Use That Extra Hour Each Day to Improve Your Short Term Vacation Rental
I always use spring to make improvements and do the big cleaning projects. I don’t know it its because the weather is cooperative and I have more energy or maybe because spring…aka the ‘mud season’ is my slow season and I have time…and I get nervous because I don’t have as many bookings. I put that nervous energy to work!
Whatever it is, I use spring to get stuff done! Its a great time to get the outside of your vacation rental property in tip-top condition. Plant flowers in pots on your patio or get the yard cleaned up and ready for summer BBQs and games of volleyball. Trim the trees and even plant new trees or tend to those decks that aren’t looking so new. Maybe plant some wildflowers to give your property more of the local flair.Take advantage of the decrease in activity and take proactive measures to stain the deck and paint the house if necessary. Whatever you can do to spruce it up for the rental season.
Do you need to upgrade your pots for potted plants? Is your BBQ pit on its last leg? If so, you don’t have to spend a couple hundred dollars on a new grill. Maybe you can just spruce it up a bit with some high heat paint and get through another year without that big expense.
Consider buying a hammock for your guests (and for you, when you finally get to relax and enjoy your place). Maybe a yard game or a fence so you can increase bookings by allowing pets? Get creative! Each of those little improvements really add up and make an impression on your guests!
What You Need to Know About Taxes and Deductions
No one likes the idea of paying taxes and if you are an exception to that statement you should probably just keep it to yourself.
The short term vacation rental business can be a profitable business but unfortunately, when we make a profit, our government wants to benefit from it too. As they say, death and taxes are the two things you can’t escape. I can’t help you with the death part but I can with the taxes. I’m not going to pay your taxes for you but I can help by giving you some advice on how to avoid problems with your taxes.
I will star by saying that there is not much that puts me in a worse mood than trying to figure out how much of my profit I owe to someone (insert tax man here) who did nothing to help create that profit! So, I hand this off to a professional. I do this for a couple of reasons…not just because of the mood altering affect of taxes. I also do it because I am not an accountant or CPA, I do not understand the ins and outs of taxes. I also choose to have a professional handle this for me so that I have someone to go back to in the event I have problems with the IRS and/or local government if my taxes are completed correctly.
- I don’t understand it;
- Someone to be responsible if it is done incorrectly;
- I don’t have time
Keep Detailed Records of Everything
You are running a business so treat it like one. Keep records of all rentals, the rates charged, expenses, etc… Remember that you are entitled to deduct all “ordinary and necessary” expenses necessary to operate your rental business. You can deduct new sheets, paint, dishes gifts for incoming guests and anything else that is an expense directly related to your rental business.
Keeping immaculate records will help you save time, which means money, if you are paying a professional and it also saves your time because you will have everything readily at your fingertips. You have a better chance of counting it toward a deduction if you have a record of it. You are running a business, you should be keeping these records anyway.
Fourteen Day Rule
Every short term rental owner needs to know the “14-day Rule.” You might also hear this rule referred to as the “Masters Exception.” That’s because it relates to the property owners how rent their homes out in Georgia only for the Masters golf tournament.
The Rule basically allows you to avoid paying tax on income you’ve earn from a short term rental IF:
- You rent the property for less than 14 days during the year AND
- You use the property for at least 14 days during the year
If you are just looking for a little non-taxable income during the year you need to know this rule. Many people, especially those who live in areas that have a special event each year, rent their property for just that specific event time frame. This way they can be sure to be under the 14 days and can make the income tax free.
It’s important to be aware that this Rule applies even if you are just renting out a room in your house. If you rent that room more than 14 days then you are required to pay taxes on that income. Also remember that if you are renting a room you can not deduct 100% of expenses such as your mortgage interest or property taxes; you have to apportion based on the size of the room compared to the size of the house.
Even if you follow this rule and stay under the 14 days if you are advertising and renting your property through a short term rental website like Airbnb or VRBO then they may report your income and you may get a letter from the IRS. No need to panic; you just need to let them know that the 14 day rule exception applies to you. Hence, another reason to keep great records.
Know About the State and Local Occupancy Taxes…or Hire Someone Who Does
Not only does the rate of different state and local government occupancy taxes vary, the names vary too. In some places it may be called a occupancy tax, others a hotel tax, transient lodging tax or short-term rental tax. What they call it is not really all that important. What is important is that you know it exists and you pay it.
These taxes are also handled differently by the different short term rental advertising websites. Some require you to collect the occupancy directly from the renters up front and others collect and submit the taxes in specific cities/states.
Again, this is an area where it is just better to have a professional handle it. I use my CPA and they do the research and figure out who and what needs to be paid. There are also companies, such as Avalara (https://mylodgetax.avalara.com) that do nothing but this and they do it at a pretty low monthly fee. These companies usually are able to determine which lodging tax you should be paying for your location, they register and file all the forms and business licenses that you may need, file your returns and tax payments, deal with notifications and correspondence from the tax agencies and generally make your life easier when it comes to being compliant with taxes. In my opinion it is best to let the professionals handle anything that has to do with tax liabilities.
Guest-Service Fee or Host-Service Fees Can Be Deducted
If you rent your property out for more than 14 days throughout the year, you should deduct 100% of the guest-service fee or host service fee from our reported rental income. These fees are directly related to your short term rental so you can deduct everything you paid for those fees.
You can also deduct the fee that these companies charge for putting your property on their website. Again, this is a business expense for your rental income business and should be deducted.
