Property management in France is a business built because of the huge number of second homes there, whose owners are not around to deal with all the minutiae of ‘housekeeping’ in the loosest sense of that word.
The first national network of property managers was founded in 2002 by Sally Stone shortly after she bought a cottage in the Breton market town of Guémené-sur-scorff and was left helpless back in the UK when she was trying to arrange a replacement roof, a new floor and numerous other essentials to turn it into the holiday home she dreamed of. Running a service company herself in the UK, she had thought all she needed to do was choose someone to help her – but then discovered there wasn’t anyone who looked after properties for absentee home owners, except on a very ad hoc and small scale.
Fortunately, she had good neighbours who were only too happy to help since they rented out their own house during the summer months, and Sally’s cottage in its dilapidated state, did let the neighbourhood down somewhat! So, they organised a quote from the local roofer and arranged for a concrete floor – but all the while, Sally’s brain had begun to tick back in the UK and she started to research the niche market she suspected she had discovered.
So, what really is property management? Well in those days (2002) it was pretty much estate agents who had sold property to foreigners, having a tin at the back of the office which contained keys, and who leapt into action when they got an email from an owner announcing their imminent arrival. They would (with any luck) go and mow the grass and open the shutters. The property owner would spend all his visit except perhaps for the last day, cleaning the house, refreshing its decoration, planting up the garden, and trying to work out the intricacies of French plumbing and why the parts he had brought from the UK, wouldn’t work.
He would return home, albeit with his vehicle full of wine, and happy to report to his colleagues on his return to work, how much more he enjoyed his DIY tasks on holiday than just lazing around reading a book…although maybe he looked a bit wistful as they recounted tales of sun, sea and sangria…So next visit, he searched out any full time residents of his village to see if they would keep an eye on his house in return for essential supplies of things they missed (Marmite, bacon, cheddar cheese, TEABAGS) such that if a pipe burst they’d let him know and they’d keep the grass mowed.
That worked fine for a bit. Then came his visit when the neighbours had had other calls on their time, and they had forgotten to mow his grass or check if all was well inside the house. Well, not to worry, worse things happen at sea…but this absentee owner bit wasn’t panning out exactly as he had thought.
Then he was browsing the internet one day and he found a reference to a network of property managers…he discovered for a reasonable hourly cost, and no high fixed minimum charge, he could employ people who spoke his language – and also spoke French – who could advise him about the French plumbing – who could interpret his requirements and carry them out – and most of all, could be relied upon to update him on a regular basis! In fact, sometimes they did unnecessary but lovely things like sending him a photo of his garden when the daffodils (which would be over before his next visit) were out, under the apple tree. That made him smile during a busy day at work!
So honestly, what is property management? Sally still remembers trying to register the first business and confusing the clerk in the Chambre de Commerce when they asked, “what will you do” and she said, “whatever our clients ask us to!” Obviously property managers actually can’t do everything themselves – electrical repairs being but one of the things they can’t undertake personally – but they should act as the one-stop-shop for absentee owners, whether the property is a much loved holiday home making sure it’s ready for its owners arrival, or whether it’s run pretty much as a business venture and marketed for some of the 85 million (yes, really) visitors who come to France each year on holiday.
Now of course Les Bons Voisins doesn’t stand alone providing great value property management in France – there are other service providers out there, but funnily enough a high proportion of them started by being trained under the LBV umbrella. High standards, good value costs, and truly trustworthy people acting on behalf of the absentee home owner for whatever is necessary to make his ownership of a house in France, an enjoyable experience.
Never a dull moment, being a property manager in France. One minute a hornet’s nest: the next sourcing a new heat pump for the pool: refreshing the paintwork inside the house: shopping for essentials for an owner’s arrival: maybe taking a long list to Ikea to shop for the contents of a recently bought property! Variety, as they say, is the spice of life!
Sally Stone started Les Bons Voisins Property Management in 2002, the first national network of property managers in France which stretches from Calais to Cannes.
Les Bons Voisins – caring for those who care for France
Tel 0033 (0)2 96 24 74 27
By Sally Stone
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