In for the long haul

If you are finding it tricky to sell your home in france, a long-term tenant could be the short-term solution, says Steve Hill

Can’t sell? Is the short-term answer long-term rental? It appears that the French property market is continuing to favour buyers. One hears a few whispers of green shoots’ but there are many British owners of property in France who have had their houses on the market for some time.

Difficult times to say the least, with capital tied up in real estate, which is costly to run and not generating any income. There isn’t a magic solution but for some owners, not all, finding a temporary tenant for a few months will help produce some regular income in the interim.

This will not suit everybody. Some properties will just not be right for long-term rental. However, the market for long-term rentals remains pretty vibrant, so in most cases this could be the answer.

Most French nationals who rent are looking for long, unfurnished lets of three years or more, and this will not be particularly attractive to UK owners. However, long-term renters come from all parts of the globe and the majority don’t want anything like a three-year lease.

Typically, a tenant from the UK or elsewhere might be looking for six to 12 months, though a good number want shorter periods of say three to six months. These could be ideal for making a bit of income from the property while the market is quiet.

A typical three- to four-bed cottage or farmhouse might make anything from �500 to �1,000 per month depending on its facilities, d�cor, locations and other factors. You would also normally expect a tenant to agree to pay utilities such as gas, water and electricity for the duration of their tenancy.

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If this is of interest, there are a few things for the owner to consider prior to jumping into the rental market. Stand back and take a look at the property from an objective viewpoint. Is it really suitable for long-term rental? If you are selling, you would expect most buyers to make changes to it and update to meet their needs, but a tenant will expect it to be just right.

Working order

There may be things that you just put up with but that tenants would expect to be sorted out. We all have a list of things we promise ourselves we will get round to fixing one day. If you are renting the property out, get them fixed!

A dripping tap, a creaky door, a wall that needs a lick of paint; these are simple things that should be addressed if you seriously want a tenant. Ensure that all the household equipment is in good working order and the boiler serviced.

A prospective tenant will probably only view the property once and a first impression will be a lasting impression so make sure it’s a good one. It goes without saying that the property should be spring-cleaned whatever the time of year and immaculately tidy. It could make the difference between a booking of potentially several thousand pounds, and an empty house.

The other side of the coin is that any prospective tenant should want to make a good impression on you. I would be wary of anyone phoning or emailing who does not want to view the property in advance and wants to move in next Monday.

If you are handing over your keys for a number of months, you need to be as sure as you can that they will be good, responsible tenants. Be ready to answer any questions about the house, its running costs, and also about the neighbourhood.

Conversely, do check as best you can that your renters are genuine, and will be the kind of tenants you want. In any case, you should set out all the terms and conditions, including any house rules, in a tenancy agreement – a contrat de location. This need not be difficult but it will set out the detail of the rental, the duration of the let, the monthly rent payable, and listing those utilities for which the tenant will be responsible.

One thing to consider is that the market may pick up, the trickle of potential buyers may suddenly increase and you have a six-month tenancy in place. However, an upturn on such a scale still seems a way off and, also, the sales process will take some time; this is just a risk to be weighed up.

Happy evolution

In some cases, a tenancy will evolve into something different from the original intention, which may well suit both owner and tenant in the long run. One tenant initially booked six months, extended by a further six, then a second year and now a third year. Neither party had considered this an option when they started but everybody is happy.

So there we are, a few thoughts that might be of help to the many owners out there who are sitting tight with a desirable property on the market but no sign of a buyer. There are people from the UK who want to test the water for a while to see if they like living in France before buying and many others just taking a few months sabbatical. There are also others from many other countries: USA, Canada, Australia and mainland Europe.

You might have just what they are looking for, for a few months. One final thought: you might let your property to someone who likes it so much that they end up buying it; you wouldn’t be the first. n

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

Tel: 01275 856691

Case study

Alison Smith and her partner have a lovely old three-bed cottage in a quiet backwater in south-west France. They have owned it for about 12 years and have enjoyed many holidays there, sometimes on their own, sometimes with their grown-up children.

It’s not a typical holiday cottage but is a comfy small family home with a fair-sized but manageable garden. A few years ago, for a combination of reasons, they decided to try and sell the property.

Alison takes up the story: “At first there was quite a bit of interest, not floods, but a fairly steady number of possible buyers. The house was not right for some of them but certainly a few seemed very interested in pursuing things. But then, as the recession bit deeper everything went quiet.

“We had never even considered renting the property; it was our second home. We hadn’t even really gone into the holiday market though I’m sure it would have been quite popular. Friends and family had it for the odd week or two for holidays but that was all.”

The house then sat empty for long periods. The owners didn’t visit that often and there were no buyers in the pipeline. Alison continues: “We had never thought about putting the property up for rental before even though some friends do so with their property and always seem to get a good booking of six months or so through the winter.

“So we decided that, as there were no buyers around, we should go for it, and listed our property with French Locations who our friends are also listed with. It was a steep learning curve but really interesting. We had people enquiring from all over the place, not just England, and you have to sort out which might be the most suitable.

“We definitely didn’t want smokers but were happy with pets, as long as there were no more than two cats or dogs, and they were well behaved and not noisy. We decided not to let for more than six months in the first instance to give ourselves some breathing space in case the market picked up.

“Several enquiries weren’t suitable as they wanted a year or more but there were plenty seeking shorter periods. We were advised by friends, and by French Locations, to effectively interview’ anyone seriously interested in booking and sure enough there were a number who fitted the bill.

“In the end we took a booking from a charming retired couple from the UK who simply wanted a six-month break. They didn’t want to buy in France but know most regions and just fancied a longer stay in our neck of the woods.

“We agreed a reasonable rent, they paid a security deposit and cover the utility bills while they are there. It’s ideal really. We set it all down in a French tenancy agreement with the help of French Locations. A friend of a friend has now shown some interest in buying the house so it looks like it might all have worked out for the best and we are really pleased we decided to let the property for six months.”