The bottom line is you need to treat your short term rental business, get this…as a business. In order to be successful and to keep your sanity you are going to keep immaculate records. If you know that you are not the type of person who maintains all the records, invoices, payments, etc…then hire someone to do it. If you don’t, not only are you going to miss out on tax advantages but you are likely to miss deadlines with taxing authorities which creates a whole new set of headaches and heartaches.
This is all general information. You need to confirm any tax decisions with a tax professional, which I am not. I am a short term rental property owner letting you know what has worked for me and what I think might work for you too. This is really important stuff be sure to talk to a professional in the area of accounting and taxes.
Let us know how you handle taxes and making sure you are getting all the benefits that you can…leave us a comment!
YOUR RATES ARE YOUR RATES!
Discounting rates is a good business decision for some owners.
Many property owners discount their rates when asked. The most obvious reason for a discounted rate is to keep you occupancy rate up, which , of course means more money. It is a great way to fill up your unit in the off season. Another reason owners may discount is for an extended stay. Maybe… stay for 2 weeks and get a day or two free. There are lots of ways to structure this. Some owners may reduce the rate when it is just a couple staying in a property that would accommodate many more. All of these are good reasons to discount the rental rate and it works well for some people.
I am vehemently opposed to discounting my rate.
I don’t follow this line of thought. In fact I am vehemently opposed to discounting my rate. I know it goes against what many consider the conventional wisdom of vacation rentals and you can call me a snob or what you will but sticking to my rates has paid off for me. I do not ever reduce my seasonal rate.
I do have different rates for each season. My off season is the winter so I decrease my regular rate for the entire winter season. I also have a separate rate for the holidays. This is different than offering someone a discount off of the regular rate for a particular season. When someone inquires about a “discounted” rate from the one that is posted, the answer is always ‘No, I do not discount my rates.’
I’m not just being stubborn. I actually have reasons why I don’t give a discount on my rates. First, I think it comes across as unprofessional to ‘willy nilly’ change your rates. I want the people who are inquiring about renting my property to know that I take my rental seriously and I expect my guests to do the same. I do not haggle. Haggling is something I might do in Mexico when I’m buying jewelry from a street vendor; its not something I am willing to do with my most expensive asset.
I get a lot of calls or the emails asking if I am willing to discount my rate because they are going to book so far in advance, or they are staying so long, or because the dates are only a week away, or there are only two of them, or the million other reasons that people think a discount is appropriate. My answer is always the same. I am polite but firm that I am not going to discount my rate.
I have defined who my perfect guests are and they are not people who ask for a discount. I have a higher end property and staying there is not cheap. If I were to offer discounts I would feel as though I am cheapening my product and that my guests would not appreciate it the same way. I know that I have done my research and I continue to the research on the appropriate rate for my rental. I am reasonably priced and there is no reason for me to accept less that my posted rate. I know its worth it and I want my guests to see that as well.
I am sure that I lose some rentals because I am not willing to discount. I don’t care. I know that I am getting the right guests by sticking to my policy. When I first started this was a hard decision because I was just so anxious to have guests…and pay my bills. Now, I feel more secure with that decision…and I don’t get so bent out of shape when someone asks me if I am willing to “reduce my rate” or “cut a deal.” Well, if I’m being honest I have to say that I still feel a little offended, which I realize is ridiculous but I just do.
Every rental owner has different goals and needs to make policies that work for them.
I am not telling you that you should adopt my strict ‘no discount’ policy. I am suggesting that you really think about why you would offer a discount and come up with your own policy and stick to it. Maybe your property isn’t as personal to you and it is strictly a vehicle to make money, which is fine. In that case, your only concern may be filling your rental up. If so, in some cases, it may make a lot of sense to negotiate a lower rental rate. Every vacation rental owner is going to have slightly different goals and priorities. You just need to figure out what you want, why you want it and make a policy that works for you and your business.
I’m sure alot of you may disagree with my stance on this issue so let me know what you think.I’d love to hear what works for you and your rental business. Leave me a comment.
Security Cameras, a Good Idea…. or Creepy?
When someone first mentioned that I should have a security camera I immediately dismissed it as a creepy. I thought my guests would be bothered by it. To my surprise, not a single guest has mentioned it. One guest did make an attempt to sneak extra guests in and out of the property out of view of the camera but that is another funny story and I will save it for another time.
There are several reasons why you should have a security camera…the first obviously being for security! In any circumstance its good to know what’s going on outside of your front door and who is coming and going but even more so in a remote area. When you don’t have close neighbors and a lot of traffic in front of your house having ‘eyes’ there for you is comforting. Its also a deterrent for someone who might consider being an uninvited guest in your property.
When I was making my decision, as I do with most decisions, I made a list of pros and cons of installing a security camera.
Security Another Expense
Safety for me and my guests Hassel to install
I can see how is coming and going Creepy
I have proof if rules are not followed Still seems creepy
See when repair guy, cleaning crew Again, creepy
come and go
Avoid the ‘Creepy’ and Don’t Break the Law
I know its probably obvious but I have to say it….security cameras are only for the outdoors. DO NOT PUT A CAMERA IN SIDE OF YOUR PROPERTY. This is against the law in most places and super obnoxious everywhere.
I place my camera so it is aiming at the parking area and I can see who is entering the front door area. It gives me enough of a view to have a good idea what is happening in the front of the house and all the way up to the door.
I also think a camera should not be put in a hot tub or pool area. I know that some people will disagree with me but I just know that when I’m relaxing by the pool or in a hot tub I do not want to wonder is some creep/perv/slimeball (you can fill in your own blank) is watching me.
I want my guests to be able to relax and enjoy, not worry about whether they are on candid camera. I also recommend that you put something in your welcome book to let them know that you do have a security camera…for their security of course… and let them know where it is.
