Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Renovation project - Living the dream when the money runs out!

Renovation project - Living the dream when the money runs out!

Well this is the blog post that may shock/surprise/upset family and friends, which is why I have left it to be a retrospective post. I have always been optimistic and you will find out just how optimistic that sentence was when I say, just before we opened we were almost out of money!

This is not one of those TV programs 'out of money' but hey we just found an emergency 50,000 Euros, this was a complete, Holy S**T, there's hardly any money left!

Now don't get me wrong we were not on the food bank stage but we were only a few months off.
There is nothing quite as horrible as looking at your bank account and wondering how long will this last us, how far can we make it spread and how thinly?

There were times when we panicked, when we argued, when we just sat quietly, which is probably the worst thing you can do, because if you start to dwell, you can start to regret and suddenly look
back on your old life with rose tinted glasses,

There were times when all I could think about was the fact that we had left behind our children and now our baby grandchildren for our new life and now we were in a situation that may become much more difficult than any life we had before, yes work was becoming scarcer in the UK, but it was still there, there are emergency systems in place in the UK such as benefits, which we are not entitled to here, and suddenly there were lots of stories about people who had come to France and left with nothing, are we going to become one of those sad statistics.

This is also the stage when you can start to blame each other, this we never did, you have to keep your spirits high, we were doing this for a reason and we were going to be successful!
it's easy to forget why you came to a new country when it is not going well or to plan, but you came for a reason and that old adage is very true, what doesn't kill you can only make you stronger.

There will be times when it is a struggle and having no money in a country that isn't your own means that you are not entitled to any help, there is no emergency payments, you can't call round to family plus you really don't want them to know that you are struggling and so far away

We were living the dream, we had bought the derelict house, we had almost finished renovating, we were going to open as a B&B, but should we now be concentrating on selling up and trying something new?

We had done everything correctly, we had budgeted, we knew what we had spent, we had kept all the receipts (admittedly they were just dumped in a box and never looked at again, but we had kept them as we had been advised!)

We had been on an 8 week tour of Europe, but what is the point of having a great new life if you don't get to enjoy it?

We had visited family regularly in the UK, and without this, I definitely would not have been able to stay here, France was for a better life not to lose touch with those that are really important. This is one of the biggest dilemmas about moving to a new country, can you see your loved ones often enough?

Could we possibly have done more to preserve our funds, maybe, but would we have been as happy, no definitely not!

Now this is where our optimism (or is that naive stupidity? No I prefer optimism) came in, we are both achievers, we get what we set our minds too so we decide to go ahead and concentrate on the B&B.

We have it decorated as we wanted it, we have all the little luxuries in the rooms, there is the option of cutting corners here, but that would be shooting yourself in the foot, it is a little B&B competing against established providers, we needed to set ourselves apart, we were going to be luxurious.

We have opening night with champagne, we are in France after all and even with little money there is always enough to buy some champagne, again that question of preserving funds comes to mind but as you can buy (not official) champagne (but something that tastes as good) for 2 Euro’s let’s push the boat out!

We have our first summer and we are full from June to mid September, we have made money, far more than we had ever hoped for, it was a roaring success.

We are now so pleased that we kept our heads and our optimism, it worked for us, the food banks are now a distant nightmare, we are here for another year.

Were we just lucky where so many others were not, I don't think so, we had a plan, not set in stone, as we adapted it on a regular basis, we knew how much money we had and spent it wisely (well 90% of it any way).

We did not need to employ anybody and this kept our costs down, we didn't gold plate anything but made sure that luxury was there at an affordable price to us, we lived with no electric, no heating, no floors or doors and without most basic necessities,

And most importantly we did the essentials first, our bedroom was not finished until after the end of the season. It didn't really matter how we lived until we knew there was enough money for it.

This is where so many people do go wrong, why install a pool, luxury owners master suite etc. until you are up and running and making money. You have lived on a building site your luxury can wait.

The basics have to be completed first, we wore lots of jumpers and ran too bed fully clothed as it was not worth putting heating in until all the holes in the walls were filled. We read about one family that spent a fortune on oil trying to heat a house with holes and draughts, this is pointless and will use money that can be better spent

But we we are here, it was a success, we have met some amazing friends

Would we do it again? yes most definitely

Would we change anything? Probably not.

Do we have any advice for anybody doing the same thing? Yes bucket loads of advice, feel free to e-mail and ask

But our top tips are
  • If you are not doing the work yourself. Have a clear budget and decide if it is financially worth it, (sometimes it is cheaper to buy a completed property rather than have the costs of renovation)
  • keep within your budget and don't be afraid to call it a day before you have finished, it's not failing it's being realistic
  • do not put gold trimmings on, shop around you will be amazed at the bargains you can find
  • have a clear plan, but be adaptable
  • learn the language in case you need to take on a 2nd job to supplement your income
  • it's not always a bed of roses, there are good days and bad days, just make sure the good days outnumber the bad days.
  • Talk to each other and don't let negative feelings take over
  • And the biggest piece of advise we received was not to have a plan B, because if you have a plan B the only thing guaranteed to succeed will be the plan B!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

