Off Season Destinations

Relaxing-Time

Yesterday I had a great conversation with one of our property owners.  He’s been on a visit this past week, staying at his vacation rental home here in the desert.  He likes the desert at this time of the year and I thought today would be an ideal time to talk about the often overlooked appeal of off-season rentals.

Escaping from his hectic life in Los Angeles, Lou likes the “peace and quiet” during the off-season … “I can take a walk in the evening and not have to fight crowds.  I may not even see another person.”  It’s true … locals love the off-season, no crowds, no waiting in line at your favorite restaurant … or any restaurant for that matter!  Nights are balmy, sitting outside with friends … toes in the pool, a glass of wine under a perfect star filled sky … and believe me, there is nothing like the clear desert skies!  Paradise, complete and utter relaxation!  During off-season, those of us remaining in the desert can enjoy a gourmet three course dinner, then a stroll along El Paseo Drive (the desert’s equivalent of Rodeo Drive); or a block-buster movie at The River Entertainment Center and an ice cream cone afterwards.  We drop our kids off at the water park so mom and dad can treat themselves to a day at one the desert’s world-class spas.  An early morning round of golf, a shopping trip to the Cabazon Outlet Stores, a hiking trip to the Joshua Tree National Park, and the list goes on and on and on.  The thing is … no one is here but the locals so just about everything is offered at a deep discount to draw more business.  Three-course gourmet meals at five-star restaurants as low as $25!  A round of golf as low as $25!  Spas offering huge savings on spa treatments and packages!  Half price all day Tuesday at Century Movie Theaters!  And yes … vacation rentals are offered at ridiculously low rates too.

Now through September, Vacation Rentals of the Desert is offering two bedroom country club condominiums, four days/three nights for $475 … all-inclusive, no additional fees!  OK, let’s do the math … if it’s just you, or you and a spouse or you and your family … that’s $158.33 per night.  If it’s you and another couple … that’s $79.17 per couple per night or $237.50 for a long weekend … in a luxury condominium, on a golf course, by a pool!  Then with discount meals and entertainment, it’s a vacation deal you just can’t beat.  We also have three bedroom condos at $525 for three nights, perfect for the larger family or three couples … now you do the math.  If you’re in driving distance of the desert … or maybe you live here and would like friends or family to visit, but maybe not at your house … this is a great, great deal.  And don’t let the heat scare you off … we have air conditioning and lots and lots of pools!

But you may not be up for a visit to our beautiful Palm Springs desert … just about any destination has it’s “high” and “low” season.  Maybe a trip to the beach in the winter … walks on the beach without fighting crowds or dodging cyclists … picture sitting on the porch of a cozy beach front vacation home, wrapped in a warm blanket, hands warmed by a steaming cup of coffee while you watch the sun set and the fog roll onto the shore, a couple of fishing boats bobbing on the waves in the distance … maybe your “honey” is snuggled next to you, not another soul in sight.  Romantic movie stuff, huh?

Hopefully you understand where I’m going with this.  Off season destinations are frequently overlooked and often offer great value, especially if you long for peace and relaxation.  Many of our vacation rental properties vary as much as 50% from high to low season rates, as do many of the restaurants and area attractions.  Do some poking around on the internet and I’m sure you can find some of these same “off season” deals throughout the world.  Finding a destination within a few hours’ drive is a great way to take affordable small vacations throughout the year.

Finding a relaxing weekend escape from your busy life without a stressful cost … priceless!

Photo:  http://www.sultanssuites.com/project/portfolio-post-with-gallery/

 

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Advertise on Facebook to Generate More Rentals!

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Perfect picture for a dog friendly property.

I have a great article to share with you today. Whether you manage your own vacation rental home or list your home with a professional company, if you’re not on Facebook, you are losing out on a great advertising source … and it’s free! Once your Facebook Property Page is up and running, LIKE it through your personal Facebook page so that any content you post will automatically appear on your page … then share it with all your friends. Just think … you share it with your friends, they share it with their friends, and so on and so forth … and you’ve built a following. Now have fun with it but heed the tips listed below and don’t sell just the property, all the time. Post personal photos and stories from times when you and your family have visited the property or “share” area events and attractions which can easily be found in internet searches. The goal is to make your followers want to stay at your vacation home by showing them how desirable it is and what a great time they will have. In addition, Facebook is a great marketing tool that will not only build relationships with your potential guests but also generate a level of trust that surpasses that of a simple property listing.

