Some Place Like Home

Furnishing Tips … What You Don’t Know May Cost You!

What do guests look for in a vacation home?  Simply put … Some Place Like Home … the comforts, amenities, functionality and beauty of their own home …  just in a different location.

Over the years I have worked with many home owners new to the vacation rental industry.  To some, decorating and supplying a home can seem pretty daunting … others find it fun and exciting.  My advice … if you have professional experience or a natural flair for decorating … as exciting as a new decorating project may be … you will want to give some thought to the purchases you make for your vacation rental home.  I have found that sometimes beauty can be impractical and cutting corners to save money can be costly.  Below I’ve address some of the unexpected issues that occur time and time again.  Even if they do not pertain to your vacation home, you should apply this line of reasoning to All of your purchases.  Believe me … it will save you time and money in the long run!

4897036275023lgLighting:  Your home should be well lit.  If you have overhead can lights … it is not enough.  You will want to have good lamps in the living room and bedrooms.  Your guests will be “living” in the home.  Think of a couple in the living room … one watching TV, one reading.  Are the overhead lights sufficient for reading?  Probably not.   Too much light for watching TV?  Probably.  In the bedroom … decorator lamps with dark shades are gorgeous but not practical for reading.  You may want to consider purchasing one or two standing lamps with three directional lights.  These lamps may not go with your décor but can be stored in a closet and are easy for guests to move about the property as needed.  This is an easy and inexpensive solution to any lighting problem … about $30 at Lowe’s or Home Depot.

Towels:  Colored towels to match your décor are beautiful but may be impractical.  My personal preference is all white, ivory or tan towels … or a mixture of these colors.  Decorator colors, such as blue and brown, may look wonderful … but that will only last until they are washed together.  You will soon find that you have blue fuzz on the brown and vise-versa.  Monotone towels throughout the property will generally last much longer than multi-colors.  This also applies to pool or beach towels.  I recently purchased six beautiful blue and white stripped pool towels for one of our properties.  I immediately washed the towels to make sure they were color safe … unfortunately they were not.  I returned the towels and exchanged them for a tan and white print.

Sheets:  If you have beds of varying sizes you may want to consider color-coordinating to a specific bed size.  I recently purchased all new bedding for a three bedroom property.  The beds were a king, queen and two twins.  We require two matching sets of sheets per bed so I purchased white sheets for the king, ivory for the queen and tan for the two twins.  After washing all the sheets (always wash new sheets before using), the beds were made and the second set of sheets were stored in the linen closet.  I typed up an index card and posted it inside the linen closet door noting, king sheets/white, queen sheets/ivory, twin sheets/tan.  We have found that the linen closet stays neat and organized because guests know exactly which sheets to use when changing bed linen and I am certain the tenants and cleaners find it helpful when changing sheets.

Throw Rugs & Bathroom Rugs:  Always choose non-skid rubber backed rugs.  Think about the potential slipping hazard … stepping out of the shower to a cotton rug is not a good idea.  You also may also want to think hard about the kind of rug you put down to hide that permanent carpet stain.  You will want to be sure the rug grips the carpet and is low profile so it will not cause a tripping hazard.

Dinnerware:  I always recommend white dishes.  You will constantly be replacing chipped and broken dinnerware.  If you start with all white dinnerware and serving pieces you can easily purchase replacements piece by piece.  Even if the plate is a slightly different shape this could also work … set an interesting table with all white dishes … two square and two round.  Fun, economical and easily purchased at Bed, Bath & Beyond, The Alley or World Market.  NOTE:  Unbreakable dishes may be used as back up or everyday dishes but are not recommended as the primary dinnerware.  Even though it may save you money in replacements, it may lose you repeat tenants.  It is viewed as cheap furnishings, cheap owners and to your vacationing guests, translates to an owner that does not care about their guests.  You can save money by purchasing inexpensive “porcelain” dishes …   I talked about my “go to” for dinnerware in a previous blog post.  I typically purchase boxed sets of all white four place settings at Home Goods for $20 each.  At this price it is possible to purchase extras sets to put away for future replacements.

Flat Screen TV:  Time and time again I have seen dated TVs become deal breakers.  These days flat screen TVs are very affordable and if it means generating just one more rental … you can do the math!  There is almost no reason not to upgrade to a flat screen TV … and don’t cut corners or size either.  If you have a wall unit … is it time to update with a new TV stand?  If you decide to stick with the wall unit and a 29 inch flat screen will fit perfectly into the existing space for the TV … don’t even bother.  A 29 inch TV is not sufficient unless your property is a studio … and maybe not even then.  Most manufacturers and designers will recommend at least a 32 inch TV in a standard size bedroom … living room would require a size suitable for the room and distance from the seating area.  I have purchased 32 inch flat screen TVs for less than $200 on sale.  TV’s are a very, very important detail … and bigger is better … you can take that to the bank!

