In a perfect world, owning a vacation home can be a dream come true, but it may come with a few headaches that you didn’t anticipate. Whether you have your home on a professional management program or maybe you are considering doing the “for rent by owner” plan, you probably have plenty of questions or concerns. In this article, we hope we can answer the most common of those questions.
Do it Yourself Management
There are many owners that manage their properties themselves using one or more online travel agent platforms such as VRBO, AirBnB, or Booking.com. These third-party agencies will put your property on their website and take reservations. They will send you the dates they booked your home and then after the guests depart, they will send you your revenue minus a commission. After a reservation is confirmed the online travel agent will give you the contact information for the guests.
Just a few years ago, owners were able to have contact with the potential guests, answer questions, and ask questions of the guests. However, most online travel agents have veered away from that model. These third-party agencies want control over information gathered from potential guests and also want to ensure that they are not cut out of the monetary portion of the transaction. Online travel agents consider the person their guest and collect information, so they can market to them their many locations throughout the world.
If you choose to use one of these sites, a key takeaway to remember is when you do receive an inquiry that converts to a reservation, you want to make the most of the reservation. Obtain good email and phone contact information. Make the experience memorable! You want them to remember your home and the area when they get ready for their next vacation. Later at the appropriate time, you might want to use the information you saved to market to your past guests to return to your property.
When self-managing, you will be responsible for the linen, cleaning, and maintenance of the property. Also, any lodging taxes paid to local agencies, the county, and the state. If you live in the general vicinity of your vacation home, it is easier to manage and follow-up on the cleaning and maintenance of your property. Another option is if you have family or friends in the area that can help. Having a reliable cleaning crew and maintenance person makes a substantial difference especially if you are hours away. Some communities and neighborhoods will insist you provide a “local” contact person as well. If an issue is presented, the guest will want it resolved as soon as possible.
In long-term rentals when a problem arises, 24 to 48 hours is a reasonable response time for issues, but in short-term vacation rentals, 1 to 2 hours is expected. Guests are usually in your property for just 5 to 7 days and have paid for a well-kept, faultless, and clean property so when something disrupts their vacation, they want quick action. Remember also that swift action lessens your chances of receiving negative reviews from your guests or them wanting refunds due to any inconvenience, major or minor. (more on reviews later)
Cleaning consistency is usually the number one obstacle standing in the way of having a great, profitable rental. In other words, cleaning could be your biggest headache. If you have a great cleaning team, treat them like royalty. In most tourist destinations there is an enormous demand for good cleaners in the vacation rental industry. If you have good cleaners, you are on your way to being a successful self-manager. You also need someone to go in after the cleaning team to check on the property. No matter how thorough your housekeepers are, occasionally things can be missed. Another reason for having a second set of eyes is for accountability. If you are hours away, your team could cut corners on a busy day. If you have a second set of eyes on the property, you are more likely to have a consistent standard for your property.
Where cleaning is concerned, the key is being consistent with each guest. Each year they visit your property they need to have the same experience. Some of the best referrals you can receive is from past guests. If they share with their friends and family good positive experiences, you can reap the benefits of their free PR. A definite standard for your property needs to be set. If you have a guest that calls to report that they checked into your property and the cleaning wasn’t up to standard and are demanding a refund, you will know that not only did your housekeepers say it was clean but also your inspector.
- Make sure all the linen matches. Sheets with matching pillowcases in good condition. Free from stains or tears.
Same with the towels. No stains tear free and all matching. The color is not important as long as it’s uniform. However white or beige is easier to maintain and can be bleached.
- Make sure the property is as sterile as possible, not just in reference to cleaning. Think about visiting a model home for sale. You don’t want items left behind by your family or from past guests.
- No condiments, or other items left in refrigerator or cabinets.
- No coupons or restaurant fliers left behind from previous guests. Some people, myself included, do not mind, but others will not want to be reminded that someone else was in the property before them and used this bathroom and slept in this bed.
- Remember you are trying to appeal to the masses.
- The kitchen needs to have what a guest might need for preparing a meal but nothing more. It will make the kitchen feel cluttered and it is easier for a housekeeper to keep the cabinets neat if everything has its place.
- Closets should be neat and tidy with plenty of hangers. You don’t want the closet to appear junky. For example, too many beach chairs, pool floats, and umbrellas. Also, they trap sand that will end up in the bottom of your closets.
