Posted by: darkwright | May 2, 2008

FX Dealing – Transferring Small Amounts of Money

Once you have your gite up and running you will need to keep your French Bank account topped up with euros, to pay your utility bills, taxes and of course any changeover costs, if you are getting somebody else to manage this for you.

As with buying your gite in the first place, where you needed to transfer a large amount of euros, there are a number of options for transferring euros to your account. The options discussed in my previous post on buying euros only really work if you have a reasonably large amount of euros to buy, as in when you are first purchasing your gite, or you have a French mortgage and therefore need to transfer  a reasonable amount of money every month to cover the mortgage. In this case you can setup a regular euro purchase using the providers discussed.

If, however, you only need to transfer a relatively small amount irregularly then you probably need another way of transferring money. There are a few options you could consider.

  • Sending a sterling cheque to your French bank account
  • Getting a Euro cheque from your UK bank account and sending it to your French Bank Account
  • Use an FX dealer to send a large amount of money once a year or even every other year
  • Use a money transfer service to send money to your French Bank Account

 

If you send a sterling cheque to your French bank account then they will obviously charge you a fee which you need to investigate and find out how much it is and what exchange rate will be used.

If you get your UK bank to issue a euro cheque then they will charge you for that and you may find that your French bank will charge you for receiving a euro cheque from another country, again you would need to investigate the charges but you will probably be hit with charges by both banks.

If you have large amounts of capital you could use the large scale FX dealers to send a larger amount of money. These services are not much use below £1000 and even then some do not compare very well with the alternative methods, so please don’t assume that just because they saved you a lot of money on your house purchase they are the best bet for transferring smaller amounts of money.

The final option is the one we currently use. We use a service from MoneyBookers, which basically allows you to upload money from your UK bank account and then withdraw it to your French bank account for a small fee and a small increase (1.75% at the time of writing this post) on the European Central Bank daily reference rates. This seems to be the most cost effective way of moving small amounts of money that we have found.

There are several ways of moving money to your French bank account, and the list above is not exhaustive, but you must make sure you understand the fees you will be charged and, probably most importantly, the exchange rate they will use. Even when transferring relatively small amounts on a regular basis you can save a considerable amount of money by using the right service for you.

Brittany Gite – 2 Bedroom Cottage / Gite near Dinan, Brittany, France

Buying, Owning and Running a Gite in Brittany Blog

©Derek Arkwright 2008

2007 was our first year renting our gite in Brittany out and we started advertising late in that first season, as we didn’t start advertising until April. Reading forums, such as Lay My Hat, it seems that the peak booking time is January, which we obviously missed last year. So 2008 is our first full booking season, so are we getting any bookings, when are we getting them and where are we getting them from.

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Posted by: darkwright | March 13, 2008

How did our First Season Go?

Well we’re now starting our second season and so I thought it was time to give an overview of our first season. We made the gite available for booking from the middle of July, as we obviously needed to buy it first (very important) and then go over and make sure everything was ready for our guests before they arrived.

Getting everything ready for our guests was really hard work but we managed it in the end and the gite did look really nice and hopefully we had everything our guests needed. As for our bookings, they had gone very well, especially as we had only advertised on Owners Direct. We also had our own website but that wasn’t being found on it’s own through the search engines, see this post on getting your website found for the story of that.

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Posted by: darkwright | February 24, 2008

Shutting up Shop – Winter Closedown

So after an excellent first season we decided to close the gite down for the winter. We decided to combine the close-down with a weeks holiday and we had a fantastic time, here’s the post on the holiday. So apart from having a wonderful holiday what did we do to shut the gite down for winter.

Well the main thing was to give it a really good clean, to try and make sure that there isn’t anything for any mould  to grow on. We decided to leave all of the cupboards and draws open when we left, so that the air would circulate and they wouldn’t get damp and musty over winter. As we have a septic tank we normally have to top-up the bacteria with a weekly solution. As nobody was going to be there for quite a while we bought some that actually lasted six months.

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Posted by: darkwright | January 30, 2008

The First Guests – How did it go?

So how was our first ever rental? Well we had spent the last two weeks getting everything ready, cutting back the long grass that the previous owners hadn’t managed to cut, building a wood store, filling in the pond to make it safe, building the trampoline, putting up the shed in the barn to keep all the garden tools out of children’s way and making sure everything was all ready inside and out for all of our guests. Finally we had to leave to catch our ferry, as our first guests were on their ferry to France.

