House Hunter: 'We want a dream property in France'

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Anne Pope writes: "My partner and I have been thinking hard about moving permanently to France and would like some advice about turning our dreams into reality.

THE PROBLEM

Anne Pope writes: "My partner and I have been thinking hard about moving permanently to France and would like some advice about turning our dreams into reality.

We have two young children and are finding life in the UK stressful and expensive. We would like to enjoy life more with our children while they are young rather than spending most of our lives working flat out just to pay the mortgage. We live in a small house and are desperately in need of more space yet don't want to take on an even larger mortgage than the one we currently have. Moving to a cheaper area doesn't really appeal either so perhaps we should do something more drastic and try France?

If we could buy a larger property we are wondering if it may be possible to do bed and breakfast or run gîtes. This could hopefully give us some income while we try to find other work. We would like to be fairly near a largish town in order to give ourselves the best chance of employment and we would also need to be near local schools for when our children reach that stage.

We would like to find somewhere where there are other British people but definitely don't want to be somewhere which is saturated with other people like ourselves! We would also like to buy in a relatively up-and-coming area where we would eventually make money on our property, and of course we want as much sunshine as possible.

We would like an older-style property which we can do up ourselves again to make sure that we make money on it. Please give us suggestions on area and what kind of budget we would need."

THE ADVICE

"It's difficult to advise without knowing exactly how much money they have, as we often find that clients may not have enough cash to buy a property large enough for their plans. Also, sometimes it can be a case of just wanting to get away from things rather than making a positive decision to move, so examining motivation is crucial.

I'd say that this couple need t least £250,000 and they need cash rather than take on a mortgage, which would be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. For guaranteed sun, they need to look in the Charente and southwards.

Another crucial question is do they speak French? If not they need to enrol themselves and their children in French lessons immediately. I never really understand the concern about "being near local schools" as everywhere has a local school nearby or a school bus.

For this couple I'd suggest that buying in an area which is already established as a tourist area is vital. They need to be somewhere which has arrived rather than is "up-and-coming" as they can't afford to wait. Buying a property which could serve as a bed and breakfast would also be better than buying a large property to use as gîtes, which tend to be more expensive. Running chambres d'hôtes (bed and breakfast) is harder work as you rent by the night, so there is more frequent linen changing as well as being responsible for providing meals, but the profits are greater and it may also be worth buying a property which is already established as a bed and breakfast. You are legally allowed to let up to five rooms without having to comply with all sorts of requirements.

Here are three properties which could all be used as bed and breakfast; our associated company Leisure & Land specialises in all kinds of commercial and leisure properties such as these."

Penny Zoldan is the director of Latitudes French Property Agents: 020-8951 5155; www.latitudes.co.uk

All properties through Latitudes and Leisure & Land: 020-8952 5252; www.leisureandland.co.uk

THE SOLUTION

Property one: "Maison de Maitre" near La Rochelle

Price: €480,000 (£319,000)

Agent's details: A spacious property with manageable garden bordered by the canal, which runs through the village. This beautiful house would be ideal for chambres d'hôtes. It has a lovely big entrance hall with original floor tiles, lounge with fireplace, spacious dining-room with fitted-kitchen area, courtyard, utility room/summer room, kitchen and shower room. There is a vast attic, six bedrooms and bathroom. There is also a detached outbuilding which has been completely renewed plus garaging for four cars with room above, workshop area to rear and an excellent wine store.

Property two: 19th-century château in the Comminges area, Haute-Garonne

Price: £504,640

Agent's details: Spacious property with outbuildings and pool set in 3.5 acres of enclosed land. The property would be ideal for use as chambres d'hôtes and the interior and exterior are in good condition. The 1,000sq metres of living space is made up of entrance hall, kitchen, scullery, storeroom, laundry room, four bedrooms, study, games room, wc, and boiler room. The first floor also has a kitchen, utility room, dining-room, lounge, study, billiards room, bedroom with en suite bathroom and on the second floor there are seven en suite bedrooms plus a whole converted attic floor.

Property three: Period farmhouse near l'Aire sur l'Adour, Landes

Price: €514,000 (£342,000)

Agent's details: Currently run as a 3* chambres d'hôtes, this house has a pool and is set within 8,000 square metres of land, one hour from the coast and with easy access to skiing. The exquisitely renovated 350-year-old property has beamed ceilings, open fireplaces and terracotta floors. The private accommodation is made up of a divided reception room/dining/study area with tiled floor and staircase to a gallery used as a sleeping area. There is a balconied library, plus kitchen, utility room, wc and boiler room with door to courtyard and gallery. A separate entrance leads to another gallery, plus three en suite guest suites. Externally, there is a courtyard with pool, whirpool bathtub and shower plus a barn used for parking.

THE VERDICT

"These properties all sound wonderful and we particularly like the idea of buying an existing business such as property number three, which is also around the budget we had in mind. We understand that the accounts for this business are available and these could help us gauge how much we could expect to make from this kind of business. We also like the idea of buying somewhere which has a good climate yet which has access to skiing too as this could lengthen our season for taking in guests. We take on board the advice about taking French lessons. Our French isn't great, but we hope to learn quickly and would definitely send the children to local French schools which we know would be the best way of learning the language."

If you would like House Hunter's help, write to House Hunter, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail with full details: househunter@independent.co.uk

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