In the past twenty years or so, thousands of people from Britain, the Netherlands, and many other countries – even Australia or the USA – have taken the plunge, and moved to France – for retirement, early retirement or to find a slower pace of life in a rural area. And for many, either before coming, or once arrived, the idea of earning a little money on the side – or even earning a living income – through the opening of holiday accommodation, has seemed an exciting or interesting challenge to be taken up.
Some have been successful, others less so; and for some, the whole venture has quickly turned to disaster. As with most projects – specially those where a certain amount of serious investment is required, opening and running a gite or a group of gites calls in varying degrees for resources, a certain vision, an ability to work with local contractors, a fair degree of self-sufficiency, and plenty of determination to make things work.
Buying a B&B or a gite
For the person thinking of moving to France, there are two ways to acquire a gite or potential gite; one is to acquire a rural property that is big enough to divide into more than one unit of accommodation – and run a gite that is essentially an extension of the owner’s own accommodation. The other is to acquire a group of cottages or houses that can be used as multiple gites – the owner living in one of the units, or close by. And in either case, there is the possibility of buying an already-operating gites business, or starting from scratch.
Renovating and equipping a property as a B&B or a gite
This can be done on the cheap; but it’s not the best way to create a gite or gites that bring in the visitors – unless the rental prices are very cheap too. Gites come in all shapes and sizes, from the small and rudimentary (less common these days) to the utterly luxurious; but by far the majority lie in the middle – rural accommodation that is able to match the expectations of holidaymakers.
Most visitors are looking for a certain degree of comfort, even luxury – which means that gites are best renovated and equipped with a certain degree of good quality. Besides, quality equipment and furniture tend to be more robust than the cheaper stuff, and so will last longer and wear better. It means more investment upfront, but normally better value for the owner in the long run. It is vital not to underestimate the cost of renovating even a “livable” rural property as a gite, and equipping it to the standard that visitors are going to expect for the price you ask.
Running a gite / gites as a profitable venture is not easy, if the intention is to ensure a healthy return on the capital investment – unless the gite is in the league of exclusive luxury properties. On the other hand, if the capital investment can be largely disregarded – which is something that individuals can do, but not companies – then running a gite or gites as a means of ensuring a certain income is less of a challenge.
There are plenty of enterprising gite-owners in France who have done a lot of the renovation work themselves; but renovating a gite can require a good range of skills, not to mention a lot of time, and the complexity and scope of the task should not be underestimated. Any major work will almost certainly need to done by professionals, and their services may be essential when it comes to making sure that renovation work complies with today’s building standards, and safety standards, notably with regard to electric installations, swimming pools, ventilation, and so on.
The situation is far less complicated for properties that are already in basic working order, but need a superficial makeover to render them clean and attractive for potential guests.
Here are our top tips for setting up a gite or a B&B in France
1 – Location, Location, Location. The location must be appropriate for both your personal choice of lifestyle and for running a B&B.
2- Research the region thoroughly. Visit and get detailed information on other B&B businesses. Listen to everyone’s stories and advice, and weigh them against your dreams and desires.
3- Make use of official information available from the local tourism department and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Don’t purchase on impulse!
4- Don’t make your choice only on the basis of ‘Oh, what a beautiful property’, but on objective criteria.
5- Carry out thorough market research on the overall area and workout:
- a) What market will you target: families / couples, overnight or holiday stay?
- b) What are the local attractions?
- c) How long is the letting season?
6- Prepare a realistic business plan. Seek professional help (local accountant, Chamber of Commerce, tourist board).
7- When purchasing a property to turn into a B&B, work closely with your estate agent, architect, local builder and mairie to budget for renovation costs. Never lose sight of quality and value for money. It’s a competitive marketplace.