The gîte market is going strong in Charente, so if you’re looking for both a home and a business then you might want to focus your search here, explains James Rolt
At the peak of the French property buying boom of the early 2000s, one of the most common criteria for clients looking for homes in our region was the existence of, or indeed the possibility of creating, gîtes for rental purposes.
The idea of being able to generate an income from running a business from home while also enjoying the lifestyle offered by the Poitou-Charentes region has always been very attractive.
However, when the wheels came off the world economy and the pound dropped against the euro, what was left was an over-supply of rental properties and a shortage of holidaymakers to fill them. As with all businesses, the good ones survived and those that had been poorly designed and run were forced to close.
This certainly reflected in our clients’ property searches too – between 2007 and 2011 we saw a marked decrease in clients looking for this type of property as the whole gîte business idea became a bit clichéd.
What has been interesting, however, is that for the last two years there has been a surge in interest for both existing gîte businesses and properties that could be made into them after some renovation work.
Some of this has been driven by the fact that the price of properties with gîtes has fallen significantly over the last six years. Today this means that existing gîte businesses can be bought at very reasonable prices, bearing in mind the income that they can generate.
The styles of property range from houses that have just one gîte or annexe – often bought by clients who have another main form of income, such as a pension, and who are looking to supplement this income – to huge complexes with numerous self-catering units. These tend to be purchased by clients who want to relocate and generate a main source of income for themselves.
One good example of the latter can be seen in the case of Mark and Sarah, who have decided to give up their successful careers in London to buy and run a gîte complex close to the market town of Ruffec. The property includes a main house, four gîtes, swimming pool, outbuildings and over a hectare of land. This business has been up and running for over 10 years and is always fully booked in the summer. Mark and Sarah are now looking to capitalise on opportunities throughout the year, including great deals on long winter lets.
Like many of our clients, Mark and Sarah have fallen for the outdoors lifestyle, space and tranquillity that this well-connected region of France has to offer. Although they know that they will probably never earn the same kind of money as they did in the UK (an average four-unit gîte complex with pool typically turns over around €35,000pa), the change of pace and the ability to spend time with their young son as he grows up makes it all worthwhile.
Their decision to relocate to this area to run a tourist-based business seems to be a good one. Regional statistics show that there has been a large increase in tourism in the northern part of Charente over the last few years. This means that more and more holidaymakers are coming to this region to enjoy its sunny climate, lovely rolling landscapes, and the wealth of picturesque medieval towns and villages, not to mention its proliferation of rivers, lakes and streams.
Speaking to local owners of gîtes, it appears as if occupancy levels in this area of Charente in 2013 were as high as they have ever been, with many reporting a longer season of rentals as well as a high level of bookings for the 2014 summer season already.
With a well-presented two-bedroom gîte in the area renting for between €600 and €700 per week in the summer months, and four-bedroom properties with swimming pools renting for anywhere up to €1,500 per week, this is clearly good news for our clients who, like Mark and Sarah, are thinking of swapping their hectic lives in the UK to run a business over here in France.
Working in a tourism-based industry has many advantages for people coming to live in France. If their language skills are not yet quite up to the task of working in a French-speaking environment, it allows them to set up a business with a predominantly English-speaking clientele while at the same time accessing important things such as the French health and welfare system.
It also allows couples and families to work together from home, thus enabling them to enjoy much more free and quality time together. It is certainly a less hands-on business than a bed and breakfast, although according to local gîte owners the old perception that a Saturday changeover is all that is required is far from the truth.
Holidaymakers may be coming to Charente in greater numbers, but their expectations are rising too. Many of them require help and assistance with things such as recommendations for activities and restaurant bookings.
What is also more apparent is that successful gîte owners in our area are going even further to entice and satisfy their clients. Some of the many variations of this include running restaurants and cafés from within the gîte complex, or offering activities such as bike tours and farm visits. Catering for young families is very much an up-and-coming sector in this area too, with owners providing absolutely everything that parents with babies and young children would need throughout their whole stay.
So, for those clients interested in the prospect of running one or numerous gîtes, the big decision often boils down to the choice between buying a property that is up and running and ready to go, or buying a property that, with work, has the potential to become a business in the future.
Whichever option you choose, it is clear that holidaymakers are crying out for well-presented gîtes that reflect the traditional character of this part of France. Sandstone walls, lovely oak beams andbeautiful gardens and pools overlooking sunflower fields are what clients are looking for.
Whether you would like to renovate a property or buy an existing gîte business, the great news is that such properties in this lovely area of northern Charente are available to buy at attractive prices.
Perhaps 2014 will be the year you make the big step that couples such as Mark and Sarah have made in 2013. This could be the time you finally make that long-awaited, life-changing move to live and work in this beautiful region of France.
James Rolt is a director of estate agency Compagnie Immobilière Charentaise, based in Ruffec
Tel: 0033 (0)5 45 30 35 31