What you may not know ….

quoteThis week I received a call from a couple who were interested in listing their property with my company, Vacation Rentals of the Desert. Through our conversation I learned that they had purchased the property about a year ago. They found a “fixer” with “good bones” in an excellent residential area in desperate need of updating and TLC. Their initial goal … move to the desert, purchase an affordable property in a great neighborhood, fix it up and occasionally accept short term rentals to help offset their carry costs. Their retirement plans were to live at their beach home in the winter and their desert home in the summer, taking advantage of the opposing seasons and seasonal desirability of their vacation homes. Now, one year later, after extensive renovations, they were ready to advertise their desert vacation home.  Perfect plan until they attended their neighborhood HOA (Home Owner’s Association) meeting and found that their community was trying to ban short term vacation rentals! The meeting was so heated and contentious that the couple is now having second thoughts about renting and are uncertain whether they will be able to keep the property if short term rentals were prohibited.

Over the past few years I have heard various versions of this same story.

Throughout the US, many neighborhoods severely suffered from the 2008 housing bubble. In recent years, particularly in resort areas, many savvy buyers have purchased foreclosed, abandoned and run down properties as investments. Making these very same homes suitable for vacation rentals by investing in improvements and updates on these properties has, in the long run, contributed to lifting these neighborhoods out of the housing crisis and substantially improved the unsightly appearance of neglected homes and increased property values.  Despite these benefits, more and more HOAs and permanent residents are speaking out on vacation rental homes and have labeled many as “party houses.” I could go on for days and days with this subject … but that is not the intent of this post. Rather I encourage all readers who are contemplating vacation rental ownership to first do their homework … especially if you have not yet purchased the vacation home.

I receive at least a dozen calls a year from potential buyers asking for my advice on where best to invest their money on a vacation property, how the vacation rental industry works in our specific area, etc. This is probably the number one, smartest thing a potential buyer can do. I have seen many folks jump into purchasing a property and listing it on a “by owner “ site only to find that they run into rules, regulations and ordinances that they were not aware of … until they found themselves in a nest of alligators!

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The following are a few tips for potential vacation rental owners. This advice holds true for owners who will be managing their own property on a “by owner” site or listing their property with a professional vacation rental management company.

• Search vacation management sites and “by owner” vacation property listings in the area you are considering. If the area is heavily populated with vacation rentals you should be able to gather quite a bit of information. Read the listing descriptions, rules and regulation. You may find that these listings will mention T.O.T. (transient occupancy tax) or that short term rentals are prohibited in the area. Read carefully however … if the listing states “No Short Term Rentals” this does not necessarily mean that they are prohibited. This may simply mean that the owner will only accommodate long term tenants. This search will also be helpful in finding your potential rental rate and by viewing the calendars you may get an insight on rental demand. Note: by owner sites may not have accurate calendars since dates must be manually entered where professional vacation rental sites will have calendars that are linked to reservations. Once the properties are booked the dates automatically appear on the calendar.
• Look up the city’s website and search vacation rentals. Many cities will have a vacation rental ordinance and the rules and regulations surrounding the operation of vacation rentals. Some cities do not allow any rentals of less than one month. Many cities will require a vacation rental license for your property and some even will require that the owner or manager must obtain a business license. Your city may require T.O.T. be submitted on rental fees for short stays under a specified length of time and the city many additionally require tax on not just rental fees but also cleaning, pet fees, etc.
• Talk to a vacation rental professional in your area. Say for instance you have narrowed down your search to a particular city, neighborhood or gated community. Do an internet search for a vacation rental management company that specializes in that particular area. Call and speak to the owner or manager of the company and then ask for their insights. Vacation rental professionals are by nature and necessity, chatty people. The potential for adding another property to their program will be incentive to share their knowledge. Even though your realtor may know the basic regulations and restrictions of any given area, such as whether a particular area will allow short term rentals, a vacation rental professional will most likely have more insightful information on the politics and challenges that their owners and managed properties are facing … efforts to restrict certain rentals and a “behind the scenes” sense of potential problems that buyers may want to be aware of before throwing their nest egg into a nest of alligators.

