Reality check: what’s it really like to run a gîte in France?
- Credit: Archant
Is running a gîte in France an easy and effective way to provide an income, or is it not quite as simple as it might seem? Catherine Cooper shares her own experiences and speaks to four fellow gîte owners to find out what they have learnt along the way
With large period properties with land being relatively cheap in France, running a gîte can seem like the ideal way of generating some income to help fund your new life in France. After all, you don't need any specific experience and in theory you don't even need to be able to speak the language. And while it can be a lucrative and rewarding way to earn money, it's important to do your research and go into it with your eyes open.
Figures suggest that there are upwards of half a million gîtes and chambre d'hôtes in France as more and more people decide to set themselves up as holiday accommodation providers. And while France remains a popular holiday destination for travellers from all over the world (as well as within France, of course), there are plenty of things you should consider when deciding whether running a gîte is for you. We fell into running a gîte almost by accident. When we moved to France in 2009, one end of our newly purchased Ariège farmhouse was especially derelict and needed to be made watertight at the very least before it fell down. We figured that once the roof had been fixed and the windows made weatherproof, it made sense to also renovate the inside and let it out as a gîte to help pay for the renovation costs. Knowing almost nothing about the system and with no experience in hospitality, we took the easier route of asking our accountant to do the preliminary set up for tax, took some pictures and started advertising on established holiday rental websites. A few weeks later, bookings started coming in and by the end of the first season, we had some great reviews.
We have learned many lessons along the way, for example, following guest feedback we installed a washing machine, and generally find guests are unlikely to complain about much unless the WiFi goes down. We've installed a pool, trampoline, swings and a ping-pong table to appeal to families and are generally fully booked for the whole of July and August. Out of season we reduce our prices, meter the heating and tend to have people stay who are renting for several months at a time. Over all, it works very well.
FOCUS ON: FAMILIES
Some people find it helps to have a specialism for their gîtes. For example, Marion Autrum runs Domaine de la Dolce, a small gîte complex in Lot. She has chosen to let her three gîtes only to families with children under 12.
"I've really tried to think about what will make holidays easier for parents of young children - I provide all the equipment they need such as bottle warmers, breastfeeding cushions and a baby backpack for walks - plus there's a large play room and a shaded outdoor playground. The pool is always heated to 30 degrees and guests can order some shopping and a freshly made quiche from the market for their arrival if they'd like to avoid having to traipse round the supermarket after a long journey with tired children!"
FOCUS ON: LOCATION
"I moved in 2014 when the gîte was still a stable so I knew it was going to be some time until it was ready to let! So I had a think about what I could do ahead of time and decided to set up a website and start writing about the area. I think people tend to start by thinking about where they want to go on holiday or what they want to do or see while they are there, and then find accommodation that suits. So for me it makes sense to promote the area and make sure people have plenty of information about what is in the vicinity of the gîte. Some people like to plan ahead so I also send them information in advance of their holiday. I make sure that there are brochures and leaflets about the area in the gîte and I also ask people if I can help with any local information when I do my meet and greet."
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FOCUS ON: FLEXIBILITY
It can be useful to be flexible in your planning and try not to be too fixed in your ideas about how things are going to go - especially if you are renovating. Jane and Martin Appel took on a large renovation project in Bergerac in 2009.
"We initially planned to create three holiday rentals and a pool barn with a total capacity of 13 to 14 - six in the former farmhouse and two smaller gîtes. In time and through a series of sometimes testing circumstances, this ended up as a cottage for three, a barn conversion for four and no pool! We started to rethink when an expert advised us that we were nearing the number of guests that would take us over a threshold which would necessitate stricter accessibility and safety provision. Then we had a major problem with our swimming pool installer so opened the two gîtes without a pool. To our surprise, they let extremely well. We're now entering our sixth year and have abandoned any plans for a pool. We have had many happy customers at Le Clos du Verger, as well as a few challenging ones. We live on site and sometimes block time out of the gîtes to give ourselves a breather. We manage it by ourselves so can be flexible when it comes to changeover days. The smaller groups suit us very well - we aim for a quietly relaxing environment. The beauty of gîtes is that you can make them work to suit you."
FOCUS ON: BEING REALISTIC
It's also important to be able to take the rough with the smooth and remember that if you're going to be a hands-on gîte manager, it can be hard - albeit rewarding - work. Becky Slack and her husband Dennis Bridges opened La Petite Maison in Dordogne last year. Becky also runs workshops to help gîte owners promote their properties using Facebook.
"The main advice I would give to prospective gîte owners is not to underestimate how much work is involved with all the cleaning, changeovers and generally making sure everything runs smoothly! It all takes time - especially in a period building. You clean, turn your back and the spiders and cobwebs seem to come back in an instant. We advertise via the usual main websites and I also spend quite a lot of time updating our Facebook page. Many owners don't realise that you can't treat your gîte's Facebook page like a listing on Airbnb - it's more like a conversation."
For chambres d'hôtes and gîtes for sale visit francepropertyshop.com
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