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From overseeing winter refurbishments to meeting and greeting guests at your holiday home; from bespoke experiences to emergency call-outs, Charlie Heckstall-Smith has brought a personalised approach to property management in Salcombe. Here’s what you need to know…
Back in 2008, I began a venture with a very old friend of mine, who lives in the south of France, to offer a property-management service for villa owners in The Var. From 2008 until 2016, we developed a very nice business looking after people’s homes and houses on a year-round basis. That involved managing major renovations to properties in the winter months all the way through to meeting, greeting and looking after guests when they arrived in the summer.
In 2016, after the Brexit referendum, the value of the pound dropped by 25% and the result was that bookings fell dramatically. For example, one of the houses we were managing earned £32,000 from rental bookings in the summer of 2016: in 2017, that went down to £14,000.
For property owners, the margins between having a house maintained and the rental volume no longer added up, so a number of them decided to mothball their holiday homes to see how the political situation would play out. Costs went up for holiday makers, as well, and overall, I felt I couldn’t fight against that tide, so I decided to turn my attention from France to the UK; specifically South Devon.
I had lived near Salcombe on and off over the years and researched the holiday market, working in holiday lettings to really get a feel for gaps in the market in terms of property management. I felt there was space for me to transpose my business model from France and apply it to Salcombe, so, in September 2018, I started setting up my service and that brings me to where I am today. I am working with a number of properties, offering a niche and bespoke professional service, and I have been extremely heartened by the reception I’ve had.
I describe what I do as ‘a bespoke property management service for holiday-home owners’. It’s tailored to clients’ needs, structured, attentive and it works on a retained basis. We look after properties all year round, including overseeing renovations and updates, and take care of all matters related to visitors staying in the house. It’s about being on call, getting everything prepared before the season starts and limiting any inconvenience to owners or guests.
During the winter, I have been retained by property owners to help breathe life back into their houses. This has gone very successfully. For example, a penthouse in Salcombe had complaints from guests (the summer before I took it on), and we made a number of updates and changes to the property and to the service. The second guests who stayed this year have already rebooked for 2020. It’s the first time in a while the owners have had someone rebook!
There are few true property-management companies in the area offering the same kind of personally-tailored service: many act more like caretakers, which is actually quite different. We also broker entirely unique ‘treats’ to really enhance the guest experience. In France, we used to also organise experiences for guests, to enhance their holidays. For example, we would arrange private vineyard tours that weren’t available to the general public, so visitors could go home feeling as though they had really got under the skin of the location.
So, as well as setting up contacts with suppliers, craftsmen, interior designers, private chefs, gardeners and all the services one needs to look after a house, I have entered into negotiations with Sharpham Vineyard, Salcombe Brewery, a RYA powerboat course, The Dartmoor Soap Company (an artisan soap and body oil maker), in order to create private tours, treats and hopefully memorable experiences for people coming to Salcombe. The idea is to offer visitors leisure activities that they didn’t know about or don’t always get the chance to experience. It also means we’re supporting local businesses by trying to make sure that everyone visiting the area is able to put something back into the community. Everybody gains.
All my experience has really come down to looking after details and anticipating people’s wants and expectations. For a long time, I ran a film location business that I had set up, organising and then overseeing shoots for production companies who were making feature films or commercials. I then went freelance and operated as a production manager before starting to make documentaries, myself. After a period of illness, I couldn’t work in the industry for a while: I went into estate agency, where I could apply my experience of looking after clients. I then started my own property acquisition service, finding and matching homes to buyers who were either failing in their own search or lacking sufficient time to find their next home. This led to the business in France. I spent my early working life in the restaurant business in London, managing some of the best restaurants and private clubs of the time, so I have an eye for detail, recognising that makes a difference to the customer experience.
There are a lot of second homes here in Salcombe, but owners often live a long way away. To have a retained, dedicated property management service in place is actually often a more economical way of looking after a property: it means anticipating potential issues before they become a problem or too expensive. Also, good planning and preparation leads to holiday guests enjoying a positive experience, so they come back again.
I work with owners who want their properties managed properly and who like a structured, personal and communicative approach. It is a service for those who really value owning a property in this fabulous location and want it looked after in a sympathetic way, but who also want to offer any paying guests the best experience possible, to get the best return. For example, I am looking after a house that currently rents out at £3,500 a week: for that cost, guests expect it to be perfect and there’s no reason for their experience to be devalued by unnecessary problems.
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