French Entree Photography competition - Top 10 photo finalists

French Entrée Announces Top 10 Photos That Capture Essence of France  
From the horsemen of St-Rémy to the grandeur of Versailles, submissions reveal the vibrancy and majesty of modern France
Bath, 8th December 2014: Horsemen cantering through ancient streets of Provence, the mythical  landscape of St-Paul-de-Vence, and brooding pictures of Paris at night-time, are just some of the images shortlisted by French Entrée in its quest to find the photograph that sums up the essence of France in 2014.
Images from the UK, and across Europe, including Norway, Germany, and even from French nationals themselves, flooded into the travel and property specialist after it announced its 10th anniversary photography competition last month. The shortlist is published online, with a number featuring in the January/February print edition due out on 18th December.
The standard of photographs, which capture the heritage, countryside, not to mention the vibrant cities of the country, was incredibly high, according to Justin Postlethwaite editor of French Entrée, the online and print magazine for those interested in the culture and lifestyle of France.  
He says, “It has been extremely difficult to whittle down the entries because of the very high calibre of submissions, with a number not looking out of place in a professional gallery.  It has been an enjoyable and a slightly painful process because all of the images expressed a real love for France.
“Those that made it to the top 10 are both beautiful and technically very accomplished, having that certain je ne sais quoiwe were looking for on our new-look website, which is increasingly being accessed by readers using a tablet or smartphone.”
The shortlisted images are:
  • Promenade du Paillon, Nice, Summer 2014, Pia Jakobsen
  • St Paul de Vence, December 2012, Pia Jakobsen
  • Château Malbrey, southeast of Paris, 2014, Mike Rhodes
  • Louvre, Paris, September 2014, Lorraine Cosgrove
  • Confolens bridge at night, Laura Payne
  • Paris, August 2014, Frank Meitzke
  • Horsemen of St-Rémy de Provence, Brian Muir
  • Palace of Versailles, August 2014, Andy Lowe
  • Champs-Elysées, Anaïs Soury
  • Eiffel Tower, Anaïs Soury

 Visitors to French Entrée are being encouraged to comment on the shortlist, with the winner,  announced in the New Year, receiving an Olympus SH travel camera.  The winning image will be published in the March/April edition of French Entrée, which goes on sale in February.

All shortlisted images will also be publicised via French Entrée’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

For more information, or to use any  shortlisted images (with accreditation), contact Sarah Chidgey via 

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Renovation project - Where has the time gone?

Renovation project - Where has the time gone?

I have just realised I have not blogged in a long time, I had meant to keep it going but somehow life took over, this was not meant to happen, we came here for the easier life and that is where we are going to get back too.

I was sat working this morning and had to make a telephone call, I still freak at the idea of doing this as it is so much more difficult to speak on the telephone than it is in person, but I did it and as I sat back feeling rather smug I suddenly stated to think how far I had come in the last 2 and a half years.

If somebody had told me when we first moved here I would be working and speaking on the telephone in French I would've laughed at them, but here I am, working and speaking on the telephone in French!

Now what has happened since I last blogged, well there is so much I will try to blog retrospectively but here is a taster:

  • We have finished the house
  • We have had a really successful first season in the B&B
  • We have sold a house
  • We have lost the sale on a house
  • We have had a hard time from the local estate agents
  • We have had a great time with all the people we have met
  • We have met some amazing guests that now stay in touch on face book
  • I have had a fall out with my daughter (which nearly killed me and sent me back to the UK)
  • I have made up with my daughter and feel that my life is once again blessed 
  • We have almost ran out of money (and couldn't afford to run back to the UK)
  • We have made some amazing new friends, and learnt all there is to know about bringing animals to France
  • I have met with French people and conversed in person and on the telephone.
  • I have directed people to our B&B in French (and those that know me, know I can't do that in English!!!!)
  • I have been on holiday to Spain
  • We have been back to the UK for a funeral
  • we have done more work on the B&B
  • I have lost a s!*t load of weight!!!!!

We have had the most roller coaster of a year possible and have now made a major decision, which I will keep for when I am blogging regularly again.

So now I have so much to write about and have just realised that I have family arriving today, so my good intentions may once again go out of the window, but hopefully not.

I look forward to speaking with every body again, and just in case you have forgotten who we are (and because I wanted to prove I have lost a s!*t load of weight), Here is our new photo

Huelgoat, Finistere, Brittany, France Jenny and John in France

A bientot

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Renovation Project - Is it worth using Trip Advisor for my B&B

Renovation Project - Is it worth using Trip Advisor for my B&B

The best way to have customers arrive at your B&B is by direct booking, this way you do not have to pay any commission to anybody, but it is also more difficult.

We have a website, that has generated interest, but you must get your website to appear on the front page of Google searches, this is more difficult, especially if you are in an area with established B&B's
there are a number of ways to do this and I will discuss a few of the ways that we used and which worked best.

Trip Advisor

Try to ensure that all your guests write a review on Trip Advisor, I explained that we were new and needed the reviews to ensure we were successful, I also learnt to request this in more than one language, this really does make a difference.

We will never be number one on Trip Advisor (or at least not for a couple of years) as there is a much bigger B&B that has been established for many years and has well over a hundred reviews, but we did make it to number 2 in our first season, which I am really pleased about.

Tips for Trip Advisor
  • Be the best you can be, provide an excellent service, so that you get a good review.
  • Ask your guests if they enjoyed there stay and if they did please would they write a review.
  • Learn to ask in other languages, this shows you have made an effort
  • Chat to your guests each morning, check if they need anything
  • Respond to any reviews straight away (if somebody has taken the time to leave you a review, thank them)
  • Make your response individual so that they can see you have taken the time.
  • If you have a bad review, don't panic, do they have a point? If so address it in your response, this way any other potential guest can see how you handle any complaints, this can be more positive than just good reviews.
  • It is relatively easy to add your listing to the Trip Advisor site
  • Enjoy what you are doing!
The bad points from Trip Advisor
  • Family or friends can not leave reviews, this means that you can miss out on reviews
  • Anybody can review you, they do not need to have stayed at your establishment
  • Not all B&B/hotel owners are as honest as you, some may have bogus reviews that improve their rating (we do not know of anybody that has done this but it is a complaint from one of the support groups I joined)
  • The business listing option (where guests can book directly is expensive)
  • There is the opportunity for people to leave bad reviews simply to give you a bad rating, these can be removed if proved to be malicious, but this does take some time

Most people use Trip Advisor to see what is written about your property, this is something you cannot escape, however most people will be realistic whilst reading. If you have a great property and provide a great service, taking time to speak to your guests and take an interest in their holiday and help with recommending local restaurants and places of interest you will get a good review.

