Converting A Church To An Airbnb? (Innovative Ideas For A Unique Experience)

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Intro

Last year, the UK ranked third globally for nights booked on Airbnb. The average price per night went up almost 30%, and there is a fresh smell of curiosity in the air surrounding unusual homes. 

We are well-equipped to support you on your church conversion project. Here, at HMO Architect, we focus primarily on converting buildings into HMOs. As our clients are becoming increasingly interested in turning buildings into flats, or AirBnbs, we have decided to share some of our expertise on the topic with you. 

Also, you can count on our expert team to handle all aspects of your church conversion development, from planning to interior design, and listing it on Airbnb. With 97% planning success, HMO Architect can help you get your Planning and Building Regulation approved faster. 

It is important to be aware that the risk on investment for such work is high, as are the rewards. You can check out below what you could earn, for a rough 2022 Airbnb average occupancy rate of 25%.

Average Earnings from Airbnb Church StaysAverage Earnings from Airbnb Experiences
£150 – £600 / night£200 / day
£13,650 – £54,600 / year£ 10,000 / year

In this article we will show you how to convert a small chapel or church, from zero to an unforgettable stay, ideas for what types of experiences you could organise for your guests, and the risks to manage when turning it into a profitable business. 

Jump To

Biggest Problems

Buying the Church

How we can help as UK leading experts in Design and Planning

Converting the Church

Church as an AirBnb experience or stay

Costs

Results

Before you start the process of converting a church, be aware once again that they are not built for living, and you may encounter a variety of unforeseen challenges along the way.

If you want to find out more about possible issues to consider, check out the next section.

6 Biggest Problems with Church Conversions

A big project such as a church conversion can unveil a bunch of issues along the way. For your peace of mind, we put together a list of six critical ones.

  1. You want to take extremely seriously the building survey. Do not ignore any structural problems that may have arisen with old age and rehabilitate any surveyor findings.
  2. Some churches already have electricity and heating, while others need it to be installed from square one. If needed, we recommend floor heating, and we will help you find a good engineer to install it. 
  3. If the church has not been used in a while, beware of mould and rotten wood. Some common findings in old churches are roofing issues. New roofs can cost on average £5,000 – £8,500, and roofers take a daily rate of around £200.
  4. Most of the external alterations to the church will require planning permissions. If you want to build conservatories, guest rooms or anything else outside the current construction, we will help you get the permissions in virtually no time.
  5. The church or chapel was at some point open to the public, so you may want to put up a sign making it clear it is a private home now. People might knock at the door if they have previously worked in the church, or their relatives might have been buried in its graveyard. We will help you through the process of deconsecrating(relocating) remains. Most of the time you will get permission from close relatives and the burial authority, but in some cases, it may be impossible. In such a situation, you are legally required to allow the family to visit the grave.
  6. Make sure you are aware of the costs involved before making this investment. For more details, we recommend getting in touch about your project and we will send you a quote for free.

During the conversion, you may come across a series of unforeseen costs and dilemmas. We are here to help you find the best solution in the shortest time, whether you may need additional funding, planning, or just suggestions and support.

Buying the Church

The task of converting, and, therefore altering a church, brings with it a couple of permissions to obtain and some legal requirements to fulfil:

  • Planning Permission – For external development, and change of use (£462),
  • Listed Building Consent – Most churches are of special architectural or historic interest (FREE),
  • Church Commissioners approval – Approval for any architectural changes to the building,
  • Graveyard – If the graveyard is affected by works, you need by law to move any human remains elsewhere. For more details on how this could affect you, ask your estate agent.

Since 1969 the law has allowed churches to be offered for alternative uses – around 20 of them are closed every year by the Church of England. Many of these are available for sale or lease, and, throughout the years, several have become houses or apartments.

Before you buy a church or any old building, bear in mind the importance of location. Churches and chapels have been built for religious practice in easily accessible, populated areas, typically near the urban or rural centre, for religious practice.

However, consider that urbanisation did not affect equally all areas of the UK. Therefore, an investment in an extremely rural or remote chapel can slow or reduce the return on investment.

Churches available for disposal are unconverted, and their prices start at as little as £45,000, but, depending on the land, location, or size, their prices can soar to well over £100,000. 

If you want to buy an already converted chapel or church, you may think to invest somewhere around £500,000 – £1 million. In this scenario, standard mortgages are available, as opposed to converting the chapel yourself, where you should apply for a self-build mortgage.

As UK leading experts in design and planning, we are here to assist you in finding the right builders, to help you cut costs where you can.

How we can help you

We’re well-equipped to support you on your project. You can count on our expert team to handle all aspects of your church conversion development, from planning to interior design, and listing it on Airbnb. With 97% planning success, we can help you get your Planning and Building Regulation approved faster.

We’re passionate about transforming older buildings into comfortable and welcoming accommodations with plenty of living space. We’ll design top-quality, innovative accommodation tailored to the needs of your ideal tenants. 

