Sunday, October 26, 2008

Two B&Bs and one Hotel – three book reviews in one

From time to time I do book reviews on the Landlord-Law site, and several of these have been for a publisher called How to Books. They specialise in publishing really nice self help books on a wide range of topics. Books reviewed for them in the past include Tony Booths excellent Buy to let Handbook and How to Invest in the UK Property Market by Gerry Fitzgerald.

The publishers recently sent me three books, two on running B & Bs (one in England and the other in France) and one on buying and running a hotel. As they are not really landlord and tenant books, I decided to review them on this blog instead of on Landlord-Law, and as they form a theme I thought it would be nice to review them together. I will review them in the order that I read them.

Running a B&B – a landlady’s guide by Christabel Milner
This is an absolute gem of a book, which I enjoyed reading very much. I expect we have all at some time or another thought about running a bed and breakfast. Ms Milner, who has been a landlady for 27 years, is very experienced and it shows in her book.

The book is very clear and precise as well as entertaining. She starts by telling us how she started in the business, and the properties she has developed and run as B&Bs. Part One then looks at what is involved in running a B&B, for example whether your home is suitable and how it can be adapted, and also considering whether there will be a market for your business locally. Part two then goes into the reality of running the B&B covering practical matters such as linen, keeping the room in readiness, bookings, taking payments, marketing, and of course the breakfasts. There is also an excellent chapter on personal safety.

Although I have no intention of running a B&B I found the book enchanting. How wonderful it must be to arrive at Ms Milners house on a cold and rainy day, to be ushered into a warm welcoming room, with its crisp clean linen and generous hospitality tray! With Ms Milner herself, there to assist if you need her, but discreetly withdrawing to her own quarters when you don’t. A touring holiday staying at B&Bs is one of the great ways to see Britain, and this book will help anyone who want to be a part of that. Highly recommended.

How to Buy and Run your Own Hotel by Mark Lloyd
We all think we could run a B&B, but what about a hotel? Mark Lloyd had worked for years in the hospitality industry organising events, but had always wanted to run a hotel. This is the story of how he and his wife, together with their two young children, took the plunge and bought a hotel in Chipping Sodbury in the Cotswolds (in fact this hotel here).

Although this book gives a very good description of what is takes to buy and run a small ten roomed hotel, it is very uneven and I felt could have done with a lot of tidying up. Reading it from cover to cover, I found I was continually reading the same stories and the same points (good ones admittedly) over again. For example a detailed description of the day they took over the hotel is given twice – once in chapter 5 and then again at the end of the book. As a book it seemed to be at one time looking at things chronologically and at other times by topic, which was a bit confusing. However there are some great stories and Mr Lloyd is an entertaining writer.

The book paints a very clear picture of what it is like to take over a hotel, and the amount of work involved. In fact so busy are they that I am surprised that Mr Lloyd found the time to write a book at all. At the time of writing the book Mr Lloyd and his family had been there some 18 months. It was rather a shock to discover towards the end of the book, that fairly shortly after taking over, he had had a serious accident and had been hospitalised for several months. What a nightmare that must have been for him and his family!

For all its organisational inconsistencies, this book really is essential reading for anyone considering buying and running a hotel. I now know for sure that it is not something I want to do!

How to start and run a B&B in France
Do you sometimes tire of dreary old England with its constant rain and cold? Why not up sticks, buy a run down property in La Belle France and run it as a B&B? This is what Deborah Hunt and her husband did, and this book tells you how to do it.

This is a very well organised book and an excellent guide. Mrs Hunt and her husband are both architects and not surprisingly the whole process of renovating French property is gone into very thoroughly. In fact I would recommend this book to anyone who is considering buying and doing up property in France, irrespective of whether they intend renting out rooms. Mrs Hunt is also very clear about the different system in France and the process of buying French property and running a business.

If you are intending moving to France, obviously you will need to speak French. The book helpfully gives many lists of suitable words ands phrases, and every chapter ends with a hint on how you can improve your French (e.g. watch the TV news in French and read a French newspaper).

The book is very helpful on the different culture in France and the differences in what you will be expected to do as a B&B landlady in France as opposed to England. The author also looks at the different characteristics and expectations of different nationalities. Shamingly, English children are the worst behaved.

One charming feature of this book is that it is illustrated by Deborah Hunt’s own line drawings, which show different types of property and features. I also liked the cover illustrations (Susie Home -

At the end of the book, Mrs Hunt recorded interviews with five other English proprietors of French chambers d’hotes. These were fascinating and served to give a more rounded view of what can be done. All in all I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone considering moving to France.

It has been fun reading these three books end to end and I have thoroughly enjoyed them all. They are all far more informative that I can describe here, and are all good reads in their own right, whether or not you are considering becoming a B&B landlady or hotelier.

Happily however they have not convinced me to change my job or to uproot and move to France. I enjoy running my legal and internet business too much, and however pretty France may be, I have no desire to always be a foreigner, plus I am dreadful at languages! But for a short period I lived the dream vicariously through these books, and that was enough for me.

NB If you want to buy any of the books, you will find them in the Amazon box in the right hand column of this blog.

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