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Owning Gîtes and Chambres D'Hotes (B&Bs) in France

A guide to owning gîtes and chambres d'hotes

Buying a property to run as a business in France

The most popular occupation for British ex-pats living in France is running gîtes or gites (holiday cottages) and chambres d'hotes (B&Bs). For many years now the idea of owning a large house to live in which is paid for by one or two smaller attached cottages, has appealed to those looking for a way of escaping the daily grind of the nine to five regime back home in Blighty. What indeed, could be better? For those who are dreaming of this lifestyle or who are about to embark upon it, here is the low-down from those who have been living it for real.

Choosing the best location for your gîtes or chambres d'hotes (B&B) in France

Property in France has long been cheaper than property in England, and in many regions of France this is still the case. So it is likely that you will find that you are able to exchange your three-bedroom semi in the UK for a much larger property in France. This is the position that Eddie and Shirley Lyster found themselves in when they began searching for their property in 2004. They began their search in the central region of the Limousin, hoping to take advantage of the cheaper property prices offered by that area. They found the countryside very beautiful and their search yielded plenty of suitable properties, but eventually they decided to rethink their choice of area, on the basis that they wanted a more Mediterranean climate both for themselves and with a view to attracting greater holiday trade.

Finding a business property in the Languedoc-Roussillon

The Lysters' initial plan was to run gîtes, and they began seeking a property with one or two outbuildings for conversion to holiday houses. They centred their search on the Carcassonne area of south-west France, looking for property in towns which offered proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, the Pyrenean Mountains and also had good travel links to the UK. They found the prices in this area were a little higher than in the Limousin, but felt that the attractions of the area, including the climate, more than made up for this. Then they found a property with potential…

From gîtes to chambres d'hotes (B&B)

At this point the Lysters had a major rethink of their plans. The property they found, two semi-detached houses standing alone on the edge of a good sized town, were infinitely better suited to conversion to chambres d'hotes than to gîtes. Shirley explained: 'It wasn't quite what we had in mind, but the opportunity was too good to miss. The location was ideal for a B&B, as the property is situated on the edge of the town of Castelnaudary, on a major road which carries all the traffic from the motorway into the town. The property consisted of two semi-detached houses standing in their own land. With the restaurants and facilities of the town only a short walk away, and views of the Pyrénées from the house and garden, it was ideally situated to catch the passing trade which is the lifeblood of the chambres d'hotes business. Also, we felt that the two houses, although semi-detached, afforded us the possibility of our own private area, which was important to us.'

Converting property into chambres d'hotes (B&B)

There was a considerable amount of work required to prepare and convert the neglected old houses into the charming B&B of the couple's dreams, and although they planned to do most of the work themselves to keep costs to a minimum, things did not always go completely according to plan! The language barrier reared its head, as it is bound to do if you are not a reasonably accomplished French speaker, and the Lysters found that they needed some expert help with certain aspects of their renovation and conversion work.

Help with settling in France

Fortunately, that help was at hand. Eddie and Shirley consulted Monica Lancaster-Gaye, whose business Ma Maison, covers all aspects of helping people settle in France, from finding suitable property to translation services, helping find a path through the complex French bureaucracy and sourcing reliable trades people. With Monica's assistance, the Lysters completed the work on their B&B, although it did take rather longer than first envisaged, as do most things in France!

Chambres d'hotes (B&B) can be hard work!

With the benefit of hindsight, now that the Villa des Roses is up and running and showing every sign of being successful, Shirley offers the following advice to those who would follow in her footsteps. 'Before you embark on a venture such as this, be sure that it really is what you want to do. It can be hard work, and as we attract mainly passing trade who stay one night only, I am constantly washing sheets and towels and cleaning rooms. Gîte owners usually only face this task once a week! Allow yourself more time than you expect to need to get things up and running too- if you are on a tight budget you may feel panic begin to set in.'