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5 Must-Follow Tips for Marketing Your Vacation Rental on Facebook

Mar 15, 2013

by Jonathan Murray of MyVR.com

Social media isn’t just another medium to broadcast your message. It’s also a channel for building relationships and soft selling. Facebook is an excellent way to turn existing customers into repeat customers that also generate referral business. It’s a place to nurture past guests, nurture those who were interested in your home but didn’t book, and keep in touch with top influencers (i.e. family and friends who may not book directly, but will likely refer you to friends and colleagues who will book).

If you don’t have a Facebook Page for your vacation rental, set one up here. This is different than your personal profile – it’s the home base for your business on Facebook.

Then, make sure you’re following these top 5 tips for marketing on Facebook:

1. Don’t promote yourself all the time

Rookie mistake #1. If every post is “stay at my home,” “rent my villa,” or “check out my place,” you’re not going to have many fans for long. You can talk about your home once in every five posts (or less). Don’t try to sell too much on Facebook. It’s all about building and nurturing relationships with your fans. This means you’ll need to come up with other compelling content to publish, so experiment and see what fans interact with most.

2. Post photos and other engaging content

Photos have the highest engagement from fans (i.e. comments and “likes”), followed by videos, so give them what they want to see. Yes, that means having stunning photos of your home, but also include shots from the surrounding area and local attractions. Remember, people have “liked” your Page because they want to stay connected with you in some way. Not every traveler is ready to book today, so help them daydream about their next vacation and when they’re ready, they’ll let you know.

You can also post local updates, special offers and deals, recognize special occasions for travelers, ask your fans for feedback, or share personal notes. Here are 10 more specific examples for ideas.

3. Post frequently, but don’t inundate fans

You should post at least 1-2 times per week, but not so much that people are annoyed – no more than once per day. You don’t want your Page to look like a ghost town, so be prepared to commit at least 10-20 minutes per week to Facebook.

You can also use Facebook’s scheduling tool to post content up to 6 months in advance. That might be a bit overkill, but it’s great for when you’re out on vacation – just leave enough room for last-minute, spontaneous additions.

4. Understand the network-effect

Not every post you publish will be seen by all of your fans. Facebook only shows your post to a sub-set of fans on their wall. As people interact with your content, Facebook allows that post to be seen by more and more people – including friends of your fans who may not even like your Page yet. This is why it’s okay if you only have a 100 fans on your Page and all the more reason to post enticing content.

5. Track your success

The way travelers purchase on the internet has changed. They do a lot more research before they ever pick up the phone or send an email to talk to you. While you should track direct bookings that resulted through your Facebook activity, try to correlate the effect of Facebook as an influencing source on your inquiries and bookings.

For example, how many of those people who inquired on your property have “liked” your page. How many have “liked” your page after visiting your website or inquiring on your property? How many referrals did you receive from your Facebook fans?

These measurements will help you decide whether to keep up the hard work or focus your time and resources elsewhere.

6. [Bonus] Get ready for graph search

Facebook’s new feature, Graph Search, lets you search for what you’re looking for through your friends and connections. For vacation rental owners, this means more transparency for travelers about how they’re connected to you. Instead of operating on trust that you are reliable or have advertised your home truthfully, travelers can now see (and choose to rent or not rent) from owners within their network.

Travelers will also be able to search for friends who have stayed at a vacation rental in a specific location and see photos they’ve shared of their trip. It will make the research process even more transparent, drive referral business for popular rentals, and continue changing the way people rent online.

Graph Search is only available to a limited number of users, but expect it to be rolled out across Facebook by the end of the year. In the meantime, make sure to get your page live, continue building your social network, and follow the previous 5 tips to maximize your vacation rental presence on Facebook.

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FlipKey is a vacation rental marketplace with more than 300,000 rentals around the world. Find the perfect place to stay for your trip, and get great value along with the space, privacy and amenities of home.

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Blue-Eyed Handyman

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Ready for another funny story? 

This one happened about ten years ago, before I started Vacation Rentals of the Desert.  At the time I was managing another small vacation rental company here in the desert.  Of course vacation rental companies of any size must have a good handyman.  Someone who can climb up on a ladder to change a light bulb, repair a leaky toilet, remove a blockage from a garbage disposal, replace smoke detector batteries … small jobs that do not require professional plumbers, electricians, etc. or their higher service fees.   It is also important that a handyman work well with people.  Providing professional, polite, prompt service with a smile is essential.  This was Peter!  On top of all that … Peter was charismatic, funny, smart and very handsome, which we viewed as a huge bonus.  But was it really?

