Check out our blogs on Vacation Rentals. We discuss the many benefits, wants and needs of guests. What to expect and what you as an owner need to make your home most profitable.
Monica Gauthier, Owner and Managing Broker of North Star Properties, grew up in the suburbs of Detroit where her father owns a construction company. As a young adult she worked for him as a Project Manager and the attention to detail the job required helped prepare her for her successful career in real estate.
She moved to Chicago and in 2005 began working for Coldwell-Banker in Lincoln Park. In 2009, she moved to Ogden Dunes and in November 2013 launched her own boutique real estate firm, North Star Properties. In addition to traditional real estate, Monica has a robust vacation rental business with properties from northwest Indiana to southwest Michigan up to Sawyer. At this point the rental arm constitutes approximately 50% of the business and she is planning to open an office in Michigan City before the end of the year.
According to Monica, “I really enjoy the vacation rental market, which is a little like running a hotel in 100 different places. I think what sets us apart from other vacation rental companies is that we are on call 24/7. Although I rarely receive a call from a renter, it is comforting for them to know that if they need anything they can call and a real person will answer the phone and take immediate steps to resolve the issue.”
The popularity of “staycations” has increased because people have realized that staying in a rental property closer to home is a much more cost-effective way to spend their vacation dollars. Monica continued, “Many homes sleep 12 or more people and, when split between siblings or multiple families, renting a home is much less expensive than the cost of a hotel. You also eliminate the cost of airline tickets and while people enjoy going out for certain meals, with a full kitchen, families can save money by preparing certain meals at the rental home rather than going out for every single meal. For example, they’ll stay in for breakfast, take a picnic down to the beach and then go out for dinner. I always provide a list of restaurants, breweries, wineries, and other attractions in the area (including kid-friendly destinations), and many homes are stocked with board games, outdoor grills, recreational equipment (like badminton or bocce sets), some have pools or beach access, so there are many activities for renters to enjoy.”
In addition to maintaining strong relationships with her homeowners, Monica cultivates relationships with the homeowners’ neighbors. She introduces herself to them and provides them with her phone number so that if there are any issues with renters, they may call her and she will intervene to correct the problem immediately. Also, she never allows more people to stay at a home than are allowed. If they do, they are in violation of the contract and will no longer be welcome as clients.
Many homeowners wishing to rent their homes have been referred to North Star Properties by satisfied customers who appreciate Monica’s level of professionalism and by prior renters who have enjoyed outstanding vacation experiences. “Many first-time visitors to the northwest Indiana and southwest Michigan are amazed by all there is to see and do in the region. Unless they have visited the area themselves, they are often surprised by the beauty of the lake and beaches. Often they think they have to get on a plane to get to such a beautiful place and, lo and behold, for people in Chicago, for example, they can find a beautiful rental with fantastic amenities that’s nearby. I have families from Chicago who may rent a house for a month or even the entire summer. One or both parents may need to work and they love the fact that they can drive or take the train into the city and be at work in less than two hours in most cases.”
So you’ve finally decided to hand over the reigns and hire someone to manage your vacation rental property. The biggest decision for a homeowner as they will handle everything inside your home from guests to maintaining your property. Here are some tips:
- Just as in real estate your vacation rental manger needs to know the market. As I’ve discussed in previous articles, there are many factors involved when determining a price. Amount of people you sleep, proximity to the beach, amenities and if local regulations. Whether it’s budget, moderate or luxury. All these factor into pricing. Then of course there is seasonal pricing! Pricing it right, will determine how many bookings your property will get.
2. What are the terms, fee’s and services included? Just as everything else in this world you get what you pay for. Throughout the area Vacation Rental companies charge anywhere between 10%-30%. You need to specifically ask what is included; for example some companies will charge for advertising & marketing, pre-stay cleanings and issues that can arise when a guest is there. It is not uncommon at all, but better to know what you are getting into prior to signing a contract.
3. How does the company Market the property? This is the most important as if your home doesn’t have enough exposure it will not get rented. The vacation rental manager at 25% should at least cover one of the major Vacation Rental Listing sites. Professional pictures are extremely important as Guests rely on this when they book. If the pictures look bad, your booking will be low.
