Owning a holiday home must be one of the easiest jobs in the world, right? Sit back, collect rent and fly out once a year to take stock and enjoy a fortnight in the sun. Easy.
Actually, it turns out there’s a whole lot more involved – a lot more stress, a lot more work and a lot more outgoings. It’s not all bad though: despite the headaches (of which there are many), owning a holiday home certainly has its perks.
Whether you’re eyeing a home of your own to rent or are just curious to gain an insider’s view of the industry, John Lanasis will hold you rapt. The owner of Corfu’s Villa Ionia reveals the highs and lows of renting and provides an insight into life on Homer’s ‘beautiful and rich land’. John, take it away…
By 1988 I had been working in the travel industry for several years. In the winter of that year – a typically dull, cold and miserable one in England – I wrote a travel article that was published in a national newspaper. In it, I described a dream of mine which was to return to the enchanting Greek island of Corfu where I had been working and to own a home there.
Renting my home out wasn’t exactly part of the original dream. Nevertheless, it became part of the plan when I realised that there would be a significant demand for the view alone! Eighteen years later I stood on a 1.5 acre olive grove-enshrouded plot on a tranquil hillside overlooking the bay of Arillas with the sun setting between the islands. The next day I bought the land. Three years later, in March 2009, the foundations went in and in July 2010 the first guests checked in.
Why would anyone turn down a gorgeous sunset?
But why Corfu?
I had been looking at plots on the east and west coasts of Corfu; on the former there were a lot of new villas under construction. In a dilemma as to which coast to select, I was asked whether I preferred sunrise or sunset.
Well I wasn’t up for sunrise (which in the summer in Greece can be 5am) and why on earth would anyone turn down a gorgeous sunset? So I replied “Sunset of course,” to which the next question was Why was I even looking at land on the east coast?
Leave the madding crowds behind and escape the worst aspects of work and life in the UK
Why indeed? The next day, I found myself standing on the plot of land that was to become my home. I may have been sold by the sunset, but it was just the icing on the cake. Arillas and the surrounding hills and villages are so lovely; no nightclubs and no boatloads of BBQ day trippers swarming the beaches. It’s a very zen locale.
I spent years advising people on holidays and I’ve always said the secret to a successful holiday is to totally switch off. My job is to ensure that the holiday home my guests have chosen maximises that.
Arillas is the perfect place for leaving the madding crowds behind and escaping the worst aspects of work and life in the UK – even newspapers and television. While I have a television in the house, it only plays DVDs. To my mind, no satellite dish and no TV = heaven. Not only that, but newspapers are not permitted in Villa Ionia – yes really!
Here’s some advice
For anyone thinking of buying their own holiday home, my advice can be boiled down to one word: Location, repeated three times for emphasis. Better to have a smaller property in a great location than a sprawling mansion in a cheap bucket-and-spade resort. You’ll probably take in the same income but with much lower running costs.
Try to avoid areas where there are too many villas and shun the tacky areas – I think we all know where they are in the world. Remote coastal Spain and islands, Tuscany, the south of France, Provence, Sardinia and Corsica are hit locations in my opinion, but remember that sea views will mostly outsell anything and at a higher price. If you can get a sea view with sunset in a good location, as Villa Ionia has, you’re on to a winner.
Build if possible: if the location and views are right, you will get far more for your money and have immediate equitable value in your property. Together with the equity, the returns are far higher than you would ever receive from a buy-to-let flat in London with the same initial outlay.
I’m very proud of the Greek side of my heritage and I’m deeply passionate about Greece and Corfu
A swimming pool makes a house eminently more rentable and dramatically increases income. When you get that great location and have built a house, work out your pricing structure and keep it simple. Don’t follow the masses by putting your prices up during school holidays.
I have three price brackets: Low season (April, May and October), mid season (June and September) and then July and August as high season. Also, don’t discount. It is far better to have 10 weeks booked in a villa at £3,000 per week than 20 weeks at £1,500 – less wear and tear, lower running costs and perhaps more time for you to enjoy the house yourself, which after all is part of the reason to buy or build isn’t it? Having said that, Villa Ionia is in such demand that I hardly ever get to stay there in the summer!
Before you kickstart the process, get a decent lawyer to handle the paperwork, while if you’re building you will also need a top civil engineer. Understand the cost structure involved. I’m involved with some first-class developers in Corfu and, having been down the route myself, I can offer help, advice and solid contacts as well as access to some lovely properties and land.
Renting your holiday home: the perks
Being half-Greek, I’m very proud of that side of my heritage and I’m deeply passionate about Greece and Corfu. In particular, I care for the wellbeing and sustainable growth of the area where my house is situated, in the small hamlet of Arillas on Corfu’s north west coast.
If Villa Ionia has a value for me, it is the value of the contribution it makes to the island of Corfu and in particular to Arillas.
Renting your holiday home: the drawbacks
In light of the difficulties in the Greek economy and misleading information in the media, a bit of a discount culture has developed in that some people assume that all of Greece is in a dire situation and there must be villa bargains to be had because the owners are desperate. The reality is that the islands are not affected in the same way as Athens because we have our own sort of micro economy. I have never offered discounts and yet the house has been fully booked from year one.
Secondly, I’ve found that despite the success of Villa Ionia, it can sometimes take a lot of effort to convince prospective customers to book. Once they’ve made that commitment though, they certainly don’t regret it.
In this business, beautiful pictures will attract more enquiries
Advertising my villa through HomeAway has opened the door to a lot of enquiries that I wouldn’t otherwise have had. Unlike another leading competitor who shall remain nameless, HomeAway and Owners Direct have delivered the vast majority of bookings that were made through their site.
Pimping that listing
For anyone thinking of renting their home via HomeAway, I would recommend they take advantage of the extra options that are available. Also, I should stress that an attractive description with plenty of information is vitally important and, above all, great photographs are top of the list. It’s a bit like property sales wherein great pictures don’t sell the house – they influence the viewing decision and viewings lead to sales. So in this business, beautiful pictures will often attract more enquiries.
Holiday success stories
Through renting my villa, I’ve met some amazing people and developed some wonderful friendships. One of the greatest things I’ve noticed is that people who come to Villa Ionia book it for the very same reasons that I chose to build the house there: the tranquility, the privacy, the lush hillside setting and the incredible views. In my opinion, the property offers a taste of luxury in what I would call the real Greece, not the tourist version of it.
Giving people the opportunity to enjoy this magical island has a special kind of value, one that is worth more than money itself.
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