It was quite a nerve wracking week in truth, we obviously thought the place was lovely, otherwise we wouldn’t have bought it, but you never know what other people will think. Our first guests actually lived in the same street as us. They were very good friends with one of Kate’s friends, another mum of twins who Kate met during her twins ante-natal classes and became very good friends with. She had told them about our gite and so we showed them all the photos and they booked. There were going to be the four of them, all adults, so we were very interested to know how they found the gite. We had obviously added a few things to keep the children entertained (trampoline, sandpit and a load of toys) but what about 4 adults?

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Posted by: darkwright | January 24, 2008

You’re guests are coming, what do they need to know?

Map of BrittanySo you’re first guests are coming in a few weeks, what do they need to know before they get there and what else should you tell them once they are there? Well obviously the first thing to know is where is your gite and how can they find it. Most people will have a large road atlas of France but it probably doesn’t really show the detail they need to find your lovely gite set in a small quiet hamlet, that won’t even get a mention on most road maps. We send our guests a document with various levels of map, gradually getting more detailed, that shows exactly where the gite is. You really don’t want to be getting a phone call from people who are lost and you certainly don’t want your guests starting their holiday by getting flustered and stressed that they can’t find your gite.

Once there they need to know how to get in. We use a key safe which means people can get there at anytime, day or night. So we obviously tell them the combination and some pictures of how to use it. If people have had a long journey even the simplest of things, like opening a key safe, can become tricky if your tired.

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Posted by: darkwright | January 18, 2008

Our Trip to Disneyland Paris

Mickey MouseWell time for another interlude from our posts on buying and running a gite and time to tell you about our trip to Disneyland in Paris. We have just spent 5 nights at Disneyland Paris and it was fantastic. We went on Monday morning and took the Eurotunnel from Folkstone. We had never been on the Eurotunnel but I must say it is brilliant. We planned to arrive in time for the check-in for the previous train, to give us time in case anything went wrong but it didn’t so we arrived at 7:30am. As we were in time for the previous train and there was space on it the check-in system gave us the option of travelling on this earlier train, which we obviously took and there was no extra charge. We boarded and it set off on time and we were whisked through the tunnel and in 35 minutes we had arrived in France, fantastic.

Davy Crockett’s RanchWe then headed down to Disneyland and it took us just under 3 hours to get there. We were staying at the Disney self catering accommodation at Davy Crockett Ranch. We picked up our keys to our “log cabin” and our park tickets and we were soon settled in and having lunch. It was reasonably simple accommodation but very nice and clean and had most things you could want. The kitchen had two rings and there was a microwave but knowing this beforehand meant we brought some frozen meals we had made before that could be cooked on the two rings or microwave. We thought that eating Disney food for lunch and dinner for six days was just too much and we would be craving normal food in the evening!

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Posted by: darkwright | January 14, 2008

Making Money – Do you have the Philosophers Stone?

Man on a pile of MoneySo can you make money from renting out your holiday home? Well that’s a tricky one, it all depends on what you consider to be making money. Having one gite, as we do, and living in the UK and therefore paying a management company to sort everything out for us does mean that, at the moment, we would probably be better off putting the money in a savings account and sitting back relaxing while watching your money grow. We do earn some money but if you look at it as a percentage of the value of the gite it isn’t a massive amount at the moment but we have really only just started out.

This shows you that we’re certainly not experts at this and it is quite a competitive market but hopefully we can build things up over time. So unfortunately we’re never going to make our millions from this but we do have a lovely holiday home that covers it’s costs and makes a little bit of money. Obviously if you have more gites and live on site so that you can manage the changeovers yourself it can certainly give you enough to live off, as there are plenty of people that do that. However this blog is about buying a holiday home and renting that out, rather than a full gite business of which we have no experience, so I’ll stick to that.

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Dilberts BossUnfortunately not all of us can live in France and manage our own Gite, it certainly doesn’t supply an income I could live off, even if I lived in a caravan at the end of the garden on my own and I’m not sure how happy our guests would be if I did, or my wife. So I have to stay in the UK and work which leaves the problem of managing our Gite from the UK.