 

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Feelin’ Hot Hot Hot!

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Will someone please turn up the A/C !!

This week our temperatures soared over 100 degrees!

At this time of the year, Vacation Rentals of the Desert encourages all vacation property owners to have their air conditioning units checked, serviced and filters changed to make sure their HVAC systems are performance ready.

One of the most challenging emergency calls I have ever received was in the month of July. The tenants arrived at the property at midnight only to find that the air conditioner was blowing hot air. I had “opened” the property the previous afternoon, turned on lights and the air conditioner so that the tenants would arrive at a comfortably cool home. All was working fine at the time I left the property … but by midnight when the outside temperature was still in the 90s, the temperature inside the property, with warm air blowing, was close to 100 degrees. Not a very happy “Welcome to the desert. We’re glad that you’re here” for our tenants! Fortunately I had many vacant properties available in the same gated community … however many of these properties had been shut down for the summer or had owners scheduled to come in and out. I first had to fire up my computer and check our reservation system for availability, then I grabbed a hand full of keys and garage door remotes for various properties and set out in search of a property that would be a suitable substitute. I got lucky … the first property I showed the tenants would work out fine … but since it had been unoccupied since May, it had two months of dust everywhere and the toilets and sinks needed to be cleaned. While the tenants unloaded their car, I rolled up my sleeves and about 45 minutes later had a property that would suffice until cleaners could be scheduled the next morning to do a “proper” job. I got the family moved in and settled and I finally returned to bed sometime after 2 .m.

The next day we called the owner’s air conditioning company and a technician found that the system was low on Freon and the filter needed to be changed. Had the system been checked in early summer the problem would probably have been caught and the owner would not have lost one week in rental income.

This occurred about 10 years ago … I am happy to say that I still work with these tenants when they visit our area.

This week we experienced a similar situation. In this case the tenants had been in the property for a full day and night. We received a call from the tenants a few minutes before our office closed reporting that the air conditioner was blowing hot air and making a loud noise. After going over to verify that the air was not working we contacted the owner’s air conditioning company. Of course the owner was charged for “after hours” service and the technician found that the Freon was low, the air filter needed to be changed and that the entire A/C system had iced up. Through quick response we were able to save this rental for the property owner but at a cost of about $500 for the emergency A/C service. Once again, had the recommended summer service been completed by the air conditioning company, this situation could have been avoided.

Desert Air Conditioning has an excellent FAQ page that may be helpful to property owners whose homes are in the Palm Springs area. Wherever your vacation home is located; in the desert, by the sea, in the mountains or in a metropolitan area, you should find a local air conditioning and heating company to service your system and answer any questions you may have on your particular HVAC system in your particular environment. Click here to go directly to Desert Air Conditioning FAQ page.

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Plan a Destination Event for Family or Friends!

mothers-daySo it’s Mother’s Day and your entire family wants to celebrate mom!

Time to plan the annual Mother’s Day Brunch?  …  Yawn!

You’ve exhausted the list of possible gifts … she has everything. But actually what mom really wants is your time! Time with the family … memories!

Next year …. why not plan a weekend Mother’s Day Celebration?

A great new trend in family and friend gatherings is planning a “Destination Event” and with the availability of vacation homes … it is oh so easy and affordable. I have noticed an enormous increase in multiple property rentals for family and friend gatherings. At Vacation Rentals of the Desert we assist in finding accommodations for many celebrations and events throughout the year. If you want to plan your “destination event” in the Palm Springs area, call me … otherwise here are a few tips …

1) Choose a Location. It may be easiest for everyone you hope will attend if the location is within close proximity to most members of your group. You may find a location in your own city or choose a resort area within driving distance.