But also don’t be upset if you have a great guest and they don't leave a review, how many times have you thought ' I love this hotel, I'll make sure I leave a great review' then you get home and life takes over again, just be happy that you made somebody's holiday so special.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

FrenchEntrée Launches Photo Competition to Find Essence of France

FrenchEntrée Launches Photo Competition to Find Essence of France
Travel and property specialists invite photographers to share best holiday photos on new-look website
20th October 2014: FrenchEntrée, the French travel and property specialists for overseas buyers, is launching a competition to find the best images of France taken this year.
Photographers of all ages and abilities are invited to upload pictures of their French travels to FrenchEntrée to win a high specification camera from the Olympus Travel range.
The competition celebrates the 10th anniversary of the website, which has been re-designed to appeal to increasing numbers of users accessing it from a tablet or smartphone.  
The winning photographer will receive an Olympus SH-60. The winning image will be publicised via Twitter, as well as printed in the January edition of FrenchEntrée, the beautiful magazine version of the site. Runners up will receive a subscription to the magazine.
Justin Postlethwaite, Editor of FrenchEntrée, says, “France, through its glorious beaches, villages, cities and immensely varied and beautiful countryside, continues to attract artistically-minded visitors who want to discover its authenticity.
“We are looking for images that sum up France, from quintessential scenes, landscapes, festivals, events or even cityscapes - pretty much anything that would inspire friends and family to try out this wonderful, and still changing country.”
Olympus SH-60:
Thanks to the Hybrid 5-Axis IS normally found in D-SLRs, the compact SH-60 effectively counteracts blur in all five directions.  So effective, you can actually make a movie as you run.
The SH-60 has a high-zoom lens that lets you get close to the details from up to 40cm away – perfect for creating fascinating still shots or smooth 1080 full HD movies. Packed with Photo Story, this pocket-sized wonder lets you create an artistic collage for sharing on social networks or printing.
Competition details:
Participants are asked to register on the site. Once registered, they should submit photos to, along with their name, plus their FrenchEntrée user name, email address and a brief caption about the photos (i.e subject, plus details on where and when it was taken).  
The closing date is Friday 14th November. The winner will be announced on Monday 1st December.
For more information, or for camera images, please contact Sarah Chidgey via or via 07805034477.
The French property market specialist for foreign buyers, providing impartial advice on everything from French property buying and living in France to planning a holiday in the country.
Launched in 2004, FrenchEntrée has grown to become an invaluable source of advice and inspiration for hundreds of thousands of people, with a team of property consultants, a database of over 14,000 properties, a lively online forum aimed at helping members get the best out of living in France, as well as a beautiful magazine focusing on French culture, property and lifestyle.


This is a featured post on behalf of Sarah Chidgey

Thursday, 16 October 2014

AirBnB - How does it work?

AirBnB - How does it work?

AirBnB is a platform for B&B's, Hotels, but also for those who have a room to rent in their home or a house to rent out. When I first heard about them they seemed like a really good option, the commission is very cheap and the sign up process is very easy, guests and owners review each other.

Sounds a bit too good to be true? Well that was the advice I was given.

There is a lot of bad press about AirBNB and a number of support groups that I joined have warned against joining this platform.

We have used them and to be honest we found them great, we did not get many bookings from them but the bookings we did get were really nice people. We would definitely use them again.

I will now detail the pros and cons of using AirBnB

  • very easy to sign up too
  • the commission per booking is only 2%!!!!!!!!!!!
  • guests will send you an e-mail request and you have 24 hours to reply
  • once you accept a guest, AirBnB collect the cost of your booking
  • AirBnb pay you after the fist night that the guest has stayed
  • you can choose your payment method (paypal or bank transfer)
  • all guests are reviewed by the accommodation provider
  • you have the option to look at reviews of potential guests before you accept the reservation
  • all guests review the accommodation provider
  • there is the option to send a private review to each other, in addition to the public review
  • phone numbers and e-mails of your guests are sent to you so you can stay in touch
  • you have to keep your calendar up to date (but if it is not you can just refuse the guest with no problem or penalty)
  • We didn't actually find any! But other people have mentioned the one below
  • not all accommodation providers are registered, but this is no different to any other platform that advertises accommodation
This is she smallest con list I have had for any thing and the only con, is one that is circulating from other countries (we are based in France) saying that AirBnB is not professional or the clients or accommodation that use them are not of the same standard, I do not see how this can be justified as we are a registered B&B (of a high standard) and the people who booked via AirBnB were all wonderful and treated our B&B with the utmost respect.

AirBnB is an online platform, I can not say what the complaints process is like, because we have never had cause to use it.

Please bare in mind the above is our personal experience during June – September 2014 in Brittany, France (it may be different for different countries) this is not a paid post by AirBnB, just a summary of our experience.

Good luck

Wednesday, 15 October 2014 - How does it work? - How does it work?

As a new B&B you have to decide how to advertise and it is a minefield out there, there are so many options. Are you going to have a website and wait for the bookings to come flooding in? To be honest you may have a long wait and if you are in an area that only has a short season you need to optimise your bookings.

But how do you do this? There are many options and one that we considered was (amongst others but I will review them separately)

You will hear good and bad reviews of using a platform such as this, to be honest we found it great. But there are pros and cons and I will tell you about our experience and then you can make your own mind up.

When you first contact you can not find out how much they charge you, you fill in the contact sheet, which is concerning as you have to put all your B&B info in there and you still don't know how it works, I could not find a telephone number to contact as we wanted this information first.

However just because you have put our info in, it doesn't mean you are committed to using them!

We received a telephone call from one of the agents, as we are in France it was a French speaker, but once I explained my French wasn't that great, she spoke fantastic English, so first big plus!

The agent explained how it worked and we signed up, provide a calender (which we are responsible for, if you do not keep it up to date you will be liable for any mistakes)

We had guests almost immediately and regular bookings all through the season.

The pro's
  • Regular bookings (we were full for a season)
  • Easy to use calendar
  • Easy to use system
  • Good back up support from the company
  • You can choose your rates (but these must be same for every advertised site, this is very important!)
  • It is very easy to book dates out if you do not want certain dates not to be available on (e.g. if you get a direct booking)
The cons
  • You do not know the commission rate until you have been though the sign up process (but for us during 2014 it was 15%)
  • You must keep your calendar up to date, if you have a double booking you are responsible for finding the guest alternative accommodation or the cost!
  • Bookings can come though day or night, so DO NOT ACCEPT any other bookings with out checking your e-mails from
  • Do not advertise more cheaply else where
  • Unless you have the option for credit card payments you cannot take a deposit, so if you have a no show, you may not get paid (this only happened once)
  • New dates are added regularly, so if you do not want to be advertised next year or want to change your rates, remember to book out the new dates
More tips

These do not fall into either the pro's or cons but you do need to know.

