It Is Very Expensive to Be Cheap!

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Recently we added a new condominium to our rental program.  It’s a gorgeous, high-end vacation home which was completely remodeled, updated and decorated about this time last year.  My new clients purchased this condo a few months ago.  The previous owners who had remodeled the property, rented it through VRBO last season.  The condo is located at Rancho Las Palmas Country Club in Rancho Mirage.  Vacation Rentals of the Desert represents approximately 82 properties in this particular country club, and my personal experience with Rancho Las Palmas goes back to the 1980s and has spanned over thousands of rental guests.  So it was not a surprise when one of our past guests called to say she had rented this particular property directly from the owner for a three month stay.  She could not get assistance from the owner with her struggles to hook up to the internet.  She was hoping we could help her as we had in the past when she had rented through our company.   Of course we went to her rescue … she was, and would again in the future be, an excellent tenant.

We sent an employee who is internet savvy and the guest’s laptop was up and running in no time.  After our employee returned to the office, he told us that it was a fantastic property but the guest had shared a few complaints.  She had pointed out that there were no blinds in the living room and kitchen which made her feel like she was living in a fish bowl.  I found this odd since the living room faced a busy fairway and was clearly visible to street traffic as well.  The owners had hung beautiful curtain “accents” on the sides of the windows, but they could not be pulled closed for privacy.  Her second issue was the lack of kitchen supplies … cooking and serving utensils and cookware, which was very frustrating since she liked to cook and entertain.   Even though she liked the property, she said that she would not rent it again.

Season ended and our business slowed.  Over the summer this gorgeous property was listed and quickly sold.  The buyers where friends of an owner on our vacation rental program.  We were recommended, introduced and fortunate to add this fantastic property to our rental program.  In conversations with the new owners, I mentioned the issues of the previous guests.  The new owners were quick to address these issues.  They thoroughly went through our “minimum requirements” worksheet and purchased all the missing kitchen and linen items, and even added more amenities.  They asked me to contact our window treatment company for recommendations and quotes and settled on motorized blinds operated by remote control, and even changed the inexpensive faux blinds in the bedrooms to beautiful wood blinds.  In addition, they replaced the tattered awning over the back patio and are currently gathering quotes on replacing the aged HVAC unit.  I love this owner!

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The point I am trying to make in this article is that functionality is key to a successful rental property.  Just because the vacation home looks like it’s right out of the pages of House Beautiful, does not necessarily mean it is comfortable, functional or livable.  I have mentioned this point in previous posts.  Decorator lamps look beautiful, but do they give off adequate light for reading?  A big screen TV mounted over the fireplace looks perfect in the great room, but is it mounted so high that you have a stiff neck after watching the latest episode of NCIS?

I have been fortunate this summer.  I have added several properties to our vacation rental program with owners who are heeding my advice and being mindful of the comforts of their future guests.  I met with Tom and Carolyn yesterday to go over repairs and updates to their property.   A first time vacation rental home, their condominium has been in the family for many, many years.  It is a much loved second home filled with memories of family holidays and celebrations spanning three generations.  As happens to so many families who own second homes; children and grandchildren grow up and busy lives and commitments drastically limited their ability to visit.   Tom and Carolyn do not wish to sell the family home, but instead, hope to generate a little income by sharing it with vacationing guests.  The condo is … or should I say “was” dated.   Over the past couple of months they have updated furnishings, art and décor, linens, bedding, kitchen supplies, window coverings, TVs, patio furnishings and the BBQ.  The property I walked into yesterday was entirely a different home than the one I viewed when meeting Tom and Carolyn two months ago.  Not only did they follow our “minimum requirement” worksheet but they kept in mind that it would be their family’s vacation home for many years to come, so they selected décor and supplies based on quality and not on cost or trying to cut corners.  They clearly understood that spending a few dollars more on quality would not only be recognized and appreciated by guests, but would probably mean less repairs or replacement costs in the future.  These “well put together” properties will almost always generate more repeat tenants … and good repeat tenants are every owner’s goal.  I love working with these kind of owners!

Our handyman Alex, made a statement several years ago that I have repeated often … “It is very expensive to be cheap.”  This is oh so true.  An example would be the faux wood blinds mentioned above in our new Rancho Las Palmas condo.  The previous owners had bought and hung inexpensive “out of the box” blinds in the bedrooms about a year ago.  They lasted one rental season.  When raised they bowed badly and on one, the wand to open the blinds had snapped off.  This was probably frustrating for rental guests.  For a slightly higher cost, the new substantial, wood blinds were hung and will probably last for the next ten years.  This same scenario applies to almost everything in life … “Do it right the first time or you’ll end up doing it over and over again.”  Inexpensive/cheap does not work in a vacation home that most likely will go through a lot of wear and tear.  Quality is key … which does not always mean “expensive.”  I never recommend cutting corners … it almost always costs you more in the long run.

Because of blinds and a few kitchen supplies, the previous owners of the “House Beautiful” Rancho Las Palmas condo, lost a three month repeat guest and probably received a bad review on VRBO.  If the guest told us about how unhappy she was, you can bet she told her friends as well, who also rent at Rancho Las Palmas.  It’s a small community and word travels fast.  They say “word of mouth is the best advertising” … adversely, it can destroy you.  Was this a case of “expensive to be cheap” or was it a costly oversight?  To a paying guest … it always appears to be lack of care.  Now that the “livability” has been improved, and with the level of attention and care from the new owner, I’m certain this condominium will be one of our most popular vacation homes and having had a guest already … the first review was outstanding!

A very cool side story to this post.  When visiting Tom and Carolyn yesterday, I learned that they had recently purchased a historic 500 year old estate in the beautiful countryside village of Flavigny-Sur-Ozerain, France.  The purchase and renovations are feature in an upcoming episode of “House Hunters International, Renovations” on my favorite cable network HGTV.  The airing will be November 22nd at 10 p.m. pacific.  This property looks like it’s right out of the movie “Chocolat.”  It is amazing!  Unfortunately I do not handle properties outside the Palm Springs desert … but the photos I have seen of this property make me wish I did.  If Tom and Carolyn end up listing it as a vacation property, I will share details with you in a future post.

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