Wish you were here? The truth about running a guesthouse
Buying a B&B can change your lifestyle, so guest houses are hot property. Sharon Dale reports.
RUNNING a B&B involves far more than cooking a full English and changing beds, as any guest house owner will tell you.
But the marketing, bookkeeping, meeting, greeting, decorating, cleaning and cooking can bring a host of benefits to those who want to escape the nine-to-five.
It’s an alternative lifestyle that is particularly appealing at the moment. Job uncertainty, economic gloom and talk of more families holidaying at home have fuelled a rise in the number of would-be B&B buyers, according to David Broschomb, of property agents Fleurets.
“It’s definitely a lifestyle thing. It usually gives you the chance to live in a beautiful location in the kind of house you might not be able to afford if the property didn’t generate an income. For families it means being able to spend more time together and being there for the children.
“Yes, it’s hard work, but it is very rewarding and it gives you the opportunity to run your own business.”
Although interest in B&Bs is high at the moment, this doesn’t always result in sales.
Peter Bean, of Colliers International, says: “Guest houses are principally bought by people who want a career change and have a house to sell, so the low level of activity in the housing market impacts on the guest house market.”
Finance too can be hard to secure, but if you are successful, the owners of the guest houses pictured here reveal what it’s really like:
run the Lysander in Scarborough, which has 17 letting bedrooms and separate two-bedroom owners’ accommodation. They have three part-time waitresses. ANDREW and Julie had a small decorating and soft furnishing business in Nottingham but gave it up to live and work in Scarborough, where they had spent many happy weekends.
Julie says: ”We loved the idea of bringing up our daughter here, so we sold our own house and bought this in 2004. It was purpose-built as a guest house in the 1940s, but it needed a lot of work. We put in new en-suites and redecorated everywhere over the winter then re-opened. The first three days I felt sick with worry but it is surprising how quickly you learn. It’s a lovely job and really rewarding. People come here looking shattered and go home relaxed and happy. It has also given us a very good living.
She adds: “The business has changed a lot. We stopped doing evening meals a couple of years ago because there’s no call for them. Instead we recommend places to eat and restaurant owners offer our guests discounts. It works well and helps support other local businesses. We’ve also noticed that people are staying for longer. They’ve been come for a week or five nights this summer, which seems to be proof that staycationing is becoming more popular.”
The Grants work seven days a week but close from November to mid-March, apart from opening for the New Year market.
“We renovate, go on holiday and lie in for as long as we like. The rest of the year it can be trying but we don’t mind. I look at the view and still can’t believe I’m lucky enough to live here.”
Julie suggests that buyers should look at somewhere with separate owners’ accommodation and recommends getting an accountant.
“It helps having somewhere private to live because it’s more relaxing and your children can play their music as loud as they like,” she says.
The Grants are selling to buy a small hotel. “I really can’t see myself doing anything else. You get the odd awkward customer but that’s the only disadvantage I can think of.”
run Acorn Lodge, Harrogate, which has seven letting bedrooms and a separate three-bedroom owners’ house. THEY bought the property seven years ago after Philip decided on a career change. He gave up his job as a call centre manager to run the guest house, while Alison, a part-time teacher, does the book-keeping. They have one part-time member of staff who helps with the cleaning.
Philip says: “We really enjoy what we do. I love talking to people, which helps because you have to be sociable.
“A typical day for me starts at about 6.30am when I begin preparing a fresh fruit salad for the guests. Then I’m cooking sausages and bacon before clearing away the breakfast things. When the guests start going out about 10am, we start on tidying and cleaning the rooms.
“We finish at about 1pm and then we’re free for the afternoon because we encourage people to arrive either before midday or after 5pm. If they want to come in the afternoon then we have a key system, where they can let themselves in. That works really well and allows us to go out. At first we used to wait in, which meant we were stuck indoors.”
Guests include conference centre delegates along with those who erect the stands, tourists and business people. The Standens, who have three children, are selling to pursue new ambitions.
“We are either looking at buying a place in France with gites or maybe a café here. I have always wanted to own a café ,” says Philip. Bramwood, a seven-bedroom guest house with two holiday cottages. JOHN a former solicitor, and Marilyn, who worked for the NHS, gave up their careers and their London home to buy their guest house in 2002.
Marilyn says: “We were fed up living in London and John wanted a change of career. We bought this house and we’ve never looked back. It was a steep learning curve. We moved up here on Wednesday and spent Thursday cooking and eating bacon and eggs before opening for business on Friday.”
The Butlers, who bought the house next door to create separate accommodation, open their guest house from March until the end of October, though their cottages run year round. Guests include rail enthusiasts, walkers and cyclists. The couple work from breakfast until late afternoon.
“It’s seven days a week but we have winter off when we have holidays, do any decorating and catch up with family,” says Marilyn, who plans to semi-retire to a smaller B&B.
runs Acres Dene in York, which has six letting bedrooms. The guest house was founded by Pam’s parents in 1981 and she took it over in 2002.
“This is a very sociable business and you get to meet lots of people and thanks to mobile phones it’s not as tying as it used to be. You can get out in the afternoons now because you can put the house phone on divert to organise bookings and arrivals. The best thing about it is working for yourself and meeting people. The worst thing is that people think all you do is serve breakfast and make a few beds.”
SEASIDE DREAM: Andrew and Julie Grant have never regretted leaving Nottingham to buy their guest house in Scarborough. They close in the winter, but work seven days a week for the rest of the year.