Selling a gîte business

Pleasant gardens surround the main house at Le Triskèle. The name is a nod to the new owners' Celtic

Pleasant gardens surround the main house at Le Triskèle. The name is a nod to the new owners' Celtic heritage and is also an ancient symbol connected with France's Celtic culture - Credit: Archant

Selling your chambres d’hôtes or gîtes can be heart-wrenching, but it need not be daunting if you do your research and are prepared, say Donna and Peter Sowerby

This lovely staircase is a striking feature of the property

This lovely staircase is a striking feature of the property - Credit: Archant

We have enjoyed 10 years of running our gîte complex in Charente-Maritime, but reluctantly have decided we need to sell up due to concerns over family health and the necessity to move closer to support those at home.

We first opened the doors of the initial two holiday cottages in May 2003 after nine months of renovation work coupled with a targeted marketing campaign. Over the years, the business grew with four cottages completed within three years. The glowing reviews on TripAdvisor encouraged business and we have excellent loyalty from our guests, with over 60% of customers returning year on year.

It was hard to make the decision to sell up, but researching the most appropriate estate agencies and independent websites was the first priority. Checking the internet for the most active agencies and up-to-date websites helped us make our selection.

Some agencies take their own photos and measurements, although we think it is essential to have your own documentation and high-quality photos taken on a bright and sunny day, so we created our own detailed portfolio. The holiday complex was listed on the market and preparing for the visits of potential buyers was vital to ensure the required information was at hand.

OPEN FOR VIEWING

In our experience, we found that prospective buyers need at least an hour on average to look around a holiday complex. This allows time for the visit, taking photos/videos and asking questions during the walk around. If the client is interested, they may need further detailed information and to spend some time discussing the business itself. Sometimes they may wish to revisit to take more photos.

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We were very pleased when Joy and Ian Bancroft arranged their visit. As purchasers, they had also done their own preparation, researching the region, the transport links and the facilities for them and their family and, obviously, checking out the holiday cottage website. They were impressed and quickly confirmed their viewing appointment.

Their own specification for a property included a classic main residence with original features along with quality guest accommodation. In addition, they were looking for a turnkey business, something Joy could develop and take on as her own project.

On their one and only visit to the property they recognised the potential and the prospect of making their own mark on the business. They already owned another property in France and saw this as an opportunity to package together the holiday homes in Charente-Maritime and Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

SMOOTH MOVES

The sale was completed within two months, due to the good level of communication throughout the negotiation period. In addition, we engaged the services of a translator and advisor to check through various official documents, and were grateful for his suggestions and advice to both parties on financial and legal issues, such as the complex inheritance laws and the French equivalent of capital gains tax. It is worth seeking advice to help you if your French is not quite up to the legal jargon.

The greatest piece of advice is to check, recheck and then check again! It is important to take the time to look for those very simple errors, as you would not want anything to prevent the sale on the day of signing.

Further attention is necessary for businesses offering extras such as the domain name and website as part of the sale, and there can be a few legal loopholes to get through. Early on, you should inform the notaire of these as there may be a need for further investigation. We found that issues relating to the domain name and website ownership can be a little complex and if you are working with a web design company they should be able to assist.

As the vendor you need to provide a variety of documents for the notaire. Your agent will guide you on the most up-to-date information, as the laws are changing regularly.

ALL IN THE DETAIL

We also found it helpful to have a detailed meeting at the property shortly prior to the final signing. With a business like ours, it is vital to ensure the buyers understand the little idiosyncrasies of their purchase. For us, this included the following:

• A detailed file of local contacts who know your property with addresses, phone numbers and emails. This included plumbers, gas engineers, electricians, translators, cleaners, tourism contacts, accountants – and don’t forget the neighbours, too.

• Possible holiday accommodation advertisers including the local tourist board and French Property News, of course!

• Other local accommodation providers for networking purposes.

• Village information including the maire’s details and the opening times of the mairie; rubbish collection days; arrival times of the mobile bakery and other services into the village; dates of the local festivals and events; bus and train timetables... the list goes on.

• Location of all the meters for water, gas, electricity and any other service you may provide, along with the central contact or emergency telephone numbers.

With everything in place, all information shared and checked, the date of signing should go smoothly. For the new owners it is exciting but equally as overwhelming to take over an up-and-running business. With a good handover, this transition can be smooth with the new hosts feeling confident to take on the business and add their own unique selling points.

To present the new proprietors to the guests, it may be a good idea for the vendors to send an email to their database introducing them. This is a kind of endorsement and a chance to add their new contact information, website and perhaps even a promotional offer.

We are delighted to pass over our beloved business to such an enthusiastic couple. Guests have really enjoyed spending time at these holiday cottages over the years and our motto has always been ‘the place where treasured memories last forever’.

Now it is the two of us who will take away many, many wonderful memories of this journey, and look back with great affection.