Skip Booking Fees!

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Owners and renters of Vacation Rentals may not be aware of the recent changes to Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) after its acquisition by Expedia. Expedia purchased VRBO to serve as direct competition to newer sites like FlipKey and AirBnB.  Prior to the acquisition, there were various tiers or levels an owner could pay for a VRBO listing.  The different tiers had different benefits which could improve placement in the listings and searches on the site and the number of photos you can have on a listing.  Now, all owners pay the same flat fee to list a property if the property allows online bookings and a higher flat fee for properties that do not.  The biggest change is the use of an algorithm to determine the listing order and a service fee of 10% with a cap at $399 per booking paid by the renter to VRBO.

For Owners these changes can drastically affect your bookings.  The fees for listing the property can be significantly higher than those they were previously paying.  The “performance algorithm” that now determines the rank of a listing punishes those who prefer to deal with inquiries off of the site or in direct contact with the inquirer.  Meaning if an owner responds to an inquiry via the inquirers contact info and not through the VRBO site, the owner does not get credit for responding to the inquiry.  The listings are now showing response rates, for example “avg. response time: 2 days.”  Using the algorithm limits what an owner can do themselves to improve their position in rankings and leaves it up to the algorithm to essentially “guess” whether a renter would be interested in the property.  In addition, some owners have already noticed less bookings as renters get “scared off” by the service fee.  The additional money on top of the rent rate is pushing renters to seek other avenues. Renters are not as affected as owners with the changes except for financially.  If you rent a property for a month at $2000 who would really want to spend an extra $200 in service fees to VRBO?  Those monies could be used for food, activities, shopping, or other ways that benefit the renter and not a company who acted purely as a middle man.

So how can you save 10% on your next vacation rental?  As a renter you can search for a Vacation Rental Management (VRM) company, such as Vacation Rentals of the Desert, in the area you would like to stay.  If you aren’t finding a company during a quick google search you can call a local visitors bureau or chamber of commerce and they can most likely give you a list of professionally managed companies to try.  For owners, you can try listing your property with a VRM company who generally only take a commission for bookings and do not charge an additional fee to the renters or a listing fee, although some may.  VRMs can also negotiate between the renters and owners, from an existing client list in addition to new inquiries, to find a rate that satisfies both parties involved from an existing client list in addition to new inquires.

Post by guest blogger Vacation Rentals of the Desert Employee David

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Discrimination In Vacation Rentals?

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A study by three Harvard researchers found “widespread discrimination” against people with black-sounding names on Airbnb. Credit Matthew Millman for The New York Times

 

Discrimination by Airbnb Hosts Is Widespread, Report Says

DEC. 11, 2015

Airbnb likes to refer to itself as less a company than a “community.” To that end, it has made trust between real people a cornerstone of its business strategy in short-term home rentals.

But new research suggests that when users get real, racism can result.

A working paper by three Harvard researchers found “widespread discrimination” by hosts against people with black-sounding names seeking rentals. Fictional guests set up by the researchers with names like Lakisha or Rasheed were roughly 16 percent less likely to be accepted than identical guests with names like Brent or Kristen.

“Clearly, the manager of a Holiday Inn cannot examine names of potential guests and reject them based on race,” the authors wrote. “Yet, this is commonplace on Airbnb.”

Airbnb, valued by investors at roughly $24 billion and based in San Francisco, said in a statement that it was “committed to making Airbnb one of the most open, trusted, diverse, transparent communities in the world.”

Last July, the researchers sent housing requests to roughly 6,400 hosts across five cities: Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Washington. Renters with names that sounded African-American got a positive reply about 42 percent of the time, compared with roughly 50 percent for white guests.

The results “are remarkably persistent,” the researchers wrote, with whites discriminating against blacks, blacks discriminating against blacks, and both male and female users displaying bias.

The authors suggested the solution is simple: Don’t require users to reveal their names.

