For those with a French holiday home, a long winter let brings benefits, as Glynis Shaw reveals
If you let your holiday home in France during the summer months, then why not make extra income by offering long-term lets in winter? Long winter lets can run anywhere from one month to six months and are usually offered between November and March, depending partly on the region and on the local weather.
Having your property occupied during the winter months can not only generate year-round income, but bring other benefits too. Firstly, a house with people living in it is safer, more secure, warm and aired. This makes it less vulnerable to deterioration, damp and weather damage. Your tenants might even enjoy keeping the garden clean and tidy, so there’s less work for you to do to make it ready for the summer season.
WHO HIRES IN WINTER?
The market for long winter lets falls into three categories: those who want to escape bad weather, those who wish to undertake a sabbatical, and those who want to ‘try before they buy’.
Firstly, those who want to escape the British winter for the warmer southern regions of France. Some southern areas can get cold in winter, so it is important to be honest with prospective visitors – though also remind them of the longer hours of sunshine and the prospect of lunches in the warm outdoors, even if temperatures do fall at night. Such visitors need lots of local information, so make sure you provide lots of advice, with details on fetes, festivals, markets, as well as concerts, cultural events, classes for fitness and other local services. Tell them what they can do, where to eat out and where they can visit.
The second category, which generally makes up a smaller number, are those wanting to get away for a sabbatical; to write, to paint, to meditate; so if you have a property in a quiet rural or coastal location with attractive scenery, this could be a good market for you. They will, however, still need access to the amenities of a town.
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Finally, the third category, which is very active in the market for long winter lets, are families who want to emigrate and do the very sensible thing of ‘trying before they buy’. They want a real taste of French life - to enrol their children into local schools and be around to house hunt. In such cases, it pays to offer a good service by getting to know about local schools for families, making connections with estate agents for house hunters, and passing on details of French language classes.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Prices should be set at an affordable level and charged by the month (see our case study for an example). In general, the longer the let, the lower the price, so agree to the length of let and the rent to be paid during initial negotiations. It is acceptable to ask tenants for references. Make sure you take a deposit on the rent upfront, along with a returnable deposit to cover any breakages or damages, and then have rent paid monthly in advance.
To protect both parties, you will need to have a formal contract drawn up. In French law, no lease is required if the tenant has another home, but if the accommodation in France will be the tenant’s only home – albeit temporary – a lease will be required and should normally be of a year’s duration. There are ways around this with the help of a French Notaire, and such as situation does emphasise the importance of getting advice from an expert in French regulations when drawing up your contract.
The same applies to tax, as taxes are charged in France on net letting income after deduction of allowable expenses. Owners should take financial advice from a specialist in French and UK tax regulations and monitor any changes in tax law.
When it comes to utilities, make sure you charge for these on top of the agreed rent. It is best to have independent meters, so you are taking readings and charging for the exact measurement of consumption. Open fires and log burning stoves are a particularly attractive option for heating and it is acceptable to sell logs on to the tenant.
If you are concerned that a large property may be too expensive to heat and too big for the needs of winter tenants, then look at the possibility of closing off part of the house. Could your spacious four-bedroom property that is so cool in summer become a cosy two-bedroom unit, perfect for a couple, that’s economical to run in winter?
Winter tenants obviously spend more time indoors, so a comfortable lounge with squashy sofas, a well-equipped kitchen and a quality bathroom will appeal – and make sure you provide warm duvets and extra blankets in the bedrooms. Alternatively, it is acceptable to ask tenants to bring their own bedding – and some people prefer to. A tumble dryer is a further worthwhile investment, avoiding the need for damp clothes hanging in the house. You will also need to provide a good internet connection, a TV with English language channels and a collection of books, games and DVDs.
Make sure you leave a contact number with the tenant for emergencies and general queries – and make use of your summer property manager or a local person you trust to respond to emergencies. They could also check on the house and tenants unannounced on a different date each month during the tenancy.
When it comes to marketing your property, the website through which you advertise may have a section devoted to long winter lets and it’s worth being listed in these pages. Provide as much detail as you can about what’s on offer both at the property and in the area and use inviting images as selling tools to attract your winter guests.
Glynis Shaw is joint managing director of French Connections holiday rentals and property sales. www.frenchconnections.co.uk
“We make £900 a month with our winter let”
Bob and Hélène Lucy have been running long winter lets for seven years at Mas D’en Gariste, their luxuriously restored 18th century farmhouse. It is situated in a tranquil hamlet close to the chic historic market town of Thuir near Camelas in the Pyrenees Orientales department of Languedoc Roussillon, where winter weather is generally bright and mild.
“The Mediterranean coast is expensive, but this beautiful Catalan corner of France offers great value, especially in winter”, says Bob. “Our farmhouse sleeps up to eight people - it lets for £2,000 a week in high summer, but for £800-£900 a month plus utilities in winter.
“Most winter guests are older people seeking the sun or families looking to buy – and recently some British residents of Spain relocating to France. It’s good for them to see both the reality of the area in winter and the seasonal charms, such as French Christmas markets.”
Bob’s winter let period is from October to April or early May and he recommends that owners based in the UK take expert advice on legal contracts in France, protect themselves with a two or three month break clause and arrange for a local representative to make monthly unannounced visits to check on the property.
Mas D’en Gariste (100434)can be booked through www.frenchconnections.co.uk