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Get it right with your gîte

Sally Stone, founder of Les Bons Voisins property management network, answers readers' questions

Sally Stone, founder of Les Bons Voisins property management network, answers readers' questions

How easy is it to turn a second home into a commercially successful gîte to rent out?

Many of the clients whose holiday homes we look after have asked the same question as they try to recover some of the costs of their holiday home by letting it out commercially.

Depending on how your property is presented, and furnished, the exercise could be quite easy or require a big investment – and some emotional turmoil.

All holiday home owners love their properties, but many furnish them with surplus items from their main home ... right down to bedding and curtains, not all of which are really suitable when trying to let.

You may love the ancient sofa and faded curtains which were wonderful quality in their day, but are now not shabby chic, just shabby.

It is essential that you think quite differently and view the property through the eyes of a potential paying guest.

DIY tools need to be locked away, as do any precious ornaments or items of sentimental value, while, at the same time, the property needs to be “dressed” attractively, right down to cushions, curtains, bed linen and kitchen equipment.

My top tip: make sure there is a dishwasher.

Holiday makers – even those loving rural France – do not want to manage with fewer mod cons than they have at home, so even if you think they should be getting away from it all, modern kitchen appliances, satellite TV and internet
access can make the difference between being passed over or being chosen for a holiday destination.

What initial advice would you give to someone wanting to set up in business in France?

You need to get it right, so I hope you are doing your research in advance of moving here; the foundation of a successful business is hugely important but largely unseen.

Condensing advice on this huge subject is difficult, but my top tips, having assisted 47 businesses to start up in France under Les Bons Voisins, are these:

Do not rely on UK qualifications being accepted in France, so research that carefully if you want to use your current skill – you may well find that you cannot.

Locate yourself at least on the fringe of a community; you may crave isolation but it doesn't help your essential networking.

If you can stroll to the nearest bar to chat, that is enormously advantageous and, trust me, is actually part of your business requirement that’s not hard.

Work out to whom you are going to sell your product or services; relying on the resident expats to pay for a service can lead to tears, as many people living here full-time are watching their euros and may not be able to afford what you provide.

Realise that French language skill is part of your business and work at that prior to arrival; that alone would be my very top tip.

Last but not least, find a good accountant; ask around for local recommendations because poor financial advice can have a long-lasting effect on your business.

My mother is 74. How easy would it be for her to move France when we come over here as a family to live next summer?

Family issues are a vital part of deciding to live in another country, whether you leave them behind or bring them with you, or indeed they follow later.

A couple of things to bear in mind: in terms of the time it takes to visit your mother, you may be no further away here than if you lived at a distance from her in the UK. Bringing her with you, assuming she has no French, is a huge
responsibility.

You might be her only window on the world, which is a huge strain on the family. If she became very ill and needed hospital care, she may be frightened as well, when she cannot understand what is being said.
On balance, surround her with care in the UK, put things in place so she has contact with people (loneliness in old age is the worst thing of all) and even if this means subsidising the situation financially, it would be better for you all.

A daily phone call and regular visits – often rather than particularly lengthy – is a much better solution for you all.

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