With more than two million listings across 190 countries, Airbnb has robust data on the reliability of its hosts and guests, from verified profiles to reviews of fellow users. Benjamin G. Edelman, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School and one of the paper’s authors, argued that those metrics are what should count when evaluating whether to go ahead with a transaction.

“Compare that with whether the guest’s name is Barack or the guest’s name is Bono,” Mr. Edelman said.

“At some point you say, ‘You know maybe it’s nice to see people’s names and faces, but gee, think about the harm that this causes for some people.’”

Airbnb, a standard-bearer of the so-called sharing economy, has argued forcefully that anonymity is incompatible with building trust between users. The anxiety attached to letting a stranger into your home, the argument goes, is lessened by a name and friendly face.

“Access is built on trust, and trust is built on transparency. When you remove anonymity, it brings out the best in people,” Brian Chesky, chief executive of Airbnb, said in 2013. “We believe anonymity has no place in the future of Airbnb or the sharing economy.”

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A Picture Pretty Vacation Home!

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Coming up with fresh new stories for this blog each week is sometimes a challenge.  With almost two years of Sunday posts, this being the 101st, sometimes I am inclined to cheat a little and just post pretty pictures.  Today I am doing exactly that … and I happen to have some very pretty pictures of a fantastic condo.  This home recently signed up with Vacation Rentals of the Desert and just had professional photos taken two days ago.

Know anyone looking for an amazing vacation home?

This home is located in Indian Wells, California in a great gated community … Casa Rosada.  It is a 2,100 sq. ft. condo with two bedrooms with private en-suites, a powder room, a cozy den with fireplace, an amazing great room and faces South, offering spectacular mountain views and lots and lots of sunshine.  This is not your “typical” vacation rental.  It has been furnished with the amenities and quality you would have in your own home.  In other words …. no corners have been cut … from the quality furnishings to the beautiful cookware and table setting … this home is absolutely flawless! 

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Mythbusters: The Vacation Rental Edition

scrooge-mcduckI hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving holiday!  

Now … back to business!

Today I’m sharing a wonderful post from TripAdvisor’s blog … Vacation Home Rentals.  For years, Vacation Rentals of the Desert has listed the properties that we manage on FlipKey, the vacation rental division of TripAdvisor.  I am very happy to see TripAdvisor post articles, such as the following, that shines a positive light on the vast majority of vacation rentals. 

 

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Mythbusters: The Vacation Rental Edition

Vacation rentals come in all different shapes, sizes, and locations and, while it’s easy to become a bit overwhelmed by the variety of properties online, you shouldn’t let that get in the way of finding the rental of your dreams. Still not convinced? Here, we’ve debunked five of the most common myths plaguing the vacation rental experience.

Myth #1: Vacation rentals are too expensive for the every-day traveler, and are only available to those who swim in seas of gold like Scrooge McDuck.

The truth: Vacation rentals can be a very affordable option for travelers looking to get the most out of their money. While some rentals do range from super affordable to excessively lavish, that range means there is something available for travelers no matter what their price range. To compete against larger hotel chains, most vacation rental owners/managers offer lower rates, more amenities and no hidden fees that pop up at check-out. A 2014 study by Statista showed that 53% of respondents said that they chose vacation rentals over hotels because they actually ended up offering lower rates than hotels. So, think twice before you rule vacation rentals out based on cost – they can offer a great savings, especially when they replace a group’s need for multiple hotel rooms.

Myth #2: That luxury, beachfront villa will turn out to be more like a shoebox with a view of the highway sign pointing in the direction of the beach.

The truth: In reality, it’s only the most negative experiences, which are few and far between, that actually get any press. Although it is very common among travelers to fear that the vacation rental will be “significantly not as described” (SNAD) the majority of travelers who’ve stayed at a vacation rental have positive experiences. According toPhocuswright’s industry study, Vacation Rental Marketplace: Poised for Change, nine in 10 vacation rental guests intend to rent again and would recommend the experience to a family member or friend. Vacation rental owners and managers take great pride in accurately showcasing their properties, and if the rental isn’t measuring up to be quite as picture-perfect as the photos indicate, it will be evident in the reviews for the property.

