What You Need to Know About Buying a Converted Church or Chapel

Introduction

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to live in a converted chapel or church? There are many reasons why people may want to do so. Some people might want to live in one for spiritual reasons, following on with the church’s original purpose. Others may find the historical architecture awe-inspiring, with many church properties having stain glass windows, high ceilings and other features unique to that specific property. However, before you think about buying one, we want to share a few things for you to consider first:

Aesthetics Require Maintenance

Whether or not you want to live in one, you cannot deny that traditional churches are beautiful buildings. However, whether or not a church has been converted already, beauty requires maintenance. This is especially true in cases when a church has been empty for several years before being sold. This type of building may require extra work that might not have been recorded when it first became empty. Additionally, it could have acquired other issues over time. A surveyor should be able to go around the property and highlight its key issues before you move in. However, there are some things that you might not be able to change within the property. For example, there may be burials underneath the building, with memorial plaques dedicated to them, which may be difficult to remove for legal and ethical reasons. Furthermore, an empty high-ceiling church may have been the perfect place for a bat to settle in. If you want to find out how to manage this situation, we explored the issue in a previous blog post here.

Churches are primarily laid out as one, big open room for congregation. When the property is turned into a home however, this open space is usually changed into an open living room, kitchen and dining area. While this can look lovely, heating it might prove to be a bit of a challenge, compared to smaller rooms in a traditional house, where doors can be closed to preserve heating.

Graveyard Garden

Some people may love the aesthetic of a graveyard as their background, others might not be so keen. However, this topic goes beyond appearances. A converted church house in Norfolk made headlines back in 2019, due to the graveyard in its front garden. While the house itself was for sale, the graveyard was not officially part of the house. Instead, it was owned by the local council, who reportedly had control of it for 999 more years to come at the time of the report. The graveyard was still functioning too – meaning that people could still be buried there, and visit their deceased loved ones whenever they wanted – which made this house a difficult one to sell.

While this is an extreme example, it is something to consider. If the converted church property you’re interested in has any burial areas, you should ask your estate agent how this impacts you as a potential owner and contact the local council or church commissioners to see what they own on the property.

Let the Modern Features Enhance the Old Ones

The idea of living in a church can be very romantic. To make your home in a beautiful, historic building is a dream for many people. However, you need to make it practical too. Churches don’t naturally tend to come with bathrooms or kitchens designed for practical family living. Would you buy a church to convert it yourself? Or would you prefer one that’s already been renovated? Whatever you decide, you need to consider how much work you might be undertaking, and how that will affect the original design of the church in the process. Generally, it is a good idea to keep walls painted a neutral colour like white or cream, so that decorative features such as stained glass windows and pillars can be the standout pieces in the decoration. Additionally, try not to be too modern in your approach to redesigning the place – any extension work done would most likely stand out in an unflattering way and would take away from the beauty of the original church design. Keeping the exterior as untouched as you can, while keeping the interior decorations simple to enhance the architecture is a good way to go.

Churches weren’t originally designed to become homes. That’s why they generally do not come with garages, basements or attics. However, it may come with a bell tower or a crypt. A converted church is a great home for a minimalist who wants to enhance the preserved beauty of the property. It could also be great for families who want their children to have plenty of space within sight. If you require storage space or somewhere to protect your vehicle though, this may not be the right kind of property for you.

Competitive Area in the Housing Market

Every converted church home is unique, which is part of what makes them so appealing to potential buyers. However, this does mean that the market for buying church conversions is very competitive. This means that the properties may not only be quite expensive, but also a rare find. If you want to live in one within a specific area, make sure you closely follow all the local estate agents of that particular area online,. This way, you can find out about church conversions that become available as soon as possible.

Uninvited Visitors and Family Matters

One of the wonderful things about the internet is that it has the power to bring people together. One form of this is reliable family tree and DNA websites. From this, people can find out about family members and their past, stretching back over multiple generations. If you decide to live in a property that was once a public building, you need to know that people may still find it online and decide to visit it, if they believe that they have a connection to it. A family member could be buried there, or possibly worked there during a significant period in their life. If someone looked up the property on a website like Google Maps and saw that the church still appeared to be standing, they may try to come and visit it, if they believe it’s open to the public. Even if it’s closed to the public, some people might feel a connection to it and could still want to see it.

If you truly don’t want unexpected visitors, it might be worth putting a sign in your window or at the front of your property, explaining that your conversion is a private home and not a public place. However, if you don’t mind potential visitors, just be mindful that they may come by at any time. You have the right to turn anyone away from your door, unless they are there for legal reasons, in which case they would be able to provide proof of identity.

Conclusion

Living in what was formerly a place to practise religion was always going to be a quirky experience. It may take a lot of work, planning and consideration. We recommend that a Level 3 survey is carried out, which we would recommend for any property that has had extensive alterations or was built pre-war. Ultimately, living in a church conversion is a unique treat for the right homeowner.

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