Golden rules for rentals

French property rental expert Sarah Bing gives you tips on transforming your property purchase into a successful letting business

Purchasing a property for a holiday let is an exciting investment opportunity which, with the right considerations, can provide a welcome holiday retreat for the family to be enjoyed for generations and pay financial rewards to help with the running and upkeep of a second home abroad.

France, in particular, is a natural destination in which to build a home from home, as one of the most accessible countries from the UK, and offers a range of properties from country bolt-holes amid a sea of vineyards, to city apartments, perfect for weekends away.

Whether you’re expanding your portfolio or thinking of setting up for the first time, there are a few golden rules to consider, helping ensure your property investment is an enjoyable, hassle-free and lucrative one.

Firstly, consider your property investment as a business plan – properties in less popular areas are cheaper to buy, however this will impact on the potential long-term rental value. Location, location, location really is the biggest selling point for customers. Proximity to the sea in coastal resorts and properties within walking distance of a restaurant or a renowned town or village centre are the most successful holiday lets, where holidaymakers can sample la France profonde.

Every region of France has its own sense of character, charm and tourist appeal, so wherever your property is located remember the basics. Firstly impressions count, so avoid your customers getting lost after a long journey by ensuring that the directions to the property are correct and that your property is well lit at night.

Secondly, consider the type and size of your property. Properties of all sizes have the potential to offer a good return, however it is important to provide adequate facilities for the party size you are aiming at. Properties sleeping six or more guests should have at least two bathrooms while a mixture of double and twin-bedded rooms works best. Avoid bunk beds as this is likely to restrict your bookings to families during the school holidays.

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It may be of little surprise that the properties that make the best investment are detached cottages and villas with character, particularly those with a private swimming pool, garden or a sauna/Jacuzzi. It is best to avoid any property with a pond or those where the only water source is a well as this will need to be tested on an annual basis and is expensive. Apartments work best if they are located in popular resorts such as Cannes or cities such as Paris and have a separate bedroom – not a studio apartment. Kerb appeal is vital and properties with characteristics of their region such as Normandy’s half-timbered houses or with attractive, interesting and quirky architecture will help you stand out from the crowd. Windmills, ch�teaux and properties with links to historical events will always let well.

Style and decoration should be sympathetic to your property and subtlety is key – keep the look simple but use good-quality finishings in keeping with the property’s age, location and character. Expensive, colour co-ordinated decor isn’t to everyone’s taste, will date quickly and is unlikely to generate enough additional income to justify the expense. Both the kitchen and bathroom are the most important rooms to get right; these should be tiled, well decorated and with hotel-standard fixtures and fittings and good quality appliances. Keeping it simple makes cleaning and maintaining it on changeover days much easier.

While your property investment is intended to provide ongoing revenue, holidaymakers are put off by hidden extra costs, so the provision of linen, towels, fuel and power within the rental price should be offered as standard, although a payable supplement is possible in the winter months.

The average British holidaymaker staying in a holiday let in France is happy to pay for a premium product but needs to receive value for money in return. People are used to living in well-equipped homes and the same applies when they are on holiday. Flat-screen televisions, entertainment systems, internet connection, plus the more basic requirements such as a dishwasher and washing machine are simple additions that can really make a difference to your booking figures.

The short break market continues to grow as an increasing number of tourists take advantage of long weekends and off-peak discounts as a cheaper alternative to the traditional week-long summer holiday. Making your property available all year round, and for short breaks, will instantly provide uplift in bookings by embracing this type of customer, but don’t forget to keep the property adequately heated during colder months. An open fire may sound romantic but this should be supplementary for aesthetics rather than as the only heating source. AGAs and solid fuel systems are also complicated and require a significant supply of fuel. Keeping your property well insulated will appeal to a greener holidaymaker with the added benefit of being cheaper to run.

If you don’t live in France then the services of a local caretaker are paramount. This should be someone you can trust to look after your property in your absence but can also deal with your guests, clean the property ready for their arrival, meet and greet and act as a point of contact. A visitors’ book is an excellent way to get feedback from guests, while a folder with lots of information on the running of the house, emergency numbers and contact details of the caretaker and yourself is a good idea.

You can enjoy an excellent rental income from simple, less luxurious properties however standards for safety and cleanliness remain every bit as high as those that command higher weekly rates. Cleanliness is king so it is important to factor in costs for a reliable cleaner to your maintenance budget. In addition you must budget for taxes, insurance, repairs and fuel, as well as your own time. The running, upkeep and safety of swimming pools and gardens can also be costly and it is vital to bear these in mind.

If you’d rather not go it alone, partnering with a reputable agency can provide you with personal support, advice on legislation and pricing, and arm you with local expertise for the area in which your property is based. LF

Sarah Bing is a regional manager for The Hoseasons Group. She has been based in Pas-de-Calais for the past nine years where she owns and runs two properties as holiday lets.