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Myth #3: Locking down a vacation rental requires 10 different email exchanges, 5 phone calls and is overall too difficult.

The truth: With the emergence of safe, online booking platforms like ours, finding and booking a vacation rental has gotten a whole lot easier in recent years. Simply pick your destination, compare properties that pique your interest, and inquire on or book the rental of your dreams. You can even pay directly through the site using a credit/debit card or PayPal, so that your vacation is protected and you don’t have to worry about any SNAD myths coming true. Finding and booking a rental is so simple now, you’ll finally have a reason to use the Easy button gag gift collecting dust on your desk.

Myth #4: You need to bring your toolbox on vacation because you’ll be all alone if something goes wrong at the property.

The truth: Most owners/managers take preemptive measures to make sure that their property is in tip-top shape for renters, because no one likes to deal with emergency maintenance issues – even owners/managers. Rentals are typically professionally cleaned before check-in and after check-out and some are even cleaned throughout your stay, so you don’t have to worry about the state of the rental. Whether you’re renting from an individual owner or a property management company, you’ll likely have access to assistance around the clock, in case any issues arise. It could be an on-site property manager or the personal cellphone number of the owner, but either way you’ll be covered when you need help.

Myth #5: If your stay is less than 7 nights, don’t bother inquiring because no one rents for less than a weeklong stay.

The truth: As the vacation rental marketplace has expanded enormously, many owners/managers have relaxed minimum night stays making rentals perfect for weekend getaways and short-term stays. The great, unique thing about vacation rentals is that you’re often dealing directly with the property owner and every owner has different policies. Accepting one, two and three night stays is a great way for owners/managers to fill last minute openings and availability during the off season. It never hurts to ask when you find a property you love for a quick retreat from reality.

March 10, 2015  By Meg Schulte

Article and Photos:  http://www.vacationhomerentals.com/blog

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Start a New Thanksgiving Tradition!

turkey-on-grill-corrected-728x444Happy Thanksgiving!

This will be a short post today.  I’ve brought a truck-load of work home that I need to tackle.  Our rental season is here, holidays are fast approaching, tomorrow we have a new employee to start training and everyone at Vacation Rentals of the Desert is busy, busy, busy!

wedding-chefs-4I’m hearing weather reports … up north, some states are getting not inches, but feet of snow already!  So here’s my sales pitch … we still have a few vacation properties, kitchens all decked out and ready for your family Thanksgiving holiday!  Our weather is perfect … in the 70s with lots of sunshine.  No snow to shovel or family to worry about navigating icy roads on their way to grandma’s house … we’re not bundled up in coats and huddled around the fire.  While you’re slipping and sliding around in the ice and snow we’re golfing, enjoying a morning swim or bike ride.  Thanksgiving is taken outdoors with a big fat turkey cooking on the barbecue and friends and family enjoying the perfect weather on the patio while kids play in the pool and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or football game are playing in the background.

 

The perfect Thanksgiving to some … skip the cooking and exhausting clean-up, and have dinner with the Indians … at a casino buffet.  This is what my family does every Thanksgiving.  We have many Indian casinos in the Palm Springs desert and most offer an amazing Thanksgiving Feast.  With one vegetarian, a couple of picky eaters, various degrees of dieting and at least three guys with voracious appetites, the variety, quantity and simplicity of a buffet is a no-brainer for my family.  Only down side is … no leftovers, however eliminating the stress and mess of cooking for a huge family is so well worth a trip to the deli if the urge for a turkey sandwich hits. 

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So think about it … maybe it’s time for a new family tradition … something your family can look forward to all year long.  Give us a call, it’s not too late for this year or to plan for next!

