Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Happy guests and guests we are not happy with

As I've mentioned before when talking about Gite Advertising we advertise our holiday home on RentalSystems which operates on a pay per booking (i.e. commission basis). Here's our RentalSystems advert if you're interested.

We receive a few bookings from RentalSystems each year, last year it was 5, this year it's two so far, and one of those has just completed their holiday with us, staying in the Gite for the February half-term week.

One of the advantages of the RentalSystems process is that the customers are asked afterwards to provide a review of the property, what they thought about it, whether it represented value for money, it's location, etc. Depending on the replies given the more popular properties are shown higher up in their search engine listings, and as I (the property owner) can only reply or comment on guest reviews and not edit them in any way it gives rentors more comfort to read what other customers have said.

Anyway, we received a very nice review from Mr & Mrs Jackson
An excellent gite in Brittany. It was clean, spacious, well equipped, (Particularly for children with plenty games, toys, mega drive and outside play equipment.). We arrived in February with cool weather but extensive central heating meant it was very warm inside. In the evening, sky tv was a bonus! The gite was in a very quiet area but not isolated. Easy secure off road parking was appreciated. A great find! Highly recommended.

Hope we'll see them again soon.

On the other hand I also received an email from our agent this week telling me of guests that I was less happy to hear about.

As you know our French Holiday Home is a quite large L shaped building with the shorter bit of the L being the 3-bedroom house that we currently rent out and the longer "wing" of the L being my 'future project'. In time it will become one or two separate three bedroom Gites but right now it's basically a vacant shell which I'm part way through converting, and I've written here before about some of the Renovations and building work so far like new windows, plumbing, septic tank and plasterboarding.

As well as storing all my tools and all the spare furniture for our Gite in we also use the other house to store all the family's clothes in (so we don't have to take much over when we go and stay ourselves), and we keep all the spare bedding, towels and stuff like that.

Cherril (our agent) dropped me an email in the week to tell me that we've got mice in the second house that have made their home in one of the bedrooms, have eaten some of the dried food we've left over there, have doubtless eaten the spare bars of soap as well (does anyone know why mice eat soap - do they like the taste or do they just like blowing bubbles at each other), and they've also left little mice 'messages' (i.e. droppings) on our clothes!

I've asked Cherril to put down some more of the special food we keep for them (i.e. poison) and it looks like we'll have to be doing a fair bit of washing whilst we are over there at Easter.

So some guests we like staying with us and some guests we don't !

PS: I must just stress though that there is absolutely no mice in the main Gite at all. There's less gaps in the walls for a start and we do keep poison down behind the cupboards to make sure.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Top tips for buying in France

I read in The Times today and also online an article on all you need to know about buying in France.

The Times give a top-ten things you should know when you buy in France.

Comparing the Times' advice against my own experiences:

1. Do your homework
Nope, I kind of went with it on a whim. We looked over an enormous area in Brittany and Normandy in an intensive week seeking 22 properties of which only two we liked.

2. Know your budget
Not really. I had an idea how much I wanted to spend and then ended up spending a bit more than that!

3. Euro mortgages
Not a worry for me as I took out a second mortgage on my UK house.

4. Keep an open mind
Sagely advice given to ignore the French interior design taste and look at the property's potential rather than the amount of furniture in the room. We definitely saw some awful houses and had a bit of this as the previous owners of our French house had crammed the living room, even putting a sofa across the fireplace so you couldn't use the open fire at all ! There was a nice taste in pink and purple paint in a couple of the bedrooms but overall we didn't have too much of a redecorating problem compared to some of the places I saw ...

5. The Right Agent
It's suggested that you should look round different agents as you can often find the same house on with different agents at different prices. I have to say the agent we used (Franck) was excellent, he spoke reasonable English and he and the rest of his agency Bretagnes Proprietes) was really helpful in guiding us through the purchase process.

6. How the sale works
The purchase process in France is quite different from that in the UK, when you sign the Compromis de Vente (agreement to buy) you are then legally obliged to buy the property at the said price (and equally the sellers are obliged to sell to you). No problems of gazumping but equally you have to make sure any suspension (get out) clauses are written into the Compromis de Vente if you can't get a mortgage for example.

7. Lost in translation
Ensure you get all documents translated or use a translater if you're if at all unsure. I have to admit I made extensive use of Google Translate to ensure I understood the contract we were signing. Probably not best advice but it worked for me!

8. Watch the extra costs
Unfortunately in France you as the purchaser pay pretty much all of the costs, legal, taxes, estate agent, etc. The only fees the seller pays are for the lead and asbestos surveys. Budget on 15% of the sale price (on top).

9. Inheritance rules
A really complex area in France. I know of property sales that have got caught up with the multiplicity of sellers descendants that have to approve the deal and equally if you're divorced, have children from a previous relationship, not married, a same-sex couple, etc you need to take specialist legal advice as the French inheritance rules apply to your French purchase and you could well end up not being able to pass your French boudoir on to your loved ones.