Earning potential running chambres d'hotes (B&B)

'You should also understand that this sort of business is unlikely to be your ticket to riches; we earn a decent living but I can't see us retiring to a tax haven quite yet! The work is hard, but the rewards are great as we have met some interesting and lovely people who are passing through our town for all sorts of reasons. It is a lifestyle choice really, and one with which we are very happy.' The website for the Villa des Roses is currently under construction, but Eddie and Shirley can be contacted by email: edward.lyster@wanadoo.fr.

Gîtes in the south-west of France

From the new B&B owners we turn to the voice of experience for a look at the realities of gîte ownership. Gill and Jimmy Masters bought their gîtes project in the lovely countryside just outside the beautiful old town of Mirepoix (Ariège, dept 9) some four years ago. The family moved to France having rented out their farm in the south of England, so running gîtes was something of a departure for them both. The property they chose is ideally suited to the longer term holiday trade, as it is situated in idyllic countryside and has its own fishing lake.

What facilities gîtes can offer and who they appeal to

Says Gill: 'We looked at the sort of holiday we ourselves would have chosen and tried to work towards supplying just that. Our gîtes appeal to families and couples, (there is one four bedroom house and one two bedroom one) and what we are offering is very much the French country idyll: barbecues by the lake, walking in the Pyrénées, glorious views and excellent food and wine available in nearby Mirepoix. There is definitely a family atmosphere here; we have two children and lots of animals, including chickens to supply authentic fresh French eggs! We installed a swimming pool quite early on in our renovation, as we have found that this makes a real difference to the desirability of the gîtes.'

What sort of income should you expect from running a gîte

The Masters family have found that although changeover days in gîtes can be hard work, there are many benefits to running this sort of business. 'One big advantage is that it allows you to work from home, and also you get to live in a really beautiful place which otherwise you might not be able to afford.' Gill does, however, have a cautionary word for those who are looking to be gîte owners: 'Running gîtes is a great way of life, but you should be aware that it can be a sporadic income at times. It is not always possible to finance a family from a couple of gîtes alone. We look on it as a good second income.' To find out more about Gill and Jimmy's gîtes go to: www.bordebasse.com.

Expert advice about buying property as a business in France

Monica Lancaster-Gaye of Ma Maison has the following words of wisdom for would be gîte or chambres d'hotes owners: 'It seems an obvious thing to do - buy a house in France, set up your gîte or chambres d'hotes and rent it out to cover the costs. Before you buy, research is vital, you can't do enough of it. Talk to local holiday companies to find out how much you can charge and for how many weeks in the year - you will find that you can generally charge more with a pool. The more you know about the holiday market in your chosen area, the better. Visit the local Mairie and check out other gîtes or chambres d'hotes to find out what works for them and remember you pay income tax in France on the rental income you receive.'

Location is paramount for gîtes and chambres d'hotes (B&B)

'The first thing potential buyers should decide on, is in what area they would like to set up their business - choose your location carefully. It will be the most important decision you make. Cheap property bargains are not normally in the best areas for tourism. For instance, for chambres d'hotes, visibility can be important. An attractive sign, well positioned, will help to bring in passing trade, as will extensive advertising locally, in the Tourist Office, shops & restaurants etc. And check out the competition.'

Promotion of gîtes and chambres d'hotes (B&B)

'Create a good website and advertise as much as you can - getting known is vital. It is important to check out surrounding facilities which may attract potential clients, ie: activities, sites of interest. Tailoring your gîtes or chambres d'hotes to a specific activity can also be done, i.e.: suitable for children, bird-watching holidays, cultural sorties, painting holidays etc. are some possible examples.'

Facilities your gîtes or chambres d'hotes (B&B) should provide

'Providing comfortable accommodation, ensuring furnishings are good quality and in keeping with the character of the property, clean, bright & airy, attractively decorated rooms, friendly service and some local produce to buy, will all go a long way to attract potential clients. For gîtes, think families and provide good quality cots & high chairs as well as a safe play area. Rural properties must have a pool or be within twenty minutes of the beach and don't forget the new safety regulations regarding all pools to be fenced, alarmed or covered. Other assets include a good kitchen and good bathrooms and well maintained grounds.'

