How Vacation Rental Owners and Tenants Relate

Bad-Hotel-Sundance-Vacations-300x189 (1)Finding topics for this blog each week can sometimes be challenging.  My goal has always been to inform, educate and sometime entertain vacation property owners and vacation renters.  Of course the content is often commentary and almost always is swayed by my personal experiences and opinions.  I attempt to put my readers into my shoes and hopefully give them a basis to form their own opinions surrounding their individual circumstances.  The fundamentals of owning or renting a vacation home are the same worldwide with the standard expectations of owners providing a clean, well maintained, honestly represented property at a fair price, and who are caring, easy to contact and take responsibility for issues that may arise; and in turn, owners expect well behaved, clean tenants who will also be respectful of their property and considerate of neighbors.  Sounds very simple, but with vacation rentals, and pointedly … vacation rentals managed by owners, you are working in an environment without any set rules or standards.   A hotel has industry and company standards that a paying guest can pretty much count on.  Now, in the sharing economy, you have individual property owners making up their own standards … and rules.  Taking into account how very different an owner may see their property, as I mentioned in last week’s post, where a property was advertised as “totally updated,” when in reality the last updates were made twenty years ago.  Many owners live a distance from their vacation home and rely on cleaning services which may at times be questionable, especially on a property where they know that it will not be inspected.  On the other hand, an owner may find more fault with the unhappy tenants than the cleaners, when cleaning deficiencies are reported.  I am not saying that all vacation homes that you find on VRBO or owner listing sites are bad … in fact the vast majority are excellent … I merely attempt to point out the variation in people, personality and their individual standards … and with the lack of oversight, the fact is …. there are some “bad actors” out there.

Today this blog is filled with commentary and personal opinion … but the commentary is based on facts that I have noted over the past twenty years and in this post, experiences of this past week.  Early in the week we received a call and then a visit, from a couple from England.  Their story was one we have heard countless times.  They arrived at a condo that they had booked through a listing on VRBO.  They were disappointed upon their arrival to find that the condo that was dirty.  After sitting unoccupied for several months, which is typical during our hot summers, the condo was dusty, dirty and full of dead bugs and cobwebs … just in time for Halloween … but they weren’t in the holiday spirt and I can’t say that I would be either.  The entire condo had just one window and that window had a broken blind that they had to climb up on a chair to open.  The bed was so bad that the husband, with a bad back, slept in the living room chair.  The towels were old, stained and frayed.  The one TV was of the old fashioned variety and not only was their lines through the picture, but the screen was so distorted that it cut off the actors heads.  But the biggest problem was that the property was advertised to have a walk-in shower, and what they found was a standard bathtub/shower combination.  This was a huge issue since the husband, with the bad back, is not able to raise his legs high enough to get into a bathtub.  After calls to the owner with no help on cleaning, which they did themselves, towels, which they replaced themselves, broken blind, which they just left open, old bed, broken TV … the very last straw was when they walked into the condo after a trip to the store, to find that the owner had entered without their knowledge or approval, turned the air conditioning up to 78 degrees and left a very nasty note stating that they were not to touch the temperature on the thermostat or he would deduct an additional $200 from their security deposit to cover possible cooling charges.   After finding this note, they called our office.  We were able to find them a perfect condo, the Taj Mahal compared to their current rental, and finally after arriving in the U.S. a week ago, they were able to start enjoying what was left of their one month vacation.  They received no money back from the slum-lord they had rented from, but refused to let it ruin their vacation.

Now I am fully aware that there are two sides to a story … probably more aware than you.  I see this behavior all the time and find ourselves smack-dab between owners and renters and rarely do the two see eye to eye.  However in light of the details shared by our British couple, and the fact that I have met many, many “bad actors,” I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the tenant.  The bed could possibly be a matter of personal preference, the TV could just have the wrong screen setting … but an owner refusing to clean prior to a tenant arrival, repair a broken blind, replace old towels … and illegally enter a property without twenty-four hour notice … these are unforgivable, and makes me angry as it reflects on the entire vacation rental industry.  If this story is in fact true then it’s my hope that the owner’s bad actions will someday catch up with him … “what goes around comes around,” fingers crossed.  This, in my option is despicable behavior … and I see it constantly!  Other than a bad review, there is very little that a tenant can do.