I wish you all a Safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

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T.O.T. – ALL Vacation Rental Owners Need to Know

335ed1_d276eede1f154ae4ba391f6d2511658bThis week the property owners and management companies who have vacation rental permits in the city of Rancho Mirage were sent an email regarding T.O.T. (transient occupancy tax).  Besides the deadlines for tax submission, the email also reminded owners of the consequences of tax fraud which some owners may not realize they are doing right now.

Long term vacation rentals are generally understood to be rentals of one month or longer.  There may be variances in each city’s definition of the length of these rentals; for some cities it is twenty-eight nights, some thirty and others thirty-one.  You should know that booking a reservation for a one month stay to avoid T.O.T. or to satisfy your HOA (home owners association) rules on length of renter stays, is consider fraud and a felony.  In other words, if you receive an inquiry for a week, three nights, or even one night short of the minimum nights required by your city as a long term rental, and you are audited, you could be charged with fraud.  Depending on the views of your city’s officials on vacation rentals, there could be fines or more serious consequences.

This is widely practiced, but in owner’s defense … it is usually not aimed at saving the tenants the cost of tax, but more to accommodate the owner’s need or desire to only take long term, or monthly rentals.  Most cities do not require a vacation rental permit for properties that solely take long term rentals, but all should know, whether permitted or not … renting your property for one month to tenants staying less than what the city considers a long term stay, could come back to haunt you.

Cities have full rights to the names and contact information on each and every one of your tenants.  If you are audited, as more and more cities are now doing, you could be charged with fraud and a felony.  Likewise, a tenant could be charged with the same if they book your property as a long term with the intent of avoiding T.O.T.

Picture:  http://www.thetamarine.net/#!audits/c1n2c

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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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Vacation Rentals and the Sharing Economy

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After taking a reservation from a wonderful gal that we’ve become acquainted with over the past few years, I received the below email, which inspired this article.  Our staff met her as an owner’s guest during a couple of her visits to one of the properties we manage.  She called yesterday looking for a property to rent for her family next month during the Thanksgiving holiday and luckily we found her a spectacular property that met all her needs.

I have to tell you:  before I called Vacation Rentals of the Desert, I looked on line at VRBO … and I just felt uneasy about accepting at face value what the owner was saying.  I also realized that I was checking out properties a little late in the game.   

That said — I have friends who have rented through VRBO and have had tremendous success. 

I think the fact that I had spoken in the past to your company (from a friend’s unit that you manage, regarding a maintenance issue and also in regards to a neighbor having fallen in the unit next door and reporting that to 911 and to your agency) made me feel very comfortable in trusting your company’s sense of what might be the right thing for me to rent this fall!

Many, many thanks to you and Kathy!  As recommended in your email, I’ll be in touch closer to arrival regarding keys, etc.

 

Of course I responded to this email with our thanks and further explained to her that I too had been in her position last year and had similar feelings about dealing with owners I did not know.  I wrote about this in a blog titled “Girlfriend Retreat,” dated June 8, 2014.  Today I’ll share some of my mixed feelings on what is now being called the “sharing economy.”

Watching HGTV, which my followers know is one of my biggest addictions, I love the shows that demonstrate how it is affordable to own a second home if you take in a certain amount of vacation renters.  These are great shows and do a lot to build the industry but my only caution to those who have interest in buying with an absolute need to rent the property … “due diligence” is a must.  These shows do not take into account things such as year round utility costs including Wi-Fi and TV cable, property maintenance such as pool service, gardening and home repairs or upkeep of supplies and cleaning.  Nor do they include the costs of advertising, HOA fees, commercial liability insurance, warranty programs or an emergency fund in the event of a major issue such as a broken hot water heater or HVAC that interrupts rentals for a period of time.

