Running a bed and breakfast in your own home is the stuff of dreams for many of us but it is hard work – and the graft starts with choosing the right property and converting it from a house into a business with home comforts. The Association of Relocation Professionals – they find homes for would-be buyers, negotiate prices and supervise all aspects of the move – says its members have seen a surge in people wanting to set up small, rural bed and breakfast operations.
“Some do it to get out of the city and enjoy a lifestyle change. Others may lose an income, so turn to running a B&B to get extra money. There’s a clear move to this in the recession,” says David Weston, chairman of the Bed and Breakfast Association and a B&B owner in Dorset.
Bella Alexander and her husband Chris recently set up Hormond House, a three-room B&B in their house at Polruan in south Cornwall. “The area’s good for a B&B with a long summer tourist season, then weekend visitors and walkers at other times. The village houses are small so we also get business from locals when their families visit,” explains Bella. “When we bought the house we made sure we could convert the ‘middle floor’ to hold the three B&B bedrooms and became almost self-contained. The visitors have their own entrance and apart from breakfast they don’t enter our private area,” she says. At first, the three B&B rooms shared one communal bathroom, but Bella soon realised this was not tenable. “We reconfigured the rooms to give each an en suite, and that’s increased business a lot,” she explains.
As with all B&Bs, hers features a host of minor facilities rarely found in normal homes – a huge cooker for those big breakfasts, extractor fans in all bathrooms and loos, and fire extinguishers and fire blankets as well as health and safety signs.
More challenging is converting a 16th-century listed building to modern B&B standards, but that is what Bobby and Sarah Llewellyn did when they moved from Tooting in south London to take over The Old Rectory at Hopton in Norfolk.
“We had a blank canvas to modernise the house – within listed guidelines – so we did so with B&B in mind. Most hygiene and fire safety laws are just common sense but there are some things that are difficult,” admits Bobby, a former insurance broker. “For example, Americans love staying in a 16th-century property but they want 21st-century plumbing – that’s difficult, although we’ve done what we can. En suite bathrooms are a must these days and we’ve got that. King-size beds are standard,” he says.
Property selection and presentation is a key factor in many of the burgeoning B&B training courses now available for newcomers. “The wow factor is important – a house must look pretty at first sight, as a marketing tool for people who see it on a website,” explains Alison Davies, who holds courses on behalf of the University of the West of England at her own B&B in Hereford.
“One thing many starters forget is to organise the house with private space for themselves. I’ve seen people living in the basement in summer because they don’t have a separate sitting room.” Her other expert tip is to check that a house you have chosen does not have a covenant forbidding it from being used for any commercial purpose.
If it isn’t obvious from all of this, B&Bs are big business these days. The Bed and Breakfast Association says the sector now boasts one-third of the number of beds available in fully fledged hotels, and B&B visitors pay £1.7bn a year for those duvets and full English breakfasts.
Large family homes for sale now routinely include details saying if they are suitable for conversion to a B&B. “It used to be rare but now many agents get visitors wanting these kinds of properties,” says a spokesman for the National Association of Estate Agents. Buyers clearly are not deterred by the need for careful conversion, not to mention the bureaucracy involved in annual fire and hygiene checks, and running a business at least partly dependent on the vagaries of the British weather.
“It’s good for family life, provides a decent income and it’s satisfying,” says Alexander. “And it also allows us to live in a great house in a wonderful part of the country.”
B&Bchecklist How to convert your house
All the legislation you need to be familiar with is listed on www.pinkbooklet.co.uk. As far as the property goes, there are six key rules:
1. Choose the right location. Check with tourist authorities on visitor numbers and business groups about continuous trade from colleges or firms nearby.
2. Choose the right property. Calculate the number of bedrooms and level of occupancy required to break even.
3. Check conversion rights. Before buying, ask local planners if the council will support change of use from a house to a B&B. Speak with the neighbours, too.
4. Convert well. You must at least upgradebedrooms, probably fit en suitesand install a larger cooker and extractor fans. Fit alarms, fire doors, extinguishers and fire blankets, and make the garden a smart low-maintenance landscaped area.
5. Equip well. Customers expect a small fridge in rooms plus cable or satellite TV, king-size beds, and furniturewhich is smart but durable
6. Budget well. And plan for signage on the front (within council rules, which can be strict) and inside your new B&B.