4. Reviews. This is a tricky one as it’s very hard to get people to leave anything. Your Vacation Rental Manager should do their best to solicit reviews from guests, this helps with bookings and feedback from what Guests expect. One of the first questions I receive when someone is inquiring about a rental is why are there no reviews.
It’s that time of year again, when snow has melted and the flowers are starting to bloom. Everyone starts focusing on beautifying the outside of their homes and deep cleaning the insides of their homes. A task that can be overwhelming when you look at it. As I have mentioned in past articles cleanliness is one of the most important factors when it comes to Vacation Rentals. You can have a dated home and if it’s clean and priced properly it will book solid. I’ve walked into some million dollar homes homes and they were neat but you could see dust on the ceiling fans. It’s the little extras that make your home enjoyable for your guests. If you’re going to do it yourself or if you plan on hiring someone, it’s always best o have a list of what you want done.
Wash walls and ceilings, this pertains more to the kitchen. Get a bucket of water and a good heavy degreaser and scrub around the stove where grease tends to splatter and build up.
Reseal Grout Lines wherever needed, as simple as this may sound. This is one of those tasks that can make a huge difference in the appearance of a room. It makes a home look like it is taken care of.
Fire Safety, This one I think gets missed more than any other one. As most homeowners don’t think about it. Change your batteries, check the expiration date on your fire extinguisher.
As it would seem to go without saying, at least every other year depending on the room and traffic flow. Shampoo your carpets, even though they may look even slightly run down.
Wash your windows but more importantly wash your screens! This is one of the most forgotten tasks in a home whether it is a rental or just your home. It gives the room that extra sparkle.
I know that I have repeatedly mentioned about cleaning your homes. Again it is the most important factor. As a homeowner, you have to look at this as the cost of doing business and for any income that you bring in, there is money that needs to be spent. Maintenance and inventory are the key factors. When a homes shines and look taken care of, your guests will go that little extra and keep the home neat and clean.
In my last article we discussed home maintenance and cleanliness. Assuming that you’ve done all of that and your home is now sparkling. Another important factor is inventory. Like a well run business you need to keep customers satisfied by staying ahead of potential problems. You can achieve this by focusing on Functionality, Comfort and Security and that will put you ahead of the competition.
Functionality, something that is often overlooked. If it’s not being used, it’s often not checked. Assuming it’s been cleaned, first check your kitchen; are all of your small as well as large appliances functioning as they should. Check your cabinets are there enough plates, stemware, flatware, etc? If you sleep twelve, you need to accommodate for twelve. If you sleep ten, you need to account for ten and so on. I’ve seen homes, set up to sleep 15 but it only had 8 serving sets in the kitchen. This is doesn’t work nor is acceptable to guests. If the kitchen inventory is set, then move onto your electronics. The first question people ask is there wi-fi. Turn on all of the t.v’s, check the router and making sure everything is functioning as it should. Next check all of your light bulbs and replace as needed.
Comfort, everyone wants luxury even if it’s at a budget price. Set the thermostats to an appropriate temperature for the time of year. Check that all paper supplies have been replenished, also include soaps and detergents. Check all linens and towels and replace as needed. Over time they get worn quicker than average. Make sure beds have enough pillows and that all blankets are accounted for. Make sure your welcome book is in order and placed where your guests can see it upon arrival.
Security; quick, simple and easy but by far the most important! Make sure all valuables are in a safe and secured place if you so choose to leave them there. Make sure the guests left everything as when they arrived and make immediate notes of any damage. See that all keys are accounted for and in the correct location for the next guest. Check the lockbox or space you leave the keys and test that it’s functioning properly.
By making sure your inventory is stocked and functioning, it will lead to more 5 star ratings and reviews. Functionality, Comfort and Security on top of cleanliness, will lead you to successful rentals!
We’ve discussed Cleaning, Function and Security in the past as the 3 main factors. You should now have all of these in place. Many homes I see on all of the vacation rental listing sites aren’t marketed to the best of their potential. For the most part, homes are set up pretty similar when narrowing down your filtered search, but unlike selling a home, vacation rentals don’t have open houses or allow any sort of preview prior to booking and checking into the home. So potential renters rely solely on pictures, descriptions and reviews. Pictures are a big part of getting your home booked the fastest. Regardless of shape or size, not every renter can afford a million dollar lakefront. There is a customer for every budget, size and amenities that you offer. The key is Marketing.