2 Basic Types of Security Systems
Wired vs. Wireless
Wired security systems are hardwired to the home, inside and/or in outside. This installation is usually more expensive and requires professional installation in most cases. Also, with a wired system you will not experience signal interference and your system is less likely to be hacked into.
Wireless cameras are user-friendly, simple to operate and easy to install. These are home automation systems that users love for the simple interface and ability to control everything remotely. The remote access control makes me feel like a technology super-hero and believe me I am a technology super-zero! I love being able to log in and see if my guests have arrived or to see how much snow we have and if my snow removal crew is staying on top of it. I also get on it just because I want to watch the snow fall or see the mountains.
However, there is definitely a downside to the wireless cameras. The wireless connection will suffer from signal interruption from time to time and they can be hacked if you don’t take precautions. Wireless security systems also provide audio and video recording of significantly higher quality than wired models. Each type of security camera has a unique set of advantages and disadvantages. To me the audio is not important; I don’t need to hear anything I just want a basic image of what is happening outside my door.
Below are some of the options I considered when I was shopping for a security camera. I ended up going with the Lorex wireless and I am thrilled with it. It is basically a plug and go system. I have had it for 2 years now and I have not had a problem yet. I was concerned because my property has some pretty extreme weather. We have gotten to negative 22 degrees so far this year but it hasn’t seemed to cause a problem. The only issue I have is due to my property being remote and not having great or even good internet reception. Even with the interruptions I am still glad I have it.
Wireless Outdoor Camera: Foscam FI9803P
This Foscam camera has one of the easiest connection setups. All you do is scan the camera’s QR code with your smartphone and it is connected. You have the option as to how you’d like to store your video footage: on a hard drive or using the Foscam Cloud service for remote storage. The camera is weatherproof making it a great fit for the outdoors.
•Sends email alerts •Says it’s “wireless” but you do need cords
•App for Android and iOS •No monitor included
•Easy setup process •Price & Tech Specs
•Record footage to the hard drive or the cloud
•Great picture quality
•Good customer support
•1 Year Warranty
•Night Vision Up To 65 Feet
•70° Viewing Angle
8 Channel Camera Package: Best Vision Systems SK-DVR-DIY
This 8 channel surveillance system from Best Vision includes everything you need. No need to buy cords or a DVR, this is all included as well as other bonus items like a mouse and a remote. However it comes with four cameras so if you are wanting to maximize the space you’ll have to buy an additional four. This package is very affordable and great step up from having no security.
•500GB hard drive •Instructions could be more clear
•View remotely on smartphone or web browser
•Easy to use
Price & Tech Specs
•1 Year Warranty
•Night Vision Up To 65 Feet
4 Channel Camera Package: Zmodo PKD-DK4216
This is a great 4 channel camera package for homeowners and businesses. The cameras can be used inside or outside so you can keep tabs on all areas. Footage is kept on the hard drive and when there is an “incident” it is categorized so all you have to do is search for the date and time range to find it.
•Can be used indoors and outdoors •No monitor included•App
•500GB hard drive pre-installed •Not the best distance for night vision
•Great video quality
Price & Tech Specs
•2 Year Warranty
•Night Vision Up To 30 Feet
This is an Indoor/Outdoor SUPER HIGH DEFINITION 3 Megapixel Infrared Bullet Camera with Night Vision. 1080p High Definition Video in both the day and night. The built in infrared illuminators enable this camera to see up to 100 Feet
in 100% complete darkness! The standard 3.6mm captures wide angle view (approximately 90 degrees).
This camera comes with software to install on your PC for Remote Internet and Cell Phone Viewing. Each camera comes with Free IP Software for your PC, Cell Phone, and Tablet for Remote Internet Viewing. The software includes features such as motion detection, 24/7 recording, scheduled recording, digital snapshots, and more. You will be able to view your cameras on the Internet, Cell, Pads, and many other Internet Enabled Devices.
This IP Cameras has what is referred to as Power over Ethernet (PoE). PoE is a technology that integrates power and video into a standard CAT5 data wire (Ethernet cable). In other words, you do not need to have extra power outlets for the cameras. Power and video is delivered through one CAT5 wire, making installation simple, clean, and easy.
•1/3″ 3 Megapixel Progressive Scan Aptina CMOS Image Sensor
•High Performance Ambarella Series DSP
•H.264 And MJPEG Dual-Stream Encoding
•3.6mm Fixed Lens
•30m Max IR LED Distance
•DWDR, HLC, BLC
•IP66 Weather Proof Ingress Protection
•12vDC / PoE (802.3af)
•Access via Web Browser, CMS (PSS) & SmartPhone (G4SS)
LaView IP 1080P HD
100 ft Night Vision Built-in PoE 4 Cameras 4 Channel NVR Security Camera System with 1TB and 4 of 2MP Bullet Cam Surveillance.
About $499 at Walmart
LaView’s 4-Channel 1080P IP System is premium quality IP surveillance in an affordable package. With auto-adjusted high definition video recording, a pre-installed Western Digital surveillance drive, full power over ethernet (POE) setup, motion detection and more, you have all you need to protect your property like a professional. This durable, multi-faceted surveillance kit allows for both indoor and outdoor camera installation and switches to 100ft night vision in the dark. Easily accessible remote viewing app, available free for iPhone, Android, Mac and PC.
