How to avoid an empty rental

It seems like an easy way to finance your holiday home - furnish it, slap a coat of paint on it, and wait for the rental money to come rolling in. But as a new TV series shows, things are never that simple. Ginetta Vedrickas reports
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The Independent Online

Buying a property abroad can be a big decision and many owners hope to cover costs or even make a living from the rentals market. The Channel 4 show No Going Back has returned to our screens, featuring another rash of émigrés who hope to live off the proceeds of their new rental ventures abroad, but how easy is it?

Marcelle Speller, the co-founder of www. holiday-rentals.com, advises owners on the perils and pitfalls of letting an overseas property, as well as ways to maximise income. She describes the first episode, about a couple who had moved to Tuscany, as "a real head-banging session". She was particularly disturbed by the revelation that they had spent "several months" of their income on establishing a website: "We've got several similarly beautiful Tuscan properties on our website, but the difference is that our owners paid just £155 to advertise one property." A trawl through the site reveals around 6,000 properties from Europe to India, with prices and availability on screen. Speller despairs of owners who prefer to "go it alone" as it may not be economically viable: "How will people find you unless they input your particular village?"

Over the years Speller has learnt how to avoid common pitfalls from speaking to owners and from her own experience of letting a holiday home in Ireland. The site includes a guide to letting and explains why it's important to install high-quality appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines, which will be heavily used and which guests expect. Billy Paulett, who produced the TV series, says owners who appear on his programme have a serious advantage in the lettings department.

Viewing figures for the show recently topped the three million mark and, following the six episodes which followed the first couple's rental business in Tuscany, the pair were inundated: "I think that they are booked up for two years," says Paulett. "Many people book just to have the cachet of spending time with 'the couple off the TV.'" He adds that the experience can be overwhelming: "People do expect their holiday to be just like the programme. I think that Richard and Sarah found that there was an element of them being expected to perform at all times."

Paulett advises all the people who feature in the series to set up websites so that they can benefit from the mass interest. He warns, however, that while renting out is often the first thing that people think of when they move abroad, this may not always be economically viable: "People don't think that they can use their existing skills abroad, and they assume that renting out property will be easier, but in some places this can be a crowded market."

Amy Coley and her partner Ben feature in the programme on 10 December and they are hoping for a rash of bookings afterwards: "They say that there's no such thing as bad publicity so we're hoping that it will be good for the business," says Coley, who bought two properties near Biarritz and now runs a catered holiday adventure business from a beautiful six-bedroom house while living next door in a smaller property. They advertise on www.holiday-rentals.com, which links to their own website www.frenchfusion.com. "That works very well - while our adverts in golf and surfing magazines have so far brought no bookings," she says.

Coley finds catering for guests easier than the straightforward rental market they initially started: "I much prefer being able to keep an eye on things, it's a difficult thing renting out your property and having no contact. In the beginning we found that things were broken and we weren't told, which I felt quite upset about." The couple find it a big advantage to be on hand for potential emergencies such as power cuts. A friend of Coley's recently experienced a power cut in a rented house: "She hadn't been told how to get the electricity back on and no one was around to help so they ended up living by candlelight and the food in their freezer was ruined."

Marcelle Speller advises owners to have a local person to keep an eye on the property and help paying guests, but even this can go wrong. Gareth Emery received a nasty shock after hiring a local agent, who had been recommended, to take care of his second home in Mijas, on the Costa del Sol: "I use it myself but wanted to let it from time to time to cover mortgage costs." But, by the end of the season, both the agent and all rental income had disappeared and his house was left in a very poor state of repair. "I've since heard that I'm not the only one."

Emery has now entrusted his property to www.homecareontheweb.com. "I feel very comfortable. They carry out regular checks and post pictures of my property on their website so that I can see for myself. They carry out any repairs or maintenance after I've seen what needs doing."

Tony Sidebottom founded this property management company at the same time as www.holidayrentalontheweb.com. The latter gives prospective holiday makers full information about availability, with images of the property they may be considering renting and they can even book and pay online: "People lead busy lives and they want to know that the property they are holidaying will be good."

Sidebottom says the internet is an invaluable tool for owners, often based in the UK, who may feel powerless about their overseas investment properties: "From the feedback we've had they all say that this way of communication is vital. That, combined with the quality of service which we undertake to provide, makes the overseas rental business much less stressful."

No Going Back screens on Channel 4 every Wednesday at 9pm

www.holiday-rentals.com

www.homecareontheweb.com

www.frenchfusion.com

www.holidayrentalontheweb.com

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