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Benoît Duchatelet

Paul & Vince would like to welcome to the conversation Benoît Duchatelet from Engel & Völkers Paris, France.
Sometimes, on paper, something is called a “castle”, and when you see it, you’re like, “Please!” But seriously, sometimes, it’s like in the storybooks. You have the castle, the moat of water around it, etcetera. It depends on the age of the castle; they are often hundreds of years old. But usually, the castle is the main mansion, the biggest one in a little town.

Before joining Engel & Völkers in 2017, Benoît Duchatelet founded “Double Numérique”, a digital branding agency, specializing in eReputation, digital communication, and social media engagement. He has served as the Secretary General of the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Camp since 2014 and currently hosts an online radio show for entrepreneurs.

As a real estate advisor at E&V, Benoît focuses on Premium Property, Castles, and Châteaux Sales throughout France and focuses on castles at the €1M point and above in the greater Paris area, as well as the Côte d’Azur.

He lives in Paris with his wife and five daughters. In his spare time, he enjoys international travel, fashion, world-class cuisine, and his special passion for both vintage automobiles and motorcycles.


Paul & Vince: So, Benoît, how did you become a real estate advisor?

Benoît: I began my career in banking at the French Bank, Societé Générale. I did well in many different roles around Wealth Management, but by 2010 or so, I noticed something. My friends and colleagues didn’t know how to present themselves online.

Paul & Vince: Really?

Benoît: Yes, it was amazing. They would impress you with their work and life over dinner with a neighbor, but when you searched for them online? Nothing. Sometimes it was the issue of photos or websites or not knowing how the search engines worked.

Paul & Vince: Right, it can be complicated.

Benoît: So in 2011, I created my own web agency, Double Numérique, as the online solution for my network and what I call their “e-reputation”.

Paul & Vince: Wow, you were ahead of the game there.

Benoît: [Laughs] Yes, it was surprising. But we learned we could use this online branding for all sorts of things…to fight bad press or bigger PR announcements. But in the beginning, it was a simple concept of making sure the person in real life matched the online digital reality. And then I was at a party one night and met David Scheffler at Engel & Völkers [President of E&V France, Belgium, and the Netherlands].

Paul & Vince: Okay, I see where this is going…

Benoît: David was saying, “We’re presenting a new brand, Engel & Völkers, in France, for French people, and it might be difficult because we’re a German company, and you know…”

Paul & Vince: Right, it could become a business challenge.

Benoît: So, I began working closely with Engel & Völkers France, particularly the Castle Department. I was still focusing on digital communication, but then I started to create a new job for myself as I became more interested, more on the agent side, and that is how I became an advisor for Private Office.

Paul & Vince: [Laughs.] That’s an unbelievable transformation! Congratulations on seizing the opportunities as they came up. You went from banking to digital advising clients on digital to becoming the advisor! That’s quite an accomplishment.

Benoît: Yes, perhaps. But the most important thing I’ve learned is the relationship with my clients, the time I spend listening to them, and understanding them. This was true in private banking, and it’s also true as an advisor, especially now that I am in Private Office.


Paul & Vince: So tell us, what kinds of things do you focus on in your market?

Benoît: Well, in the Castle Department…You must understand that there are over 40,000 castles in France. But these are huge properties with long histories, so sometimes we sell only six or seven castles per year.

Paul & Vince: Wow, so it’s a real market, something we can’t fathom in the United States. But how do you define a castle? How is it a castle and not just a large estate or a large mansion?

Benoît: Good question. Sometimes, on paper, something is called a “castle”, and when you see it, you’re like, “Please!” [Laughs] But seriously, sometimes, it’s like in the storybooks. You have the castle, the moat of water around it, etcetera. It depends on the age of the castle; they are often hundreds of years old. But usually, the castle is the main mansion, the biggest one in a little town. But in France, you could have chateaux, maisons de maîtres, maisons bourgeoises, manoirs…Manoirs are usually made of stone and wood. In Normandy, you have a lot of mansions like that.

Paul & Vince: I noticed your last name, Duchatelet…Is it a coincidence that you sell castles, and your name literally means “from the castle”?

Benoît: Yes, exactly! A little castle. A lot of friends of mine ask me that, and I say, “Okay, yes…My guardian angel made a joke!”
[Everyone laughs]

Paul & Vince: So, when people are looking to buy a castle, how much of the castle’s value is associated with the type of renovations done inside? Do you have castles that have not been touched for hundreds of years, and they’re just, “Here’s an empty shell of some stones; you’ve got to do all the work,” and some that have been modernized in luxury?

Benoît: Well, with our team, we prioritize larger castles worth one million euros and higher….Mostly in the Paris region or the Côte d’Azur. Some castles are priced much lower than one million but don’t consider the yearly maintenance of a castle, which is considerable. Some castles you can buy for one euro, but you have to spend fifty thousand euros per year to keep them from falling down!