BBQ:  I always recommend a natural gas BBQ whenever possible.   When shopping for a BBQ you will probably notice that the propane models are less expensive than the models set up for natural gas.  You may not realize that many of the propane models can be converted for as little as $60.  If your property is already plumbed with a natural gas hook-up you will definitely save money by installing a natural gas BBQ.  Even if you have spare propane tanks in the garage and tenants swap out the tanks, rarely will they refill or notify you that the propane tank is empty.   A refill or replacement tank will have to be purchased and this costs time and money.  If your guests do not know how to switch out the tank or a spare is not available then a handyman has to be called.  When the guest calls for a refill it is typically in the midst of cooking their meal, after office hours … and they will most likely be extremely unhappy that their dinner has been delayed or ruined and it will take time for someone to address the replacement.  One of the properties we represent which had propane BBQ, over the course of one rental season, had three propane replacements … after business hours.  The cost of the handyman services surpassed the original cost of the propane BBQ.  Recently the owner purchased the kit and converted to natural gas.

Wi-Fi:  Unless your property is a wilderness retreat with no TV’s, phones or computers … you will definitely lose bookings if you do not offer wireless internet.  Guests with multiple laptop computers, IPad and book readers such as Nook and Kindle all require wireless access.  This service is an absolute “must have” for 99% of your potential guests.  There is no way to get around this amenity.  If you have TV cable or phone service it is probable that wireless service is available for your property.

Land Phone Lines:  Depending on your guest demographic you may or may not need a telephone line in your property.  My company, Vacation Rentals of the Desert, has a very high percentage of Canadian guests staying for extended periods of time.  A land line with free U.S. and Canada calling is standard in vacation rental properties in our area.  If your property draws out of country visitors you may want to consider adding a home phone service.  Out of country cell phone roaming fees are extremely high.  Locally, Time Warner Cable offers a local, U.S. and Canada calling package for just $29.95 per month.  This is a wonderful amenity for your guests and could result in more bookings.  In addition your property will have 911 capabilities.

Pillow Protectors & Mattress Covers:  Bed Bugs … these days they’re all over the news.  Your guests will be checking the beds and what they are more apt to discover are stained pillows. If your pillows are not replaced between each of your guests than you will want to make sure you have protectors to extend the life of your pillows.  I hate to be graphic, but the simple truth is that one open-mouth sleeper can destroy a pillow in one night.  A good quality, stain and bacteria resistant pillow protector … NOT PLASTIC … will help to preserve and keep your pillows in beautiful condition.  A good quality mattress cover will do the same.

Less is More:  Let’s talk about clutter.  Too many personal items or decorator pieces can be a turn off for your vacationing guests and a nightmare for cleaners.  It is usually best to keep the décor simple with plenty of room for guest to put their belongings.  Too many family photos, owner’s clothing pushed to the back of the closet, personal toiletries in the bathroom … all lend to the sense of encroaching on someone’s personal space and may have an unwelcome feeling.  I always suggest an “owner’s closet” for personal belongings such as cabinets in the garage or a utility/coat closet where a lock can be installed.

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Custom Artwork Project

Sometimes it is possible to update a piece of furniture or décor.  I love this kind of challenge when I have the time.  Most recently I was working on a 1980’s property with mid-century modern updates.  The 1980’s artwork consisted of large canvases with random splashes of colors stretched over wood frames.  Eww!

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All I needed for this quick and inexpensive update was a free Sunday afternoon, a trip to the fabric store and a staple gun.  You can also use beautiful tapestry fabric or a patterned tablecloth.  If you love this idea but do not have an old picture to cover … you can purchase framed canvases in a wide range of sizes at Michael’s Arts & Crafts (http://www.michaels.com/) or your local art or framing store.

As you can see from the picture below I had a very large wall to fill.  A new piece of art to fill this wall would probably have been pricey.  The total cost of the fabric for this project was $50 … plus an hour’s work with the staple gun … and Viola! … a gorgeous new piece of art that fills the wall and is in keeping with the mid-century décor!

http://www.vacationrentalsofthedesert.com/vacation-rental-home.asp?PageDataID=46971

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All in a Day’s Work

slippersI cannot count the number of times that I have had to “think on my feet”.  This ability has developed over time, years of vacation rental experience and a bit of creativity.  The following story is an example of customer service and even though most issues are not as “seemingly ridiculous” … all guest concerns need to be addressed seriously and diplomatically … even if you have to take a couple of deep breaths and count to ten!   It’s a test of patience and ….

… sometimes it becomes a funny story!

 

A few years back I had received a call on my emergency cell phone at about 10 p.m.  It was from a guest, let’s call her Betty.  Betty was a late arrival.  She let herself in with a key from the lock-box we had placed on the front door.  Our phone conversations went something like this ….

Me:  “This is Vickie from Vacation Rentals of the Desert.  How can I help you?”

Betty, in tears:  “Oh Vickie I just got in and I’m really, really unhappy with this condo.   Can I be moved somewhere else?”

Me:  “I’m sorry to hear that you are unhappy Betty.  I’m thinking … What?  Really?  This is one of our top properties … it’s gorgeous!  I say to Betty, “We are completely filled up Betty and there is no other property to move you to.  What is the exact problem with the property?  How can I make you happy?”