Lorex 4-Channel Security Camera System with Wireless Cameras
Stay connected to your property from anywhere in the world with this wireless security system from Lorex by FLIR. This system contains our renowned LH030 ECO Blackbox 3 DVR (Digital Video Recorder) and four weatherproof wireless security cameras. There is no need to run video cables with wireless cameras – simply plug them in and they will be ready to go. The intuitive interface with simple icons allows for easy and efficient security DVR programming. This system can also be accessed remotely thanks to our Stratus Connectivity app, which allows you to instantly connect to your system over the internet using a smartphone, tablet, PC or Mac.
960H DVR supports up to four cameras
4 CAMERAS Four wireless security cameras
135FT NIGHT VISION Maximum night vision range
500GB HARD DRIVE
Maximum capacity 1 x 4TB hard drive
AvertX PRO Series Camera System
The AvertX PRO Series Camera System is equipped with an 16 channel NVR, (4) 2MP HD310 low profile dome cameras with Spectrum Vision and (4) 4MP HD40D mini bullet cameras. The AvertX PRO Series NVR will record and display top quality video at up to Ultra HD 4K or 8 MP resolutions. Higher resolution gives you the ability to enlarge an image and see critical details at a greater distance than before. The AvertX 4MP HD40D mini bullet cameras capture video at 2560 x 1440. Spectrum Vision True WDR allow you to see both very dark and very light areas of a scene at the same time perfect for locations with shadows or large glass doors or windows. AvertX cameras and recorders are put through the same stringent tests for durability and reliability as professional equipment to ensure peak performance and extended reliability. AvertX products are supported by our US-based PRO Team and backed by a standard two-year warranty.
•Powerful network video recorder (NVR) record 5MP video at up to 30 images per second and 4K ultra HD (8MP) cameras at industry standard rate of 15 images per second on all channels
•8TB commercial surveillance grade internal storage included, upgradable to 12TB
•4MP indoor/outdoor HD40D mini bullet cameras for tight spaces with 93° wide angle lens
•2MP indoor/outdoor HD310 low profile dome cameras with spectrum vision true WDR and black paintable snap-on cover
•Spectrum vision true WDR (wide dynamic range) compensates for uneven light conditions caused by shadows, obstructions, back light and inconsistent lighting
•Onboard microSD card slot in cameras for redundant video backup
•Integrated PoE switch in the NVR provides enough power for a variety of camera types including pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) and heated extreme cold
•Remote viewing on internet explorer, Apple computers with native app, android and Apple tablets or Smartphone with free AvertX GO app
•AvertX connect for easy remote device set up and account tools for accessing multiple NVRs remotely to view video
•Powerful surveillance tools motion detection with email alert, scheduling, recorded video search, multiple camera view
•IR night vision
•Add up to 12TB external storage using the two USB 3.0 connections
•Flexible NVR placement NVR is a manageable size (W 17.25 in. x H 3.75 in. x D 9.63 in.) and is rack mountable (2U)
•Waterproof camera connectors to simplify and lower cost of installation
•Includes 100 ft. Cat5e Ethernet cables with waterproof connectors for all camera connections, IR remote control, USB mouse, 6 ft. HDMI cable, 6 ft. Cat5e cable, camera mounting hardware
•AvertX Pro team factory phone support for the life of your system
•2 year manufacturer warranty
Masione Dummy Security Camera Flashing Light Fake Infrared LED CCTV Surveillance
Less than $10
Fake dummy camera with built in flashing light. It looks extremely realistic with the fake lens in real camera housing. Its a cheap and effective way to deter criminals. It take 2 AAA batteries and its easy to install.
As you can see there are a lot to choose from. Just think about what you want out of it before you decide. For me, it was easy. I didn’t want
to spend a whole lot, it needed to be easy to install and operate and I wanted remote live access. As you see the wired system is a lot more sophisticated but for me that was overkill.
I’d love to hear if you have other recommendations of what has worked for you and your thoughts regarding having a security camera. Please leave a comment.
Let’s face it. Not everyone is a great writer. The good news is that you don’t have to be in order to write a compelling description of your short-term vacation rental property. To write an inviting and attention grabbing description you need to keep a few time tested sales techniques in mind.
Who are you trying to get to read your description?
When you are creating your description you should have your ideal guest in mind. Who do you want to rent your property to? Think of them as you are writing and focus on what makes your property perfect for that guest. Is it perfect for the romantic get-away, the family vacation, a spring break blowout? Whatever it is, write to that guest.
3 Ways People Digest Your Description – Photos, Words, and Personal Contact
Keep in mind that everyone digests information differently. Some people will get everything they need from the pictures on your website. Others will read each and every word of your description and then there is another group who need the personal contact, a phone call, with you to make their decision. There are also a lot of others who need a combination of the three. Your website should provide information about your property that caters to each of these styles. Take the time and effort to have great photos, create a great description and make it look professional and polished.
A picture paints a thousand words, right? We’ve all heard it before….because it’s true.
There is no way around it. The pictures of your property on your website should be professional quality. Either hire a photographer or, if you don’t, just make sure they look like a professional took them. Your pictures need to be clear and bright so that your property is displayed in the very best light. Make sure you are taking pictures of the kitchen, bedrooms, living space, outside living space, views and anything that is a special feature of the property.
Take the time to stage the property so that it looks inviting. Put flowers on the kitchen counter or coffee table, have the fire lit and lights on, maybe a couple of wine glasses on the table on your deck. Make the viewer want to be in that room. Make it easy for them to picture themselves there. And, of course, get rid of the clutter so that the photos look clean and neat.
Taking great pictures is not easy. It is going to take some time and effort. If you don’t have the time or the patience for it then hire someone. I know, I know…that cost money. If you’re not into spending the money money, make a traded…two nights in my property for 50 professional pictures. That’s a win-win situation.