If you have a no show, it is your responsibility to let know in a specified amount of time or you will still be charged the commission.

Be very careful if you use 2 companies that take direct bookings for you, you can get double booked.

Be very organised with your calendar, keep it up to date.

In summary we used even though they do charge a high commission, we decided that 85% of total room cost was better than 100% of nothing. Many people warned us against using such a big company but we found them to be really helpful and they kept us busy which is the most important thing.

The big is question is would we use them again? and the answer to that is, YES, most definitley

Please bare in mind the above is our personal experience during June – September 2014 in Brittany, France (it may be different for different countries) this is not a paid post by, just a summary of our experience.

Good luck

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Renovation project - Our first B&B season is over

Renovation project - Our first B&B season is over

Well summer is over, and it has been the best summer yet, the sun has shined on a daily basis, we have been full at the B&B and everything is going well.

It is going well that we are now number 2 on Trip Advisor!

We can not believe how busy the B&B has been and the wonderful people we have met.
it has not been what we expected, I thought it would not bother me in the slightest and that John may have had a problem with people in our home but actually it was the other way around.

It is something you don't actually consider. But something you should think of before doing a B&B, you do not have any real privacy, there is always somebody in your house, you do not get any lazy mornings, any lie ins or just slob in front of the TV of an evening, your house has to be immaculate all day, every day, and those that know us well, will know that we are not always the tidiest of people!

We settled in to a routine quite quickly though.

I was responsible for the bookings and making sure that the website was up to date and that was kept up to date and John was responsible for doing the room changeovers and cleaning.

we also used AirBnB, again there are many warnings about this company, but we found them to be great.

I will write a separate post about how to use and AirBnB with the pro's and con's.
The easiest way to work it, was to get the breakfast tables ready of an evening and then I would get up and stroll to the bakery to buy fresh breakfast ingredients. We provided a traditional French breakfast of fresh orange, coffee, breads, croissants and jams with cereal and yoghurt.

This went down really well, we do have some friends that suggested that we provided a cooked English, but we are in France and to be honest when we go away, we want a local breakfast, it seemed to work well.

The biggest surprise we had, was that we did not have any English people stay with us, we had mainly French, Spanish and Belgium guests, which did make breakfasts fun. My French classes really helped and I was able to speak to people in the morning, this was amazing, but also fun when we had people from other countries who also had a spattering of French and English. The conversations were hilarious!

One of the other things we did (when we remembered) was to take a photograph of our guests to add to our face book page, this gives us and them a lovely reminder of their stay.

Some people really stick in our mind as they were just so nice or funny, but I will give some anecdotes later in the week.

All I can say is, if you are thinking of doing this, go for it, it is an amazing experience! But remember to book a day off for yourself or you may become exhausted!

Top tips

  • be prepared for no lazy mornings during the summer
  • make sure you book a night off every so often to recharge your batteries
  • learn your host countries language (and how to say hello in every other language imaginable)
  • decide who is responsible for doing what and stick to it
  • enjoy your self and have fun meeting new people

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Renovation project - We're back!

Renovation project - We're back!

I have really neglected the blog and I do apologise, we have just been so busy, the B&B has done really well, the estate agency side is flourishing, my French is coming along at a great speed (though I do still sound like a sat nav!) but now it is time to get back to the blog, as of tomorrow I will resume normal service and I'll let you know what it has been like having a B&B in France, it was not quite what we expected good in some ways and bad in others, such as not realising you need to book a night off at some point! But we have learnt a lot and had some good fun and met some wonderful people.

See you tomorrow or 'à demain'

Monday, 25 August 2014

Renovation project - Friends come to visit from the UK

Renovation project - Friends come to visit from the UK

After our very busy day yesterday we have our friends arriving this morning I am so excited to see them and can't wait for them to get here, but I am also very nervous about their visit.

We have been talking about them coming over for some time and when we spoke on the phone a couple of weeks ago, I explained that we had very few vacancies and we would need to try to arrange a couple of days when they could stay, but when I skyped my daughter the other day, she was out horse riding with my friend and she shouted over we have booked the ferry!!!

it was a case of oh flipping heck (or words to that effect, the f and g are correct)

I explained that we had no vacancies and neither did the B&B's we would recommend, her response was don't worry about it, we have found a camp site!

I still can’t believe she is going to camp, you have certain friends who you can imagine camping and the you have certain friends who you just couldn't ever imagine camping (you can guess which category my friend falls into)

I have visions of them on the floor in our bedroom after the first night, but we'll see.

They arrive with no problems and I get a text that they are all set up in the tent (my heart sinks every time I think of them in the tent on the camp site)

I call round to pick her up and bring her to the house, her husband has gone straight into holiday mode and is fast asleep.

She loves the house and the area, I'm so pleased as we stay with her for a night every time we go back to the UK and we have sang the praises of our new home, and now she gets to see it and fully understands why we love it so much.

We have a fantastic few days and go out every night, we bump into our new neighbours every night as well, and I am still trying to convince everybody that we don't go out very often and don't know that many people.
Nobody believes us as every where we go we are chatting to more and more, we even go into one bar and meet a couple for the first time and they know us, they read the blog!!!!!!

This is 2 complete random strangers in the middle of a French village, who know us from the blog but also their company has worked with my friends company, how small is this world?

One thing my friend has now realised is that taxis are not the same here as they are in the UK, we are in a restaurant and after consuming much wine, she asks about getting a taxi home, I laugh a little and say its very unlikely but we ask the bar owner and when she finds out the taxi is only to the camp site she can't stop laughing,, there is no chance.