If I owned a vacation rental, which I don’t, I can say for certain that I would handle the property myself, doll it up and pamper my guests.  It can be fun if you do it correctly … but it’s what I do every day.  I know the rules and regulations; I know the cleaning requirements and know what makes tenants happy and how to avoid upsets.  BUT I would manage it myself only if I lived close to the vacation rental … otherwise I would definitely look for assistance from a professional vacation rental management company.  Trusting a cleaning service, friends or family, is just too big of a risk and a responsibility that I would not put on someone I cared about.  Vacation rentals can be fun … but they are also very demanding and dealing with rental clients, neighbors and city ordinance regulations these days, can have you jumping through hoops day and night.

Returning to our client’s email above and her hesitancy to work with someone she did not know … I will share with you some of my experiences with property owners.  This year alone I turned down about five properties.  Owners inviting me to their vacation homes, wishing to list with Vacation Rentals of the Desert, but having substandard properties.  I really, really hate turning down a property and always try my best to convince these owners to take the necessary steps to bring their properties up to speed.  Sometimes it works, but more often than not … I get excuses why the property is fine how it is.  Here’s just a few …

I walk into a property with carpet at least thirty years old; stained and worn.  Foil wall paper on the walls and in the bathrooms, it’s even on the ceilings.  The living room sofa is 1970s plaid with Early American furniture.  Anyone old enough to remember spindly-leg Early American furniture?  The flowered bedspread in the master matches the flowered curtains that are faded from the sun.  I could go on, but I won’t … I’m sure you get it.  This property was too far gone and I had to explain to a really nice lady that our customers are looking for a more updated property.  She offered to purchase throw rugs to cover the carpet stains, but insisted the living room furniture was fine and she loved the flowered bedspread and claimed that it had been very expensive … yes, thirty years ago!   She told me that all of her friends and family who had stayed there, loved it.  Of course they would …. who would want to upset this really sweet lady.  Ultimately I had to walk away from this property wishing the owner, sincerely, the best of luck.

Another property that I viewed; the owner lived full time at the property but would move in with a friend when it is rented.  He would need to lock one of the three bedrooms and the garage, for his personal possessions and insisted on doing all of the cleaning, before and after guests.  The place is very dirty but he insisted that he was an excellent cleaner.  I explained that maybe the locked garage would be okay but not the locked bedroom.  Tenants are spooked by a locked room … closet okay, room no.  Also I told him that we needed to use our cleaners due to sanitation requirements and guarantees.  When he would not agree to these requirements, we parted ways with a handshake.

On another occasion I received a call from an owner describing her property as totally updated and she was certain we could ask for top dollar.  Upon walking up to the property, I could see that the bedroom window coverings were mini-blinds … some bent … oh no!  But she’s was absolutely correct … it was completely updated … in the 80s!  Mauve carpet, mini-blinds, 1980’s pastel southwest furniture, 1980s appliances.  She explained that she has been renting it herself but was tired of getting complaints from tenants all the time.  I looked at her website listing and she had described her property as “completely updated throughout.”  It’s not a wonder that her tenants were unhappy.  It was clearly misrepresented.  I passed.

The dated property scenario happens over and over again, almost as much as the “completely updated” story.  Many owners do not realize how competitive the vacation rental market has become.  For every dated property, there are ten updated properties with all the new bells and whistles.  When vacation rental owners say that their friends and relatives love the property, and they all say this … I think, but can’t point out the obvious … how many friends tell you that your butt looks big in that dress or you walk funny? They don’t want to cause hurt feelings, or risk not being invited back.  People are very tolerant of shortcomings when they’re staying free or at the cost of a cleaning.

There is also the “eye of the beholder” to take into consideration.  I wrote about this in an earlier blog post titled “Hopelessly Stuck in the 80s!,” posted January 12, 2014.  Many owners who purchased and decorated their vacation homes years ago, view the property through very different eyes than you and I.  Their homes are filled with memories and they do not see any of the shortcomings, only the property that they love.