The Written Description
“If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.” – Mark Twain
It’s easy to write rambling unorganized description. I think its called word vomit. It takes time and effort to create a concise and clear description that grabs your readers’ attention. Your website description of your property is the first impression a potential guests gets of your property. It’s a very small window for you to grab their attention…take advantage of that opportunity presenting a professional appearance, by making them feel how it is to stay at your property and telling a story.
Your Written Description Should Be…
“Long enough to cover the topic but short enough to keep it interesting.”
This was my favorite English teacher in high school, Mr. O.’s , response, when asked what the length of a writing assignment should be. It was annoying to me too…but it is an accurate response and gets the point across.
The first sentence should grab them. Don’t go with 3 bedroom 2 bath for your first sentence. Instead, use something more attention grabbing like, ‘skier’s paradise, ski right out the back door.’ Or, ‘See and hear the waves of the gulf from your bedroom balcony.’ Or, ‘a romantic weekend with your sweet heart in front of a roaring fire looking out on the panoramic views of snow covered mountains in your secluded mountain chalet.’ Keep that first sentence short; be clear and concise. Being creative is the key.
Choose Your Words Carefully. If you search through the main listing sites for vacation rental properties you will see the same words used over and over again. They are used so commonly they really don’t mean much as the reader reads them. Some of these are: nice, beautiful, cozy and luxurious. I’m not saying never use these words. What I am saying is, try to stand out from your competition and use words and phrases that are more descriptive and emotive.
Instead of saying it’s a nice 2 bedroom condo near the beach, explain that you are an easy five minute walk to the beach and you can hear the waves at night while sitting on your deck or you have great views of the sunset over the water. Use your words to make them feel what its like.
Now, I am not suggesting that you go to the thesaurus and use words that are so fancy that we will have to go to the dictionary to understand your description. Just provide more than the basic overly used words. Give them more!
Make it easy to read. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. You can still provide a lot of information but take the time to pare down the unnecessary words and sentences. Get the point across with as few words as possible.
Make the layout of your description easy for the reader too. No one is eager to sit down and read a page of words with no breaks. That’s why you limit your paragraphs to a few lines. After you’ve written it see if you have enough blocks to give your reader a break.
Proof read your description. People are turned off by sloppy writing. No one wants to trudge through a description filled with typos, bad grammar and abbreviations. If you don’t take the time to proof read your description you might as well not create it at all. Even better would be to have someone else proof read what you’ve written and your entire website description. I know, that’s more difficult, but it definitely results in a more appealing description.
Now that you have a great set of photos and a well-written description of your property you are almost done. One more piece…give them your contact number. Whether it’s yours or who you pay to manage the property, give them someone they can actually speak too. It lends a personal touch and it creates confidence and a sense of security for your guests. I also find, its good for me because I get my first chance to screen who stays at my place and let them know that I am particular about who stays at my house.
GET TO IT!
So, block out some time and get to creating your description through professional quality photos, great descriptive text that gives your reader the feel of your property and contact information so that they can reach you for information about your property.
Lots of Locks
Before starting the vacation rental business I don’t think I have ever really given the locks on my door a second thought. Who cares, right? Well, once you start a short term rental business and you are having a lot of people, and some complete strangers, access your house you start to think about locks. What makes you think about it even more is when you get the 5th call from a guest who has lost your key and you don’t have another way to get them in to the property with out driving over with your key or paying your cleaning person to go let them in.
That’s what made me start to do the research on different types of locks. Who would have thought there were so many options…and really good options! Well apparently choosing a lock wasn’t quite as simple as I thought it would be. There are lots of options and they all have different capabilities and pros and cons. I’m going to give you a run down of some of the better locking mechanisms I have research and I’ll let you know what I use and why I chose this particular lock.
Type/Name Brand Pros Cons
* Convenient *Can be Pricey
*Several different code
Kwikset /SmartCode 913/ Single Cylinder Satin Nickel Electronic/Deadbolt Featuring SmartKey
*Looks nice *Lost Keys
Kwikset / Montara Single Cylinder
*Solid security *Plain
*Reliable *Lost Keys
*Very simple *Lots of keys
Schlage / Double Cylinder Dead Bolt
*Attractive *More Complicated
*Many options for codes
Schlage FE595 CAM 619 ACC Camelot Keypad Entry with Flex-Lock and Accent Levers
*Remote Access *Expensive
*Change as often as needed
*Control access from anywhere
I have not tried this one but the idea of being able to control access to your property remotely is very exciting to me. The next time I need a new lock I will certainly look into this one. The website is http://erentallock.com/3306.html. Check it out and see what you think
Just kidding….NOT good option!
The advantages of the coded door are:
*You can give the house keepers, maintenance people, repair people and guest different codes
*You can change the code for each new guest
*People don’t have the opportunity to lose the key
*You don’t have to worry about many people having access to your home
*When we stay at the house we can use code that only we know and reprogram the lock so that none of the other codes work
A few disadvantage:
*Your guest can reprogram it if they know how
*People can forget the code and you get calls (we have not had this happen yet)
*Batteries can run out while guests are there and it beeps like a fire alarm until you change them so you have to walk guest through the change (can be prevented by being proactive with changing batteries)
*Some people are old school and prefer a key (solved by leaving a lock box at the front door with a key in it).
I decided to go with both a key and a coded lock! First, I decided the coded lock made a lot of sense. I am 3 hours from my properties so there was no way for me to just drive over with a new key if a guest misplaced it. That left me with the option of paying someone to bring them a key. this is not a good option for me because I am averse to paying money out of my pocket because my guest is forgetful. So, I went with the more expensive coded lock because it looked great, it was secure and it was much more convenient for me and I think my guests too. My cleaning crew, handy man and guests all have different codes that I can change as often as I like…and I don’t get the “I lost my key” call.
