20 years of FPN - Le g�te, c’est chic

G�tes have become an increasingly popular way to earn some extra income, explains Magarete Isherwood

Originally set up to encourage French farmers to convert unused farm cottages and rent them out to the French holiday market, g�tes have come a long way from the rustic farm cottage of yesteryear. Basic was almost a euphemism in those days, with few facilities on offer. At the time, the market was dominated by French owners. However, the appeal of the French countryside and more relaxed way of life led many Brits to give g�tes a go.

The French property market gathered pace from the late 1980s, helped along by magazines, exhibitions and TV programmes. Those seeking to move to France permanently and who needed to earn a living often turned to g�tes as a means to that end. As most didn’t speak enough French to find employment in France, and employment opportunities were few and far between in rural areas, g�tes proved the perfect solution for those determined to go it alone’. So the volume of g�tes available to rent grew steadily throughout the 1990s.

With more competition between g�te owners, standards of accommodation have risen and holidaymakers now expect a pool, satellite TV, washing machine, dishwasher and microwave as standard. This is in addition to a well-presented, stylish living space. Most recently, broadband internet access is also being offered at some g�tes but some owners are resisting this move, arguing that the whole point of a relaxing country holiday is to switch off from technology (although they use it themselves to get bookings!).

Money makers Rental rates have not risen incrementally, as competition has kept them at a reasonable level. For example, a three-bed cottage with pool that I rented out in 1992 cost �650 per week in high season. I now rent out a slightly larger three-bed cottage, also with pool, in the same area for �690 per week.

Despite the competition, I continued to observe rising British interest in g�te complexes all through the 1990s and into the noughties, reaching a peak about five years ago. Since then, there have been fears of a saturated’ g�te market. As I tell my clients, there’s no denying that there is competition out there but it’s still possible to set up a successful g�te business, you just have to be creative.

Granted, gone are the days of reclining in a deckchair while handing over a key as holidaymakers arrived. These days, the season is hard work, but the good ones survive and the best ones make a decent living from it.

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In the early noughties, I spent so much time discussing the pros and cons of purchasing a g�te complex in France with clients, that I set up a course. How to buy and manage a g�te complex in France’ ran happily for about three years, catering for 20-25 people at a time. Each case being different, some went on to buy a g�te complex, some didn’t.

Some are now re-selling. Those interested in buying now are always curious to know why g�te owners are selling on. It’s for all the usual reasons: retirement, bereavement, divorce, ill heath, ageing or sick relatives back in UK, or simply because, five to 10 years down the line, people fancy a change.

Of all the g�te owners with whom I’m in contact (quite a few!), not one is selling because they didn’t like running a g�te business. No doubt, there are a few cases where it didn’t work out, or they couldn’t quite make ends meet. Sometimes there was a (large) mortgage to fund on top of living costs, others underestimated their supplementary income.

Those who have made a success of it (and I know of many g�te complexes that are run very successfully) have done so by buying wisely in the first place – not stretching themselves too far financially – as well as presenting their property well and getting the marketing right. Coupled with that is a flair for thinking outside the box to attract out-ofseason visitors with specialist facilities, activities or courses or by targeting particular groups e.g. families with toddlers, fishermen, cyclists, painters or honeymooners etc.

And what about g�te property prices over the years? Well, these too rose steadily from the early 1990s. There were cases of g�te owners re-selling after five to six years for double what they had paid for their property, having built up a good rental turnover and made improvements.

In today’s market, those g�te owners who are re-selling have had to be much more reasonable with their asking prices. Some have been reduced quite dramatically by around €100,000 but this shows that they were probably over-priced in the first place.

Margarete Isherwood, Jacwood Estates French Properties Tel: 01926 883714 www.jacwoodestates.co.uk