There was a time, when tenants were happy to find any home available for their vacation, but that was some years ago.  Now, with the vacation rental boom and the variety of properties readily available, an updated, well maintained property is extremely important.  As recently as a couple of years ago, I would take on dated properties, pricing them accordingly, with the thought that there is a price point for every tenant.  I have found since then that dated properties are a lose/lose situation.  Despite informing tenants before they book, that the rental rate is low because it is a bit of an “ugly duckling,” dated but well maintained and squeaky clean … we will still get complaints.  Often it doesn’t matter how much you clean … “old” just looks dirty.    On the other hand, the property owners will inevitably know a neighbor who is making more money on their property of the same size and not taking into consideration the dated condition of their property, ask us why they are listed at a lower rate.  So I no longer take dated properties.  Sometimes the juice is just not worth the squeeze!

If you are a vacation rental owner, and I have said this many, many times … drag a stranger, your friend’s acquaintance, a property manager, over to your vacation property and ask for an “honest assessment.”  DO NOT ask a friend.  DO NOT ask a relative.  A friend or relative will NOT give you an honest answer.  They will not risk hurting your feelings.  If your furniture, beds or décor are twenty years old … your prospective tenants will see this and your vacation rental business will suffer.  If they do rent … you will get complaints and the tenant reviews on your website will be bad and discourage future business.

There are very, very few properties that can pull off a dated look.  The properties that can are mid-century modern and maybe some vintage, antique filled Victorians.  1970s, 1980s and 1990’s era furniture are not desirable at all.  If you are doing mid-century modern you should be careful about how much original furnishings you are adding to the home.  A few vintage pieces here and there, some art, lamps, etc. are usually okay … but not the entire house.  I have seen it … it never works.  It looks old and shabby.  You will want your beds and living room furniture to be new.  Remember that the vintage pieces you buy are over fifty years old and may break.  One of the properties we manage has a very expensive Eames chair.  I have grown to hate this beautiful chair.  Twice it has broken.  Once with a tenant sitting in it.  The breaks were not due to misuse, it came from fifty to sixty years of butts in and butts out.  Excessive wear and tear.  A reproduction would have been equally attractive, less expensive and safer.

A clean property is THE number one priority.  It doesn’t matter how much you’ve spent on dolling your property up … if it’s dirty … that’s all the tenants will see.  One dead bug laying in the entry of an otherwise spotless home, can upset tenants to the point that they think the home is insect infested and want a full refund.  You must make sure that the home was been well cleaned and sanitized, and that someone checks the property just prior to your tenant’s arrival.  You will also want to make sure that you immediately address any cleaning issues that a tenant may report … I stress immediately!  Likewise for maintenance issues and repairs.  If your property is listed on a website than your tenants have “The Power of the Review,” another recent blog post for you to read, dated August 30. 2015.  With the review, tenants have the power to make or break your vacation rental’s success.

I have done many inspections after an owner has said that they would have the property cleaned for an upcoming vacation rental, only to find that the toilets were dirty and the sheets needed to be washed … hair on the pillows and the corners of the sheets popped off the mattress, don’t lie.  I have a computer file filled with these photos where I’ve documented the issues and then had to rush our cleaners in to do a proper job before the tenants arrived.

If you are a prospective renter and have read this far … you probably get the message.  Most people who list on VRBO are wonderful owners, I won’t get into Airbnb, but there are the few vacation rental owners who are only concerned about their bottom line.  I understand the appeal of the “sharing economy,” and applaud all the conscientious vacation rental owners, but seeing what happens from our view inside the professional industry … I’m waiting for the “other shoe to drop.”  I would not advertise that I make the best lasagna in town, which I do, and open my front door to paying clients nor would I cross into Mexico to get a less expensive facelift.  There are some situations where the risks are too high … I’m not a lucky gambler.  I often wonder how there can be so many people who are willing to risk their vacation money … but again, I’m not a gambler.  I’m very happy to pay a little more through a vacation management company for my peace of mind, knowing that I will have certain guarantees and that the company has a valuable reputation to protect as well as a full team of professionals with one main objective … to make me happy.