Just in case, I also have a lockbox on the door with a key inside of it. I do have some ‘old school’ guests who are just more comfortable with a key. Also, if someone forgets the code they might have the key with them. It hasn’t happened yet but for some reason it makes me feel better knowing its there.
What kind of access techniques do you use?Let us know what works. We are always up for new suggestions.
CREATING A KILLER WELCOME BOOK
The purpose of your Welcome Book is to welcome your guest, right? Its your chance to let them know you appreciate them being at your property and that you want to make their stay as comfortable as possible.
I’ve seen owners use a welcome book to just list off the things that they can not do in the property. That, of course, is not very welcoming. In fact, that is probably considered very ‘unwelcoming’ and annoying to most guests.
A Welcome Book is not a few sheets of paper stapled together with stains on it and torn or marked pages. It should look professional. The Welcome Book makes an impression and you should make sure that the impression yours makes is that of a professional and an owner who cares about their property and their guests. I have no doubt that when someone sees that you have spent the time and effort to provide a professional and informative book they are more likely to treat your property better than if you have a worn dirty papers with sticky notes and handwritten notes all over it.
There is another important purpose for the Welcome Book. Its to help your guests’ stay at your property be more enjoyable for you! Your Welcome Book can help to save your sanity. It can prevent your Sunday night at the movies from being ruined by eliminating that phone call from your guests asking how to turn the stove on. If your Welcome Book is created properly, it should be enticing enough that your guests will read it and organized in a way that makes it easy for them to find the answers to their questions in the book…rather than make a phone call to you.
WHAT YOUR WELCOME BOOK SHOULD LOOK LIKE
First, lets talk about what your Welcome Book should look like. You want to demonstrate to your guests that you are professional and you take your rental business seriously. You also want your guest to actually read the book (so they aren’t calling you at 10:00 at night asking where you keep the cutting boards). When you are creating your Welcome Book think about the books you have seen in hotels and immitate that. They should be crisp, clean and organized.
You can easily create a fabulous Welcome Book with Blurb (http://www.blurb.com/photo-books) or with Shutterfly (https://www.shutterfly.com/make-my-book). You can include all of the information you want with some great pictures and it will look and feel professional and very inviting for your guests to sit down and thumb through.
If you are more of a do-it-yourself type of host you can make your own. You can get creative and have a unique book cover or you can get a high quality 3 ring binder and slide a picture of your property on the front and fill it up with information. You do not want to just have sheets of paper with stains and torn pages. Make it look professional. When you give this type of impression people notice. It’s a good idea to use either laminated sheets or paper protectors to keep it looking neat and clean.
This does not have to be a big expense but it must look nice. You want it to call out to your guest. The bottom line is that you want them to pick it up and read it!
WHAT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR WELCOME BOOK
Start out with a really nice personal welcome to your guests.
- Let them know how much you appreciate that they chose your property.
- Let them know that their comfort in your property is your number one priority.
- Start out with a handwritten or even just signed, if your hand writing is not one of your better qualities, welcoming them.
HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR WELCOME BOOK
You can provide different categories of information and use tabs or an index to make it easy for your guests to find what they are looking for. Here are some tabs that I put in my book. These are just suggestions. Every property will be a little different, of course.
Emergency Contacts/Information – I have a standard list: fire/police/ambulance (911).
Appliances – We all get used to our appliances so we don’t think about it but when someone is new to an appliance it may take a bit to get used to it. Help your guests out by giving them some basic instructions. I even include how to use the stove top (mine is gas and apparently and surprisingly, a lot of people don’t know how to turn them on as proven by the numerous calls I received from confused guests). I also give them a quick guide for the microwave about how long it takes to cook microwave popcorn and heat up a cup of hot cocoa. This is also a good place to put the location of the manuals so your more independent guests can try to figure or trouble shoot issues themselves.
Entertainment Systems – this is your place to put instructions for the DVD player, Stereo system, or wireless speakers, tv, video games and wifi. This always seems to be another area where it gets confusing for guests and you will get call so its better to try to answer in the Welcome book if possible.
BBQ, Fire Pit and Outdoor Furniture – Here I let them know that these things are available to them and give a explanation of how to work them and some safety instructions.
Things To Do – I include a list of restaurants, shops, guide/surf shops, rafting companies, ski slopes, etc…I also include some personal notes about things like my favorite hikes, fishing spots and local coffee shops.
Fireplaces/Hot Tubs – Instructions, special tricks necessary to make the fireplace draw properly or safety information.
Garbage – Advise of where trash should be taken or when the trash is picked up.
Miscellaneous House Information – If you have a door that sticks, you have a sensitive septic system, the recipe for the hummingbird food and how you fill the feeders, if there are wildlife that the guests should keep an eye out for, etc…
Restaurants – Give a brief description and location. I also provide a map so people can figure out where they are. Again I give them some of my favorites.
Maps – of the entire area; in my property I also give them some topographical trail maps because we have a lot of great hiking in my area.
Shopping – I include a list of the grocery stores, liquor stores, gas stations other shopping in the area.
Blank pages – You could also leave a couple of pages blank so that your guests can make recommendations for future guests.
Check Out Information – when they need to check out, what they need to do before leaving (close windows, strip beds, what to do with food in fridge, etc…).
Re-booking information – in the back of the book you can include information and even a discount, maybe 10% for booking before you leave.
