We talk to potential property buyers on a daily basis and one of the many questions we ask concerns their motivation to buy a French property. For many, the answer is simple – they want a French property as a holiday retreat, a ‘home away from home’ where they can enjoy the culture and a more relaxing lifestyle a few weeks or months each year. That is pretty straightforward, but what about buyers who want to leave everything behind and permanently relocate?

Their motivations are rather different. It’s all about looking to escape the ‘9 to 5’ routine, to rediscover a life where work isn’t at the centre of everything. These buyers aspire to a simpler existence and to achieve a certain level of self-sufficiency. It’s a powerful but not unattainable dream and, over the past decade, we’ve helped many people begin an exciting new French chapter in their lives.

French Smallholdings

For many buyers who want to move permanently to France, the promise of more outside space is very appealing. Compared to many countries, it’s very common to find French properties with several hectares at a very reasonable price, making it possible to have a large recreational garden space, a potager (kitchen garden), an orchard, a few paddocks and even useful outbuildings.

As many of us spend our early adult life in an urban environment, the prospect of a bucolic life in the country seems intoxicating. We always take the time to remind prospective buyers of the work involved in maintaining a large acreage, not to mention looking after crops or animals. For instance, when it comes to property hunters who are looking at the popular southwest of France, we always explain that everything grows like crazy during the spring rains and in early summer, and then the hot weather begins and the whole region cries out for water.

Recently, I spoke to second-time French property buyers who fell in love with a 20-acre farmhouse the first time around but are now looking to down-size. They’ve realised that keeping up such a large property isn’t always synonymous with an easy life. But having said that, the allure of a manageable smallholding in rural France is as compelling as ever and there are some charming and affordable properties to be viewed.

Running a Gîte

In France, the self-catering vacation in a gîte is seen as a great alternative to a hotel or chambre d’hôte. Millions of people take a gîte vacation every year. Unsurprisingly, established gîte businesses and those properties with conversion potential remain a popular purchase. The prospect of running a business which will generate income and enable you to have a flexible working day is appealing to many – often as an early retirement or semi-retirement option. However, when speaking to prospective buyers, we stress that owning a successful gîte involves a reasonable level of business acumen and a lot of hard work. The French holiday industry is extremely competitive in some regions and there are many critical factors to success, including the right location, good marketing, a high standard of accommodation and finding a unique ‘angle’. Some very successful gîtes offer extras, such as language, cooking or photography classes.

I recently met some American buyers who were looking at buying a property in France with a couple of units to rent as gîtes. They already owned a property in the U.S. and let it out several weeks a year, so they had a pretty good idea of the importance of marketing. Their initial concept was to focus on buying a very large property to let out to American visitors seeking a beautiful place in France for special family reunions. It’s an interesting idea, but after visiting some properties and doing some research together, we identified that there was a more obvious gap in the market for smaller luxury gîtes for couples. There were plenty of 3-4 bedroom houses with private swimming pools but very few 1-2 bedroom properties offering the same.

By making some careful decisions and taking the time to research and consult, it’s entirely possible to find a suitable property and become the owner of a successful French gîte business. Best of all, running a gîte offers a rare chance to enjoy a reasonable standard of living, a high degree of freedom and the chance to meet people from all over the world, who will be your admiring guests.

Originally published in the August-September 2013 issue of France Today

Gaëlle Perreaux is in charge of FrenchEntrée Property Services Ltd, which has been helping international buyers find their dream property in France for a decade. With over 120 estate agent partners, they are able to source any kind of French property, priced from 40,000 euros to 40 million euros.