Live like a lord of the manor

Live like a lord of the manor

Expert Reports  

According to the Revival of the Russian Estate Foundation, out of approximately 40,000 over century-old pre-revolutionary landowners’ estates, only about 7,000 remain “alive” at the moment. EcoTourism Expert figured out what programmes exist today for their restoration, whether the programmes work, and what is needed to be prepared for if anyone would like to buy a noble manor house.

Perhaps, it’s worth mentioning a spoiler right away - the vast majority of noble estates today are dilapidated, so their restoration is more like a compromise between “pull down a building and build a new one” and “why do I need all this.” Nevertheless, there are still enthusiasts of this business.

Moreover, the manor house can be bought for a fairly small fee. Just two years ago, for example, it was possible to buy an estate in the Ulyanovsk Region at a price of 10 thousand roubles. For this money, at best, you received only the remains of the brick walls. And, most importantly, the buyer cannot proudly call himself the owner of such a suburban real estate in the full sense of the word right away, since the acquisition implies the mandatory restoration of the building, and its restoration costs rather big money.

Before the revolution of 1917, there were more than 3,000 landowners’ estate houses in the Moscow Region. Now, there are about 150 of those manor houses where at least some part of the building is still preserved, not to mention the foundations. And there are from 15 to 20 really interesting buildings. Some of them are being restored by wealthy persons who purchased real estate on auctions. For example, Andrey Kovalyov, a businessman, rock musician, restaurateur, restorer and collector of antiques, purchased the Grebnevo manor house in 2019 near the city of Fryazino that is not far from Moscow. The estate has been on the auction lists of the Federal Property Management Agency for three years, and he turned out to be the only contender for buying it. The ruins costed the businessman 80 million roubles, and now, the manor house is under restoration.

There are other enthusiasts, for example, businessman Sergey Vasiliev restored the landlord’s estate house Stepanovskoye-Volosovo in the Tver Region that was built in the late 18th century. Muscovite Sergey Leontiev, a descendant of the commander Suvorov, bought the manor house from the state that belonged to his noble ancestors, it is located near Rostov Veliky. He restored it and arranges tours of the estate house now showing the life of the noblemen of that time to the visitors. The Rostov authorities put it up for auction in the middle of the 2000s, and Leontiev bought the estate with 4.5 hectares of land for 1.5 million roubles. The restorer Shkrapkin gave the Skornyakovo estate house (the Lipetsk Region) a new life.

The above amounts are paid just at the beginning, according to the most conservative expert estimates, the cost of restoring an old manor house starts at 250 million roubles.

It would seem that the legislation can be of great help, but there are still quite a lot of problematic legal issues in this field.

On the one hand, there are various programmes at the federal and regional levels. In the Moscow Region, for example, the governor’s programme “Estates in the Moscow Region” has been in effect since 2013. According to it, the objects of cultural heritage that are in an unsatisfactory condition are put up for auction and are purchased by private investors at a market price to be subsequently restored. The winner of the auction concludes a lease agreement for a period of 49 years with a mandatory condition to carry out restoration work at the investor’s expense. According to the agreement, the period of restoration should not exceed seven years. The tenant receives the preferential rent of 1 rouble per 1 square metre per year after completing the restoration of the estate house. After its restoration, the investor can make a museum in this building, or open a restaurant, hotel, organize recreational or sports facilities, in a word, the investor can do everything that will allow him to compensate for the restoration costs in the future. It would seem that if a person has funds and wants to invest in such a good business, he or she could purchase the manor house and restore it! However, the governor of the Moscow Region Andrey Vorobyov admitted back in 2020 that “This model does not work in every case, I have to admit this, that is why we can see that the manor houses built in the 19th century are in poor condition.”

Back in 2019, the Ministry of Culture developed a bill providing for amendments to the Tax Code in terms of providing a number of preferences to owners of historical estates and other cultural heritage sites. The document proposed to exempt not only the federal objects from the corporate property tax, but also the regional and local ones. The bill provides for a similar provision in relation to the property tax of individuals. The document was developed, but it was not adopted yet.

Meanwhile, all over the world, the “manor houses” of nobles (although not manor houses, but mostly castles) are becoming attractions that allure thousands of tourists and provide revenues to the regional budgets. In a number of countries, even special excursion programmes are offered to visit the castles, and such tours of castles quickly become popular. For example, in France, these are “The Castles of the Loire Valley”. There are similar excursions in other European countries, for example, in the Czech Republic, Romania (with the famous Dracula’s castle - Bran Castle).

However, if things move forward (even if not from a standstill, but from a pause), the old Russian estates can become real points of attraction in any region, as Sergey Pozdnyakov, an expert in the field of event tourism, said with confidence.

“In restoring Russian estates and their attractiveness to tourists, there is one thing that we do not take into account at all. A lot of foreigners want to see our ancient Russian style of life - the estates and monuments. Many of them are currently in a very poor state. It is necessary to adopt a proper law on the preservation of cultural heritage, attract good specialists, allocate sufficient funds for restoration and not the meager amount allocated now. We had landowners’ estates all over the country and they could become a point of attraction around which a full-fledged tourism cluster can be formed in the future,” the expert said in his exclusive comment to EcoTourism Expert.