Professional Photos and Videos showcasing your home can have sticker shock when looking and comparing pricing. I can tell you with absolute certainty having poor pictures that are dark, not staged and visually unappealing will cost you a minimum of triple in lost revenue. This is your one chance to let people see the inside of your home and WOW them. There is a huge influx of vacation rental properties in the last couple of years, every site has a mobile app and potential renters scroll through multiple listings and whatever thumbnail photo they excites them is when they click and start looking more throughly at what your home has to offer. The minute they start looking, they typically book immediately, I’m also a huge fan of some sort of virtual tour as it gives depth and a better visual of the layout. Certain types of virtual tours are better than others. I suggest staying away from some that tend to bend the rooms to much as it doesn’t give an accurate depiction of the home and can sometimes be construed as trying to make it look bigger than it is.
Next is the description. List every single amenity you have. This includes kitchenware, beach equipment, luxurious linens, etc. The more you offer the bigger return on investment. I constantly look at comparable listings to see what they have and I don’t or vice versa. In any market, you should always know what your competition is doing. This subject really speaks for itself.
Reviews are vital. They are also the hardest to get whether your renter has a good or bad experience. Not all websites rank you based on reviews but a lot do. If you have amazing pictures and poor reviews, you will have a hard time getting booked. Most people are pretty kind and thankful for you to share your home with them. Some are not, some websites allow a general review and then enable them to leave private feedback as well. One way to really boost renters giving reviews are offering discounts for next year, a gift card ($20), also checking in on them, while they are there. Setting yourself and property above the rest, is what will make you stand out!
We’ve discussed many topics for your home from; Marketing, Cleaning and Inventory. Now that
you have all of that in place, your home is booked and you’re preparing for your first guests
arrival. Regardless of the advertising avenue you use for bookings, many have their own
confirmation and guest management systems in place. Do not be dependent on these, always
send an immediate follow up email to confirm dates, how many people will be staying and if
there are any special needs, etc. In my personal experience I’ve had a couple times where
dates were put in incorrectly by the guests unknowingly and they were so thankful that we
caught the mistake immediately. Not every renter is tech savvy and it is nice from a renter’s
perspective to have a contact person. As much as we like the convenience of technology, once
our vacation begins, it’s nice to have a person for direct contact for any additional questions or
concerns that may arise when planning and arriving for their vacation.
So now you have the booked property, the dates are confirmed, the next step is to inform your
guests of any additional information on your home. This includes everything from driving
directions to a very detailed explanation of how to use technology in the home. T.V.’s, sound
systems, Thermostats, etc. The more information they have prior to arrival the better prepared
they are for their stay. It is also greatly appreciated by guests.
Some homes are hard to find and not every guests arrives during daylight hours. Many
neighborhoods do not allow signs. So, when guests arrive late at night, seeing an address isn’t
always the easiest. As well as not all GPS apps are accurate. Sending a detailed map is
invaluable to them.
You will also need to decide how your guests will access the home once they arrive. Will you
personally greet them or will the home be on a lockbox. Prior to arrival make sure the lockbox is
working, if that’s how you choose to let them in. Make sure all the keys work and that they have
two copies. Sometimes you will have multiple families and two keys are needed.
Another wonderful thing to provide to guests is a welcome book that stays in the home. Just like
many hotels and resorts. When guests check into their rooms they have information packets. It’s
best to have your guest books with all of the information that you previously provided to them
inserted in the book as well. An added bonus is filling them with local menu’s, things to do and
restaurants that you recommend. You can pick these up locally at a welcome center and
restaurants, They are free and an excellent source of information for guests. Not to mention,
Whether you are using a professional management company or doing this yourself. The more
information you have for guests prior to arrival is better. It’s shows that not only are you a great
host but you care about your renters.
Everyone loves when they book their homes. The communication that occurs between time of booking and arrival is very back and forth leading up to your guests arrival. Regardless of the amount of information about the home and area you provide, renters will still have a million questions for you. As a homeowner, you have now become a person of the hospitality industry. It is important that you have the mindset in place to provide the best service and needs of your guests and how you can make their stay a 5-star rating. The best question is to ask yourself, what would you expect if you were renting someones home.
