A nice little earner

If you don’t use your French property in the winter months, it could pay for itself and more as a long-term rental, writes Steve Hill...

If you are fortunate enough to own a property in France then the possibility of obtaining several months’ rental income from it, when it would otherwise be sitting empty, would be, as Del Boy might say, a nice little earner.

These are difficult economic times, with low interest rates on investments and the euro crisis putting a squeeze on income. A typical six-month rental could generate an income of �3,000 to �6,000 and there are plenty of people from all parts of the world wanting long-term rentals in France.

But how can you ensure that you get a good tenant who will be a happy tenant, pay all the rent and bills on time, and adhere to your house rules and terms and conditions?

People who rent long term do so for a variety of reasons. Some are househunters, some need accommodation for a number of months while they are having a house built or renovated. There are a good number from far afield – the USA and Australia for example – who want an extended break in what for them are faraway climes. The case study that accompanies this article summarises one tenant’s reasons and experience.

TICK LIST

To try and ensure you get a good tenant, take some time to draw up a checklist. In fact, do two! List all the things you want to know about the tenant, and compile a list of all matters concerning the potential letting of your property so that nothing is left to chance.

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Find out why they want to take a long rental and, if they have done so before, you could ask for a reference from a previous landlord. Ascertain the number of people who will be in their party. If they are expecting visitors, check how many and how long they might stay. Do the tenants speak French? Do they know the local climate (it’s no good them complaining to you that your part of France is colder in winter than they expected). Do they have pets? If you do accept tenants with pets, make sure you check just what they have and how many. You may be amenable to the idea of a tenant with one small cat or dog, but not half a dozen large dogs with muddy paws who shed hair everywhere.

And if you, the owners, are non-smokers, don’t just assume that your tenants are as well. Many tenants volunteer the information that they are non-smokers which is bonus to most owners but do check as the odour of six months of Gauloises in your living room may be an unwelcome surprise.

FACE TO FACE

If you can meet your prospective tenants prior to agreeing a firm booking, this is a major advantage. You will then be able to gauge whether you think they will be the kind of tenants you want. Also, it is strongly advisable for the tenant to view the property prior to booking.

Of course, this is not possible in every circumstance and especially not for those who cannot hop on a ferry or cheap flight to check out some properties in advance.

Renters from the other side of the world sometimes take a few weeks in France to inspect potential rental properties for a long-term rental the following year, so if enquirers can visit the property, do encourage them to do so, as it would be a pain for all concerned if, once they were installed, they discovered that it was unsuitable for their needs and had to cancel at short notice.

RENTAL AGREEMENT

Prepare a checklist of what to tell the prospective tenant. These are the kinds of thing to build into a contrat de location, the rental agreement. Obviously the monthly rent is likely to be the first item, so agree this with them and the dates when payment is due. Some tenants may prefer to pay a few months in advance or in three-month lump sums, for example, so be prepared to negotiate a bit if this is the case. You can also take the equivalent of one month’s rent as a d�p�t de garantie (security deposit).

Next, make sure you have an itemised list of all the extras the tenant should expect. In most cases, the tenant will pay separately for utilities such as electricity, water, gas or telephone. Make it clear how and when you want these to be paid, and take meter readings on arrival and departure.

If you have oil or LPG heating then you should check the level in the tank with your tenant on arrival, and arrange for them to fill to the same level on departure (or you could supply a full tank for them and they leave you a full tank).

If you have a garden that requires attention and maintenance, discuss this with your tenant so it is clear who will be responsible; if it is to be the tenant, do ensure your lawnmower is in working order and that there is an adequate supply of garden tools.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

You should also put yourself in the tenants’ shoes for a while and consider just what they should be expecting. It should go without saying that the property should be spotlessly clean and tidy. Any household appliances must be in full working order and serviced where applicable. You don’t want a tenant phoning to say that the central-heating boiler keeps cutting out or that the washing machine doesn’t work. Quite simply, the better appointed the property is, and the better presented, the better tenant you are likely to get. A television and internet connection are major plus points for many long-term tenants.

If the house has been empty for a while, make sure it is aired before their arrival and arrange for the heating to be on for a couple of days before to make it more welcoming. If you have an open fire, a small supply of logs is a nice touch.

At the end of the day, you want an amicable relationship with your tenants. By following a few simple steps, you should at least be able to satisfy yourself that they will be the tenants you want and by ensuring that your home is well presented and in sound working order, your good tenant should also be a happy tenant. The case history (right) started as a one-year booking and ended up as three years, before the owner sold, which just goes to show what can be achieved.

Steve Hill runs French Locations, specialists in long-term rentals throughout France

Tel: 01275 856691

www.french-locations.co.uk