Remember this is your chance to make a great first impression AND it is a chance to save your sanity. The Welcome Book can make your guests stay better and easier and it can improve your life! So, take the time to do it right!
SHORT TERM RENTAL INSURANCE
Short term rental insurance is such an unpleasant topic. I hate writing about it. I will even say it is probably one of my very least favorite thing about renting my home. It almost was the reason I did not get into short term rentals. However, renting your property without the proper insurance coverage for your property could be absolutely disastrous. I can not stress this enough. In my opinion it is probably the single most important decision you can make regarding your short term rental. Generally, you insurance policy you have for your second home will not cover anything that happens while you have a short term tenant in the property. Even worse, it may also exclude any coverage that you should have if you have not disclosed to the insurance company that you are using the property for short term rentals.
“Renting your property without the proper insurance coverage for your property could be absolutely disastrous.”
You must have a commercial property insurance policy. This will cover you and your family when you are using the property and it will cover incidents that may occur while you have tenants in the property. In fact, many of these policies will cover the loss of income should something happen to the property which would make the property un- rentable for a period of time.
Now for the bad news….It can be difficult to find an insurance company who focuses on, offers and understands these commercial policies. It is important to do the research to see who does and what experience other customers similar to you have had with the company. VRBO has one that they recommend and I am not sure whether it is affiliated with VRBO or not. Its called CBIZ. I use Tudor. There are not many to choose from as most agents have no idea what you are talking about or if they do, their company doesn’t handle insurance specific for short term rentals.
As you research you will see that your premiums will be a lot higher for this type of coverage but unfortunately you really can not do with out it; its just too big of a risk.When I was doing the research I seriously thought that they must be making a mistake in the amount. It was a rude and painful awakening for me. This stuff is expensive! This is not an area to scrimp on. As with any insurance policy, you want to have it but hope to never need it.
“It’s surprisingly expensive, difficult to find, and hard to understand….
“but you’ve got to have it.”
Something getting this insurance did help me with was getting some safety features in our home. The insurance company required that we have an emergency ladder because our loft bedroom had not emergency egress. I had not thought of that but it is a good idea and I think makes our guest feel better knowing we have it. It also made us think of the need for fire extinguishers and locking mechanisms. Although these are helpful they do not make it any easier to pay that large insurance payment but its one of the costs of doing business in short term rentals. Taxes and insurance, what are you going to do? You just have to suck it up and pay it.
“I’m sorry for totally bumming you out with this post but you need to know! I promise the next one will be more fun.”
The Important Art of Screening Tenants
Screen, screen, screen! I cannot emphasize enough the importance of screening your tenants and screening them well. We are renting our home, our most valuable asset for most of us. Allowing perfect stranger to live in your home is obviously a risk. We have all heard of the horror stories. The guest who will not leave, or catches the house on fire or uses the property for a Rave for 300 of their closest friends. These are obviously rare situations and most people who are renting a vacation home are completely legitimate and good people. However, it goes back to the old adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In other words, do everything you can upfront to minimize the risk and develop your art of screening tenants.
Get to know your guests before they rent your property. Notice that I called it an “art.” I use that term because that is what I believe it is. You get good at it… with experience. No one can tell you exactly how to do it. You can make your life easier by having some guidelines that you follow but for the most part it is based on your comfort level with a particular guest and trusting your intuition.
Who is Your Ideal Tenant
This is important mostly because it helps you to identify who you would prefer not to be your tenant. Is your house toddler friendly? Pet friendly? Your house rules can help you determine who is not your ideal guest. Do you allow smoking? What is the atmosphere of your property? Are you in a condo with elderly or quiet neighbors? Is your property in a popular party spot? All of this comes into play when you are deciding who you want to rent your property.
Trust Your Instincts
There is a reason that we have all heard this phrase before. Its true and an excellent rule of thumb. If you are speaking to someone and you feel uncomfortable or you get the feeling that there is something that is just not right….you are probably right! We’ve all heard the stories, whether specifically about the rental business or just life in general, where something went terribly wrong and the story starts with “I knew when I met him that something was wrong” or “didn’t add up” or “he gave me the creeps.” Instinctively, you know! Trust your gut!
Require a Telephone Call
Some people think it may be a hassle. At least one telephone conversation is an absolute requirement for me to rent to anyone. I can learn so much from a 10 minute call. It puts me at ease to know that I have spoken with this person and I can get a feel for who they are and what they want. I also think it puts most of my guests at ease too that I am what I represented myself and my property to be.
I keep it very conversational. I don’t want anyone to feel like I am interrogating them or that I am lecturing them on what I will and will not allow in my property. I often use the excuse, not that you need one, for the call that I just want to make sure it is a good fit and I explain that either my property is off the beaten path so I don’t want someone to be disappointed that they are not walking distance to a coffee shop or that although I have room for 10 I only rent to 8 because that is a more comfortable number of people for the space.
In my conversation I have an agenda of what information that I want to learn before I get off of the phone. Where are they from? How many will they be? Have they been guest in short term rental before? Are they flying or driving? What activities are they hoping to enjoy while here? Who is coming? How many adults and how many kiddos?
There are also some questions that you need to stay away from due to fair housing laws. Don’t ask any questions that would be considered discriminatory based on race, religion, national origin, gender, familial status, or physical or mental disability. You can check out the Fair Housing Act to get more information.
Just because questions around these topics can be touchy does not mean you can not let a potential guest know that your property is not really toddler friends, aka lots of stairs or balconies or sharp corners, etc… If you don’t think it’s a good fit give them the information they need to make the decision for themselves.
I also use this initial conversation to let them know some of my most important rules such as, no smoking, no pets and that it is not a party property. This gives the potential guest a clear idea of what I expect and whether this property is a good fit for them.