Here in the desert, the vast majority of our vacationing guests are retirees from Canada and the Northern states, with stays from one to six months.  Peter was perfect in every way!  Peter was a retiree from the aerospace industry and it was easy to see that he did not need to work … Peter liked to work.  He was well liked by our guests and instantly accepted as an equal.  He was a guy’s guy and even though I won’t say he was a lady’s man, I will tell you he was a really big hit with the women … and this is where the problems began.  It took a while, but I started to see a pattern … some of our guests liked Peter just a little too much!  It hit me one day after answering a phone call from Mary Ellen, a single lady from Canada staying with us through the winter months.  She called to say that she need “that handsome blue-eyed man” to come over right away to take a look at a sink that was draining slowly.  Hmmm … my mind flashed back to a few other service calls from Mary Ellen in recent weeks, and suddenly I put two and two together.  Did Mary Ellen have a little crush on Peter?  Wow … what to do, what to do?    After a bit of digging through work orders I started to see a pattern … and found another two possible “crushes” going on.  I spoke to Peter, and he was absolutely clueless, but he did admit to being invited for drinks and to dinners by several of our vacationing guests, both women and couples.  He politely turned down all these invitations thinking that it would not be appropriate … and I whole-heartedly agreed.  But now I had to ask Peter to tone down the “charm” and pay a little more attention to the attention he was getting.

Ultimately I was forced to have an awkward conversation with Mary Ellen and a couple of other guests about excessive service calls and the type of issues that our office staff might possibly handle instead of sending Peter.  I did not want owners being charged for frivolous issues or for an abundance of calls spread out over a period of time that could have been handled with just one service call.  I can tell you that these were very delicate conversations … I did not want to embarrass or anger the guests or lose their future business.

Mary Ellen returned to the desert for several seasons following our “conversation,” and over time we became quite close, business-wise.  Years later she told me that she had had a serious crush on Peter and in fact, had asked him to become her companion and travel with her around the world, which Peter had politely turned down.

Peter continued on with us for many years until he truly retired and moved out of the area … but while he was our handyman, I kept my blue eyes wide open!

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Photo:  http://dojoblog.net/small-business-ideas-handyman.html

Scams … Don’t Be an Easy Target

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Today is a follow up of my March 29, 2015 post titled “Craigslist Scam.”  On May 19th, The Press Enterprise published an article reporting that three individuals had been charged with on-line vacation rental scams surrounding our local music festivals, Coachella and Stagecoach.  If I’m reading this article correctly … 80 victims lost in excess of $220,000 in rental deposits from these three scammers.  Folks … that’s an astronomical sum of money!  If just three could wreak such havoc, just think of the scammers still out there.  Another point in the article … “incidents reported from 2013 to this year!”  These guys were at it for a couple of years without being caught.  Unfortunately, vacation rentals are an easy target.  With transactions that are typically handled from a distance, identifying a scam is next to impossible.

Please read the full Press Enterprise article below.  I have also added the “Rental Listing Scams” page from the Federal Trade Commission.  I ran a search on the internet for “vacation rental scams” and found a great number of red flags to look for … but none touched on the one single, very simple trick that I would recommend.  But I’ll share it with you …. if you don’t mind a little white lie!

Assuming that you are making your arrangements in advance, ask the “owner” if you can have a friend stop by to see the property.  Then pay very close attention to his reaction.  Now you may very well not have a friend in the area … but it is how this request is answered that is the trick.  If the person on the other side of the line is a scammer, he will not be able to show the property.  If he says that it is occupied then ask for the address to have your friend drive by.  A scammer will probably not want anyone to drive by either, for fear the “friend” will knock on the door or talk to a neighbor.  Remember, they are counting on you being out of town and nowhere near the property until they have received your money.  A scammer will probably put you off and then drop you entirely … stop returning your calls or responding to your emails.  A legitimate owner will typically bend over backwards to assure you that they are on the up and up.  But … perhaps you do have a friend or relative in the area.  That is a perfect scenario.  You can also buy a “friend” by contacting a local concierge company and hire them to preview the property.  An hour’s concierge fee is well worth your peace of mind.

 

ABC Nightline News Video Clip

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California couple faced a vacation nightmare after a home was listed without the owner knowing.

Here’s a video clip from ABC Nightline News that demonstrates how “Vacation Predators” lure trusting buyers into their scams.  Author and travel advocate, Chris Elliott, also shares some interesting information and tips to potential renters. Click on the photo to the left to view the story.

 

The Press Enterprise

BY GAIL WESSON / STAFF WRITER

Coachella Valley: 3 Charged With Rental Scams

The timing of the scams coincides with the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals. Cases against three defendants are pending.

