House Hunter: 'We want to start a gite from scratch'

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THE PROBLEM

THE PROBLEM

Anne and Roy Bearne write: "We are in our early fifties and have recently decided to sell up in the UK and move abroad to France where we have spent many holidays. Our daughter and son in law are also coming with us; they have one small daughter, so there will be three generations of us and we are all hoping for a more relaxed lifestyle.

"We all own property in the UK that we plan on selling, and hope that together we will have the money to buy a small business over there which could support us all.

"We haven't really thought about exactly what we hope to do but some ideas so far include perhaps running a small hotel, or bed and breakfast type place. We've heard that gites are very popular over there so perhaps this might be a good idea or maybe we could run a small campsite as we've enjoyed many camping holidays over the years and know what makes a successful camping holiday. The four of us adults can all work on whatever business we decide to run and hopefully this would ensure that we make a go of it.

"Unfortunately, none of us speak French although I'm sure that we'll all pick it up once we're over there. We are not particularly fixed on location but somewhere warm would be nice. We would like advice on how to go about finding a business venture or large enough property to turn into something commercial and would like some idea of what we can expect to pay.

"We quite like the idea of starting something up from scratch ourselves rather than buying into an existing business. We think that this will be a cheaper way of doing it."

THE ADVICE

Richard Edds replies: "This is a fairly classic enquiry for us and, to be honest, around 80 per cent of them never happen. This is the sort of thing that people often try out of desperation and if we suspect that this is the case we try to put them off - we've got to be kind to France!

"For the serious buyer, though, our website contains very detailed information. We are search agents working solely on behalf of buyers who want agricultural or commercial property in France and specialise in the sale of vineyards, working farms, campsites, hotels, gites, equestrian centres, chateaux and all forms of leisure projects.

"Leisure is one of the safest investments for people looking for a change of lifestyle and income; however, knowledge of French and some management experience is essential. The main factor in buying any business is finance, and our role is to ensure that clients have sufficient resources to buy, improve and live on any business they buy.

"To maintain a reasonable standard of living from a campsite or small hotel, we suggest a minimum investment of about £350,000. If four adults need to live off the income, this needs to increase. It's a very competitive market and if you're only spending that amount, there are many people out there trying to do the same, whereas if you spend £1 million you're in a different league to most.

"We also recommend buying an established business with a known turnover. It's easier to improve than create a project from scratch but so many people want to keep money back, spend the bare minimum and try to do somewhere up, but there's a lot more to it than just renovating a few bathrooms.

"My advice is to borrow up to your maximum limit. French banks will only lend if they see that a business has a good track record and a real chance of viability.

"As for what route this family should go down, they may have a chance if they have marketing and catering experience between them. But they must buy somewhere that is big enough for everyone to have their own space and where everyone can have a role.

"I've seen more divorces than I care to remember in the running of hotels. The gites market is saturated unless you target a specific clientele such as painting or language, and B&Bs are only good for supplementing income. Four or five units are needed for a reasonable income."

Richard Edds is the director of Leisure and Land: 020-8952 5152, www.leisureandland.com

THE SOLUTION

Property one: Hotel in Luberon, Provence.

Price: £849,714.

Agent's details: This nine bedroom-hotel is in an elevated position, with exceptional views of the Luberon and valley. Built in 1990, it has 378sqm of living space. Outbuildings include two wash rooms, machine room, garage and cellar. The grounds contain pine trees and lavender and the property lies just two minutes from a charming Provençal village.

Property two: Three-star chateau and gourmet restaurant, Dordogne.

Price: £736,223

Agent's details: Set in three hectares of landscaped garden with unrestricted views in the heart of the Perigord. Dating from the 18th century, the hotel is made up of two chateaux connected on first and second floors. The dining room has 58 covers, offices and a professional kitchen. Outbuildings include a linen room, stables and apartments. The entire property is being sold furnished. Accounts are available.

Property three: Renovated chambres d'hôtes and gites complex, Drome

Price: £487,574

Agent's details: Renovated chambres d'hôtes in more than 12 hectares. The south-facing maison de maître, built in 1810, is used as private accommodation and has four bedrooms. The annexes and outbuildings have 30 beds. There is a pool, covered eating area and terrace.

THE VERDICT

"We've now looked on the website and found out an awful lot more about how to find and run a successful business in France. We realise that perhaps we are not being as businesslike as we could be about this, and are determined to find out everything we can to make it work. There are some fantastic looking businesses on the website but many are out of our league financially. The idea of borrowing up to our limit is frightening as we'd hoped to get away from debts and large mortgages which we have in the UK, but what Richard says does seem to make real sense.

"We will probably now put our plans on hold while we carry out some basics such as learning the language and taking a few courses in things like marketing and catering, but if we can do this we see no reason why we shouldn't have a go at least."

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

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