Real Estate Church Specialist – on a Mission

Thursday, August 26th, 2004

They’re a match made in heaven, a Sikh and an Italian all charm and business smarts

Shelley Fralic



CREDIT: Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun

Holy Realtors Leonardo Di Francesco (left) and Rav Rampuri aim to sell St. John the Divine, Burnaby’s oldest church, which is owned by Grace Christian Church.

They’re called the Holy Realtors and, as God is my witness, theirs is a match made in heaven.

They pull up in front of the church — Rav Rampuri in a black BMW and Leonardo Di Francesco in a black Lincoln Navigator — and step out to shake hands, virtually in unison, all charm and business smarts, here to preach the gospel of selling churches.

Rampuri, a Sikh, is gracious and composed, the quiet one. Di Francesco, an Italian Catholic and former altar boy, is the more rambunctious of the pair, full of rapid-fire detail and kinetic energy.

Their client on this day is Grace Christian Church, which has put Burnaby‘s oldest seat of worship — St. John the Divine — on the block. The reason: It’s simply too big for their needs.

The historic white wood-frame church, which Grace bought from the Anglicans several years ago, dates to 1890 and sits on 1.2 acres across from Central Park.

It’s 11,000 square feet of thick timber trusses and gothic arched windows, with a lovely cupola towering over the street front. The old wooden pews, covered in plastic sheets to protect them from an ambitious renovation, seat 500.

In the huge, high-ceilinged basement are a meeting hall, kitchen and classrooms. The whole works is being refitted and refurbished, to the tune of $600,000, including a new cedar-shake roof.

The site, which includes an aging church hall, is $4.3 million. The church alone is listed at $2.5 million.

How, exactly, does a church come to be for sale?

It’s not as unusual as you might think.

Many congregations, facing declining attendance but sitting on millions of dollars worth of real estate, will opt to sell a big property and either rebuild a smaller church elsewhere, or be absorbed into another congregation.

Sometimes, a growing church will come looking for a larger property.

“One of the reasons a church sells is because they run out of room,” says Rampuri. “And one of the reasons is because they have too much room.”

The holy realtors, who also sell houses, have specialized in Lower Mainland churches for 10 years, selling properties from $250,000 to $5 million. Such is their expertise that they often field calls from interested parties, and advice-seekers, from the U.S.

Their first church sale was a Catholic property, and it took a year to find the right buyer — it is, after all, a very specific market and often requires a time-consuming communal decision — but the business today is a vigorous one.

In fact, says Di Francesco, there are usually more prospective buyers of churches than church properties available.

“We don’t carry many at a time — it’s not like a house market — but we’re always bombarded with calls,” says Di Francesco.

A huge factor is the demographic of this region. The pair has dealt over the years with religious diversity that includes Buddhists, Sikhs, Jehovah Witnesses, Muslims, the Vietnamese, Koreans, Christians and even lesser-known congregations like The Love Society.

Mostly, the transactions are between churches, but occasionally, a church will be bought by an individual.

CREDIT: Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun

Holy Realtors Rav Rampuri (left) and Leonardo di Francesco, who specialize in selling church properties, outside one of their listings, just off Kingsway.

They sold one church to a California woman who was going to convert it to a residence. But the market was so hot, she promptly resold it to another church group.

In East Vancouver, a couple bought a small church several years ago, and live in it today, though Di Francesco says the owners have grown weary of a curious public knocking on the door asking for a tour.

Another Burnaby church sold by the partners was converted to a seniors’ care facility.

And it’s not just a Lower Mainland trend.

In Boston, according to a recent article in the U.S. publication Realty Times, the Catholic archdiocese, in financial crisis following recent sex-abuse cases, put 60 churches on the market. One has already been converted to luxury condos, featuring cathedral ceilings, original stonework and a bell tower., a website dedicated to the sale of holy land, currently has 87 religious properties looking for new owners, ranging from a “mega church” in Charlotte, N.C., which seats 2,400, has a restaurant and is going for $7.9 million, to a little charmer in Wichita, Kan. with stained-glass windows and a kindergarten, on the block for $105,000.

Across Canada, the story’s the same.

In Moose Jaw, for instance, four Anglican churches, also victims of declining attendance, were recently put on the market, including century-old St. John’s Parish, asking price $1 million. The diocese intends to build one uber church with the proceeds.

In Greenwood, N.S., the 1870s wood-frame Tremont Church is 2,200 square feet, sits on half an acre, has 14-foot ceilings, a choir loft and bell tower, and is available for $79,500.

The Unitarian Church of Edmonton has a Westmount property, with 14,000 square feet, 12 parking stalls and a Montessori daycare mortgage helper, for $465,000.

Back in Burnaby, Di Francesco and Rampuri say their latest listing will be ready for prayers by October’s end.

And, yes, there is an offer on the table, but this is the church-selling business, and there will be no confession until the deal’s done.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004


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