What is the letting season in France
'The prime letting season is June to September. Outside this period, you can market your property for longer lets by promoting log fires, good local wines, walks etc. You can normally expect sixteen weeks letting once you are established, more after several years with repeat clients or extensive advertising. A holiday management company can manage & market your property for a fee of fifteen per cent - twenty five per cent of the rent. Finally, be realistic about how much you can earn and understand that, in general, the more you put into the project, the more you will get out.' Contact Monica at mamaison-fpm@wanadoo.fr.

The success of gîtes or chambres d'hotes (B&B) in France depends on their location
A final key word then, or more accurately three words, as so often in any kind of business or property venture is location, location, location! Although the advice given here covers various aspects of setting up and running your business, it seems once again that the success of your venture is dependant on your choice of location perhaps more than any other factor.

About the author
Joanna Simm moved to the Languedoc area of South West France in October 2004 having found her property through French Property Links.

your questions...

1. A visitor to the site asks about the registering process (added 8/12/2006)...

I have read your article and wondered if you could include any information regarding the legalities of registering a B&B or gîte as a business. Thank you.

Our reply...

Whether or not you have to register your B&B or gîte as a business depends on the department you live in in France. It depends on the number of bedrooms you have - if you have six/seven (depends on department) or more, you need to register, less than this you usually don't. Though it also depends on the number of guests you can cater for, and the amount you will earn in the year.

The first person you should see before starting up is the Maire of your town or village, who will give you permission to run your business or not, and let you know what else you need to do.

Other than this, the following websites might be useful to you, as they give further information on the registration process:

http://provence.angloinfo.com/countries/france/gite.asp

http://radio.weblogs.com/0136203/2006/06/Registering-a-Gite-Business.html

I hope this information is of use.

2. A question about water supply to gîtes (added 4/12/07)...

Hi - Is it French law that you must have mains water to rent out a gîte, we have very good well water!! Thanks in advance.

Our reply...

Thanks for contacting us. My colleague in France and I have been trying to find an answer to your question, but from what we can gather, it would seem to be up to your Maire as to which is acceptable. Though as we aren't experts in the matter, I would suggest that perhaps you contact a solicitor on this. You can use the links and/or forms on the following pages of our site:

http://www.frenchpropertylinks.com/frenchlegalservices.htm
http://www.frenchpropertylinks.com/memberscat.asp?category=LEGAL

And an update...

Thanks for getting back to me. You are right to say that it is down to the Maire. We have been told that because of the scale of project (four gîtes and two pools) the amount of water required in the summer might not be enough, just using our well. Also if there was a fire, mains water would be needed. The result is that the Maire would not give us planning permission without it.

3. Some questions about buying a hotel (added 20/5/11)...

I wonder if you can help me? We are looking at buying a hotel in our village, but understand that there are a lot of new very strict regulations coming into force now. We have seen a number of local hotels and restaurants being completely gutted and assume that it is to cater for these new regulations. Is this the case and if so, where can one find information about what the new regulations are on fire, electrics, plumbing, health and hygeine? Do you have to use an Artisan to do the work and certify it, or can my husband, who has his own microenterprise for that sort of work, do the work and certify it?

Any comments would be greatly appreciated.

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links replies...

Thanks for contacting us. However, as I am not an expert in matters such as this, I would suggest you contact the Mairie of your village to see what the latest rules and regulations are, or at least if they can't help, they should be able to point you in the right direction.

Or you could try contacting some of the builders/electricians listed on our site under our Services section to see what they know. You could also contact a legal advisor, perhaps using the following page of our site:

http://www.frenchpropertylinks.com/frenchlegalservices.htm

Regarding your husband doing the work, it might well be possible for him to do this, but again I would check with the above as it may well be different with businesses.

