OKAY, so it might involve sleeping where an altar once was. Or perhaps a belltower, nave or vestry. It sounds ever so slightly scandalous, but ecclesiastic properties are recession-busting favourites, with architectural features that can’t be rivalled.
In London, there’s a range of options – many of which are considered hip as well as high-end, such as Christ Church Court, a complex of about 20 spacious flats in Kilburn. They keep their value, too. Olivia Boyd, a building industry journalist who bought a one-bedroom flat there with her husband, a barrister, in 2006, has seen the price rise from £265,000 to £299,500, despite the downturn. “We’d looked at so many boxy one-beds and this was wonderfully spacious compared,” she says. “And we loved the arches.”
Another favourite with young City professionals is the converted St Peter’s Church complex on Cephas St near Whitechapel, with its enormous stained glass windows and split-level rooms.
At the top end of the spectrum are multimillion pound churches – in Belgravia, St Savour’s (pictured here) is on the market for £15m, while nearby Hastings House is on for £12m. “Ecclesiastic conversion properties attract buyers who want a home full of character with lots of space,” says Richard Marsh from the buyer’s adviser Vision Elements. “They’re a far cry from the more conventional pokey Victorian terrace conversion.” Outside the city, village rectories are particularly attractive. James Ray, partner at Knight Frank’s Stratford- upon-Avon office, says: “Rectories are normally the second house in the village, after the manor house, which means they are an ideal size for a family and are attractive with good gardens.” Many rectories were bought from the Church of England in the Sixties and Seventies, to relieve the cash-stripped Church, and have therefore changed hands two or three times. The result is that many have been modernised and updated.
But the architectural style of most rectories is a major selling point, with or without refurbishment. “They tend to be late Georgian or Victorian,” says Ray, “and this means large windows and lots of light and great proportions, as well as an imposing style that people like. It also means mature gardens; there’s no short-cut for achieving 200-year-old trees. For this reason rectories hold their value well and have stood up during the downturn.”
Ray also has a few chapels on his books, one of which has been converted into a farm because of its positioning far back from the road and its extensive land, in a village near Henley-on-Thames. Another churchyard in Ettington, near Stratford-upon-Avon, retains only a tower, and a house is being attached to the structure and put on the market for £750,000.
But beware the downsides of living in a church: many are listed, limiting freedom to make structural changes. In Christ Church, no gas is allowed so there are electric boilers and hobs and – perhaps the biggest downside – no Sky dishes are permitted, so sports fans should check on that when looking at a church. Otherwise, amen to light, space and a great talking point.
ST SAVIOUR’S HOUSE, LONDON SW3
Magnificent, enormous house covering 8,600 sq ft, with swimming pool, sauna, Oxbridge hall-sized dining room, five bedrooms and a roof terrace.
Contact: Charles McDowell on 020 7570 0884; www.charlesmcdowell.com
THE OLD CHURCH, SARRATT, HERTS
Built in 1895 as a Baptist church, the stained glass windows, exposed brickwork and gothic bracing have all been retained and updated to provide a spacious, unique and luxurious home.
Contact: Savills Rickmansworth on 01923 725 500; www.savills.co.uk
THE OLD CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, GUILDFORD
Built in 1929 by Mary Watts, the wife of George Frederick Watts, the Victorian painter and sculptor, the church was converted into accommodation and a tearoom in 1975 and finally, in 1998, into a family home that retains original oak doors leading to the vestry.
Contact: Knight Frank Guildford on 01483 565171; www.knightfrank.com