Homes abroad: Mixing business with pleasure

A home abroad needn't just be for holidays. Laura Latham meets the buyers who snapped a new career along with a second residence
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Second homes offer the chance to escape the daily grind for a few weeks each year. Some people, however, decide to make the move abroad permanent, turning their new homes into businesses such as B&Bs and restaurants in order to fund their lifestyle – though it isn't a route you should take lightly.

Starting any new venture is risky, especially in the current climate, but it can be done. You just need to be aware that proper preparation and realistic expectations are as important as finding the right property and location.

Helen and Nigel Hunter wanted to indulge their love of winter sports and, two years ago, looked for a way to make their dream a reality. They researched the market in ski accommodation and found there was a lack of catered chalets aimed at small groups.

So they sold up in the UK and bought Chalet Chasseur, a three-bedroom property in the Swiss Alps. The chalet, which is in the resort of Les Collons, near Verbier, takes up to six guests and includes a self-contained apartment in which the couple live full-time.

Being on site allows them to offer a highly personal service, including extensive catering, airport transfers and lifts to the slopes, all of which ensures repeat bookings and recommendations. "We did well last winter," says Nigel, "the ski season lasts 15 weeks, so we aim to book 12 to 14 weeks and we're on target again this year. We've also started letting the chalet in summer and have had a decent level of interest."

The couple also owns a small export business and claim the key to a successful enterprise is to offer something extra but also to market heavily via the internet. "You need to work out what your niche is and push that," says Hunter, who adds that he doesn't have an issue with opening his home to strangers: "We bought the chalet as a business, and using it this way allows us to spend our free time skiing and snowboarding, which is our passion."

Mike Shaw Roberts had similar aims when he bought Rancho del Ferrer, a riding holiday business in southern Spain, in 2001. Shaw Roberts is a marketing consultant and used to work in the travel industry, while wife Annemarie trained racehorses, so they weren't jumping into anything totally new.

The business included several properties they renovated into holiday accommodation, and for the first few years everything went well. However, despite regular repeat bookings and several very good years, the business has suffered badly due to a combination of the credit crunch, the fall in the value of sterling and a rise in the Spanish cost of living.

"There's been a drop in bookings, plus increased costs of 40 per cent mean we can't afford the upkeep for 14 horses and have to sell them," says Shaw Roberts. "Though we're lucky because I kept my consultancy going so we have some other income."

The couple are determined to keep their Spanish home and are now considering their options, which include running less expensive holidays offering walking, painting and photography. "We live in a beautiful location and there's a lot to do here, so it's worth carrying on if we can," says Shaw Roberts. "We've learnt that to run any business you need to be adaptable and have a contingency plan in order to survive."

Chalet Chasseur: ; Rancho del Ferrer:

Setting up shop: Buyer's guide

* Research your chosen market thoroughly to see if there is demand for what you want to offer.

* Learn the language. Your customers may be British, but you'll almost certainly rely on local suppliers and services.

* Make yourself familiar with bureaucracy and tax laws applicable to your business.

* Don't rely solely on income from the business to cover your mortgage – if it goes under, you'll lose your home. Have a slush fund, if possible, to weather downturns.