(My colleague Joanna in France says that currently no certificate or check is normally needed by qualified trades people when it comes to homes, though checks will probably need to be made on selling. She also says that sometimes French property buyers can be very picky and want to see work signed off by the right people for everything, while others don't seem to care. So it might affect things should you decide to eventually sell, if not now.)

4. A question about car parking regulations (added 8/12/11)...

We're hoping to set up a Chambre in Meursault, and have a chosen spot, but can't find out other than going to the Maire, whether there are any regs regarding parking facilities. Having travelled extensively in France, we've never found a town-based B&B with one space on the premises per room (and usually none anywhere near!), and have purposely kept our planning size down to five bedrooms to limit the regulation requirements.

So I'm checking up on some local advice that we need five spots for a property that just can't handle that number, as it's a game breaker. I wonder if you or your subscribers/readers can offer any help? Thanks in anticipation.

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links replies...

Thanks for contacting us. I would think the Mairie is the best place to check on parking regulations for chambres d'hotes or B&Bs, though you could also contact the Départemental du Tourisme (CDT - the departmental tourist office) in your region and department who may be able to offer advice.

5. Questions about a licence to buy a B&B and the taxes involved (added 4/10/12)...

I am looking to buy a chambre d'hote. Do you have to have a special licence from the Mairie or any other agency? I assume it's a commercial business so what tax would I pay on buying? Any other tips? Many thanks.

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links replies...

Thanks for contacting us. I would suggest you contact your Mairie to find out the answers to your questions, as I am no expert in such matters. A notaire should know about fees, or maybe you could make an appointment to see someone at the Chambre de Commerce in the prefecture?

If you are not yet in France, you could also contact a legal or tax advisor, perhaps using the following link from our site:

http://www.frenchpropertylinks.com/frenchlegalservices.htm

your comments...

1. A visitor comments on owning a gite business (added 14/10/08)...

I would like to just mention to people that you're unlikely to ever get rich on gites - we paid more out to certain bodies (URSSAF, RAM, RSI, CERfa) in 2007 (over €6,500) than we took in payments. We are right on the border of three departments (Morbihan, Ille-et-Vilaine and Loire-Atlantique) - Morbihan certainly expects you to pay into the system.

2. A visitor comments how running a B&B can help (added 25/10/13)...

We purchased two houses in a block and refurbished them and use part as a B&B. We contacted the Centre des Finances publique, Service des impots and registered with them and were put in group where we declared our takings from the B&B and deducted 71% and was assessed on the 29% for taxation. The turnover isn't massive, but is certainly helpful with my UK pension that was dramatically hit by the drop in the exchange rate.

3. If you want to try your hand at running a B&B in France - read on (added 6/12/15)...

I have been running a B&B in the Perche region of France since March of this year. I do not come from a hospitality background and neither am I retired; it is my first experience of this kind. I live on my own after leaving Paris and I wanted to share my house with holiday makers as a way of seeing some happy faces in an otherwise predominantly rural France! I also realized that this sort of activity could bring an income in an area where my main skill sets are not really called for. It has been a tremendous success so far, in the opinion of my customers because of location, design & decoration, personnel & extra services; I never thought that it would be such a success and I already have bookings for 2016. I use booking sites mainly but I also have a tremendous amount of direct interest. I offer table d'hote, as part of the overall experience.

However, for next season I would like to share the running of the house with someone else so that I can re-focus on my primary activities in design. So for those who would like to try the experience in France before taking the plunge on their own, anyone who would like to experience running a B&B property in France can contact me - I would however stress that you will need to be able bodied, full of energy & enthusiasm and most of all love people. I can share all my experience, accounts and knowledge on the subject with anyone serious about taking advantage of this experience. In terms of earnings / income, I am happy to negotiate terms and I would be open to handing over the business to the right person. Having lived in France since 2002, I have a registered business in France. However, if you would like to work here on a voluntary basis, that too would be possible. Please do get in touch.

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