There are also many challenges for owners.  A tenant may over occupy or abuse a property costing owners in repairs, replacements and in some cases, having to turn away potential or booked tenants to make the repairs.  Tenants may break city noise ordinances and cost owners significant fines or in extreme cases, the loss of their right to rent their property.  Owners who live a distance away face the problem of finding reliable cleaners and maintenance people.  Many will look for a management company such as Vacation Rentals of the Desert, but for some, there will be the overriding desire to avoid professional management fees.  With the growth of the vacation rental industry, we are seeing start-up companies pop out of the woodwork … seems everyone has “the next best money-making idea.”  Yesterday I received a call from a local owner who had signed up with one of these “innovative” new companies.  I won’t name the company, but I’ll tell you enough to recognize them if they call.  This company is located out of state, but offers to represent and manage properties worldwide.  Their management fee is 35% and they find local individuals to check properties and arrange cleaning.  Sounds reasonable on paper … but again there is a lack of oversight, and that is precisely the issues this home owner discussed with me.  He had a handful of rentals over the summer months (surprisingly), but upon his recent visit to the house he found that there was significant damage to the property that had not been noted nor compensated for before tenant deposits were returned.  The air conditioner had not been shut off between a couple of the renters and with temps over 100 degrees, this is a big issue.  In addition, small things like burned out lights and regular maintenance repairs had not been dealt with.  But what really sent this owner over the top, justifiably,  was that his garage door remote was missing, the battery removed from the garage door key pad, the motion detectors outside the garage door disabled, and his golf cart entirely stripped, batteries, wiring, etc. and an expensive set of golf clubs had been taken from a locked closet in the garage.  None of this was found or reported by the local manager or cleaning staff.  The owner found this upon his visit.  The police believe it is an inside job.   So … looks like we are going to be managing a new property.

These are just a couple of examples of what happens all the time … and it goes back to last week’s post on the sharing economy … people are people are people.  You just don’t know who’s on the other end of that phone or email.  As I said at the beginning of this post, sometimes this blog is more commentary …. sometimes I just share my personal experiences …  and sometimes I vent … so here I go.

The above owner with the broken TV, blinds, etc.  … maybe he’s not a slum-lord.  Maybe he honestly thinks that the property is wonderful.  What if the tenant called to complain and was confrontational and disrespectful and the owner took offense and decided not to lift a finger to make his tenant happy?  It’s not right … but it’s very human and happens every day.  This week we called an owner letting her know that the vacuum was broken and we needed to replace it.  She was offended and upset (I know, we scratched our heads about how she could have taken offence), but she finally agreed to replace it.  Side story … she thought she would save money by ordering the $90 vacuum from Target … but in the long run she paid more since we had to charge her to go way out of the way to pick it up (she ordered it for picked up from a store outside our city), then we had to bring it to the office to assemble and finally deliver it to the property.  Had she let us do this we could have bought the same vacuum from Bed, Bath and Beyond, two blocks from our office, used a 20% off coupon and with that 20% savings, paid our office for the assembly and delivery!  Another owner, several years ago, visited her property and discovered that the tenants had burned up her favorite spaghetti pot.  She wanted to cancel her vacation rental listing entirely, despite the $20,000 gross rental that she had generated over the season, and the fact that accidents happen.  She stated that the tenants “did not respect her belongings.”   I immediately went out and purchased a new $25 spaghetti pot, delivered it and the property remained on our rental program for several years.  Sometimes it’s just that one “button,” that one “final straw” that set people off.   Same for tenants … people will vent.  Unfortunately I had to call a future tenant this week and report the sad news that the property they had booked, was going through some “issues.”  Seems that at this particular country club the golf course is not owned by the country club or home owners, but owned by another party.  The golf course was sold, and when the new owner was told by the city that they could not replace the golf course with senior housing, they decided to just close the club house and let the golf course die!  Unbelievable!  Of course the home owners are up in arms.  Their property values have plummeted and most owners purchased within the country club because of the golf course.  Every single property looks out on a fairway … so this affects 100% of the home owners and this high end country club is “not so much” anymore.  So I felt I had better contact our tenants to inform them of the situation since it would have definite effects on their extended vacation.  The fact that it is now in the hands of the legal system, the future of the club is unforeseeable.  With all our properties booked during their dates, my offer of a full refund or significant discount, was countered by ugly accusations and a very, very unhappy client.  Totally expected, but what was I to do in this case?  It is never known how people will act or how people will treat each other on any given occasion.   So back to the couple above, who now have to decide what to do about their vacation … look out onto a dead golf course or move?   The wife insisted that one of the primary reasons she chose this property was to be able to play golf at that particular course and to sit and look out on a beautiful fairway with a gorgeous waterfall (no longer functioning, of course).  Once I calmed her, I told her that she should check with other vacation rental companies … not owner listed properties which would be more time consuming.  Many owner’s do not keep up their property calendars and a renter could spend days waiting for a response only to discover that the property is not available.  I advised she do a google search for local vacation rental companies, and call a reservationist who would have possibly hundreds of potential properties to offer.  This close to season, chances are that most of the properties will already be booked … but they may still have a few.  This would be her quickest and safest way to go.

