The three Rs of running a gite in France
If you are keen to set up a holiday home for rental in France, bear in mind the three Rs - renovation, refurbishment and running costs.
One of the lovely things about buying a property in France is that it is incredibly easy to find a home that comes along with another building, be it a barn, large shed or simply a separate little house, on the same property.
This makes it possible for you to set up a gite that is perfectly achievable as long as you follow the below guidelines.
Plan this realistically and realise at the outset that some things will need to be done in what may seem to be a strange order. There are some tasks which are tempting to start on because they quickly show results or doing them may be something you really like doing – but you have to work first on the things which take longest to “mature” and prioritise those. Landscaping is the most obvious one. Think about buying small plants and bulbs which will flourish year after year - they will provide you with the framework of your garden.
As far as hiring artisans goes, a local will know the best artisans to use and what you should expect to pay for work done. Always get a proper quotation or devis. This will protect you in the future should anything go awry. When I was doing my own property up in the lovely little village of Montjoi, Tarn et Garonne, I hired an excellent local builder recommended by a neighbour and was greatly impressed not only with his workmanship but his reliability (yes he turned up every day on time!).
You will need to make sure you have enough resources in place to cover the building work that needs doing. Also, if you are not going to be in the area throughout the restoration you may need to have some sort of project management to ensure work on your property does not slip down the priority ladder in the artisan’s diary, hence delaying completion on your gite.
TOP TIP: If you are doing the whole thing on your own, be wary of contacting too many artisans in the area. I would advise getting three quotes and making your decision quickly so you don’t leave people hanging on. This can cause resentment and irritation to people that you may need at a later date.
You need to be clear about what you want. Do you envisage your gite being your permanent home or at least staying in the family in the future? Or is it your intention to sell it after a few years? That knowledge may impact your decision as to what materials are used: the quality of the fitted kitchen for example and whether you pick tiles that are “on offer” and not those that are the exact shade of duck egg blue you adore.
The key to good renovation and subsequent refurbishment is for the gite to be appropriate for its use. For instance, paint the walls, don’t worry about wallpaper. If you are doing up bathrooms choose white as it always looks fresh.
When it comes to equipping your gite, keep in mind plain and simple china and cutlery – again stick to white for your plates and dishes, it always works! Plain glasses are fine, forget about those pretty ones you saw with blue stems which will be less easy to match - breakages are bound to happen.
So from the kettle down to the bathmat, think simple and very clean looking. You need to walk a careful line between inexpensive and cheap and nasty!
TOP TIP: Even if you inherit some weird colours in the bathroom, don’t discount white tile paint – it works wonders!
Here you need to think “truly welcoming but appropriate”. You can either spend money on a local caretaker who will personally welcome your guests and explain the local area or leave a really excellent “welcome pack” that covers all the things you yourself would wish to know about. A nice bottle of wine (this need not cost much in France) put on the table with a personally written welcome note from you and a small vase of flowers works wonders.
Consider who you will employ to look after your gite. It is easier to appoint one person to take care of the changeovers, cleaning and laundry and arrange key exchange etc. Check locally; ask your neighbours, you can often find people that way.
The most obvious expenses are the changeovers, general maintenance of your gite and advertising. Ideally, you should repaint your main rooms every six to nine months. Bed linen will need renewing every three years and wine glasses tend to get lost or broken so work in a budget for replacing such items as these.
TOP TIP: Don’t worry about providing towels: they get abused and quickly become scruffy and decent ones cost quite a lot. Most people are relaxed about bringing their own towels provided you supply the bed linen. This way you will be able to afford really decent sheets!
The initial cash outlay for setting up your gite may come as quite a shock. Remember you ideally need two sets of bedding for each bed and a fully equipped kitchen. Think also about decent garden furniture, a TV and DVD player, maybe internet access: the list can seem endless. But a well equipped gite will stand you in excellent stead for future bookings for business people who want to stay connected while on holiday.
To sum up, here is my very own quick “DO” and “DON’T” list for making a success of your gite business.
• Give yourself enough time to prepare
• Get someone local with a good reputation to help you and to be there when you are not
• Think of the order in which you need to plan things at the outset
• Decorate your gite in an appropriately clean and fresh way
• Work on your marketing/advertising and make sure it is accurate and welcoming
• Think “French”: simple, elegant and classic
• Try to rush things
• Fill your gite with cast offs which don’t quite “fit the bill”
• Make it too fussy so it is difficult to care for and clean
• Make your garden too labour intensive: again, simple is the key. Hanging baskets are a favourite of mine although they do need watering every day!
• Underestimate the standard your gite needs to be to get noticed and booked
Alexis Goldberg / Expatica
The article has been reprinted with the permission of The Overseas Guides Company on February 2010. To get your FREE France Buying Guide newsletter or to purchase a full version of the France Buying Guide, click here.
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