Some things are very different here, and taxis or the lack of them is one example, back in the UK you can get a taxi day or night, but here they are as rare as rocking horse poo!

The week goes so quickly, we have met loads more people, spent the week trying to convince people this is not what life is really like, it's normally much quieter, I somehow don't think people believe us.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Renovation project - The kindness of strangers

Renovation project - The kindness of strangers

Our long day did not stop with the end of the blog yesterday. One of the guests that we had the other week was coming back to view another house, this time not with us and we did not have any vacancies for her either but she still arranged to come for dinner, we really are making some good friends through the B&B and the estate agency.

She calls at the house and it is like welcoming a long lost fried, it's hard to believe we only met her a couple of weeks ago, she heads straight for 'her chair' on the kitchen patio and we share a glass of wine (or 2).

All of our guests are settled in and I go to start dinner, when the door knocks again, it is the return of our new neighbour, this time, terribly upset, they have just turned the shower on to find a big leak and the toilet is not working, there is water coming through the living room ceiling they have traveled so far and are exhausted.

John grabs his plumbing tools and heads down there to sort it out, a couple of hours later he is back, he has stopped the flood but cannot fix the problem, the saniflo toilet is completely knackered.

These people had been paying a management company to oversee their property whilst they were in a different country, it was obvious that nobody had ever been to the house in all the years they had been paying.

They were distraught. I am distraught as there is nothing we can do to help now, we are full, they cannot stay in the house and it is August, the busiest month for B&B's in the town.

I start to ring the other B&B's and find a room for tomorrow, we do have a tent and this looks like it maybe the best option, but I call a friend and see whether there is anyway they can help out for tonight.

After I have explained the situation, my friend insists that they stay the night with her and her husband.

Our new neighbours are amazed by the kindness of strangers, but this is one of the reasons we love here so much, the place really is this friendly and helpful.

I take them to my friends and go back to cook dinner, John is knackered and hungry so we end up going out for dinner, now I really do need that glass of wine, and so begins a week of wine, friends, more wine, food, more wine, visiting and yet more wine!!!!

But I really don't go out very often!!!!!!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Renovation project - A long day in France

Renovation project - A long day in France

Today has been one of those days, you know the type where you just want to curl up in bed and hide from the world or buy a super sized bottle of wine and sit in a corner and drink it, well you have an idea of how I am feeling at the moment.

We have a busy day, we have a full house so there is 4 breakfasts and a whole house clean, I have a house viewing at 12 noon and need to visit another house and a meeting at the RAM (our health provider) at 3pm, plus all of the e-mails and the normal everyday living including our big shop but we can do that after the RAM meeting.

We also found out yesterday that a rumour is spreading that we have opened a swingers B&B!!!!! I'm not sure if it is a mistake from one of our previous posts or if there is some nasty person in the town, especially after the anonymous post the other day!

The breakfasts go smoothly and we make a start on the cleaning, we have the right amount of bedding, but then John sees a mark on one of the quilt covers, no problem we'll just clean it. All good, its ready for when we need to leave and we just have time to hang it out, then our first problem, he drops it on the way to the garden, bugger now we need to re do it all and we're on our way out, not to panic there is enough time.

We get to the house viewing and it goes well, the house is beautiful and has so much potential, the viewers follow us back to Huelgoat to have a look around at a renovation that has been completed, we chat for some time, plus get the washing sorted.

We have had an e-mail from one of the guests to say that they will be arriving at 6, so that gives us loads of time.

The meeting goes well at RAM, and they will be sending John an Attestation until his Carte Vitale arrives. As we are leaving the mobile rings, it is a bad line and it is in French, we get cut off, they ring back, I ask if he is at the B&B and he is, so I say we will get back in 20 mins but this is not going well with the bad line, so I check the number and realise it isn't the B&B, the number had texted earlier to rearrange a viewing, I text and apologise for the bad line, it is only after I have sent the text that I realise the number wasn't exactly the same, bugger, bugger, bugger.

The number calls again, but I can't answer it so text saying that we will be back in 5 mins (as it is definitely the B&B), a guest must of arrived early.

Back at the house, there is nobody there, so I try to call the number and it won't go through.

At this point I want to cry, but I call our French colleague and explain that I have made a major bumble and could he please try to call the number for me.

I'm moaning at John about how I have screwed up again!

My colleague calls back and explains that it was a nice young man trying to deliver a parcel, so I had got it right, even with the bad line, but he is now too far away to come back, he will however come back tomorrow. This is quite exciting as it is our new headlights and we've been waiting for these for weeks!!!!
John also points out that every time I moan that I have screwed up, it turns out that actually I haven't, I think about it and he's right, sometimes I just feel that everything is going wrong, but now that he has pointed it out, he's right, maybe I am just focussing on the difficult bits instead of realising how well I am doing, after all I couldn't speak French a few months ago, and here I am talking and talking phone calls.

We finish the rooms as the door bell rings with 2 guests, we settle them in with a drink and as I walk back into the living room there is woman stood there, I'm thinking I'm sure the new guest wasn't blonde.

She says hi, we spoke earlier, and suddenly I am thinking bugger have I double booked??????

But then I realise this is the person I had spoken to on the blog and telephone a few weeks ago, they are neighbours from Canada.

They are here on holiday and the electric in their house is not working, John goes to the rescue and pops down and sorts it out, the new guests arrive, as does a friend who we are going to have dinner with.

I am now going to enjoy my wine, this day has been far too long!

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Renovation Project - Good customer service

Renovation Project - Good customer service

Our house hunter guest has left, with a lot of thinking to do, here's hoping you've found what you were looking for.

Life goes on and we are busy with the B&B, we are now completely full for July and over half full for August, we had never dreamt that we would be so busy. We have even had to turn people away! One such person just arrived at the door and I had to explain that we were full, I directed him to another B&B and this is when we realised we need to have some kind of reciprocal arrangements in place.