Vacation Rentals of the Desert is a pretty old fashion kind of company.  Certainly we have all the new bells and whistles … state of the art website and software, massive advertising budget, including VRBO and FlipKey, (can’t do Airbnb … one day I’ll explain the various reasons why this is a bad idea), fully trained and professional staff, checks, balances and standards of practice.  These are essential to running a successful vacation rental company … but the one thing that makes us stand out is the way we handle business … clients, tenants, owners and their properties.  This is where “old fashion” comes in, and we live by these rules every day …

                The customer is number one

                Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

                Treat everyone with respect

                Treat properties as if they were our own home

                Listen and give everyone the benefit of the doubt before making a decision

                It’s not always about the bottom line

                Honesty in all cases

For some owners and some companies … it is only about the bottom line.  We’re very fortunate … our properties are not investment properties …  they are second homes.  So if we feel the tenant would be a bad fit, we look for someone more fitting.  If we have a past history with a “questionable” tenant, we pass.  This is why we do not handle Coachella and Stagecoach Fests rentals.  Granted … the vast majority of fest goers will cause no problem, but about 10% will be a problem in one form or another … and we cannot gamble with our owner’s properties or our reputation.  Here’s a good example:  Last year we had a group of friends staying at a property during Coachella.  They informed us that they were in their 50s and had no intention of attending the fest.  The second night of the fest the tenants were on their back patio at 2 a.m. talking and the neighbors called the police.  Next day we received a $500 fine with a picture of the Coachella Fest bus in front of the house loading up our renters earlier in the day.  The age and profession does not matter … after partying all day, reason quickly flies out the window.  Now this property owner stands to suffer stiffer fines in the future and possibly lose his vacation rental permit because of tenant behavior … and it may not even be the tenant we screend.  It could be an unruly friend that gets out of hand or someone that they met at the fest who had no place to stay.  Bottom line is that even if the security deposit is raised to cover possible ordinance fines, my owner is one citation closer to losing the ability to accept vacation rentals.  Ultimately was the money worth the citation not to mention the extra oversight of future tenants?  Next fine is $1,000 … you better believe I’m hovering … and is this fair to our “good renters?”  I’ve been told by another management company owner that you just have to know how to screen properly!  How do you screen people today, for their behavior after partying a full day or two in the future?  There is no way.  I hate like heck to lose the rental money during these fests, but as I mentioned … the properties that we handle are second homes and my owner clients are wary of damage, fines and possible animosity from their neighbors making their own visits uncomfortable.  Sometimes the juice is just not worth the squeeze.

On my drive home from the office last night I was listening to a discussion on NPR Radio.  They were talking about Volkswagen and how they’ve lost the public’s trust.  One of the fellows in the discussion was from a large advertising firm and when asked his opinion on regaining public trust he said he thought the company was “screwed.”  He suggested an ad campaign showing the VW board members being fired and a big explosion.  Pretty drastic … but this is how important trust is to a company.  A trusted reputation is a necessity for survival in the business world … now look at how much it’s going to cost Volkswagen, and all the money they spend may not change the public’s mind.  Further in the conversation they talked about the Volkswagen Bug’s initial ad campaign … back in the 60s, I believe.  Back in those days all the cars were big, long boats.  In those days of cheap gas, bigger was better and these big cars represented success and prestige.  Then here comes the little VW Bug.  The advertising campaign was simple, but brilliant … and it worked!  In magazines they ran a blank white page and in the very bottom corner was a photo of a VW Bug with the caption, Think Small.

Simple but brilliant.  Reflecting on how our company of 130 properties competes in the big sea of VRBO, Airbnb, and large impersonal cookie cutter vacation rental companies … if we were a big national company … I think our ad might look like this:  A blank white page with our Vacation Rentals of the Desert logo in the bottom corner.  The caption would simply say … A small company, striving to be the Very Best.

Photo:  https://sundancevacationsblog.com

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