Well the simple solution to this problem is to use a management company. With these you can get a variety of different levels of service from just checking your property is okay every now and then to full management of your bookings and changeovers.

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Posted by: darkwright | December 22, 2007

Are you ready? – Getting Everything Right For Your First Guests

Champagne on IceSo you’ve bought your gite, done your advertising and now some people are going to stay at your gite, what do you need to do? Well first off, well done, it’s a big milestone getting your first guests.

The first thing to think of is who are you’re guests and what sort of market have you targeted? By our name, Brittany Family Gite, you can tell that we’re targeting the family market. This is more to do with the fact that we are a family and have set up the gite to be a great holiday  home for us and hopefuly if we love it, so will other people. We need certain equipment in the Gite to make our holiday simpler and a little easier for us and therefore we can make the same available to our guests. With small children simple things like blackout curtains can make the difference between a relaxing holiday and children waking up at some silly time in the morning and everyone being tired.

We want to minimise the amount we take on holiday and so we’ve catered to what we would like in a holiday home. As a family on holiday we also cook quite a lot which is also why we bought this gite, as the kitchen and living room are open plan. To that end we have also equipped the kitchen with the things that we think you need to fully self-cater for a family on holiday (like sharp knives!) and not just supplied a few pot’s and pans and basic utensils. We’ve also supplied various items of equipment for families with babies / toddlers. However we have made sure that this equipment isn’t so intrusive that those people without children feel that they’re surrounded by baby paraphernalia!

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Google LogoIf you have decided to go down the route of building your own website to advertise your holiday rental then obviously you need people to find it. Not only is the holiday rental market competitive but so is the Internet for getting your web site found. When I first created our website at the end of March 2007 for our gite in Brittany a search for the term “Gite in Brittany” found it in Google on page 54. I doubt anybody searching for a holiday would continue clicking next to get to page 54! This meant we had a website but nobody could find it. So how do you go from page 54 to page 1. The answer is SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).

The first thing I want to make clear is I’m not on page 1 yet in Google for the search “Gite in Brittany” (I am in Yahoo though), this is work in progress for me. I am on page 2 of Google so it’s close but it obviously gets a lot harder the closer you get!! Secondly I am not a professional SEOer, there are lot’s of people out there who are, or claim to be, but not me, this is my first personal website. Thirdly I do not work for Google and so have no actual knowledge of how their algorithm works, I just know about the things I have seen and read for myself. And the final point, I will talk about Google as they are the major player in search engines. Yahoo and msn etc have there own algorithms but if you use the same techniques it should stand you in good stead for all the major engines (e.g. for the term “Gite in Brittany” I am in position 12 in Google, 3 in Yahoo, 12 in MSN and 4 in ASK).

So that’s the caveats out of the way. This blog will contain a simple introduction of the sort of things I have done as a complete SEO novice and what I have found out but it is not a comprehensive guide, I will add further detail in later posts. It should hopefully give you a starter for 10 though in the world of SEO so you can start getting your website moving up the search rankings while you research a little more and play about with things yourself.

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Posted by: darkwright | November 27, 2007

Creating a Website – Are you a Steve Jobs or a Jobbing Steve?

Apple LogoSo you’ve decided to build your own website, do you have the design genius of Steve Jobs, will you build an iconic website that will wow your potential guests into packing out your holiday home for 52 weeks of the year, or are you more Jobbing Steve, knock something together and hope it works? Well does it matter? Probably a little but as long as it functions well, is easy to use and provides the guests with the information they need to make a decision it should be good enough. Just look at my site for my Gite in Brittany, Steve Jobs I am not but hopefully it looks professional enough not to put people off and provides guests with all of the information they need to want to stay and sells the property to it’s best potential.

So what are the options for building your site. Well there are lots! It all depends on your skills, how much time you have and what you want out of it. You could get somebody else to build it for you, build it yourself either from the ground up or you could use a variety of tools out there that provide templates and you just need to fill in the blanks.

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Cluttered Notice BoardSo you now own a little piece of France and you want to share it with the world because it’s so wonderful you think everybody deserves just a little piece of it, or you might just want to rent your house out to cover any costs and maybe make some money, whatever your motivation, if nobody knows about your holiday heaven, they won’t be able to come. So how do you tell people about it?