I called to one of the other nice B&B's in the town and explained that we were new and small and had sent people to them, we exchanged business cards and now when either of us are full we will recommend to the other, we have this arrangement with another B&B, that is also a restaurant. And man of our guests go there for a meal, if you are in Huelgoat we highly recommend the Mirabelle

I have said before that this is one of the most friendliest places I have ever been too, but this takes the biscuit, I had worried that we would just be in competition, but we are starting to have a good relationship with the B&B's I have been in touch with, these are also B&B's that we have used or know, so are more than happy to recommend them to people.

We also visited the other estate agent last week, when our house viewer did not find what she was looking for, I took her and introduced her to the estate agent, this may seem strange as in effect we are in competition. But we did not have what she wanted, so you have the choice, not help the person who is looking and let them see the estate agent anyway, or call in and introduce them.

It's one of those no brainer moments, and has benefited us, the estate agent was happy to meet the client and has now taken our B&B cards for her clients and will hopefully do the same if she has a client that she cannot find a suitable property for.

We are still new at everything we are doing and finding our way, but what we have said is that we want to have a reputation based on honesty, friendliness and providing a service that benefits our customers, it's how we lived and built our professional reputations in the UK and how we want to continue in France.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Renovation Project - Hair gate!

Renovation Project - Hair gate!

Well it's all change today, and we have now realised there maybe a problem with our collecton service. The new guest arrives at Roscoff at 9am and our old guests have a check out at 11 am, with the room to be ready by 4pm. It is now that we realise what the heck do we do with our new guest until the room is ready, will she be un impressed with having to sit and wait??????
Our worries are short-lived, she arrives with John during breakfast, so we sit her on the garden terrace with a fresh croissant and a cup of coffee, she is more than happy!

We have a great week and the guest quickly becomes more of a friend than a guest, we enjoy meals out and meals in and more than the odd glass of wine.
We go to view the property that she is interested in and all seems good, but we are back to the dog problem, I have managed to find somebody to come to the Mairie with us as a translator and this meeting goes well, but there is a pile of documents that need to be collected next week.
All is good, and the sun is shining, so its fingers crossed that the house and the news from the Mairie gives all that is required.
We do have a very upsetting moment this week, we have new guests in, who arrive early and the room is not quite ready, all the bedding is freshly laundered, but we are still waiting for the last bit to dry on the washing line, I explain that the room will ready in a few moments, this is not a problem as they are going to explore the area.
The room is sorted when they get back and they are really happy with it.
But a few moments late one of them come down and ask if the sheet is clean!!!!! I am horrified, I go to check it and there is a hair on the sheet, I look at it and it is one of mine, I want to curl up and die at this moment, I apologise profusely, as there are also a few bits on it as well, it is from the grass where the sheets have been hung out to dry.

The guest is fine and says she is happy for me to shake it, but I strip the bed again and use the rest of the fresh linen and then re wash everything to be sure.

This is the first time that anything has gone wrong,, it may not seem like a lot but I am so gutted, we have prided ourselves on the standard that we offer, so this one stray hair may well have been a big dirty stain (you may remember that I am prone to over reacting).
It takes a long time to get over this incident that has since been referred to as 'Hair-gate' actually I'm still not over it and could cry every time I remember it.

But life is about learning, and I have now learnt that the grass must be cut if we are using the washing line and I must wear my hair tied up!!!!!!!!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Renovation project - Vielles Charrues (Carhaix festival)

Renovation project - Vielles Charrues (Carhaix festival)

We have our first group booking today, the Carhaix festival, Vielles Charrues is on and 4 girls have booked in for the 4 days. These are an important booking as these were the ones who were fist to ring and book over the phone on the day we opened.

When they arrive we realise it is not 4 girls but a mum, her friend, a daughter and her friend.

They are all happy with the rooms which is a relief and the girls are very happy with the sheep, they go to feed them every day, which is nice to watch.

The fist night goes well and the 2 women get up for breakfast, we do not see the girls, we say it's no problem, by half past ten the mums are a bit embarrassed as the girls will still not wake up, again we say no problem and they can eat whenever they get up.

The girls get up later and seem very happy that they have the dining room to themselves.

The four days go very well, and the festival sounds amazing, we are so jealous, this is the first year since we have met that we have not been to any festivals, and festival season is well and truly upon us. But we need to make the B&B a success, next year we can do or normal tour (maybe!).

I'm not sure that this is how a B&B should be run, breakfast available until 1pm, bathrooms cleaned at any time during the afternoon, but this is the beauty of having a B&B so small that one family can have the entire house, there are no set rules and the B&B is run too suit the needs of the guests rather than the needs of the owners.

On the last morning I feel really guilty saying that they will all have to get up and check out by 11 am, but we have more guests arriving.

They are more than happy and say that it was great that we accommodated them so well without asking them to get up and vacate the rooms during the day.

They ask to have their photo taken with the sheep and we have one for our face book page as well. Goodbye and have a safe journey home.

John has had to go out early as he is picking one of our next guests up from Roscoff ferry port. This is a new service that we have started to offer, a collection and drop off service, today’s guest is our first to use it!

There is so much to do and learn once you have opened your B&B, it's up to you how you want to run it and I want to make sure that it is based on the needs of our guests and give the best service possible. So far it seems to be working.

Top tips

  • make sure you run your B&B to suit you and your guests
  • adapt and look at new ways to provide additional services
  • remember you maybe competing against established B&B's, so you need to make sure you offer something extra

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Renovation project - Sun deck at the B&B

Renovation project - Sun deck at the B&B

Today we are doing what we do best, this is the royal we, as I will be busy else where! But John can get back to building something new, I hope he hasn't forgotten what to do as it now seems to have been ages since we did any work on the house (it's actually still only a matter of weeks since we actually finished but it now seems like a lifetime ago)

John is going to build the new decking area, he has wanted this since we first moved in to the property, there is a spot at the top of the garden where you can see over the roof tops to the forest and the church spire, it looks amazing as night draws in and the church is lit up.

He sets it out and we decide where its going to go, but what we didn't plan on, was how un level the garden was, to have it where we first wanted, would mean that one end is over 2 foot off the ground!!!!!!

This in itself wasn't a major problem as he could easily build up the sides with steps, but it would cost a lot more, and this isn't cost we can cover at the moment.