2) Finding Vacation Homes: It is best to contact a vacation rental company that lists multiple properties in a particular area. Searching “by owner” listings such as VRBO or FlipKey could take hours, even days in talking to various owners and searching multiple addresses to find properties in close proximity. Save yourself the time and aggravation by calling a vacation rental company who can focus on your desired location or recommend the perfect area for your destination event, find the ideal bed configurations and provide information on surrounding amenities. For instance, Vacation Rentals of the Desert manages over 80 condominiums in Rancho Las Palmas Country Club in Rancho Mirage California. These two and three bedroom condos are ideal for family stays and can be very economical. In additional we often can find vacation properties next door to each other or within close walking distance. You can easily do an internet search for vacation management companies in your desired area or contact the Chamber of Commerce for a listing of companies.
3) Affordable: A two or three night stay at a vacation rental home can be less expensive than hotel rooms and has the added convenience of accommodating multiple families. You will also have indoor and outdoor living areas for large gatherings and space for your celebrations, parties and BBQs.

4) Creating Memories! How many birthdays have you celebrated at a restaurant? Can you remember how you celebrated Thanksgiving five years ago? What a great family event … pack up the kids and meet your entire family; brothers, sisters, mom, dad and grandparents at a beach or ski community … maybe at a National Park, the vineyards of Napa Valley or my personal favorite … Palm Springs! No matter what the event, you are sure to make memories to last a life time … and perhaps start a family tradition.
Think of the possibilities … birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, golf groups, ski groups … any holiday, any event … what a fun, affordable and memorable way to celebrate an event with family and friends.
And to all Moms out there … I wish you a Blessed & Memorable Mother’s Day!

 

Photo From:   https://www.google.com/search?q=family+party

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The Top Five Renter Requests

shutterstock_173471486What Will Attract More Guests To Your Property?

With so many vacation rentals to choose from it is truly a “renter’s market.”  To tip the booking-scale in your favor, vacation home owners must either offer discounted rental rates or furnish a vacation home with all the “bells and whistles” that attract guests.  Keep in mind that discounted rates are not always best in the long run.  Owners who rely on discounted rates to draw rentals ultimately drive rates down in their specific vacation rental market.  Competing owners will try to meet or surpass a discounted rate and soon find that they are in a “race to the bottom.”   This rental rate war hurts all vacation property owners.   The best way to get more bookings and generate more income while improving your property value is by making improvements to your vacation home. Happy guests = good reviews = more bookings!  It’s that simple! 
Vacation Rentals of the Desert manages approximately 140 vacation properties.  The following are the top five renter requests.  No matter whether you manage your vacation property yourself or list it with a management company, nor does it matter where your property is located, with very few exceptions, you must offer all of the following five features if you hope to attract more guests.

 

1)      Location, Location, Location:  Most of your inquiries will come from guests looking specifically for your area.  You may be on a golf course or beach.  Your property may be in the middle of nowhere … a quiet hide-away.  Close to shopping, entertainment, special events … whatever the draw to your property you must make sure you highlight your location.  If your property boasts a “view” than you MUST have a “fantastic” patio.  When looking at your vacation home listing, a potential guest should be able to see themselves relaxing on your patio, enjoying the view with their morning coffee or evening glass of wine.  Plastic tables and chairs just won’t cut it if the property listing down the street has fabulous patio furnishings, BBQ and landscaping.  If your property is located close to an attraction or event be sure to promote the attraction with a picture or two and include information on how close the property is located to the venue, driving time or miles and mention any public transportation that may be accessible.  Don’t forget to mention how many steps you are from the pool or beach, the fairway or hole you overlook from your golf course patio, whether you get morning or evening sun or how far you are from the ski lifts, fishing pier or fitness center.