SOURCE: Riverside County District Attorney’s Office

Nearly 80 victims lost in excess of $220,000 in rental deposits in what the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office is describing as fraudulent real estate rental listings in online scams that coincide with the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals, according to a news release.

The victims sent deposits, typically by check or wire transfer, to reserve rentals and found “that the house they thought they rented was not actually for rent and the money they provided as a deposit was gone,” the release stated. Some victims came from as far as the East Coast or Canada.

The District Attorney’s Office has charged three defendants in Indio and Riverside courts in incidents reported from 2013 to this year.

Would-be renters turned to Internet rental listing services and communicated with someone claiming to be the owner or the owner’s agent, paid five-figure rental sums and received rental contracts and information for accessing the house.

Online rental services do not always verify that the person making the listing is actually authorized to rent the home, setting up the opportunity for scam artists to prey on unsuspecting victims, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

The defendants, charged in separate criminal complaints with multiple counts of grand theft, are Daniel Moran, 47, of Hollywood Hills; Jian Gary Huang, 41, of San Francisco; and Robert Dennis Enriquez, 58.

Moran is accused of defrauding 15 victims out of $45,105.68 from December 2013 through March 2014, according to court records. In each case, the home was on Maurice Court in Rancho Mirage. The homeowners told a sheriff’s deputy that Moran had tried to rent the home and they had not given him permission to advertise the home as a rental.

When one would-be renter arrived at Palm Springs International Airport, Moran advised that prior tenants had a large party at the residence and the homeowners association had banned short-term rentals, according to an arrest warrant. The prospective renter was not reimbursed.

Investigators have linked at least 11 reports of real estate or rental fraud in La Quinta to Huang, with losses to victims in excess of $17,000, according to court records.

Enriquez signed a rental agreement for an Elkhorn Trail home in Indian Wells and tried to rent it out for music festival weekends in 2014, collecting over $55,600 from 23 separate groups, according to an arrest warrant. Once he got the money, communication with prospective renters ceased.

Complaints, especially from Temecula Wine Country and the Coachella Valley, prompted the Riverside County Board of Supervisors to ask county staff to draw up rules for party or vacation rentals, because of the impacts on neighbors. County spokesman Ray Smith said a draft proposal is expected to be presented to the board later this year.

Contact the writer: 951-368-9075 or gwesson@pe.com

Federal Trade Commission

Consumer Information

Rental Listing Scams

Moving to a new city? Planning a vacation? As you consider issues like size, cost, and location of the rental, also consider this: that rental listing could be a scam. Scammers often advertise rentals that don’t exist or aren’t available to trick people into sending money before they find out the truth.

How Rental Scams Work

Scammers know that finding the right apartment or vacation rental can be hard work, and a seemingly good deal is hard to pass up. They’ve been known to game some vacation rental websites and bulletin boards. The take-away: when you’re looking for a rental, it’s caveat renter — renter beware.

Hijacked Ads

Some scammers hijack a real rental or real estate listing by changing the email address or other contact information, and placing the modified ad on another site. The altered ad may even use the name of the person who posted the original ad. In other cases, scammers have hijacked the email accounts of property owners on reputable vacation rental websites.

Phantom Rentals

Other rip-off artists make up listings for places that aren’t for rent or don’t exist, and try to lure you in with the promise of low rent, or great amenities. Their goal is to get your money before you find out.

Signs of a Scam

Being savvy when you’re in search of a rental is well worth the effort. Here are some signs you may be dealing with a scam:

They tell you to wire money

This is the surest sign of a scam. There’s never a good reason to wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee, first month’s rent, or vacation rental fee. That’s true even if they send you a contract first. Wiring money is the same as sending cash — once you send it, you have no way to get it back.

They want a security deposit or first month’s rent before you’ve met or signed a lease

It’s never a good idea to send money to someone you’ve never met in person for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it’s for rent, and that it is what was advertised. In addition to setting up a meeting, do a search on the owner and listing. If you find the same ad listed under a different name, that’s a clue it may be a scam.

They say they’re out of the country

But they have a plan to get the keys into your hands. It might involve a lawyer or an “agent” working on their behalf. Some scammers even create fake keys. Don’t send money to them overseas. If you can’t meet in person, see the apartment, or sign a lease before you pay, keep looking. What if the rental itself is overseas? Paying with a credit card or through a reputable vacation rental website with its own payment system are your safest bets.

How to Report Scams

If you find yourself the target of a rental scam, report it to your local law enforcement agency and to the FTC. Contact the website where the ad was posted, too.

This article was previously available as Rental Listings May be Red Herrings.

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