John moves the base slightly and the difference isn't as great and we still have the view that we want.
So he now spends the day building, the sun is shining all day, it is so nice to work inn the heat (well it is for me, as I'm not working today, I think John maybe struggling a bit!)

By the end of the day we have our decking platform and we spend the evening sat on it with our glass of wine, this is why we are here, the view is amazing and we watch the sunset.

Could we really ask for anymore from life?

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Renovation project - How many dogs can you take to France?

Renovation project - How many dogs can you take to France?

My melancholy has passed and it's time to get on with things, we are full again and it's busy with trying to sort out the estate agency paperwork.

I had always wanted to be an estate agent, just think of it, spending your day chatting with people, looking around houses, helping someone to buy their dream, so simple, so easy......

No it's not! Enjoyable yes, but just spending your day wandering around houses no!

An example is today I have somebody that has asked about bringing dogs from the UK, simple question. But then you have to remember we are in France, and the French do love their bureaucracy, we are just finding out how many rules there are about bringing pets in to the country, especially if you have a large number.

My French is improving but still not at full conversations with the Mairie over the phone level, so my colleague does a quick call to get some basic information, then I find out that I didn't have all the info to get the full answer, no problem, I will arrange to see the Mairie with my French teacher helping out with the translation, the Mairie only meets people in the morning and she is not available, no problem again, we have a French friend who is animal mad, she will be happy to help, I'm sure. She is but, she works in the mornings, right where next?

My friend that helped with our registration, but she goes on holiday on Monday, but she does give me someone else to contact, I call this person and she is working as well, but another name is thrown into the hat, I have now got used to ringing complete strangers to ask for favours so one more won't hurt.

Another worker, so that's another no go! My final chance is a new neighbour, so I call down and she is unable but her daughter who is at university is free!! YAY!!!!!! we have someone, she is happy to help.

This has been amazing, I have spoken to so many people I have never met and all are happy to help, this is really one of the friendliest places on earth!

Still not sure whether this is within the remit of being an estate agent, but if we were looking, we would hope our agent would pull out all the stops for us as well.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Renovation of a derelict house - The reality of having a B&B in France

Renovation of a derelict house - The reality of having a B&B in France

I seem to be neglecting the blog but we have been so busy, the B&B is taking off and we are getting really busy. Using has really helped.

This is a decision that was hard to make as they do charge high commission, 15% on every booking and because we have chosen to register under the Auto Entrepreneur tax system we are not able to claim any expenses.

We are taxed and pay social charges on our turnover, not our profit.

This is why it was a difficult decision we will not earn as much and the summer season is short but then on the other hand, it is a case of earn 85% of the nightly price or 100% of nothing (a no brainer really).

If you are considering doing what we have done, these are the decisions you may come up against.

The biggest learning curve and tip that I can share is that you are very unlikely to make a living from having a small B&B. It is perfect if you are topping up a pension or have taken early retirement, but unless you have enough rooms/live in an area with a long holiday season or in a very exclusive area where you can charge silly amounts for the night a small B&B will not give you a comfortable lifestyle.

You need to have a back up plan, offer something that nobody else does, this is why we joined Leggetts estate agency so that we can offer house buying breaks. We are also in the process of organising language breaks, where you can stay with us and have intensive French lessons, or photography breaks, but we are now in a catch 22 scenario, I need to spend time working on these, but I am so busy with the B&B and the estate agency I don't have time.

This does lead to stress again, but now it's stress in the old way from working not just from trying to get the house finished.

This blog post is not really specific to any thing but just to get how I am feeling on to paper and give you an idea of what it is really like when you have decided to open a B&B in France.

I would always say go for it, follow your dreams and enjoy it, but be prepared, there will be curve balls, we are busier than we could ever have dreamt possible, but unless that continues past the summer season, we may not make enough to live comfortably (but as a friend pointed out on face book, it is better to be broke living in an enchanted forest than in a city in the UK!)

I still miss my family and though I get to see the babies on Skype they are growing up and I'm not there to be a big part of it, they know me and are always excited to talk and we do go over often, though not in the summer season now they also cannot visit during this time!

I have just re read what I have written and it all sounds a bit negative, it's not, I wouldn't change anything but I do need to point out that not everything is a bed of roses, even when you are doing well.

Maybe I am just getting itchy feet again, after all we have been here for 2 years, or maybe I just woke on the melancholy side of the bed this morning, maybe I just need to get a bit of a grip of myself, but I thought it was good to let you know that life isn't always as easy as it seems but as I said I wouldn't change a thing, I just wanted to let you now if you are doing this, expect the good, the bad and the slightly melancholy, after all this isn't the TV program this is real life!

The biggest tips I can give you, and remember these are based on our real life experiences are:

  • Be prepared to spend money on your advertising, no matter how beautiful your property is, if people don't know they won't come
  • Be prepared that even if you are full for the holiday season it is unlikely to be enough to see you through the year
  • It will be stressful!!!!
  • You will still miss your family
  • You will need to get up before anybody else in the house and get a breakfast ready
  • Some days will not be as good as others
  • But above all if you don't try it you will never know!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Renovaton project - French tax myths!

Renovaton project - French tax myths!

We now have so many tax bills to pay we are beginning to regret what we have done, it really is the most awful thing, how can we be expected to pay this much money when we haven't earnt anything, we keep hearing all of the horror stories about the French tax system, and how it is set up not to help, many of the ex pat sites talk about this, now we know what they are talking about, do we give up?

We go to the chambre of commerce and ask her about the bills, we take copies of them all in with us and the one that came by e-mail, I have taken screen shots of.

This is the best tax meeting we have ever had, she looks at each in turn and says 'poubelle' this is such a pretty word for bin, yes that’s right bin!!!!!!!

Our tax bills have just been slashed, apparently once you are registered your name and address are in the public domain, and you will gets lots of official looking letters asking for money!!!!!!
the tax return needs to be completed with '0's. This is just my tax return for the estate agency, and I haven't yet earnt anything.

