So the decision had been made. After 7 years we had decided that we could not carry on in the same way both financially and emotionally. So the “a vendre” sign was up.

Of course, as was our luck at the time, when did this happen? Yes right at the heart of the global economic collapse. So did it affect us, you bet it did. The Chateau was valued at 100k Euros below what we bought it for 7 years ago. And even at that price we were advised to drop it a further 100k Euros to get interest in it. We could not afford to do that as it would not even clear the outstanding mortgage owed on it. So we put it on at a price we could just about manage to walk away from it and clear any existing debts for it.

Even at this price we had very few viewings, and no serious offers, the main issues being with the size of it, from a management view, or the history of flooding it has… Of course the annoying part of that is the fact that the flooding risk had now been resolved, but we still had to declare the past problems.

To add to our woes, Jane had decided to return to the UK to be closer to her Grandchildren, which left David on his own to see the seasons through.  We will admit we had serious concerns that David would not be able to cope with this on his own, but he reassured us he would have help at hand and would not let us down. He is still good to his word to this very day. We cannot thank him enough.

So it was that we were in a strange position of having to push the rentals while secretly wishing it would sell quickly. Believing that as we were selling it as an on-going business, then any rental agreements would be honoured by the new owners. We were not in a position to stop trading while it sold.

2 years on and with the Euro-zone crisis having deepened, the global recovery having stalled, and the dreaded ‘double dip recession’ biting hard, it was time to yet again look at our options. It was clear that the only way we were likely to sell was to drop the price to un-manageable levels. And then see if we could cover the shortfall by re-mortgaging our UK home. This in reality was not an option, with the UK now in deep recession again and no lending being given out. So we had to come up with another Plan B.

After going out in June 2012 to open up for the forthcoming season, and finding so much work that had to be done, we decided it was time to work out a plan to move. Again we were looking for new managers to see us through 2012. We were not sure David would be able to see the season through due to several health issues, although he did assure us again that he would not let us down. While searching for a back up plan for management possibilities, we were introduced to a couple that ‘had a plan’.

PLAN B.

We have always thought that things would be so much easier if we lived on site permanently. Getting ready for the season could be done over several months, not squeezed into 5 days. A broken tile in the roof could be fixed there and then, not left for several months to do untold damage inside, any problems would be sorted before they escalated into major tasks. We could improve the quality of what we offer, as we would be there to ensure it is cared for properly. And all those big jobs we really want to do but cannot do in the 5 days we generally get there at the book-ends of each season, could be done over the winter months.

What has always stopped us was the frightening aspect of losing all our known income. Becoming totally reliant on rental income to pay the bills and to keep us alive. In the current climate is not a given that the clients will continue to come. So we needed something tangible to give us a potentially different revenue stream.  What are we good at? Running holiday homes, we have been doing it for 7 years now…. So when the chance pops up to do this stuff for other owners, do we take it. ?

We have a ‘cunning plan’, will it all fall into place? Well this is still unanswered.

What we can say is that we have done the U-turn. We have taken Le Chateau off the market. We have put our UK home up for sale, and we are in the process of preparing for the big move.

As far as this Blog is concerned we are now in real-time. We are still waiting for an offer on the UK home, have had some of viewings, but due to market conditions have had top drop the price, but the maths do still add up to make this all possible, albeit a bit too close to the line for our liking…

We are de-cluttering, and have just re-launched the house sale with a new agent. So fingers crossed everyone we will have some good news to publish very soon.

We are off to Le chateau next week to close it down for the season, and hopefully have a few days relaxing. I think we have earned it. Hopefully it will be the last ‘visit’ over there. Our next trip will be for good.. Dog and All.

le Chien!!

Thinking about learning to bark in French

We can then look forward to our trips to the UK..  And more importantly look forward to welcoming all our wonderful guests in person.

Please comment on our Blog if you like it.

We intend to keep this going in a more Chronological fashion so we can keep in touch and report on our progress.

Our very best wishes.

Janine and Tony xxx

and Junior…woof woof

Posted by & filed under Our Story.

Pull up a sandbag, or lots of them please…..

Our first full year of running holiday lets had gone well. We had a couple that lived near by that were our managers and dealt with everything pretty well. Unfortunately they decided that the finances just wouldn’t add up and had accepted a full-time job in Toulouse, so could no longer be our managers.

So we were on the look-out for new managers. The word was out and thankfully we soon got a recommendation for another couple that were also near-by.  This all sounded great as it would actually be 2 couples, meaning 4 people to share the load. And as you can imagine there is a lot of hard work involved in keeping this all in pristine condition. So new contract drawn up and things were ticking along nicely towards the opening up for the new season………. Until a few days before we had to return to the UK, the bombshell fell on us that 2 of them wanted to pull out.  After long talks and much stress, we were left with just the 2 who were happy to take it on board. Thankfully Jane and David have been our rock of strength, and we have never looked back. When you read about the things they have had to deal with, you can understand how much gratitude we owe them both.

Did I say Pull Up a Sandbag? Well the irony is just that. FLOODS… Yes we have had a few.

