as they say, in the second-home market—which means that someone lucky enough to have a no-limit budget can now have the palace of his or her dreams. Literally. “Having your own castle in Europe is a coup,” says Tine Arentsen Willumsen of Engel & Völkers’ Private Office. No kidding.
Even as the dollar remains in the doldrums, Private Office (a leading purveyor of Continental castles, headquartered in London, with a satellite here on Lexington Avenue) says that New Yorkers account for 15 percent of its considerable American clientele. Americans buy for bragging rights, history, and giant walls that can showcase art collections. French estates with vineyards are especially in demand among Manhattanites, who relish the opportunity to ship friends a case of Château Your Name Here 2008. Location doesn’t dictate the price as much as condition and size do. A fixer-upper can be had in the low six figures (euros, that is). The 19,000-square-foot Castle Heukewalde in Saxony, which dates back to the 1600s, for instance, is available through PoshJourneys.com for $155,000, post-currency-exchange.
Not that there aren’t challenges—airfare and commuting time among them. Renovations are difficult—Helga van Horn of Posh Journeys, another specialist, estimates that you’d spend 2 million euros fixing up that German starter castle, and fourteenth-century tiles are tricky to source. Staffing is expensive, too. “It’s like buying a yacht,” says Willumsen. “There’s a lot of maintenance costs.” In some countries—Poland, for instance—you can’t buy unless a citizen’s name is on the deed, adds Van Horn. And forget about financing: “Typically, you’d have to look for a bank in the area,” says mortgage broker Jeff Guarino. “[We] won’t be able to know the intricacies and international laws.” (The castle-brokerage specialists above often help with that stuff.) And unfortunately for New Worlders, ownership doesn’t confer a peerage. “There are definitely certain family crests that one can get rights to use, but as for the title, that’s out of our reach,” says Willumsen.