Church Conversions may seem peculiar, high-maintenance projects. At HMO Architect, we want to tempt a new brand of landlords – one with a passion for unusual design, innovation, and high-quality living.

Also, with our proposed upgrades, you’ll achieve a higher booking income, impressive cash flow and commercial valuation returns. So why not get a quote now?

Converting the Church

As you may know already, churches have a different architecture than your typical house; this brings with it some surprising challenges, compared to refurbishing a possible HMO. In this part, we talk about some previous works, while we offer some tips and cost estimations.

To begin with, you may want to contact a surveyor who can go around the building and identify its key issues before moving in. This can be anything from unexpected burial places to bats living in its high ceilings, or simpler structural problems, and can cost between £250 for a short report, and up to over £600 for a full structural survey.

Structure

In general, people try to preserve the outside look, while using the inside decorations to complement the overall feeling they wish to deliver. 

One of the first things that stand out in a church is its tall ceilings and characteristic roof. Since they are part of the building’s character and history, one path for you to explore is to keep the interior as a one-floor dwelling. 

Another plan can be to set up an upper floor yourself, however, costs and difficulty will vary depending on the condition of the building.

This would involve altering the structure of the church, which requires significant quantities of either wood or steel to support the building. So, keep an eye out for storage room.

Windows and Insulation

If the first thing that crosses your mind when thinking about a church’s windows is retaining the stained-glass windows, then you are opting for extra personality. However, this will limit the light coming in. 

Not only the pretty paintings but also the reduced number of windows are light stoppers. To make the church or chapel adapted to modern-day living, you need to either add windows or optimise those already in place.

Regardless of the type of windows the church already has, usually, they would need to be double-glazed to improve energy efficiency. 

Another alternative is to build a fireplace, which will also give an ancient unique feel to your new Airbnb.

In the long run, you should also consider insulating the whole establishment if you want to keep the heat in. This will not benefit just you, but also the environment, making the church more energy-saving.

Rooms and Other Features

Your goals and vision should be the key factors when deciding which rooms to include in the final output. When creating an Airbnb experience, consider your possible guests and what they will seek from this unique adventure.

The ground floor will be the main area and where most of the rooms will be located. 

Because churches’ nave is a very big open area, you will either need to separate the kitchen, living room, and dining areas by creative dividers, or keep it open.

The transepts, or the sides of the church, could easily be transformed into toilets, storage areas or even bedrooms or kitchens, but do not forget that they are not normally closed areas.

However, the upper floor, if applicable, is the best place to consider for bedrooms. It is private and can be well-lit through the tall church windows. 

If you feel creative and your budget allows, we compiled a few additional features you could include, such as:

  • a storage room in the attic,
  • a study in the chancel (altar),
  • a conservatory leading out from the side doors,
  • an exterior building for more guests or storage. 

Church as an Airbnb experience or stay

So now you may want to list your newly converted church or chapel on Airbnb. Many have done it before, but how can you stand out?

As one may say, “the sky is the limit”, and only your imagination can stop you from achieving a profitable business. To give you some inspiration, we thought of sharing some unusual ways to move forward from here.

  • Pilgrimage – The UK is extremely well connected by pilgrimage routes, so you could buy the church next to one, and even offer your guests a guided tour.
  • Culture and entertainment – Primarily, chapels were supposed to be a place of culture. You can host classes for painting stained glass and creating silver rings or organise a medieval event.
  • Food – Churches are well known for sharing food. Cooking traditional dishes or going one step further and hiring a private chef could be the way to go.
  • Wellness / Spa – There is something relaxing about being inside a church. You can build a sauna, install a bathtub in the nave, a jacuzzi outside, or even schedule yoga classes.

However, the easiest way for you might be to simply go for an Airbnb Stay and offer the Experiences as an extra. Bear in mind that regardless of your choice, the platform will take a 20% service fee.

Costs

It is extremely hard to estimate the costs for such a project before you get any quotes. 

There are many factors involved but depending on the condition of the building and the amount of DIY you are willing to put in, you may have to spend between £600 to £1,100 per square meter.

Results

Converting a church into a liveable place involves a significant amount of planning and consideration but delivers a unique and unforgettable experience for you and your guests. Costs vary depending on its dimensions and condition, but whatever the concern, we’re here to support you every step of the way.

Here at HMO Architect, we are not only offering the best design and planning in the UK, but we can help you secure financing and assess risks. Should you have any questions, please get in touch.

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Giovanni Patania

Giovanni Patania

(Architect Director, Co-Founder)

Giovanni Patania is the Lead Architect and Co-Founder at HMO Architect and Windsor Patania Architects.

Originally from Siena, Italy, Giovanni worked as a Project Lead Architect at Foster+ Partners, designing Apple stores across the world,

An HMO Investor himself, Giovanni understands property thoroughly, both from an investor's perspective and technically, as an Architect.

With over 15 years of HMO development experience, working on over 150+ HMOs and a 95% Planning and Building Regulation success rate, Giovanni has the expertise and credentials to help you on your HMO journey."

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