The answer to this conundrum is marketing, or advertising, or both. I am not a guru on either of these topics (can you tell?) and quite frankly I don’t really know the difference between the two, so I apologise to you marketeers and advertisers out there for my simplistic view but I’ll mix them up and treat them as a single topic (I don’t think Saatchi & Saatchi will be beating down my door any minute now with a lucrative job offer!).

Basically you need people to be able to find out that you have a place to rent and once they have found it, convince them that they should rent your holiday home over everybody else’s, simple. So how do you go about that? Well you can use several tactics, a holiday listing site is an obvious way forward, your own website, word of mouth, paper based advertising, advertorials or a management company and I’m sure a lot more.

Which is best? Well you probably need to combine them and the balance you use depends on a few factors, your budget, how much time you have, do you have a flare for writing, your technical skills and your target guests. Think about your target guests, who are they, what methods are they likely to use in finding their holiday and what are they looking for when they do find it?

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KeySo you’ve found your dream house in France, signed the Compromis de Vente, paid your deposit, survey done, the searches have been completed and you’ve agreed a date for signing the Acte de Vente. So what happens next? Well the first thing to do is ensure that the Notaire receives all of the requested funds prior to the agreed date, if they don’t then nothing will be happening. Make sure you allow plenty of time for this, banks (both in the UK and France) seem reluctant to let go of your money once it’s going through their systems! Once that hurdle is crossed you just need to get yourself out to France for the big day. If you don’t want to attend the signing then you can sign power of attorney to somebody else.

View of the River Rance from the B&BWe signed for our Gite in Brittany on a Friday in June in 2007, so we got the Ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe and drove down to Brittany on Thursday. We stayed at a really lovely B&B on the Thursday night, overlooking the very picturesque Rance estuary. We arrived at about 4pm to tea and biscuits on the patio on a really beautiful day, which was really nice after driving for just under 4 hours. We only booked the one night as we were planning on staying at our new home over the weekend so we hoped the sale would go through, otherwise we were homeless!!

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Posted by: darkwright | November 8, 2007

French Bank Accounts

Houses of MoneyTo make life a little easier with paying the bills it is advisable to have a French Bank Account. Which bank you choose is obviously a personal choice, what services do they offer / do you need, which bank has branches near your property, are you fluent in French or do you need some support in English etc.

We chose Credit Agricole BritLine, as there are a large number of Credit Agricole branches near our gite in Brittany and they have on-line banking, which is a service we really needed. It does seem though that Credit Agricole is split by region, so if you wish to pay a cheque in using your paying in book you need to be in the region that your branch is in, and Britline is run from Credit Agricole Normandie. This doesn’t seem to matter too much as you can still pay cheques in at any branch, you just have to fill in a different form when you get to the branch. Other banks may be similar so if you are going to be paying a lot of cheques in you had better check.

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Posted by: darkwright | November 5, 2007

Our trip to the Gite in Brittany in October

The beach at St Cast in OctoberAs we have recently come back from having had just over a week in our gite in Brittany I thought I would break up the posts on how we bought our gite with a little report of the holiday. The weather was fantastic, we had 4 days of glorious sunshine and the rest of the days were cloudy but warm and not a single drop of rain. We went to have a holiday and also tidy things up for the winter so that everything would be ready for our guests next year.

We travelled by Brittany Ferries on the overnight from Portsmouth to St Malo. It was the first time we had taken an overnight ferry and we weren’t sure about it but thought we’d give it a go. Overall travelling on the overnight ferry was great, the ferry crossing basically consisted of eating, sleeping and then eating again, now that’s the way to travel! Having endured the fast ferry on the way back I’m sure I’ll write something soon about the different ferry crossings!

We got to the gite just after 9:00 in the morning on Friday and it was the first time we had been over since July, when we got everything ready for our guests. The gite looked great and had worn very well over the summer rental season and when we walked in we still really loved the place.

The port at DinanMy parents were coming over on the ferry on Saturday and staying with us and Kate’s mum Penny and her husband Mike were also arriving on Saturday, but staying at a lovely hotel in Dinan port, so we had a day to ourselves to relax, well not quite. Off we all headed to E.Leclerc in Dinan for the big shop, oh what a joy!

