Turn your home into a home away from home

Running a bed and breakfast is an appealing idea for those who want a major life change. But it’s not for everyone. Chiara Cavaglieri reports

Sunday 03 July 2011 00:00 BST

Your home may not actually be a castle, but if you have the space and the ambition, it could be a money-spinner.

There are lots of ways to make money from property without having to sell it, whether you're renting out a spare room or going all out and turning the house into a B&B. Waking up at the crack of dawn to cook a full English may not be to everyone's liking, but if you're looking to get out of the rat race, it could be the answer.

"Running a home as a B&B is a great idea for anyone with a big house and the need for some extra cash," says Jasmine Birtles, editor of Moneymagpie.com. "I have friends whose children have flown the nest who keep their family home by taking paying guests. It's a flexible earner because you say when you want people to stay; if you want to go away or just have some time alone at home you can simply not take bookings."

Before you get carried away by the lure of being your own boss, however, remember that setting up a B&B business is a serious commitment. Even if you're offering only a few rooms there are many rules to follow, so you do need to do your homework. Turning a residential house into a B&B involves three key stages: getting permission, fitting out guest rooms, and marketing your business.

First you will need to contact your local council. You may need a "change of use" application to run a B&B business from your house, even if you aren't making any structural changes. If there is building work to be done you may need to apply for planning permission first. Remember that building regulations change regularly and rules vary from one county to another, so it's essential to check with your local planning office. If your B&B is your primary family home and you have no more than six paying guests at any one time, you should be fine, but some authorities say that if 50 per cent or more of the building is used by guests, then a change of use should be sought.

With regard to health and safety, all B&Bs have to comply with fire safety legislation and have a gas safety inspection. Also, unless you're just planning to provide the bed part of a B&B, there will be expectations in terms of food standards – you must register with your local environmental health department and to be trained in food hygiene. You can find all the up-to-date guidance in The Pink Booklet (pinkbooklet.co.uk).

"I always advise someone starting a new food business to contact their environmental health department and ask for a visit before you start trading. That way the environmental health officer can see your facilities and offer advice before you start spending money on expensive improvements which might not even be necessary," says Rachel Jones, who runs A470 Training, which specialises in hospitality and licensing qualifications.

You will also need to talk to your mortgage lender and potentially switch to a commercial mortgage now that you plan to use your home as a business premise. The next call to make is to your insurer; although it won't necessarily follow that you will need to change your home insurance policy if it's a small B&B, larger businesses will need to apply for business insurance. It is worthwhile taking out specialist insurance to cover you for things like public liability should a guest or employees injure themselves.

Aside from all the initial legwork, above all, you should seriously consider whether you are truly suited to the lifestyle of a B&B owner.

"People need to consider whether they have the right personality to run a B&B. You have to get on and like most people as you're inviting complete strangers into your home," says Karen Thorne who owns her own B&B in a converted granary in Shropshire and also runs a B&B Academy (bedandbreakfastacademy.co.uk) offering courses to prospective B&B owners. "Also be aware of the realities. It's not a case of finishing by 10am and having the rest of the day to swan round the garden with a G&T. If you're doing all the cooking, cleaning and ironing yourself you could be looking at 10-hour days. Throw doing evening meals into the mix and you could find yourself starting at 6am and not finishing till gone 10pm."

If you are confident that running a B&B is your dream job, make sure it's a successful one too. Location is crucial to your success, so get in touch with the local tourist authority to see how many visitors your area attracts each year and find out how many B&Bs are already in place nearby. Even if you're confident your home is in the right place, the next important piece of advice, whether you're aiming for cheap and cheerful, cosy country charm or even a "boutique" B&B, is to allocate part of your budget to marketing.

A good website is a must these days but Ms Thorne says that it's how you promote your website that will make the difference, using search engine optimisation to get it found on search engines such as Google, paying for internet adverts and using social media such as Twitter and Facebook to promote your business.

"Potential B&Bers should also seriously consider having online booking as more and more people expect that these days – 85 per cent of my bookings are made online," she says.

If you're too nervous to take such a big step, test the water by renting out a spare room. Under the Rent a Room scheme you are free to offer guests a spare room and earn £4,250 tax free. You can advertise your space on websites such as bedand fed.co.uk and mondaytofriday.co.uk.

Case Study

Fiona Potts, 49

When Fiona Potts was made redundant after 20 years of working as a facilities manager in Paddington, London, it finally gave her and her husband the push they needed. The plan was to leave their home in Hampshire and set up their own B&B. They finally found the perfect farmhouse in October 2009, situated within 16 acres of pastures in Dolanog, Wales. “It was something we had talked about doing in the future, but because I was made redundant we decided maybe we should think about doing it sooner,” says Fiona.

The couple had three en-suite bathrooms installed and had to fork out extra cash to fix drainage issues, replace four windows and redo the drive, but after six months, Gwaenynog Farmhouse was open for business. The expense of setting up means that they are not yet making a profit but Fiona is confident that they will be by this time next year. She has no doubt that they have made the right decision.

“We had extra expenses that we hadn’t anticipated and you certainly learn as you go along. We’ve had the odd collywobble but nothing that would make us change our minds. We’ve done the right thing and we love where we are.”


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