Northern Ireland or Southern Tarn?
We managed to escape the brunt of the current credit crunch with help from the show Place in the Sun: Home or Away (Northern Ireland v. France) on Channel 4.
We are Stephen Kerlin, an electrician from Derry, Northern Ireland and Christina See, a translator from High Wycombe, England and we run a Chambres d’hotes (B&B) in Mazamet in the Southern Tarn. Within a month we went from filling in a blank application form to sitting in a hotel with a film crew and a crowd of curious onlookers. Northern Ireland proved to be a non starter as we were shocked at such high house prices, so it all rested on what we found in France.
Previously, we lived in a 3 bed end terrace in High Wycombe with a postage stamp garden. We sold our house for full asking price of £215,000 within a week. As it all happened so quickly we contacted Mary Spiers, a local agent who we met whilst filming, and came to view 10 houses in 2 days in February 2008. We explained what were looking for and she showed us something completely different, but perfect – 400 sq. metres with 7 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, cellar, garage, garden and a swimming pool – a bit of a change! We came for a second viewing and went home with a dilemma. It was way above what we wanted to pay, but had the potential of a B&B. We put in an offer which was accepted and within weeks we were on our way.
We came to France for a better family life and to enjoy the surrounding countryside with its beautiful lakes. Since we arrived, a great deal has changed. Eva now goes to nursery and speaks French better than us! Stephen plays for the local rugby team, and has improved his French since having to moo at someone for milk in a shop on the first day! He’s also learnt the French electrical regulations and started looking for work as an electrician. I’ve met almost everyone in town by giving them a card for the B&B, and most importantly we have the time to be a family.
As for the B&B, we opened 3 of our 5 rooms in July 2008 and managed to make back half of what we spent out. We’re currently trying to do up the other 2 rooms, but we’re hesitant to invest more money before we know how the economic downturn is going to pan out. Most of our business has come from the locals with friends or family coming to stay rather than from the UK. We’re lucky with events such as the mountain car rally, bike races, music and wine festivals etc which bring in customers, but that wouldn’t keep us going for the whole year. I think anyone who sets up a B&B expecting it to pay enough to live on needs to seriously reconsider. It is excellent for us as additional revenue, but could not keep a young family with bills to pay. Saying that, it is probably the easiest money I’ve ever made as there is little outlay once it’s set up, with a fairly good return.
My advice to anyone considering moving to France to live or start a business is to:
- 1- Over estimate moving costs. The exchange rate alone made a difference of over £20,000 to us in a matter of weeks, so don’t over-stretch the budget
- 2- Do your research thoroughly. Fees cost much more than you expect
- 3- Expect to fill out a million forms, so if you don’t speak French, find someone who does
- 4- Find out about B&B regulations – some unusual examples: you must have a hairdryer, but no fire alarm. Rooms can be in perfect condition, but if your shutters are a bit shabby, then you can drop from a 3 to a 1 key in one go!
- 5- Measure your rooms before you do all the work – you might be ½ a metre short of the classification you’re looking for
- 6- Aim for French guests – they eat less, pay first and try to tidy up after themselves – perfect!
- 7- Don’t give French people scrambled eggs for breakfast – they have no clue what it is or how to eat it, but are too polite to say!We miss family, friends, crumpets, baked beans, Cadbury’s chocolate and jelly (odd combination I know), but I wouldn’t move back if you paid me. We love living here. So there is No Going Back like the book or rather the Channel 4 program…© Christine SeeChristina See and Stephen Kerlin
19 rue de Juillet