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FX DealingOne of the obvious problems with buying a property outside of the UK is that the currency is different, in our case, buying our Gite in Brittany we needed Euros, and you need a lot more euros than you do for your two week summer holiday! So you don’t actually know how much you’re property is really going to cost you until you get your hands on the Euros. For example, buying a property for 100,000 Euros could cost you £70,921.99 at an exchange rate of 1.41 from a High Street bureau de change, or it could cost you £68,027.21 at a rate of 1.47 from a currency broker, a difference of £2894.78 on a relatively small amount (These were the rates that were around when we were buying and may be different now).

So obviously you’re not going to rush down to the Post Office to buy 100,000 Euros to complete your property purchase. So what are your options. Well you could use your bank, better than the high street exchange rates but not the best, or you could use a currency dealer which offer the best rates.

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Collapsed BuildingOne of the big differences that struck us when we were buying our gite in Brittany was that there wasn’t a concept of “Subject to Survey” as a standard clause in the Compromis de Vente. If there is something very specific with the building you are buying that you want to check out then the vendor will usually allow a specific clause in the contract but it is very unusual just to have a general “Subject to Survey” clause. This is, I suppose, due to the legal status of the contract and the whole buying process and the results of a survey can be viewed quite differently, depending on your point of view. This could lead to long protracted legal arguments about whether the roof being in need of minor repair is reason enough to pull out of the sale.

So if you want a general survey doing then you need to organise it to happen during the seven day cooling off period. This will then allow you to pull out without reason if you are uncomfortable with the survey results.

So who do you get to do the survey. Well that depends on what you are worried about. If it is something specific it is usual to get a specialist in that field to conduct the survey. If there are any disputes over the boundaries of the property then use a Géomètre. Often an architect/structural engineer is used for a report on the general condition of the building or you can use an English surveyor.

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Euro NotesSo you’re in the process of buying your dream house in France and obviously what you really want to know is how much will it actually cost you?

There are a number of different factors that will affect the final price. You should be able to  get a pretty good idea of the costs in Euros by adding up the following different items:

  • The House – The price you have actually agreed for the house
  • Estate Agents or Notaires Commision – if the fees aren’t already included in the price of the house
  • Notaires fees –  which are fixed by the Government and depend on the value of the transaction. These will usually include:
    • The fee – usually around 6%-8% of the purchase price (most of this is tax due to the government, ask your agent how much this will be or try this notaires fees calculator)
    • Loan Acquisition Fee – If you are getting a mortgage you will also have to pay a loan acquisition fee of 1.5% – 2% of the loan value to the Notaire as the Notaire will act for your mortgage lender
  • Taxe Foncière - You will probably also have to pay the proportion of the Taxe Foncière that is remaining for the year to the vendor (e.g. If you buy on the 1st July you will probably have to pay 50% of the Taxe Foncière to the vendor as they will already have paid for the full year). 
  • Taxe d’habitation – This will again already have been paid for the year but you will not normally have to pay the vendor any proportion of this back but do check, just in case.

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Posted by: darkwright | October 18, 2007

Property Buying Process in France

NotaireSo you’ve finally found your dream property, what happens next? Well we can tell you the process that we went through when buying our Gite in Brittany and, having only done this once, we are certainly no experts! So please treat this as a guide, things could be different for you and if you are unsure about anything please seek professional advice.

Well the first thing is to make an offer on your property. This is obviously a tricky business and we are far from expert at it! We watch the property programs and see people making ludicrous offers that you wouldn’t even dream of making and they get accepted, so no advice on this one unfortunately. Do your best and good luck! If you have a set budget have a look at this post on how to calculate how much the whole process will cost so you can make sure you don’t break your overall budget, including fees etc.

Alongside the offer you will also need to state any conditions the offer is based on. If there is a specific worry that you have about the property, e.g. the Roof, you may put in a clause in the initial contract that the sale is subject to the roof being repaired etc. Unlike in the UK, it is rare to have a general clause about the sale being subject to survey.

You then have to decide on a Notaire. The Notaire’s role in the purchase is slightly different to the Solicitors role in the UK. Their role is to ensure that the process is completed according to the law, that all taxes are collected and that there can be no questions of title after the purchase. In this respect they are acting for the state and as such their fees are set by the state. This means that the vendor and the purchaser can use the same Notaire, or you can have different Notaires and the cost will be the same. The choice to use the same Notaire as the vendor or have your own is yours.

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