Authenticity and passion for architectural heritage

6 February 2019

 

INTERVIEW WITH PATRICE BESSE

You won’t find words like “First class”, “status” or “extremely rare”. Nor “sublime” or “must-see”. But what you will find are buildings teeming with authenticity. Some with beautiful stonework; some also steeped in history, and all that are a true pleasure to behold.”

Patrice Besse heads the eponymous real estate group with which REALTA has recently formed an international partnership. We sat down with Patrice to give you an opportunity to get to know him a little better.

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Tell us a little about the background of your real estate group.

My grandfather founded the agency in 1924. My father eventually took over and, 20 years ago, I did the same. We’re now in our third generation. When I took over, we were a conventional agency that sold just about everything. I steered it toward the sale of character buildings and built up a national group specializing in this niche. We have two offices, both of which are located in Paris, and around 75 collaborators across France. My short-term goal is to have 100. Our services also extend abroad to Portugal, Italy and Belgium – and now thanks to REALTA, to Quebec.

Following our successful provincial “tour”, we expanded our main activity to include a Parisian division, which focuses on the sale of flats, mansion houses, buildings, pied-à-terres, townhouses, open-plan and artist studios in and around Paris.

 

What do you mean by “character” buildings?

Our group offers a large number of castles, historic homes, manors and mansion houses. That being said, our know-how is not limited solely to the sale of these types of properties. Over the years, we have grown our offering to include a wide variety of historical buildings ranging from mills to industrial buildings to village houses to farms and more… Whether they’re sprawling estates or more modest in size, all are notable for their authenticity and history, regardless of market value. France is teeming with interesting properties below 100,000 euros. These buildings are our architectural heritage and deserve to be saved.

We also recently added a new « Séjourner – Stay » service to our website to help owners and managers who wish to use their properties for commercial purposes. We list buildings of character available for short stays ranging anywhere from one day to one month, whether it’s for personal pleasure or for a professional event. Interested guests can select the criteria they are looking for in a property and we put them in touch with the owners of premises that meet these criteria.

Our know-how also includes the sale of religious buildings, particularly churches. As congregations continue to dwindle in size, some dioceses struggle to maintain these buildings and prefer to divest of them. In the last five years, we have sold a dozen such buildings, saving them from being destroyed. We do our best to ensure these properties shift gracefully from a “cult” to “cultural” purpose.

 

To what do you owe your success?

Our passion! Our collaborators come from a variety of backgrounds: they are photographers, architects, alumni of the Ecole du Louvre, art historians, former business executives, journalists, directors, writers, and more. But they all share a cultural sensitivity for architectural heritage. I train them on the business side of things. Our self-described role is to pass on architectural heritage. Finding, promoting and presenting select pieces of French architecture for sale is a mission we joyfully embrace without concern for size or location.

How does this spirit manifest itself concretely in your practice?

In all sorts of ways. For example, we carefully handpick the buildings we list on the market. I am offered about ten files every week, but only a fraction merits my attention. We dig deep into the building’s history through extensive historical research, multiple site visits and meetings with the owner. It can take two to three years between our first contact with the owner and when the property is finally sold. When potential buyers come in, we ask them about their future plans. More and more sellers are turning to us because they know we will be vigilant about how the building will be used in the future. Our approach to presenting properties attracts a clientele that has immense respect for authenticity and architectural heritage. In any case, we have never had a request to open a KFC in a former church!

We also do work for local authorities, municipalities, departments and general councils. We maintain regular partnerships and contacts with heritage preservation entities such as La Demeure Historique, l’Observatoire du Patrimoine Religieux, les Vieilles Maisons Françaises, Maisons paysannes de France and la Fondation du Patrimoine.

Our systematic approach has made us the first real estate agency to receive an UNESCO international award for the safeguarding of architectural and cultural heritage. It’s an honour we are extremely proud of!

 

Your real estate group is growing rapidly. How do you ensure new team members embrace this spirit of heritage preservation?

Through our training. Each year, every member of our team receives 18 days of in-house training on culture and commerce, the two cornerstones of our business. The cultural aspect of this training focuses on areas like architecture, art history, and photography, while the commercial aspect focuses on understanding, analyzing and valuating premises so that they can be passed on to their new owners under the best possible conditions. Our team members must know how to determine the property’s tax or market value, whether it’s a castle or any other building of character – or even a Paris apartment, house, mansion or building, for that matter. This requires having specific knowledge and the ability to flawlessly manage such transactions in their specific markets. Determining a property’s real value is a prerequisite for its sale. That’s why we have created a service specializing in the valuation of properties of note. As members of the Chamber of Real Estate Valuers of France, we are recognized for the quality and accuracy of our valuations.

 

Why did you partner with REALTA?

We look for partnerships abroad with agencies that share the same values as we do. The same spirit that drives us can be found in François Bissonnette and his team: professionalism, proximity and respect for the client, in addition to prestigious properties for sale in the heart of Montreal. This partnership will allow us to offer our respective customers privileged access to our mutual offers. Given the historical and cultural ties between France and Quebec, the potential is enormous. Our two Paris branches are located in the heart of the 7th arrondissement, at 7 rue Chomel near the Bon Marché, and at 18 rue Budé on Ile Saint-Louis. I invite all REALTA clients and friends visiting Paris to stop in and say hello. It would be our pleasure to meet you!