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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Keep Calm and Do the Right Thing

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It is my belief that the recent popular quote that pops up everywhere …  “Keep Calm and Carry On,” stems from the realization that despite “an ounce of prevention”, “Murphy’s Law” often manages to foil the “best laid plans.”  How’s that for a cliché … or two?

Managing a vacation rental property is all about “keeping calm.”  When Plan A … which is the best case scenario … you prepare and everything goes off without a hitch … i.e. the property is perfect, tenants are happy, property owners are happy.  But when something does go awry, it all comes down to how you handle Plan B.

I have found that when deficiencies are reported by a tenant, people often have a knee-jerk reaction.  This ugly reaction may be human nature or it could be what we “perceive” as negative feedback, we take too personally.  For example, the reaction to a broken toaster … How did the tenant break it, or a leaking toilet when it was not leaking during the owner’s visit just days before is blamed on the tenant.  When a tenant reports an issue … our reaction and solution can ultimately define a tenant’s stay and us as vacation rental managers.  Many posts ago, I told the story of an owner who we called to report that her vacation property’s dishwasher was not working.  Even though it was within our power to make the repair without consulting the owner (it is a required appliance), due to the older age of the dishwasher, we wanted her involved in the event she preferred replacing the dishwasher rather than repairing a twenty year old model.  The owner’s knee-jerk response was to inform us that she would not repair or replace the dishwasher, but asked that the tenants wash dishes by hand.  This said after the owner had received $14,000 for the three month country club rental.

Sometimes we all have to step back and “take a minute” as they say … but it is often how we respond to “issues” that defines us.   How you or your management company reacts when forced into a Plan B, as mentioned above, defines you and the rental experience of your tenants, which is almost always going to show up in a property review that can either enhance or damage your property listing and effect future rentals.  It’s totally up to you!  This is what I do …. I put myself in the tenant’s shoes and try to do the right thing.

Everyone at Vacation Rentals of the Desert wishes you and your families a Merry Christmas!

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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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Micromanaging? Are You Shooting Yourself In the Foot?

 

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Today’s post addresses situations that we, as vacation rental managers, go through daily.  Property maintenance, repairs and upkeep of supplies, but more pointedly, how owners handle these issues and the charges they incur.  I will give you two examples that came up this week.  If you are a property owner, you will want to take note.

First I will say that Vacation Rentals of the Desert is perhaps a bit different than other vacation management companies.  When a maintenance or repair call comes in from a tenant, we try to contact the owner to give them a heads-up on the issue and let them know how we plan to address it, or in the event that we can speak to the owner, discuss how it can best be handled.  I believe that it is best to give owners a heads-up rather than blind-side them with an unexpected bill on their statement.

So in this first example, an older, retired couple called to report that a smoke detector is chirping, indicating that the battery needs to be replaced.  We call the owner and leave a voice mail message as well as send an email.  We call our handyman and send him over to change the faulty battery.  When changing batteries, rule-of-thumb is to change ALL the batteries.  If all the batteries are the same age, typically they will run out at the same time.  This practice will most likely save multiple trips as each battery dies out.  We did not hear back from this owner until she received a bill for $40 … and absolutely threw a fit!  Apparently she had changed all the batteries two months ago and she did not want to pay for this maintenance.  I calmly tried to explain that the majority of the charge was for the handyman fee and that between the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, four batteries were replaced.  She informed me that in the future, for non-emergency calls, she would like to speak to us BEFORE we send out a handyman.  She said that she knew people that would have done the job for about $10!  Here is my view … this was an emergency as far as the tenants were concerned.  A chirping smoke detector would drive anyone crazy!  The batteries the owner had purchased a couple of months ago … at least one was bad, leading me to think that the others would have gone soon and an additional trip charge for changing a battery the next month would have been even more irritating to the owner.  You may think that the owner should have supplied replacement batteries in the property but think again … you absolutely do not want tenants, climbing up on a chair to change the batteries, older retirees, or young … it is a liability risk to the owner in the event of a fall.  The cost for four batteries was about $15, leaving the handyman fee at $25.  Try to find a reliable handyman for $25!  Local handymen typically run from $45 to $125 per trip.  And finally … REALLY!  The tenants paid over $3,000.  Owners need to remember that there is a “cost to doing business.”