She explains that all of the RAM (health letters) need to go to another office, and tells us where this is.
However she didn't know about the e-mail one, she explained that because she wasn't involved in my registration, maybe I had ticked a wrong box, I needed to speak to somebody else, and obviously today is my lucky day, because the guy we need to speak to is holding his monthly open office afternoon, upstairs!

We go up and wait, when its our turn to go in, I show him my tax return and explain that I haven't yet earnt anything so he puts all the '0's in the right place and says to post it to the address on the letter. I show him the e-mail and he shrugs, in that famous French way and explains that I have the correct forms, so to ignore it.

That's it, all over, so simple, we don't have massive tax bills after all. I am so glad that I am starting to speak French because had we been at the this stage last year, before we knew who to speak to, or could not speak any French, we may have believed the bills and either struggled to pay them or given up.

My biggest tip is to learn the language (not necessarily fluently, but enough) and to find out where to go for the correct advice, don't believe the horror stories until you have the facts!

We now head over to the office that deals with RAM (there are 2 separate health systems in France, CPAM who deal with workers and RAM that deals with the self employed)

We had just got to the stage with CPAM, where all we were waiting for was our actual card vitale, we now have to start again, registering with RAM!!!!

The girl at the office is so helpful, she goes through everything and takes copies of all our health bills, we are now fully registered! Still have no card yet but this will come, until we receive it we have to pay for our healthcare and take our receipts to this office for reimbursements.

We now do a bit of shopping and see a beautiful little bright yellow flower house plant we grab one and drive back to the chambre of commerce. I don’t know the etiquette for giving gifts to tax officials but this woman has made our lives so much easier, it is the least we can do and by the reaction it is not something that happens often!

I am now going to put my poor aching head to bed, at the moment it feels like it is about to explode, this much work and talking in a foreign language is really difficult, but the sense of achievement is out of this world!

We still have our social charges to come, but we will let you now about that when we know more!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Renovation project - House for sale in Brittany

Renovation project - House for sale in Brittany

We have a property that is available for sale. based in Berrien, which is only approx 4km form where we live.

Berrien is a pretty little French village with a picturesque church, boulangerie for your fresh croissants, a bar and a restaurant all within walking distance. Drive (or cycle) approx 4km and you are in the thriving market town of Huelgoat, with its lake and enchanted forest and a large selection of creperies and pavement cafés and an English speaking doctor!

This house gives you everything, close to shops and tourist attractions yet just far enough along a pretty lane to feel that there is nothing around you other than the beautiful countryside and woodlands.

The house itself is deceptively spacious, park your car on the gravelled double drive or use the large garage under the house.

Once parked enter the beautiful, but easily maintained south facing garden through the wonderful scent of the honeysuckle and climbing roses, up a small set of steps to the large patio area overlooking the garden and woodlands, but not neighbours, there is even a canopy for those hot days when you sit there with your breakfast or that evening soiree with friends.

Enter the hallway to find doors to:
  • A fully fitted modern kitchen with integral hob, oven and dishwasher. Space for table and chairs allowing the dining room to be a 4th bedroom if required
  • A good sized lounge with window overlooking the garden and feature fireplace that can accommodate a log burner
  • A separate dining room
  • A large modern shower room (with the option of extending into the utility area to make room for a bath)
  • Open utility area with plumbing for washing machine
  • Turned wooden staircase
At the top of the stairs you will find:
  • A double bedroom with walk in storage area
  • A T shaped bedroom suitable for 2 single beds with plenty of space for furniture
  • The master bedroom with en-suite wash room, with wash basin and toilet
The property has a basement that has been adapted into a large utility room, a study, a workshop area and the garage.

In addition the property benefits from having full double glazing, all electric heating, a new roof and a certified fosse septique This really is a property that you can move straight into.

A selection of beaches ~ 40 km
Roscoff ferry port ~ 48 k
Brest airport ~ 69 km

House for sale Berrien, Brittany, FranceHouse for sale Berrien, Brittany, France

House for sale Berrien, Brittany, France
House for sale Berrien, Brittany, France

House for sale Berrien, Brittany, FranceHouse for sale Berrien, Brittany, France
House for sale Berrien, Brittany, FranceHouse for sale Berrien, Brittany, France

 If you are interested in this property or are looking for a house in Brittany please contact us and we may be able too help you

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Renovation project - French Tax Returns

Renovation project - French Tax Returns

We have been getting plenty of guests, but we have realised we have not been getting any of the walk by guests, I have said this is because people cannot see our sign as they drive past, we have also realised that the sign we have does not have our telephone number on it.

Time to order a new sign, I want one that dangles over the door so that people can see it.

We order a new sign and some more cards, as these rapidly disappeared, I knew we should've ordered lots more. These are all expenses that we will not be able to claim back. But you have to expect that there will be set up costs if you want to be successful, and we do seem to be very successful!

The sign arrives and John has the fun of trying to work out how to hang it outside. We have a piece of metal bar in the barn and the chain that we had bought.

John drills a hole in the wall and attaches the sign with the chain and bolts it to make sure it is secure.
Now we really look like a B&B!
B&B's in Huelgoat, franceB&B's in Huelgoat, france

B&B's in Huelgoat, franceB&B's in Huelgoat, france

B&B's in Huelgoat, france

We have also received a lot of post, very official looking post, with a 200 Euro bill each, that’s not good!

We also had an e-mail that looks like we have a 4 thousand Euro bill each, bugger this was not something we had been expecting. This also looks very official and appears to have come from the tax!!!!!!

John takes a phone call, and the guy speaks really good English, but unfortunately John doesn't know what he is talking about, and asks him to ring back when I am in. he calls back and even though his English is very good, I still have no idea what he is talking about, but it is definitely something to do with this e-mail and the 4000 Euro bill.

I think tomorrow we will have a trip to our friend at the chambre of commerce and ask if she knows about it.

Now it's a case of sit back and wait for more bookings, and try not to think of this big bill, because that could mean the end of our dreams and the B&B will be on the market much sooner than we had ever planned. Please wish us luck!!!

but on a positive note, the sun is still shining!!!!!!!!!