Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Letting your French property

One of the attractions of buying property in France is the chance to earn additional income from letting, particularly where the property is purchased as a second home and you do not intend to occupy it all year round. However, the rental markets differ widely according to location and market demand, and can broadly be divided into short, medium and long term.

Typical medium term markets include student rentals, if you happen to live in or near a university town. Suitable properties include one or two person studios, or larger apartments suitable for sharing. Such properties are invariably offered furnished and equipped, and wear and tear can be considerable, so you need to factor in the cost of replacement and redecoration. Tenant turnover can be high as young people tend to give minimum notice and will leave if they find another cheaper apartment or decide to move in with friends. Rentals are of course confined to term time. In some areas, furnished studios or apartments could also be offered to those moving temporarily for work or house hunting.

Longer term lets are generally for three years or longer, and unfurnished if the let is more or less permanent. Many French people choose to rent rather than buy, or live in a rented apartment in a city centre during the week (where the cost of buying can be high), and return to their family home in the country at weekends and for holidays. Rental properties in high demand include three and four bedroom houses suitable for families with children, with a garden and possibly a pool. Ideal locations are suburban or in towns close to public transport and main centres of work, and offering schools, nurseries and conveneint shopping. Ideal tenants include dual-income families with children in local schools, who are likely to want to stay for a number of years.

The most common short-term letting markets are those addressed to holiday makers, and comprise the six to eight week summer season (July, August), the period around Christmas and skiing, Easter, and in some areas shorter periods outside the main season, for example during spring and autumn.

The main summer season has tended to contract in recent years, and now stretches from mid-July to the third week in August at its peak, with large concentrations of visitors on the French Mediterranean and Atlantic coast, and some inland areas of special interest, such as national parks or the mountain regions of the Alps and Pyrenees. On the Mediterranean coast, there is increasing competition from camp sites, many of which are graded 4-star and describe themselves as 'hotelerie en plein air'. Many thousands of euros have been spent on upgrading accommodation (chalets) and facilities, with the largest sites catering for 5,000 or more visitors at any one time, and are virtually transformed into temporary villages complete with supermarket, restaurants, bars, cafés and all facilities, as well as every kind of sports and entertainment.

In contrast many coastal apartment and villa owners have failed to react to changing customer demands. Having managed for years to let their fairly average holiday homes at inflated prices, many are now feeling the pinch. In some Mediterranean resorts, apartment bookings are reportedly down by 30 to 40 per cent (in the third week of July 2010), and restaurants and shops are also suffering from lower takings as a result.

A few home owners have reacted by turning their apartments into 'boutique' accommodation, in competition with hotels, and specialising in short-stay breaks - typically long weekends or mid-week to weekend - possibly outside the main holiday season, and where the location has more to offer than the traditional sun, sand and sea.  Popular destinations are centres of historic interest, as a base for excursions and sightseeing. Another niche market is that catering for special interest holidays. These can range from cycling or hiking to cookery, crafts, art classes, slimming, vegetarian, yoga, nature study, languages, or culture.

In looking at short term rental options, property owners should take into account the potential of their area and its adaptability to these new markets. If your property is part of a co-ownership (condominium) complex you also need to be aware of the rules regarding visitors and letting. Invariably owners are held responsible for the 'good conduct' of their tenants and residents are quick to complain to the building managers in the event of noise or misconduct that disturbs the tranquility of other (permanent) residents.

Some large apartment or villa complexes include attractive gardens and a pool, as well as easy parking, and can be attractive to holidaymakers who do not wish to stay on a campsite or in a hotel. Agencies handling seasonal rentals demand a fairly high standard of furnishings and equipment, such as washing machine and possibly a dishwasher, and will take care of rentals, security deposits, insurance and cleaning between rentals.

An attractive location such as facing the sea or a marina, together with a balcony or terrace, will help make your apartment or villa stand out among the hundreds on offer. If you are offering a country house for short term holiday rental, minimal requirements will be a garden and a pool, as visitors do not like travelling every day to the beach due to the inevitable traffic congestion around the coast in high season.

Income can be made from renting but you need to research the different markets and decide how your particular property can be best adapted to varying local demand.