If you are thinking about letting your holiday home, there has never been a better time. With booking enquiries...
Butterwell Barn is an award-winning barn conversion, nestled in the rolling Devon countryside near picturesque Dartmouth. Having been carefully and lovingly redeveloped over many years by owners Philip and Gail Bond, the property was completed and ready for its new life as a stunning holiday let ahead of the 2018 season. Since then, the property has been exceptionally popular, with 33 bookings in 2019, 31 bookings secured for 2020 before the government Covid-19 closure, and 18 advance bookings in place for 2021!
Here, we speak to the property owners to find out a little more about the renovation project, get tips on creating a successful holiday cottage, and reflect on Coast & Country Cottages as an agent.
Philip grew up at Browns Norton Farm, and we had been thinking about converting the barn for many years. In 2012 we took the plunge, with ambitions of creating an impressive eco-friendly bolthole in beautiful surroundings, to exist alongside our sheep farm. We started with construction of a new barn to house 49KW solar power, to supply the conversion and put power on to the grid.
A true labour of love, it took five years to do. We managed the project ourselves, spending hours researching, as well as working on-site when required. We sensitively renovated the barn – it was a real family affair… The bespoke staircase was handcrafted by Philip’s cousin Pete Bond (Bond Joinery), and even the beautiful stain glass window above the entrance was made by my cousin Nita!
Many of the finishing touches nod to the barn’s heritage. Dating back to the 1850s, this Victorian bank barn was once part of the Raleigh Estate, and has a fascinating history, formerly providing shelter for 12 cows and the working horses needed to farm the 56 acres.
We accept two dogs, and have a specially designed composting dog loo and designated ‘dog walk’, plus dog towels! We have also made it as eco-friendly as possible, with solar panels, mechanical ventilation and a heat recovery system.
Coast & Country Cottages do all of the letting administration, including marketing the property, taking all of our bookings and corresponding with guests. The team are also on hand to offer us advice when we need it.
In terms of the day to day running, we take care of the property ourselves, which means we do everything from meeting and greeting the guests, to the cleaning, caretaking, repairs and maintenance.
We did some research and chose Coast & Country Cottages because the company was locally based and at the top end of the market. They were professional and award-winning. Since the Sykes Cottages acquisition, we now have the best of both worlds, with our locally based staff still in place, but with the support and massive promotional budget of Sykes.
We started planning for Butterwell Barn in 2008, knowing that I was due to retire from my job in the Police in 2009. This was always planned as a project and income for my retirement, as well as a means for Philip to cut back on his work commitments. So holiday letting was the only viable option, and the plans reflected that, having four super king ensuite bedrooms. We wouldn’t have gone to those lengths for a residential property.
We meet and greet every party and I genuinely enjoy welcoming people and getting their reaction. If I don’t get a ‘wow’ I am a little disappointed!
We have had very few negative experiences of dogs, and dog owners on the whole seem very responsible. Our designated dog walk is free for dogs to roam, allowing them a little freedom. The patio area is also enclosed and unless it is a particularly small dog, they should not be able to escape. We have quite a strict policy that dogs are only allowed in the living area upstairs. But this is easily enforceable for guests, as we have a built-in stair gate. We even have a dog sofa, which our dog Tilly loves!
We spoke with other people who were letting properties, and friends who enjoyed self-catering holidays. We tried to do a lot of market research to see what people looked for from a holiday home. My neighbour said one of the strangest things she was ever asked for by a guest in her property was a nutmeg grater… so there is one at Butterwell Barn, just in case!
Coast & Country Cottages were involved from an early stage. They were very approachable and provided us advice and criteria, so that we could ensure we had everything in place and of the right standard.
It has been a good investment. One thing I would stress is the importance of having a good maintenance and renewal budget. You need to reinvest a significant percentage each year to maintain or increase the property’s standards, in order to improve the experience of your guests.
Our next project is to build a shed near to the fire pit on the patio, to store wood and the cooking implements.
Shortly after the completion of the project, we were delighted to receive a LABC Building Award. Butterwell Barn is also a Five star awarded property, and was also awarded Best in the South West in the Sykes Gems Awards 2019.
We always strive to exceed people’s expectations. We find using high quality branded products like Denby crockery helps to keep standards high. People recognise the brands and most of them tend to appreciate the investment and take care.
We meet and greet each group. I always contact them around a week before their arrival confirming any dietary requirements (for the welcome hamper), what bed layout they would like and offer for them to have a grocery order delivered during the changeover – I always offer to put it away for them if they would like me to.
I then make contact the day before their holiday to get a rough arrival time from them. I make sure I am around when they arrive to welcome them and explain the technology. I also ensure I am there on departure to send them off, gather feedback and collect the keys. In between we can be as hands-on as needed – sometimes guests like a lot of contact, whereas others keep to themselves. We are always available though, so if they need something, guests can ring me.
I always prepare a welcome hamper for guests, so that they can have something to eat when they arrive, before they have to gather their thoughts and think about unpacking or shopping. This normally contains a homemade cream tea, as well as some local produce including eggs and juice – just a few essentials.
We have been very pleased with our level of bookings. Butterwell Barn has been exceptionally popular. We achieved 33 bookings in 2019, and we had secured 31 bookings before the Covid-19 lockdown. Bookings are already flooding in for 2021!
Bookings are definitely coming in earlier year on year. In our first year, bookings came in during January, the next year it was December, and bookings for this year seemed to come in during the Autumn. We had Christmas 2021 booked over 18 months in advance!
We made the decision to stop doing short breaks, but that was purely down to our situation. We are busy with other commitments during the spring and autumn when many are looking for short breaks, so in our circumstances the idea of having two changeovers a week during those times wasn’t appealing.
We are very reactive when it comes to guest feedback, and we have made many changes in the light of comments. For instance, we have added a loose teapot, extra baking sheets and muffin trays. We have also coated the stairs in anti-slip paint.
One thing to say is that if you want that 100% review, it is about going the extra mile. You have to put the extra effort in and do whatever it takes – whether it be posting back forgotten items, unpacking food deliveries or even offering a taxi service. It is about being as accommodating as possible. I always ensure I remind departing guests to leave a review, as that is what we want. Nowadays, reviews are so important.
Another tip for those thinking of letting is, be sure to do your research. If building work is involved talk to planners and cost in things such as professional fees, access, utilities, studies and reports. Also, do everything to the highest quality you can afford. It is a very competitive market place and these things can make all the difference. Allowing people to bring a dog also makes a huge difference to your property’s desirability, as so many people are looking to holiday with their pets.
If you’re considering holiday letting your home in Devon, or investing in a property to holiday let, speak to our team of experts. We can guide you through all the stages of holiday letting, from where to buy a second home in South Devon, to how to start a successful holiday let business.