Photo:  http://whitehousecleaning4u.com/

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What Makes A Perfect Vacation Rental?

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This week we added a spectacular new property to our list of vacation rentals.  The staff of Vacation Rentals of the Desert are all pretty excited about this new addition.  We especially love the properties that “sell” themselves … not because it saves us work but because we have full confidence that anyone renting the property will have a wonderful vacation … and after all that is our ultimate goal … great vacations!

If you own a vacation rental, you are familiar with the “minimum requirements” that you must provide … but you should also realize that there are bells and whistles that will give your property an edge over your competition.  I’ve added the property listing below and invite vacation home owners to read through the description and notice the selling points of this property.  Conversely, if you are a tenant … give us a call … we think we have THE perfect property for you …

Here are some of the reasons this property is so perfect for our particular demographic:

  • It is beautifully decorated and appointed. Corners were not cut in quality furnishings.  Furniture is of the same style throughout the home and was not purchased at second-hand stores.
  • Quality linens have been furnished such as high count sheets and plush towels.
  • The kitchen has been well supplied with great cookware and beautiful dinnerware. Tenants will find everything they need to cook and set a wonderful table whether a casual meal or Thanksgiving feast.
  • The home is well maintained. There are no broken appliances or old TVs in the garage.  The items that are old, worn or damaged have been tossed out.  No leaky faucets no cluttered cabinets.
  • The basic standards that you will find in most vacation rentals in the desert, have been provided, such as cable TV, DVD players, Wi-Fi and land-lines with free local, US and Canada calling.
  • Amenities have been added such as multiple TVs, stereos, four DVD players, movies, games, books, Wii and pool toys.
  • It has two master suites making it perfect for two couples and the third bedroom has been converted to a den that will also sleep two if needed. This makes the home more versatile.  It works equally well for tenants seeking a two bedroom OR three bedroom property … with the den adding more “living” space verses a unnecessary room.
  • It has a dedicated office space OR a dedicated children’s room off the master. This could be a bonus for parents, grandparents OR those who need work space during their vacation.
  • It is in a desirable gated country club.
  • It is close to multiple pools and spas.
  • It has a sunny exposure and panoramic mountain views.

Many vacation property owners will furnish their property with their eye on excessive wear and tear … “after all it’s just a rental.”  They will often go less expensive, not always because they are being “cheap,” but because they feel that items will just wear out quickly and need to be replaced.  I cannot tell you how many new owners have furnished their properties with low count sheets bought at Target, thin unbreakable dishes, and 99 Cent Store mugs and utensils.   Tenants recognize this right away!  Unknowingly, these owners hurt themselves and may offend their paying tenants.  These types of shortcuts can cost you bad reviews.  If you have a vacation rental than you should treat it as “a business,” and furnish the property as you would your home.  Remember … it takes money to make money … and purchases can be written off.   Even if you end up purchasing new sheets, towels and dishes each year to keep your supplies “fresh,” how much are you really spending?  Is it worth a one or two star review or losing a possible repeat tenant?  You must always keep the comfort of your guests in mind when furnishing and supplying your property.  Spending a bit more to supply your vacation home with quality makes just makes sense.  Items will last longer, guests will appreciate your home and care for it better, reviews will be better and tenants may return again and again.

The property I’m featuring today is owned by a family that loves visiting their property and entertaining family.  They enjoy sharing it with vacationing guests and realize that the same mishaps that happen in any home, are bound to happen from time to time.  The owners do not cut corners that effect their personal enjoyment of the property just because it is also a vacation rental.  This is a great mindset and a win/win for owner, vacationing guests and us as the rental company.

So take a look at this really amazing vacation home … and give us a call if you want to try it out.  It won’t last long!

Breathtaking Mountain Views Overlooking a Sparkling Lake and Double fairway!

