Peak-season renting

Mary Hall looks at the option of moving out and letting your main home in France during peak season to boost your annual income

In these difficult times, some owners are struggling to meet the costs of owning their French home. Selling up isn’t easy, and indeed it’s not the road everyone wants to take, so how can you keep the ‘toit’ over your ‘t�te’?

Many of us live in desirable properties in popular areas, and one way to realise some income is to do as many French do: move out and let your property in the peak holiday season. Forget the less valuable shoulder months, aim for the peak weeks, usually mid-July to mid-August (or the appropriate key weeks in winter sports areas). This will maximise your income for the shortest period of inconvenience.

The same applies if you own your French property as a holiday home. If you let it for the peak weeks, you should be able to generate enough income to pay for some, if not all, of the running costs of the property. If you choose the right dates to let, you’ll still have plenty of weeks to use for your own holidays.

De-clutter your life

As it’s a property you live in either full- or part-time, you’ll have some de-cluttering and tidying-up of your personal effects to do before you let. A deep-clean won’t go amiss either! French friends of mine reckon these chores are a good thing; keeping the house in tip-top condition and making them de-junk their lives.

The next question is, of course, where do you go if you’ve let your main home? Around this area there seem to be three preferred options: visiting far-flung grannies and friends, going away in the caravan/campervan or staying on a local low-key campsite. One canny couple park their caravan behind a cleverly planted hedge in a corner of their extensive grounds, complete with satellite TV and WiFi access from their main house! They have no need to pay anyone to check the pool or run the changeover, and they don’t miss their normal social life. They admit it’s hard not having access to their pool on a hot day, but the income benefit far outweighs the inconvenience.

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Two elderly couples we met in the Auvergne a few years ago had really got their summers sussed. They let out their seaside homes in the Vend�e while the ladies enjoyed their annual cures thermales for rheumatism. Their treatment prescriptions also included allowances for travel, accommodation and board. By staying at the spa’s caravan site rather than a hotel, the four of them enjoyed an all-expenses-paid holiday, with an income from back home!

Offering one or two bedrooms on a B&B basis may work for some owners and you don’t have to stay open all year round. Check the rates and facilities of existing local B&Bs, either through their websites or at the local tourist office, and do some sums to see if it would work for you. However, you can’t just stick a sign up and hope for guests. This is France so there are, of course, administrative hoops to jump through, especially if you wish to offer evening meals. You’ll find informal advice on websites such as www.laymyhat.com but you’ll need to check the current regulations with the appropriate authorities.

If you welcome paying guests to your property, as either a g�te or a B&B, there will, of course, be tax implications to consider. To minimise your exposure to tax and France’s baffling social charges, known as ‘cotisations’, you need to do your research and take advice if you’re worried.

Many owners enjoy visits by family and friends to their French home, and wouldn’t want to let it out and miss seeing everyone. After several years of this, however, the constant stream of visitors and the cost can be overwhelming. Retired couples typically suffer the burden of poor rates of return on their savings. The interest no longer covers the taxe fonci�re, whereas their offspring are enjoying low mortgage rates. Downsizing in the current market may not be feasible, and with the changes in ‘plus value’ taxation of second homes things aren’t going to get any better in the short term. It’s time to take stock.

Some families find it hard to discuss financial matters, but needs must. Your offspring can see that your shutters need painting, but they probably don’t think about how much it would cost to pay someone to do it – or that you’re finding it harder to do such jobs as you get older.

All hands on deck

If your children, or visitors, tend to be lazy you need to be proactive. Be specific, aim to achieve certain goals but don’t moan. Tell them what jobs need doing. It won’t do them any harm and in small doses they’ll probably enjoy it. Similarly, if you let friends borrow your holiday home for next to nothing, make sure they know what is expected of them in return. One house we look after is occupied by a steady stream of the owners’ chums, all of whom contribute to the property’s upkeep in return for a low-cost holiday. There’s always a ‘boys only’ week at the beginning and end of the summer when the heavy work is done, in between cycle rides out to lunch and umpteen games of tennis.

The one thing they don’t touch is the pool, other than to keep the water topped up; that’s a job for the local pool man who knows what he’s doing and won’t empty the pool by mistake. Overall the owners cover their costs, everyone has a good time and the house is well cared-for.

Mary Hall is a chartered surveyor

Tel: 0033 (0)5 65 24 66 46

hall.bureau@neuf.fr