Paul & Vince: Wow, selling castles is certainly beyond the typical sale of homes and apartments. How does that work? Who are the buyers and sellers?

Benoît: Eighty percent of the sellers are families, often elderly, who can’t afford the upkeep. It’s very emotional for them, of course. Or sometimes, it’s younger people who had bought it to be a wedding venue or some commercial property but are ready to move on. And quite often, for the sellers—it’s more than just an apartment in Paris where the owners have agreed to market and present their home. For castles, the sellers often say, “I want to sell it, but discreetly. No publicity.”

Paul & Vince: They want to be very quiet.

Benoît: Yes, and because of that, it’s important that our team has a very strong network to present it off-market. We rely on our network and on “bouches-oreilles”…

Paul & Vince: We call that “word of mouth” in English.

Benoît: Exactly. And the types of buyers are changing very fast.

Paul & Vince: Oh, really?

Benoît: Before 2015, buyers were eighty percent French people, especially for properties in the one to five million range. When the price is very high, more foreigners come into the mix. And now, since the pandemic, I’m seeing foreigners more and more often foreigners from all over the world, from countries I have never dealt with in the past. It’s incredible. The change is very impressive! When I spend some time with these buyers to understand why, they explain, “For us, when we buy a castle, we buy a little piece of France.”

Paul & Vince: They’re buying history, they’re buying stability, they’re buying beauty…The French experience?

Benoît: Yes, that’s it. The French experience is priceless. They say, “I already have five mansions, but I need one castle.”

Paul & Vince: What else is unusual about selling castles? Are there any special circumstances that arise?

Benoît: Well, of the 40,000 castles in France, only half of them, the largest ones, have a lot of legal obligations about the types of modifications you can make. On the exterior and the interior as well. “Le Monument Historique” — they are considered historical monuments. It’s like protection. You can’t do what you want with your castle. You have to ask a special government team, and they tell you, “You can choose this color for your windows, you can change this type of finishing…You have to be careful. But, we will help you financially to make this historic renovation.”

Paul & Vince: Interesting! So it makes sense that a facade is protected. But you’re saying that inside some of the buildings, there are rooms, woodwork, or staircases that are so valuable that the government knows about them?

Benoît: Yes! Sometimes it’s inside! And sometimes, outside, it’s only one facade! The front one, but not the back one!
[Everyone laughs.]

Paul & Vince: So, when a foreigner buys a castle in a small town in France, one inhabited by the same family for generations, what is it like when suddenly there’s someone new moving in who doesn’t know the way of life of this village?

Benoît: Yes, good question. For everyone, it’s a big change. But for the town, at the end of the day, they prefer to see the castle saved by good owners rather than its destruction or deterioration.

Paul & Vince: Yes, of course.

Benoît: And it’s good for jobs in the area, when the new owners need workers for renovations, for redecorating…It’s good for the economy to have new money coming in. And with 40,000 castles in France, many of them are crumbling, okay? So when a new family arrives, even if they are foreigners, the locals say, “Okay, if it’s good for the castle, it’s good for us.”

…and One More, Just For Fun

Paul & Vince: Ok, now we want to ask your Just For Fun question. What would your ideal outfit be if you had to wear the same outfit every day, like a cartoon character?

Benoît: I would say, without hesitation, it would be a 1940s tuxedo! Black tie!

Paul & Vince: Really? That’s surprising since you’re famous for your yellow pants in your Instagram feed, are you not? [Laughs.]

Benoît: Yes, of course! Yellow, blue, pink…Sure. When I’m on a motorcycle, it might be yellow.

Paul & Vince: Now, do you own a 1940s suit?

Benoît: Ah, yes, of course. A white one, two black ones, and a special one for a white tie.

Paul & Vince: And are these just in the style of the 1940s, or do you have one from the 1940s?

Benoît: No, no, only two from the 1940s.

Paul & Vince: Really! They’re literally from…? Wow! Are they from the 1940s?

Benoît: Yes, they are, because I found them in a special shop in Paris. I try to find vintage tuxedos, you know?

Paul & Vince: Do you ever wonder who wore them first, whose clothes you are living in? Maybe a very famous person from the 1940s, or…?

Benoît: Well, I’m more interested in the question of how the…how the tuxedo was built. The craftsmanship.

Paul & Vince: Hmmm…

Benoît: It’s like…nowadays, it’s like protection for knights!

Paul & Vince: A suit of armor!

Benoît: It’s a very strong one. Yes, absolutely. My suit of armor!

Original artwork by Jolisa Robinson, Gavriani-Falcone Team Marketing

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