Chanel Your Inner Detective
Make social media useful! Check out your prospective guests on the internet. Use their phone number and their area code to see where they live. Google their name, check out their Facebook profile and LinkedIn profile. You can really get a good idea of who someone is. You might be able to see if the dog they described as a 15 pound put is actually a 75 pound Rottweiler. Whether you like the idea of it, there is so much information out there about people and its so easy to find. Take advantage of all of the free resources. And again, if things you find just don’t add up or you get an uncomfortable feeling about what you are finding, trust that feeling. Although, all of the information you find may not be useful in helping you to decide whether this person is going to be an ideal tenant it might answer some important questions.
Making the Decision
After your conversation and your research of a potential tenant now you have to make the decision whether to book them or not. Its usually a very easy decision. In fact, in most cases after the phone call you know whether you feel comfortable and you think the rental is a good fit. If you are able to determine that they fit your criteria, or even most of your criteria, of an ideal tenant and you feel comfortable with the conversation you had, its and easy yes and you let them cushion your bank account. If you feel at all uncomfortable or you just have a negative feeling but you cant put your finger on it…find a polite and professional way to decline the booking. Whatever your rental rate may be, it is not enough to comfort you when you find out that your property was damaged. Just move on to the next potential guest.
SHORT TERM RENTAL KITCHEN ESSENTIALS
People love a fancy, well stocked kitchen. For a lot of guests, vacation is a time to relax and enjoy cooking fun meals with family and friends. I know, I know…for others that is not a vacation at all, instead a vacation is relaxing at a restaurant and someone else cooking and cleaning and bringing food and drink to you.
However, without the time pressure that we have in our every day life we can kick back and enjoy a glass of wine while cooking and visiting. You can make it even more fun for your guests by just making sure you have a well stocked kitchen. You don’t have to provide expensive cookware you just need to have the essentials and maybe a few out of the ordinary gadgets.
We have found that a lot of our guests really appreciate having a kitchen that is well stocked with good clean cookware, sharp knives and great gadgets, as well as the ability to spend time out on the deck creating a grilled meal.
“Under Promise and Over Deliver”
I have seen a lot of short term rentals that boast that they have a ‘gourmet’ kitchen. I would be very careful with this type of claim, whether it is a kitchen or any other part of the house. When you are using a descriptive term such as ‘gourmet’ kitchen it had better really be a gourmet kitchen. I have seen unflattering reviews of properties by a guest who was promised a gourmet kitchen and ‘only’ got a well stocked kitchen. Those types of reviews are obviously terrible for the property. I always feel like its better to under promise and over deliver. That philosophy always results in positive reviews. When guests are promised something, that is what they expect and when their expectations are not met they let you hear about it.
As we all know, we live and die by the reviews we receive from our guests and the last thing we want to see is that a guest thinks we were dishonest in our description of our property. Every potential guest who reads that review is going to question whether the description we provide of our property is accurate. They are going to believe that if you were not honest in any part of your description you are probably not being honest in other areas and that you are trying to trick them into renting your property.
I know I will sound like an underachiever but I am happy to under promise and over satisfy. I don’t promise a gourmet kitchen but I do let them know it is well stocked. I even send them to our website which lets them know exactly what the inventory in the kitchen is. Our guests have appreciated this so much and we have received such positive comments because they know exactly what they are getting and so they know what to bring with them. Its just easier to be completely and objectively honest in all aspects, otherwise you are really setting yourself and your rental property business up for failure.
“Consider Your Environment – What do People Expect?”
It’s important to consider where your vacation home is and your set up, as there maybe things that would be helpful to your guest due to location. For instance, if you property is a beach property you probably want to have a blender so people can make margaritas or daiquiris. If you are in the mountains in the winter it might be appropriate to have a waffle maker or a deep pot for stews and soup. In the mountains you might also consider providing a jar of hot cocoa mix or s’more fixings. We have a fire pit and we provide a little s’more kit with Hershy’s, Graham Crackers, skewers and marhsmallows and our guests love it. That is just one more way of making your property special.
“Give Your Guests a List of What You Have in Your Kitchen”
I’m providing an inventory for you to download and to use to make sure you have the essentials for your kitchen. I hope this will be a good starting point for you and you can modify as you see fit. I’d love to hear other suggestions you have for a short term rental kitchen.
Nice clean set of pots and pans – does not need to be top of the line but quality
One deep gumbo type pot
(3) Wooden spoons
Plates, bowls, platters (at least 2 more than the number you can accommodate – we also provide paper plates and solo cups)
Forks, knives, spoons
Good set of steak knives (kept sharp) and cooking prep knives – we have a block for knives – don’t get top of the line but quality – people use them as screw drivers and break tips off
Casserole dishes (2)
Salt and Pepper shakers
Cookie sheets -2
****Two thing I absolutely would not include, although it is a fun thing to have, are a fondue pot or a deep fryer.
Pam – regular and grill
Sugar & other sweetener
Basic cooking spices – cinnamon, oregano, Italian spices, vanilla extract, thyme, red pepper, paprika
I think its better to have a well stocked kitchen. Others may not and I have been to short term rentals where they did not have anything in the kitchen but the most basic of supplies, forks, spoons, plates bowls and a very few basic cookware items. I have also been in short term rentals that had pots and pans but they were so filthy there was no way I was going to use them. Of course, that is not acceptable. However, if you are not interested in providing basics just make absolutely sure that your guests are aware of what you offer so that they are not surprised. If at all possible give them a decent experience in your kitchen. The reviews will be worth it.