We were aware that the river next to us had very occasionally burst its banks resulting in the gardens being flooded, we are on a low risk flood plain, as you would expect being next to a river, albeit a very quiet stream normally… How can this cause so much painSo we were not that surprised when we found out the river had risen after a very long period of intensive rain. We are talking about 4 to 5 inches a day for 5 days solid…. A lot of rain. What really didn’t help us was the fact that there is a huge lake at the top of the valley that is used for water sports and is the main water supply for the region. The management of this lake was poor to say the least… They decided that with all this rainfall, they needed to open the ‘barrage’  (flood gates) so with a river already at full capacity, they added millions and millions of tonnes of extra water to it…. No wonder we got flooded….

It’s OK though because they have the decency to call the village Marie to let him know they have opened the flood gates… So we had about 10 minutes notice. What they don’t tell you is when they will close the gates so you know the water will not rise any further…

Thankfully just the gardens were under water this time. However we had last autumn planted over 2000 spring bulbs and over 200 lavender bushes to make the gardens beautiful during the spring months. We lost the lot. Well not quite, think we still have 2 alliums that managed to survive.

Over the next few years this became a regular thing. Every Winter usually in early Feb or March we got flooded. In fact over the next 3 years we were flooded a total of 9 times. All but one was down to the ‘barrage’ being opened during the heaviest periods of rain… But there is good news.

After a really bad one where we were hit by some really bad weather, hurricane force winds, lightning strikes, torrential rainfall, and the lake being emptied, which not only tore down trees, knocked down walls, smashed roof tiles, we did actually have major flooding, it was bad enough to flood both houses and the swimming pool resembled a mud pit.  Thankfully Jane and David were there for us all the time. Their devastation was clear to see too, they had worked so hard on everything to make it perfect for the coming season, and it was all washed away in a matter of a few hours. This time we managed to get a ‘Catastophe de Nature’ declared and so the insurance came into its own.  Although did not cover most of the garden damage, but did allow us to re line the pool.

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Well that was the final one from the river management aspect. They have now done lots of work over the full length of the river to improve flow rates and to stop areas of back-up. And most importantly they now control the lake, so that the level is kept well below the flood alert before any major weather systems come in…

We have also since invested in 200 filled sand bags ready to go,  and flood gates for every entry point to all 3 houses. Over £2000 well spent? Well we don’t know as we have never had another incident to test them thankfully…. and to be honest nor do we.. We are happy to know they are there if we need them.

BUT

We have had one other major flood…. This time from inside. We had long term winter residents and during a really cold snap just as they were away for the day, the main water pipe that runs through the loft on the dividing wall of the 2 main houses burst. It was not noticed for a very long time and by the time the guests returned the houses were saturated, so much so that they were not habitable. Ceilings had collapsed, plaster had come away from the walls tiles lifted, the electrics were shot.  It was apparent that this was real major damage and was not just a case of a big clean up. Again, who were there in the thick of it for us?… Jane and David. We went over as soon as we could to assess where we would go from this disaster. The insurance assessors where quick to react, and soon had builders coming round with de-humidifiers going on full blast for several months before the rebuilding could start.

5 months later, we were back in business and welcoming our first guests for the season.  But we had had enough. We could not take it any more. The stress of all this had got too much, along with Janine being made redundant while recovering from major surgery, resulted in us having a major re-think. We could not longer afford to keep things going, and the rental income was nowhere near being enough to cover costs.

We still loved it here, but the love was now being tainted with too many tears, and financial worries. We decided that upon completion of the repairs we would sell up. So the Chateau went up for sale. After 7 years of our 5 year plan we decided, we had to give up our dreams.

So where did it go next?

Find out in the next chapter.

Posted by & filed under Our Story.

So there we were, the new owners, so many ideas of what we can do and what we want to do. Now to start turning those ideas into reality.

First thing and most important was to get it known to the world that we are now in business, so after agreeing a name and buying the Domain names, and with help from some friends the website was born. www.french-escapes.com (and .co.uk) became a reality. But how do we get it out into the big wide world of search engines. Easy answer was to get advertising in place with the big hitters of holiday renting. Taking on board something we learnt on a ‘Gite Management’ course we did last year, we decided to hit the road with Chez Nous. They are the biggest (at the time) and have proved to be the most successful in getting bookings. We had a few others that we soon dropped as they did not perform at all.

We had drawn up business plans for what we thought was every possible scenario. It’s amazing that at the time we had a “worst case” plan done on the Euro exchange rate falling to an unprecedented 1.40.  We were working around the 1.55 rate at the time.

So with what appeared to be a reasonable first year for bookings we decided that our 5 year plan was on the cards. This plan was to be living in La Grange running the other 2 houses as guest homes, possibly all year round. We worked out that we would be able to clear the vast majority of the mortgage within those 5 years with the selling of our UK home adding to the pot. That we would be able to secure enough summer rentals to see us survive the year. Then if we had a really good year we could then start making the improvements and renovations that are still needed.

Without going into details, as it is a full story on its own, lets just say that the best laid plans and all that….  Well the 5 year plan never got off the drawing board really.  The following years proved to be as equally rewarding as they were devastating…

Remote management is stressful believe us.

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