Part two of our series of articles on the hidden pitfalls of gite ownership

A former gîte complex owner writes about the day-to-day complexities and realities of running a holiday rental business in France…

Twelve years ago, my husband and I bought an abandoned nightclub in the heart of the French countryside. For our initial trials and tribulations, see my earlier article (link) – for more ideas on whether the gite business is for you, read on at your peril…

Swearing

Are you prepared to watch what you say for several months of the year, every year? And it’s not just you – what about family and friends staying with you?

My husband and I used to have a good moan about certain clients in private, but once we had a toddler, we realised we could no longer say anything in front of her because the next moment she could be down by the pool saying, “My daddy says your daddy’s a …”

You also have to keep a lid on your personal relationship. You mustn’t be overheard having your daily row or even a minor disagreement – and there’s nothing like a whispered argument to put your blood pressure up. Our survival strategy was to go out in the car so that we could have a shout, or wait until changeover day and argue continuously from 10am to 4pm.

My advice – if you have come to France to be yourselves and speak your mind, the gîte business may not be for you.

Haring (around)

Changeover Day is horrible from beginning to end. You want the old clients to go early and the new clients to arrive late (although not too late). You want the sun to shine – but not be too hot or you’ll sweat buckets. What you definitely don’t want is rain because you’ll inevitably end up tramping wet gravel across your beautifully mopped gîte floor and you’ll have to deal with clients moaning about the weather when they arrive.

The finishing touch to Changeover Day is, of course, the famous Welcome Pack. In our first two seasons, we took a great deal of care over our Welcome Pack. As time went on, however, we realised that so few clients had commented on it – let alone thanked us – we decided to offer something simpler (and cheaper). The result was that the polite clients continued to thank us and the rest didn’t, as before!

If you decide to do any catering for your clients, you will probably start with great enthusiasm as we did. We offered three-course evening meals, garnished with herbs and (edible) fresh flowers from our garden. There will, however, come a time when you ask yourself whether all the shopping, food preparation, serving and clearing up is really cost-effective.

We enjoyed it mainly because it was something challenging and different to do, but when you’ve served up meals in three different gîtes in the searing heat or in the middle of a violent hail storm or with a torrent of torrential rain running over your feet, you start to have second thoughts. For us, the arrival of our first baby made serving meals impossible and we were glad of the excuse to stop! NB catering causes a lot of friction – see swearing above!

My advice – most people setting up gîtes can’t afford to employ a team of cleaners. If you don’t fancy having to do your own hoovering, mopping, window cleaning, fridge-defrosting, bed-making, getting the hair out of the shower drain or loo cleaning (and that’s just a small selection of the tasks you have to undertake on Changeover Day, multiplied by the number of gîtes you’ve got…), think again because the reality is hard work, dirty and very boring.

July 2006

Emma Ellis.

Emma now designs websites for people who own gîtes, chambres d’hôtes and hotels in France.

Next month Emma highlights more aspects you may not have thought about when running a gîte business. For Part One of this series, visit: Why not a gite complex part one

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