Properties in popular tourist destinations can be let for between 30 and 40 weeks each year, and homes off the beaten track will let for about 20-25 weeks per annum. In high season, top cottages rent for £2,000 per week, and a two-bedroom wing of an inland house commands about £1,000 per week. Expect to pay between 30% and 40% of the income for fixed costs such as repairs, cleaning (both cost more in old houses), postage, heat and light. Using a letting agent will cost about 20% of your income, although you’ll save on advertising costs in the long run.
You should only consider turning your property into a holiday let if it’s pretty and appealing. David Fursdon’s award-winning accommodation in historic Fursdon House, Devon (01392 860860; www.fursdon.co.uk), boasts manicured gardens and views over rolling countryside, and is a 45-minute drive from the coast and Dart-moor. Mr Fursdon lets two converted wings of Fursdon House, as well as a holiday cottage, and anticipates a gross yield of between £10,000 and £20,000 each year. ‘Holiday accommo-dation has to be more comfortable than your own home,’ he believes. Expect to pay a minimum of £10,000 to upgrade to a smart kitchen, and upwards of £5,000 for a bathroom.
Pros Although profits may be small, letting holiday accommodation really helps you ‘deal with the repairs in a big house’, says Mr Fursdon, who spent £10,000 on house maintenance last year alone.
Cons Converted wings in houses are less popular than stand-alone cottages. Guests will almost certainly interrupt you in the middle of a great rugby match.
Top tip Ensure holiday accommodation has separate access, for guests’ privacy and yours.
Weddings, celebrations and shoots
If you plan to host events, your house and gardens have to be attractive and situated somewhere that will ensure consistent demand-although this also means there will, inevitably, be competition nearby. David Kenyon and his wife, Kate, spent two years searching for a property that they could turn into a business before choosing Crowcombe Court House, in west Somerset (01984 618752; www.crowcombecourt.co.uk). The elegant, 18th-century home is near affluent Taunton and Exeter, and the surrounding countryside is also popular for shoots. Weddings are limited to 20 in the summer, and they also operate for 30 nights as a shooting lodge in the winter. ‘Beyond that, it’s not a home anymore,’ says Mr Kenyon.
Mr Kenyon expects a wedding to generate about £9,000 gross. This includes income from drinks, a venue fee and the use of eight double en-suite bedrooms for both nights either side of the wedding. ‘Offering accommodation allows you to cast your net wider.’ Each shooting party generates gross earnings of £2,500. With the different areas of their business taken into account, the couple expects Crowcombe Court to yield a total gross income of £300,000 per annum. However, the fixed costs of wine, staff, insurance and heating eat up something in the region of 50% of this.
Pros You’re in charge of your own timetable-you can hire the property out as frequently or infrequently as you like, in a way that fits in with your lifestyle.
Cons Flooring and lawns will need protection, particularly if a marquee is used for events.
Top tip If you’re working in weddings, you must be a people person, as ‘you’ll be liaising
with stressed brides and their mothers,’ warns Mr Kenyon.
Filming and photography
The fees you’re paid for hiring out your property as a filming location vary between £400 and £10,000 per day (the latter would be for a Hollywood feature, and is rare). The average fee is generally about £1,500 per day. Increasingly, production companies want a mixture of features, such as a lake, church, and period village, as well as a house. Most homes seen on film are registered with location agencies such as Sarah Eastel Locations (01225 858100; www.film-locations.co.uk) or Lavish Locations (020-8333 4610; www.lavishlocations.com), which will charge an agency fee of 15%-20%.
Filming is hard work, involves large numbers of people (40 to 150) and long days-sometimes lasting from 6am until 10pm. You’ll need to have someone overseeing the filming who can ensure everything runs smoothly. ‘This person will also have to be available to answer the constant questions about the location of socket points, borrowing of items for a particular shot or whether it’s fine to move a particular table,’ says Miss Eastel.
Pros Having your home appear in a popular film or television series can be invaluable, as Lord Carnarvon of Highclere Castle (www.highclerecastle.co.uk), location for Downton Abbey, testifies. ‘Our visitor numbers have increased threefold, and there’s been an increase in demand for special visits,’ he says.
Cons Filming is a highly unreliable source of income, and requests often come in at very short notice. Most big film companies stay close to London and within the M25.
Top tip To generate business, take pictures of everything-old and new, weird and wonderful. Cutting-edge features are as popular as pre-Second World War bathrooms and 1950s kitchens. The more varied the locations you can offer, the more likely you are to be hired.
Marketing your venue
A good website is, without doubt, the most important marketing tool for anyone trying to reach the general public. The price of a simple but effective one starts in the region of £400. However, large organisations can spend between £15,000 and £20,000. ‘Websites need to be updated every three or four years, as they can look out of date very quickly,’ advises Simon Foster, who is the general manager of Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire, and who also runs his own consultancy on historic houses and tourism and leisure (01531 637778; www.simonfosterassoc.co.uk).
Ensure your website reflects your target audience. Mr Kenyon created two completely different websites for his shooting (www.theshootlodge.co.uk) and wedding businesses-‘I didn’t want brides being put off by the death and gore’. On his website, Mr Fursdon renamed the cold-sounding North and East wings the more welcoming Park and Garden wings, and saw an increase in bookings.
Social media, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, is a very good way of encouraging visits to your website.
‘At Eastnor, someone is employed one day a week just to manage our Facebook and Twitter accounts and add new stories to the website,’ explains Mr Foster. Excellent pictures are ‘really important to avoid wasting yours and your customers’ time,’ adds Sarah Beeney, television presenter and property expert. ‘They need to really sum up what the building is all about.’
Target online advertising such as online wedding-venue specialists Hitched (www.hitched.co.uk) and For Better For Worse (www.forbetterforworse.co.uk). Expect to pay 6% of your turn-over for marketing.
Pros The best form of marketing is positive word of mouth. A successful hunt ball can be ‘great local PR’, recommends James Del Mar of Knight Frank.
Cons Bad press is hard to deal with. Sites such as TripAdvisor offer candid reviews, but if they’re malicious, contact the website to have them removed.
Top tip Your website must be search-engine friendly (in webspeak, you need to invest in SEO or search-engine optimisation technology), so it achieves a high ranking on search engines.