10. Think ahead
Property prices are not rising as much in France as in the UK so don't spend money un-necessarily on reburbishments as you might not get your money back. My strategy is to invest the rent from the Gite in enhancements each year so we end up with a better quality holiday home without significant personal outlay.
So far we've had a new patio laid, regravelled one of the drives, installed a new septic tank and second gravel driveway, and put new windows and plastering in the second house. See the Renovations postings on this blog for more details.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

French Entree - performance over last year and 2009 renewal request

French Entree - Holiday Rentals

Yesterday I mentioned that French Entree have kindly been continuing to send me booking enquiries for the last year despite the end of my free French Entree advertising trial which I didn't renew back in February 2008.

Well in my mailbox has arrived another request to renew with French Entree and in light of the predicted forthcoming "tough year for French holiday home owners" I'm being offered a special deal of "just £45 (approx. 50 Euros) to advertise all year on FrenchEntrée and on their sister site".

On the face of it this is a good deal as the published 2008 advertising rate for French Entree was £139; which was then discounted down by 30% to £97 if I renewed by the end of February 2008.

Looking back on French Entree's performance, I can see from my mailbox that they have sent me 14 enquiries over the last year - a pretty good result when compared to other Gite advertising sites.
But when I drill into these 14 enquiries a bit more I noticed that 3 of these were scam bookings (all with 00 225 Ivory Coast telephone numbers), 8 booking enquiries were for peak July and August weeks (which we can and do easily sell anyway), and the other 3 enquiries were for other weeks in June and September 2008 that had already been booked.

Thus we didn't get any bookings as a result of our French Entree advert last year.

So all in all despite the good rate of enquiries I don't think I will be renewing again with FE. Unfortunately I'm just not getting enough booking enquiries that wouldn't otherwise be received such as low season or short break bookings from them to justify the expenditure.


Monday, February 09, 2009

Nearly got caught out by a spam booking

I'm usually pretty good at spotting Scam Gite bookings which usually just "smell wrong" like the "Honeymoon" booking request I received summer last year.

The other week I have to admit that I very nearly got caught out by one that came through from French Entree (who are still happily sending me booking enquiries a year after I didn't renew my trial advert with them!)

Here's the enquiry I received:
Name: Olivier Jean
Tel: 00225 66 XX XX XX
Rental from : 15/02/2009
Rental to : 15/04/2009
Number of weeks : 8

The Enquiry:

Hello dear one,

I am interested in renting your house for a period of 2 months if possible and starting from 15/02/2009 to 15/04/2009 . please i will be happy to know if there is disponibility of the house, i will like to also know the total price of my bill incase the room is available for the mentioned date above.

Your faithfully,

Jean Olivier.

Tel: 00225 66 XX XX XX.

I have to admit being slightly ill at ease by the slightly odd phrase "disponibility of the house", but after Googling for these words I couldn't find it'd been quoted by any other Gite owners so concluded that it was probably just poor English by Olivier Jean (whoever he/she is).

Unfortunately I couldn't support these dates as we've got some other Gite guests staying in February and we're there ourselves in April, so I was part way through writing an apologetic email to the enquirer when for some reason I went back and looked at the enquiry again.

Maybe it was a sixth-sense or maybe it was the "i will like to" phrase that caused me to re-look at the enquiry, and in particular to check out the telephone number used.

Another Google search brought me to a list of international dialling codes which I searched for dialling code 225, and voila my concerns were realised as I found that 00 225 corresponded to Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast).

Definitely some kind of African scam booking attempt so I've ignored the enquiry and won't be replying (and thus opening up my mailbox to even more junk).

My top-tip therefore is to always check and double-check any unusual booking requests (long durations, short notice, etc) - search for unusual enquiry terms and names on Google, email addresses "look right" and not from a disposable email provider (so no, and also double-check any telephone numbers given. If in doubt, don't answer.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Credit card refund for unused SpeedFerries tickets

Back in November I first blogged on SpeedFerries going into administration and the unused advance-purchase tickets I had that were now worthless. At the time a number of kind blog readers suggested that I put in a claim to my credit card company under the consumer credit act for the value of the tickets that SpeedFerries would not be honouring.

In December I reported that I'd put a claim in, and then in January I received details of the administrators proposals to windup SpeedFerries and also wrote about details of the administrators advice to other creditors to make a credit card claim.

Well it's all been quiet since I sent my disputed transaction claim in to the credit card company back in December, but yesterday my patience was rewarded as I received a letter from Asda card services telling me that they had passed my dispute onto SpeedFerries and had credited my card account with £205 - the value of the unused tickets.

So hopefully that's it and I'm at least not out of pocket after SpeedFerries failure.

Do please pass on a comment about your experiences of claiming for unused tickets if if you've been affected by SpeedFerries failure.