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How to set up a gîte business

If you ask people who have already done it, they say it’s the simplest thing since boiling an egg

WITH more than 43,000 property owners already inside the Gîtes de France network, providing 56,000 holiday homes, it has obviously been easy enough for thousands to get going, so what are your first steps?

You will already have checked whether your property is attractive enough to draw in holiday-makers and thought about marketing, etc, but the first few steps to setting up your gîte are surprisingly easy.

First, visit your mairie and let them know what you are planning, as there are hygiene and safety obligations. Although this may seem obvious advice in France, many people ignore it when starting up and it is difficult to rectify later.

In addition, last December the government passed tourism legislation making it compulsory to register a meublé de tourisme with the mairie, an offence punishable by a fine of up to €450.

You should get a form Déclaration en mairie de location d’un meublé de tourisme to fill in. The two-page A4 form asks for basic identification details, the size and capacity of the gîte and when you plan to rent it out. You should get the second récépissé page back, with the mairie stamp.

Some mairies in tourist areas demand a taxe de séjour, which is intended to boost tourist facilities in the community. It is set by the mairie, but by law can only be between €0.20 and €1.50 per adult per day. Children under 12 do not pay.

The mairie may also put you in contact with the Direction départementale de l'equipement, which may run checks on safety.

The size of the operation you will be running is the deciding factor for whether you need to tangle with with French bureaucracy. It will also determine whether you are going to apply for any grants that are available. The conseil général will have information and, in certain areas, the conseil régional, too, but they will demand that the business keep going for up to 10 years.

One thing some owners have forgotten is insurance: you should get assurance responsabilité civiles tous risques. However, this will not cover any damage caused by a visitor. The tenant is responsible for any damage caused and it is recommended you insist visitors coming from abroad have travel insurance.

If you do not expect to make more than €23,000 a year and the gîte income is less than 50 per cent of your total household income, there is no need to register as a business or sign at the Chambre de Commerce. This also means you do not need to pay social charges.

If you expect to make a living out of your gîte, think again. The average annual income for the 43,000 gîte-owners in France is about €10,400 per gîte, and that includes many people who have several gîtes.

Generally, rural gîtes will be rented out for about a third of the year and the income can vary from an average across France of just over €400 in the high season to €280 out of season. These are average figures: in some strong tourist areas, high-season rental income can be double.

If you do make a success of it and make a decent amount of money, you will have to think about new business and fiscal regimes.

If your turnover goes above €23,000 a year, you must register at the Chambre de Commerce. You can set up as a Micro-BIC (bénéfices industriels et commerciaux), which has an upper limit on turnover of €76,300, but also comes with allowances of 71 per cent of costs associated with the gîtes.

Gîtes de France says it gets about 2,500 new rural gîtes a year and the average investment is e58,400.

While there is no legal definition of a gîte rurale, Gîtes de France see them as rural homes that can host a family holiday or for weekends.

Fitting into their environment, they are houses or stand-alone buildings with outside space, and should have what a family would need for its stay.

Expats who have bought a house with a couple of outbuildings that could be turned into holiday properties often see them as an ideal way of making some money. However, some areas have become overloaded with gîtes.

Here you need something to make your gîte stand out; whether it is something simple like a hammock, barbecue, boules court or access to woods, or something more expensive such as a swimming pool (make sure you abide by the safety rules).

Marketing is the key and the image you put across to the customer is what attracts them to come and stay.

A website is essential, either your own that of groups such as Gîtes de France, which you pay to join. You can check how popular the sites are by doing a Google search (just as your customer would) and find the highest ranked sites.

You should also contact your local tourist office to be put on to their local listings – charges will vary – but you may also get on their accommodation website for the area.

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