A learning experience

After a year in which I stopped taking bookings due to the poor standard of caretaking, I moved to France to manage my own property and that of a friend who had also had unsatisfactory help. Fortunately our changeovers were on different days, as the houses are 25kms apart. Living on site, meant ‘camping out’ in one our unfinished gîtes. I had a bed, basic cooking facilities, a fridge, a shower and toilet. Not easy filling the kettle from the shower!
With two seasons for both houses finished I have reflected on the interesting, enjoyable experience.

A far cry from my previously demanding professional life as a project manager, travelling daily on the M23 and M25.
What a buzz to show people over the house and soak up their compliments, also it gives the opportunity to familiarise them with your home, their home for their holiday!.
Living next door, I could service the 2 pools and water plants early in the morning without disturbing my guests. Sometimes an early rising guest would join me, poolside for a chat, share a coffee or ask for information or help.
Unfortunately, one family saw it as an opportunity to allow the children into the swimming pool room early, in their pyjamas and unsupervised! They obviously had not locked the poolroom before retiring – caretaking could have become lifesaving!

I would visit the other house every other day, to check the pool, or mow the lawn and provide a mid-week clean. Again, the guests were pleased to see me and used it as an opportunity to ask questions or seek assistance.
Two week lets and a change of linen is required, with 8 beds to change, one morning, in haste I rolled one guest’s pyjamas up in the sheet. Imagine my horror loading the washing machine next morning. Amazing what returning clean pyjamas and a bottle of wine can do!

The mid-week clean is interesting, some clear up in advance, others, I wonder, are their bathrooms like that at home – is hygiene on holiday too!

Departure day can be hard work, by far the easiest are those guests who need to leave early to get a mid afternoon ferry. Others don’t seem to want to hurry, a compliment perhaps, but when you have only 6 hours to prepare for the next guests every second counts! I have had requests to take group photos just before departure, and children who cannot find a piece of their Lego at the last minute!
What interesting things are left behind. I have had a good season of freebies, yoghurts, milk, cereals, cheese, tins of tuna, fruit and veg and all have been put to good use. The same cannot be said of 3 tins of rice pudding, numerous cans of baked beans, bottles of tomato sauce, jars of marmite, frozen peas, frozen chips. I also have an insight into other things brought across the channel, loo paper (and I ask tenants to use only French for the sake of the fosse septic), kitchen rolls, tesco cleaning sprays, asda washing up liquid and sainsbury cling film.

I am pleased to say in majority of cases the houses are left clean and tidy with minimal breakages. This doesn’t mean less cleaning for the next changeover but does make life a little easier in achieving the high standard we set.

A couple of lows – the blockage of a saniflo toilet not reported resulted in a burned out motor and replacement. Over zealous use of the supplied bikes meant the next tenants were short of one bike for the first few days. One family coped with an unusually wet August by watching the Olympics in front of a roaring log fire with the patio doors open!

I have enjoyed it and its given me an insight into those to whom we entrust our houses.
It was hardwork yet fun and I look forward to next season.

Some thoughts for would-be caretakers and gite owners.

  • Don’t take on too much
  • Don’t under-estimate the time to prepare each gite to a high standard
  • Ensure that you have some back-up help
  • Be accessible to your guests but don’t over stay your welcome.
  • Keep a few notes about the guests – helps when they re-book

Author, Sally Cottis, is now part of a small team specialising in French Home care
– for more details please phone 05 49 16 11 79 or email French Home Care

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