Country houses for sale

Making the most of your holiday home

With everyone’s eyes more firmly trained on the household budget, the expense of maintaining a second home on the coast or overseas has come under greater scrutiny this year. More people are renting out their homes for holiday lets: the number of owners using the site has grown by about 25% year on year. And by far the most growth has been in the UK, where inventory is up 73% and enquiries up 93% since autumn 2008.

Quite apart from the income, going down the rental route also limits the time that the house remains empty. ‘Yes, it’s nice to cover the running costs,’ says Judy Meunier, director of SJ Villas, a worldwide villa-rental company, ‘but it’s also important to ensure the house is being used to keep everything working.’ Mrs Meunier’s top tip is to find a good housekeeper. ‘They double up as house managers and not only should they do a daily clean three hours in the morning to make beds, set and clear up breakfast and clean the bathrooms is ideal but they also keep an eye on the place.’

Other aspects worth considering include buying zip-linked beds that can be split apart for children and teenagers-‘they never want to share double beds’. Plenty of white-cotton bed linen and good-quality pillows with protectors are also recommended. Outside, there should be plenty of sunbeds and a table big enough to feed everyone alfresco. ‘But 90% of the problems we have during rentals come from the swimming pool. So it’s vital that you have a reliable pool man who looks after the chemicals regularly. If the pool goes, it ruins the holiday for everyone.’


Holiday home in St Agnes

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Not unlike the swathe of luxury hotels that have been creatively coming up with ways of attracting an increasingly exacting clientele, the holiday-home rental market has raised the bar in the past few years in terms of what is being offered. No longer does it suffice to present a clean house with functional furniture and a well-thumbed lever-arch information file on the drawing-room table. Nowadays, owners are offering guests the five star package, from WiFi and satellite TV through to concierge services, such as babysitting and grocery stocking prior to arrival. Even backing down on rules such as allowing dogs to stay will cast the net a little wider.

The best way to ensure a comfortable turnover is to maximise exposure of the property to potential clients. The first step should be to set up a website. People will always be interested to see photographs and find out more information about a house and, in 2010, any house worth its salt will be expected to have a web presence. It needn’t cost thousands to produce, but there are a few things to get right: find someone who understands how to maximise the chances of the site being found through Google (search-engine optimising in industry speak) and make it as user-friendly as possible.

Be wary of too much complex design: introduction pages with music look sophisticated, but all too often turn people away. Narrow down the information to lots of photographs (taken when the sun is shining and preferably by a professional photographer), information about the property (how many it sleeps, where it is, approximate rental costs) and, crucially, put in a contact telephone number and email address.

However, although a well-designed website should be able to sell some weeks, other marketing initiatives should be considered. The cost of appearing on a holiday-home website is cheaper than using a letting agency. For a fee of about £200 a year, they’ll supply the tools for owners to self-manage rentals (online availability calendar and booking contract templates) as well as space to advertise the property.

Agencies charge management fees of between 20% and 25%, but for that, they take away all the administrative headaches of dealing with the bookings and managing the property. The other option is to advertise through the back pages of Country Life where, from next week (December 9), we will be launching a new section gathering together an eclectic mix of some exceptional private houses for rent. Food for thought when you’re planning next summer’s holidays.