There is cerainly a thriving rental market - or more precisely, several markets - in France, depending upon where you live and what type of property you choose to buy as an investment.
The market can be roughly divided into short and long term, furnished and unfurnished. If you live in a holiday resort, rentals are likely to be seasonal and short term, and of course furnished with a view to attracting holidaymakers. The summer season is relatively short, however, and is concentrated on the months of July and August when the majority of French families take their annual break to coincide with the school holidays.
The season can be slightly longer - easter to the end of October - in some resort areas that offer more than the traditional seaside holiday fare, such as attractive countryside for walking and cycling, areas of historic interest, and places likely to attract singles and older couples outside the main holiday season. In Roussillon, for example, we have a long winter season in the nearby ski resorts as well a popular high season (July and August when rentals are at their highest), and a quieter spring and autumn which still attract visitors.
Some owners of seasonal rented accommodation try also to offer their property on an 'October to May' basis, but this is a small market and likely only to attract temporary residents, perhaps those house hunting or possibly students, if you are located close enough to a university.
Students are also good prospects for the longer term market, covering up to nine months of the year, and generally prefer furnished accommodation. Rental properties are subject to high levels of wear and tear and will require regular refurbishing between tenancies. The market is subject to frequent turnover and it is not always possible to anticipate increasing the rent every time you acquire a new tenant. Students and young people generally represent a sound market as rentals are invariably guaranteed by parents.
The long term market usually involves unfurnished properties, let for a minimum of three years renewable, and subject to considerable protections for the tenant and restrictions on the landlord. However they can prove to be a sound investment if you choose your property and location wisely. In inner city areas, there is a steady demand for smaller, less expensive apartments (studios, single- or two-bedroom); whereas in suburban and some rural areas with good transport links to a nearby city, there is a thriving market for three- or four-bedroom houses, with a garden, for occupation by families with children of school age.
The choice of location is crucial for all types of buy-to-let investments. The French government has been keen to attract investors by offering tax concessions, but several recent schemes have failed due to poor location (too far from work, schools and services), lack of public transport (rents are controlled under these schemes and designed to help the less well-off) and poor quality design and construction. Incredibly, many investors failed to visit the site of their proposed 'investment' and bought off-plan, only to discover that their property remained un-let and in many cases unsaleable.
Careful research is therefore essential, including checking the figures for rentals locally, and visiting the site of the investment to ensure that it is the sort of place you yourself would like to live. If not, ask yourself why would a tenant?