2)      Television:  If you do not have new high-definition flat screen TVs then you ARE losing bookings and don’t even know it.  These days there are almost no excuses.  When a prospective guest is looking at your listing keep in mind that they are also looking at other comparable properties.  If they see pictures of your dated TVs, it is a fact that they will most likely stop looking at your property.  The vast majority of potential guests viewing your home on the internet live in homes that are furnished with the newer TVs and electronics.  Your guests will want the same amenities that they have in their own home.  In addition, a dated TV subconsciously translates to a dated property and an owner that is either too cheap or does not care.  At Vacation Rentals of the Desert we are encouraging all of our owners to update their TVs.  The owners who have made this simple and inexpensive update have definitely increased their bookings.  How much income would you generate from one more booking?  Would it cover the costs of new TVs?  There are challenges however, such as homes with large entertainment units.  I fully understand this problem.  The newer TVs often do not fit in the space that your dated 36” TV sat in … or what does fit is unsuitably small.  Do yourself a favor and remove the old unit and purchase a cabinet to set your new 50” TV on.  A too small TV in the living room is “deal breaker” for most and you will probably defeat the entire purpose of replacing your dated TV.  My advice …. research.  Check on the internet or visit a store that specializes in TVs to research the ideal size you will need for your living room, bedrooms, etc.  Tip:  I have purchased 47” inch high definition flat screen TVs at Best Buy for less than $500 … 32” for less than $200.  This is a “no-brainer” … spend the money, do it right … not cheap … and you will generate more bookings!

3)      Wi-Fi:  No plug in Ethernet, and definitely no dial-up!  Unless your vacation home is geared towards “Out-Back-Roughing-With-No-TV-Internet-Phones” you must, must, must have Wi-Fi in your vacation home!  These days even great-grandma and grandpa have IPads, Kindles, Nooks and Smart Phones and these devises cannot be “plugged” into the internet.  For families and couples with individual laptops, plug-ins and Ethernet cords create an inconvenience.  This is huge … if you do not have Wi-Fi … you are definitely losing rentals!

4)      Updated décor:  Remember … your property is not the only vacation home your potential guest is looking at.  You want photos that advertise a clean, comfortable … and yes … pretty property!  If you have 1980s/1990s silk flowers … Why?  Throw them away and replace with updated decorator piece … hopefully something easier to keep clean than silk flowers.  I use Pier 1, Home Goods, The Alley, Bed, Bath & Beyond and even Target when purchasing inexpensive pieces to enhance a property’s decor.  You don’t need to break the bank.  If your bedspread is more than five years old … it’s probably worn, dated and needs to be replaced.  Take a hard look at all of your bedding, towels, living room pillows and throws.  Sometimes a simple replacement of these items can update your property in an amazing way.

5)      Comfortable Beds:  This is very subjective … I like a soft mattress, some like firm.  If your mattresses are over 10 years old it may be time to replace them, 15 years old … it’s definitely time!  Beds can turn a “perfect” vacation home into a “nightmare” … literally.  Once a guest posts a review that the beds are uncomfortable … you’re done!   If this happens you will need to replace beds immediately and note in your listing description that you “replaced all beds after receiving the bad review.”  Another tip … when replacing a bed, go with a traditional mattress with pillow top.  Avoid the “memory foam” styles … people either love ‘em or hate ‘em.  For those who hate ‘em … you will definitely lose their business.  On the other hand, a pillow top bed has never been a “deal breaker.”  Also … if at all possible you will want to furnished the master bedroom with a king bed.   Surprisingly this is a very big deal for many people.  The properties we manage that have queen beds in the master bedroom definitely have been less desirable.  If you have the space … chose the king!

shutterstock_155046932Throughout my 18 years in the vacation rental business I have seen many industry changes.  In recent years I have watched vacation rentals explode!  Thanks to the unprecedented media and internet exposure the popularity of vacation rentals have more than doubled in recent years.  There are record numbers of vacation properties and rental guests … and these numbers continue to grow.   With all the property choices available, it is definitely a “renters market.”  Good business sense dictates that you make your “product” better than your competitors.  It does not matter whether you manufacture toothpaste, own a restaurant or manage a vacation rental property … you must be better than your competition and in the vacation rental business to be successful … your grass must be greener than your next door neighbors!  

 

 

 

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