FRENCH DREAM COMES TRUE
BTS AG PME PMI 2004
When Trisha Mason fell in love with a derelict water mill during a holiday in France 15 years ago, she had no idea it would one day her to her setting up a successful property consultancy selling French houses to the British. She was a recently widowed mother of two working as a freelance management consultant in London, but knew that she had to have the mill.
Mason bought the water mill for £45,000 and spent the next few summer renovating it with the help of friends. When they asked her to help them buy properties of their own in France, Mason decided to place an advert in the paper offering her services as a property scout. She says: "In the early days I used to meet clients at Dover and then drive them down to the mill in Limousin in my car. They would stay with me and I would cook them five-course meals and then take them out to look at properties for two or three days. Then I would drive them all the way back to England again. It was exhausting."
But she had always relished a challenge. When her children were small, she decided to start a business selling childrenswear and used to stay up all night making clothes. Then, when they began preparing for their O-levels, she opted to take a psychology degree so they could all study together. She says: "I love adventure and I am always looking for the next challenge. I'm very directed and fast in everything I do. I can't bear people who can't keep up with me."
She sold her family home in London and opened three offices, in Charente, Brittany and Normandy, investing the £100,000 equity to set up vivre en France, now known as VEF. She never doubted the business would be a success, and thinks her confidence stems from the strategy of having been widowed at a young age. She says: "When you lose the most important thing in your life, the loss of anything else isn't terribly important." Happily, her timing was perfect and VEF expanded just as the idea of buying a home in France started to capture the British public's imagination.
Right from the start Mason opted to do things her way, recruiting native English speakers to run VEF's offices in France as stand-alone businesses. These guide buyers through the whole purchasing process from translating to legal work for an inclusive fee. She says: "Most clients don't speak French and they need to have someone to hold their hand."
It's a formula that has worked well. VEF will expand to 30 offices across France by June, and turnover is expected this year to be £7m. There are also plans to open offices in other parts of Europe, starting with Spain. The adventure is unlikely to end there. Mason, now 57, says: "Every time I tell people I might let my team take over running the company, they ask what I'm going to start next."
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