Something that I personally do and also tell prospective clients that manage their own homes is once the guests arrive, if you do not open the home for them and even if you do, either stop by or call within the first 24 hours. FaceTime is extremely important. It puts a face to the home and not just an online experience. Respect is higher and homes are better taken care of. I personally like to bring a bottle of wine, bubbles for the kids, etc. It’s a nominal amount to spend and very much appreciated by guests. At that point, you can check and see if your guests have everything they need, if their expectations were met and overall their general feeling.
If there is any issue you will find out immediately. Sometimes, cleaners have missed things, not enough towels and/or they feel the house was misrepresented. Most of the time, they are happy and everything is perfect. There is always one person who may feel cheated or unhappy. When this happens, you are able to address the issue if any within a reasonable amount of time after their arrival. In my experience in the beginning when working for other people, I’ve found out after the guests had left, they needed extra blankets or paper products. Something that could’ve easily been fixed but instead they left with not a 5 star mindset. It was an easy fix. You may think something that small, isn’t a big deal, but every guests has different expectations and it’s important to make sure each individuals needs are met.
How a renter feels will affect how they rate your home after they leave. Ratings as we’ve mentioned in the past affect everything. Your listing could be paused, lower on the list and just overall looked over. There is so much competition nowadays. It’s very unfortunate but almost all communication stops the minute upon a guests arrival. It is a huge mistake when owners and/or managers do this! Even though they are renting a home, renters still expect a hotel style service. Minus any major issues that could arise when renting home, it’s nice to make guests feel that they are treated like a VIP guest. On the other hand, guests do not want to be constantly bothered by homeowners and they are entitled to their privacy. So you need to make sure there is a balance of hospitality and not being an overbearing owner.
Being an owner/property manager can be quite the balancing act. You want to make sure who is renting is who they say they are. How many people in the home is the correct amount and if you do not allow events or social gatherings that that is not happening at your home. Those issues are very rare. Most importantly you want your guests to have such a wonderful time, that they chose your home when they come back to the area.
There is a cost of doing business with Vacation Rentals. As much as we like to bring in income, every year as a homeowner you will need to replace some towels, glassware, and utensils. It’s usually a minimal amount, but just like a business you need to view it as an expense of running a business and what you can do to continue to make your rental a top rated destination. Things will happen and if it’s under a fifty dollar replacement or repair fee, it’s something as an owner you should treat it as an expense. It’s not worth nickel and diming your guests as accidents will happen and it’s usually reported and a minimal cost that they are more than happy and willing to pay for.
Now, sometimes and this is a very rare occasion people actually do some damage that costs hundreds of dollars. In my over a decade experience in managing Vacation Rentals, I have had this happen maybe a handful of times. Most of the time, people call immediately to report it so we can repair and/or replace it. Once in a blue moon they don’t and then deny any damage and say it was not them. If you are stuck on this predicament, you want to make sure that you are ahead of the game.
Prior to guests arriving, have a checklist for everything. If you are not the person checking on your home, make sure to check with your property manager and see if they have a system in place. If it’s just you, have a list for your cleaner and make sure they go through as they clean. It’s good to have some sort of inventory list. Take pictures often as to make sure you constantly have updated evidence as you may have to report this to a vacation rental insurance agency that covers damages or a vacation rental listing provider such as Airbnb or Homeaway. Some do offer protection plans for guests. It is highly recommend to go this route of requiring these over a flat security deposit. It is much easier to deal with if there are any issues. Renters are much happier and more willing to pay a flat fee rather than giving out a large amount for a security deposit.
When this happens, if you are not covered through a damage insurance company, you may have to go to small claims court depending on the amount and if they are willing to pay or refute it and fight you. The insurance companies, do protect you and are much easier to deal with. It’s a few forms and photos uploaded and your own your way. They send a check and you can repair or replace any damaged items.
As scary as this may sound, it truly is a rare event. Most Guests are wonderful and there aren’t any issues. But it is better to be prepared for an unfortunate event. As things can and do happen.