For a start materials and equipment have gone up in price. Petrol is more expensive and chasing around after stuff in a 50 km radius gets pricey. More importantly, people just don't have the financial clout to spend two years doing up a place: they (and their banker) want instantaneous profitabilty ... whether it's from simple personal use or from letting out. Thirdly, by paying a professional builder, electrician or whatever, one can benefit from a low 7% VAT rate ... whereas buying all that material oneself incurs a hefty 19.6% rate.

The real question is what to do with the property once it's finished? If it is to become your new home, then well and good: the quicker it's finished the better. But if it is to become just a second home, then you will want to build in an income-producing element from the beginning. In fact, you'd be well advised to do this in both cases. Let me explain: French property is, by and large, roomier and cheaper than its UK or Irish counterpart. Most rural properties come with a plethora of outhouses and barns (dépendances in French). Even if the property is destined to become your home there is no reason why a barn or cotttage on the estate should not become a gîte or holiday cottage.

Even a smallish, 2 bedroomed gîte, can bring in upwards of 500 euros a week over the summer period. An income of 5000 or so euros can cover most if not all of your normal costs: land tax (taxe foncier), rates (taxe d'habitation), electricity, water and gas.

The trick is to plan the inclusion of a gite or two from the very beginning. Budget for its fit-out before actually buying the property. In this way it will be up and running on day 1 and bringing in a steady trickle of income. Of course you'll need to market the place and find customers, but this is easier than you might think with numerous websites (a lot of them free) dedicated to this task.

Best of all is to buy up an already existing going concern. There are always people selling their gite business - usually because they've reached retirement age and can't be bothered with all the cleaning anymore. Or just keep an eye out for properties which have a 'cottage' or 'granny flat' attached: they could well be your ticket to ensuring that your French property pays for itself!

Two or three addresses: for letting your gite try a French company first (after all, most of your customers will be French) and one of the most in view is a-gites.com. It costs 50 euros or so a year but is well worth it. To buy a going concern it's better to try a professional agent specialised in gite sales. The reference here is Gites for Sale France, a French company based in Toulouse who cover most of southern France.