WHEN Phil and Donna Voice moved to France in 2004 the plan, on paper at least, seemed simple.
They knew they wanted to experience renovating an old French property and at the same time enjoy the social life that went with renting out their home for holidays.
As you can imagine, things did not always go to plan. Here Phil, right, lists some of the lessons learnt from renovating their stone farmhouse near Monflanquin, so they can welcome their first guests this summer. Phil writes:
First and foremost be single minded and resolute. Never lose sight of your goal, because at times that tunnel can be dark and very long.
However, contradictory to the above, you need to remain flexible right to the very end. With four months to go before completion of our work we changed our plans in a major way, but the effect has been incredible.
So never assume timescales will be exactly right as planning applications can be delayed, especially by August holidays, and although two months is the rule-of-thumb for things to be processed speaking from experience this can more than double.
And don’t try to speed things along by doing major work on the house, because in areas with strict planning restrictions you may get a visit from the Gendarmerie if you start changing the exterior appearance or height of a property without the proper paperwork.
It is also important to think with your head and not with your heart when looking at a property, as surveys are not the same in France and if you have no experience in what to look for then get a professional to look over the property. Paying a fee now might stop you making an expensive blunder in the future.
In older properties look out for those telltale cracks to try and see where they originate and if further movement is a possibility. The majority of old stone houses used a mixture of mud, straw and lime, so superficial cracks may be easily repaired.
A crack that appears to go through from an exterior wall to the interior could be a problem because it might indicate major movement. Similarly if a crack appears on a corner of the building and looks like it is replicated on two sides it might mean instability on that corner.
Some old buildings already have large metal wall ties that are drilled through a wall right into the interior of the house and tied into substantial beams or walls. This might mean that the problem has been stopped.
If you purchase a property that is moving it could mean a substantial cost that may reduce your budget for the finishing touches. If in doubt get that second opinion.
When planning the inside of your house, as is the rule in the UK, never indulge yourself in a mad design. You might need to sell the property one day and your asking price will be much affected if you install that avocado suite in the bathroom.
Similarly, the exterior is a must to plan properly. Calling on my experience as a landscaper, I looked to position the pool as a focal point so that it would do justice to the whole surroundings.
In our case the pool, which is half buried half visible, has been built with the same stone as the house walls and the pool house in the same style with a canal tile roof. The objective when selling a holiday, or eventually selling the property, is to hopefully create that Wow! factor.
Both the terrace of the newly finished gite and pool are positioned, firstly and most importantly, so that it offers maximum security for anyone wanting to keep an eye on their children. Secondly the pool is facing the best view as is the terrace and both are in the sun all day with no restrictions.
I have worked to ensure there is a harmony in everything, ensuring we used desire line practices all the time. This means never create a right angle in a path where the natural desire is to continue at the angle the path curves. You will find plants and grass get trampled as impatient guests cut off the corner to get where they want to go to.
It is also important not to over stretch yourself – a small property properly finished is far better than a large property half finished because you run out of money. You may even have to reduce your asking price when you sell and the cost of any work you have done is wasted.
But if you have approach your project with an understanding eye it is sure to appeal, as enjoying a holiday in a place that feels cultural, historic and sympathetic to the ‘dream’ is what your guests will remember most. And hopefully they will return for that reason.
For more about the work Phil and his family undertook on their property, as well as their experiences of life in France, visit their website Periogord Vacance.