Although we know vacation homes are a better value and have so much more to offer guests, for the most part, vacation rentals are still competing with hotels. The number one reason people choose hotel chains such as Hilton, Holiday Inn or Radisson over vacation rentals is consistency. They know what they are getting when they check into one of the chains. They are consistent with cleaning, bed linens, towels, and upkeep of the property. They know if there is an issue, the staff is just a call away at the front desk. One bad experience in a vacation rental can send them back to the Holiday Inn.
On-Call Handy Person
The second most significant hurdle is your need for an excellent on-call handy person for minor repairs and also for troubleshooting more significant issues like central heat and air conditioning or an appliance problem. You don’t want to call out an A/C repair person or an appliance repair person if the issue is just operator error. Speaking of repair people, I find it is imperative to reach out and develop a good relationship with vendors in the area. If your A/C is out and it’s 80 degrees outside, you need to know your vendor for A/C repair will come out anytime day or night and take care of your guests. Guests without air for 12-24 hours are unhappy guests, and they will want everyone to know how unhappy they are.
Also, along with your housekeeping team your maintenance tech is your eyes and ears for your property when you are not in the area. Back to back guests will put wear and tear on your property, but good cleaners and maintenance will help keep your property up to standard. A busy, popular property is going to suffer wear and tear from the amount of traffic coming through the property. It is difficult to get maintenance completed and the property cleaned in just a few hours before a new guest arrives. A least a couple of times a year you should block off the property for extra cleaning, inventory, and a detailed inspection of the property. You need this time to catch up and keep your property up to the standard you have set.
Checking in and out of your property. What is going to be your plan? First, you must decide on your door lock, is it going to be key or a door with a code. There are ups and downs to both. If you choose keys, how are you going to get the keys to the guests? What is your plan when a guest loses a key? If you decide on a door code, how do you change the code for each guest? Another problem with the code locks is who is going out at night to let guests in or to change batteries on the lock if there is an issue? While both have some safety concerns, most guests will prefer a code. The guest will also want to verify that the code is changed for each guest. However, whether you decide key or code the most important thing is that you have a plan, are consistent, and you are clear with your guests on the plan.
Easy to Book
When managing your property, it needs to be easy to reserve a stay and remember we are trying to appeal to the masses. Some people prefer to talk to a real person and make arrangements while others want to grab their phone or tablet and click a few buttons to confirm their reservation. If you are using VRBO or one of the other online travel agents, they have you covered on the online instant booking, but it may be more difficult to reach the potential guest that would like the personal interaction. When calling the online travel agent, they will reach a call center and the reservationist may not be familiar with the area or your property other than the information you have provided them. Misinformation about your property, such as its location or amenities, can also lead to an unhappy guest.
If you want a more hands-on approach and control over the guest process you may want to consider having a website for your property, so guests can contact you directly. Developing even a simple website for your property can be costly and time-consuming. In addition to that, your website will be difficult to find amongst the existing vacation rental property websites in your area. You don’t want a beautiful website that has no internet presence and cannot be found. You will be competing for the same guests as the local management companies in your area, but also the large national companies, Booking.com, HomeAway, etc. for the same guests.
The internet and smartphones have changed the vacation rental business. Everyone has so many choices right in the palm of their hand and it can be overwhelming. Reviews play a critical role in vacation rentals. If your property is listed on one of the online travel agent websites after their stay, the guest will be invited to give a review of their vacation. Great reviews get you more views on the internet, whether it is your own personal site or on the online travel agents’ site.
The internet has made our world larger and now more than ever we research online before making a decision. Reviews can be your friend or your arch enemy. Unfortunately, some guests will use the threat of a negative review to get refunds. Our best advice for those situations is to strive for excellence. Impeccable cleaning, touch up paint often, have upholstery cleaned as needed, have a maintenance free home and when something goes wrong apologize and fix it quickly. A friendly face at the door with an apology goes a long way.
Key Points to Remember When Self-Managing:
- Stay current when paying all state sales taxes, local, and county lodging taxes.
- Have a consistent plan for checking in
- Great marketing gets people in your vacation rental
- Excellent cleaning, and maintenance keep them coming back
- Stay current and with the trends as technology changes fast
- Plan to attend trade shows at least semi-annually.
If after reading this article you think: “I have a job, kids, and a social life I don’t have extra time to dedicate to managing my property.” Then you may want to consider hiring a management company. To learn more about our property management programs available in Destin and 30A, read the next post in this series: Property Management Done For You.