 

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5-Star Home!! 2 Masters + Sleeping Den
Southern & Western Patio Views, Professionally Decorated

Relax and enjoy the gorgeous San Jacinto mountain sunsets from the expanded back patio. The beautifully furnished, western exposure patio offers exceptional indoor/outdoor living with dining for six, two comfortable chaise lounges, awning, gas BBQ and a built-in gas fire pit.  Click here to go to full listing …

 
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The Power of The Review

reviewsI am always on the lookout for topics that will interest both vacation rental owners and renters  …  this article focuses more on owners, however, it also gives vacation rental guests a glimpse into some of the challenges that rental owners face.  Granted, there are owners out there who are aware of their property’s  “shortcomings” but most owners, especially the ones that manage their vacation home from a distance, are very concerned about their guest’s vacation experience and may not be aware of shortages or maintenance issues.  Perhaps a phone call to the owner, or their management company, will quickly remedy an issue and improve your rental experience and most likely save a great property a bad review.

As the owner and manager of Vacation Rentals of the Desert, I often run into issues that I was unaware of until reported by a vacationing guest.  Unless the owners actually spends time “living” in their vacation rental home, it is sometimes difficult to identify problems before they arise.  For instance … a broken toaster that the previous guest felt uncomfortable about reporting or simply forgot;  when the next guest finds that the toaster is not working, it may appear that the owner or management company simply does not care, which usually is absolutely not true.  Same for a chipped serving bowl shoved in the back of the cabinet or a torn sheet in the linen closet full of sheets.  Rarely will an owner or management company inventory and check the operation of every item within a property between each and every vacationing guest.   Unfolding every sheet to inspect for tears, pulling every dish out of the kitchen cabinet to check for chips and wear; it takes hours and hours and is usually done once a year, typically during the “off season”

If you are a vacationing guest, the best way to handle issues that arise during your stay, is to report it immediately then write your review of the property based on how the issue was handled.  That being said, I absolutely understand that you are on vacation and do not want to be bothered with repairmen or want to wait around for replacement sheets or towels, etc.  But, if the owner or management company is making every effort to find a happy solution, then you might just think back to how things unexpectedly go wrong at your own home.  It happens in every home … appliances and air conditioners break, sheets tear, dishes chip, toasters stop working … “stuff happens!”

For home owners, whether you handle your own vacation rental or list your home with a professional management company, the following article should be of particular interest to you.  The very slightest problem in an absolutely beautiful and pristine property, could result in a devastating review that plummets your property’s desirability.  Vacation Rentals of the Desert has experienced each and every one of the issues mentioned in this article, avoiding them whenever possible, but ultimately it is the owner who makes the final call on recommended upgrades and replacements.

So I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to read this wonderful article posted May 23, 2014 by Mike Bayer of CottageBlogger.   It perfectly demonstrates “the power of the review.”

 

10 WAYS TO PREVENT COMPLAINTS AND NEGATIVE REVIEWS FOR YOUR VACATION RENTAL

Oh no…..a negative review! The day you get the first of these is never a happy one and there’s always a knee jerk reaction that will throw you into defensive mode. How dare they? Don’t they know what damage publicly displayed bad feedback can do? It’s completely unfair and we have to get it removed.

But hold on a moment. Take a deep breath and take some time to consider what prompted the negative comments. Could it have been easily prevented by taking a proactive approach? Although some situations are impossible to predict many complaints arise from completely preventable scenarios and taking steps to avoid them can save you time, stress and the potential for negative reviews.

Here’s a few you may want to consider. Some have examples drawn from real Flipkey reviews.

  1. The property was not as described

Giving a misleading impression or being economical with the truth of a situation will generally come back to bite you with a complaint that the property was not ‘as described’. Nobody wants surprises and if the reality doesn’t match with the description and photos you’ve provided, because you have omitted a significant feature, a complaint is bound to follow. Being transparently open about the shortcomings of your property can bring you more satisfied customers because people appreciate honesty and candour.

Prevent this by: Being upfront with the negatives as well as the positive of the property

Click here to read entire article ….

 

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