Betty, still crying:  “Vickie there is no rug at the kitchen sink.  I cannot cook and wash dishes without a rug in front of the sink.  I have problems with my feet and this condo is just not going to work. “

Me:  “Betty did you take a look around?  Do you not like the condo?”

Betty, now only sniffling:  “The condo is fine.  But I have to have a rug in the kitchen.”

Me, rolling my eyes heavenwards:  “OK Betty.  If you can last through tonight I promise I’ll try to contact the owner first thing in the morning to see if we can pick up a rug for the kitchen.”  Then … “I just had another thought Betty.   Maybe you would like to pick out your own rug then you can choose something in your taste.  When you head home next month you can either leave it as a thank you gift for the owner or you can roll it up, put it in your suitcase and carry it home to use in your kitchen.  Then while you are washing your dishes you’ll be reminded of your wonderful vacation in the desert.”

Betty, who seems to have cried herself out:   “Let me think about it and call you in the morning.”

The next morning I received a call from Betty.  She apologized for the previous night’s call.  She explained that she had a long hard day traveling from Toronto, Canada to Southern California, waiting in line for her rental car, dragging around her luggage and was frazzled when she finally walked into the kitchen to pour herself a drink of water from the kitchen sink.  Unfortunately I was the only person she could think of to call … so she released her day’s frustration on me.  Betty said she loved the condo and thought my idea of purchasing a rug herself was perfect.  She was a happy, happy guest and I did not hear another peep from Betty during the rest of her stay.  However, when inspecting the property after her departure, I notice that there was no rug in front of the kitchen sink.  When she called to reserve the condo for the same dates the following year, Betty informed me that she would be bringing her own kitchen sink rug.

This is absolutely a true story …. It’s all in a day’s work!

Kitchen Rehab

Vacation Rentals of the Desert recently added a partially updated two bedroom condo to our vacation rental inventory.  This “potential beauty” was in need of a little extra TLC to attract the desired monthly guests.  The problem areas were primarily in the kitchen.   New supplies, organization and cleaning were desperately needed.  After receiving authorization from the property owner, cleaners were immediately assigned, rolled up their sleeves and dove into the kitchen.  I headed out with the company credit card to shop … one of the perks of my position.

When shopping for kitchen supplies here are a few tips … Base your choices on the level of your property.  If your vacation home is advertised as a high-end luxury property then you should choose high-end supplies that will meet your guest’s expectations.   Whatever the property level, kitchen supplies should always be in beautiful condition and of some quality.  No matter what the level of your property The 99 Cent Store should never be a shopping source!

Never cut corners on … cutlery, utensils, serving ware or cookwareIf your shelf liner is old or damaged … replace it.  If plastic bowls and containers have stains … replace them.  If cutting boards have stains … replace them.  Look at your kitchen items as a guest would … if questionable … replace it.  Nothing will gross out a guest quicker than old or damaged kitchen supplies!  When in doubt … replace!  A small price to pay to prevent bad reviews and ugly phone calls.

Rule of Thumb … Your guests should be able to cook, serve and set a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner table for guests.    This would include roasting pan, bake ware, mixing bowls, mixer, matching dinner and serving wear, platters …. Accomplish this and you will have a well-supplied kitchen.

My “Go Tos” for Kitchen Rehab

Bed, Bath & Beyond For pots and pans I always shop at Bed, Bath & Beyond.  Complete boxed sets in the price range of $100 to $250 should be sufficient.   Bear in mind that you may have to replace annually so pricey sets may not be cost efficient unless you are supplying a “chef” quality kitchen.  Tip: I have had great success with the following set … Great “bang for your buck”.   http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/store/product/Cuisinart-reg-Chef-39-s-Classic-trade-Stainless-Steel-11-Piece-Cookware-Set-and-Open-Stock/133189?categoryId=12063  On pricier items I always use a 20% off coupons for significant savings.  (The 20% in-store coupons do not expire.  These coupons are “gold” … never throw them away.)  I also recommend Bed, Bath & Beyond when purchasing kitchen knives.  A $100 to $150 knife block that includes steak knives is ideal for any well stocked kitchen.  I also find that a complete set of Corningware is a perfect addition to a well-supplied kitchen.  Classic white Corningware can be used as serving dishes suitable for the table as well as baking, microwave cooking and storage.

Home Goods … For table settings I use Home Goods.  Home Goods is the “home store” of the Marshalls and TJ Max family.  (Please see http://www.homegoods.com/ for store locations)  A basic white place setting of four costs $20 … I purchase at least two sets for a 2 bedroom property.  Note:  Purchase one or two additional sets for future replacement pieces.   Home Goods is also my “go to” for silverware (choose a substantial weight with pattern on both sides), utensils (stainless is best and will last … avoid plastic and wood), drinking and wine glasses (matching or complimentary),  serving dishes such as salad bowl, platter, etc., plastic serving ware for patio dining and placemats.

Target & Walmart … For small appliances such as coffee makers and toasters as well as kitchen linens, storage containers, trash cans, sink rugs and shelf liners I usually shop Target or Walmart.

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