My second example comes from a gorgeous property, completely remodeled and updated, hence a high-end rental rate.  The couple staying at this property are just lovely, and when asked how they were enjoying their one month stay, only had one negative to report … no toaster.  There was a toaster oven but as I’m sure most of you know, toaster ovens do not do a good job toasting a piece of bread.  They told us that their toast came out hard as bricks.  On our “minimum requirement” list, we note that properties need to supply a toaster or toaster oven.  Not any more.  I’ve changed that … toasters are a must!  So, we contacted the owner who promptly told us she was not going to buy a toaster and that the toaster oven was fine. This time of the year is not the height of rental season.  It is difficult to find tenants for the month of November and early December … they come few and far between.  Our season does not kick in until late December … so a tenant now is a very welcome bonus to an owner’s season and generates several thousands more to their annual gross.  But … alas for this property, even after loaning a toaster, from one of our employees much less, this owner has lost a repeat customer.  The tenants have already found and secured an alternate property for next year.  Now there is no guarantee that a $30 toaster would have secured these tenants for next season, but you can bet that over the long run, there will be other tenants with the same complaint.

I know this post sounds like I am venting … and I am, I guess.  Owners sometimes ask me how they can improve their rental income and my answer is always the same … give us a nice, well maintained property … then let US manage it.  Sometimes owners unknowingly, get in their own way and cost themselves money.  Spending $30 or even $100 to secure a repeat tenants that generates thousands of dollars would seem to be a no-brainer!

There are a few important facts that owners have to keep in mind.  #1) This is a “business” and owners must learn to separate their feelings from the property when rented.  Whether you manage it yourself or have a professional … tenant’s needs and wants should not make you angry.  Basic needs are not negotiable.  Expect to spend money … continually … as you do at your own home.  When a smoke detector chirps, toilet leaks, toaster is requested … this is part of the deal and if it makes you angry, you are in the wrong business … period!   #2)  This is important for those who have a management company: If an owner constantly challenges or blocks maintenance issues, repairs, minimum required supplies and is basically difficult to work with … common sense is that when prospective tenants inquire about rentals and a reservationist has multiple properties available … guess which property the reservationist is going to push?  The path of least resistance, always … the property where repairs will be made and supplies kept up, where owners won’t call yelling and upset about repairs and the properties where the tenants won’t call upset with the reservationist that recommended that property.  This is simple human nature.  I don’t know why all owners don’t see this.   #3) For professionally handled properties … we, management companies, don’t make our money by addressing maintenance, repairs and various issues.  In fact these events hurt our company and may damage our reputation, as well as the property itself due to bad reviews.  We do not make these things up!  We do not like coordinating work and repairs, taking pictures, sending employees to verify the damage or that there is a missing item … that is not our primary business.  We do not like sending owner’s bills.  We do not like having to explain how the tenant did not cause the sink to leak or the batteries to expire in their smoke detectors or why they would need a proper toaster.  So when issues arise, most companies just want to get them handled as quickly and inexpensively as possible so that it does not ultimately end up in a bad review.

So I’m letting off steam.  This is a post I have wanted to write for years but have avoided for fear of upsetting vacation property owners.  It is very upsetting when working hard for a property owner, to watch the owner shoot themselves in the foot with a bad call.  I would say about 50% of our property owners take any “constructive” comment from tenants personally and in a negative light.  I spend a lot of time walking eggshells, soothing hurt feelings and justifying repairs and the costs associated.  It is one of the worst aspects of my job.  I really hope my owners are reading this post!

Photo:  http://hubpages.com/family/Things-My-Mother-Said

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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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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner!

Are You Renter-Ready for the Holidays?

family-cooking-thanksgiving-dinnerIt’s a busy time of the year for Vacation Rentals of the Desert and with just ten days until Thanksgiving and about six weeks until Christmas … owners should be asking themselves if their vacation rental property is ready for holiday guests.  Today’s post contains tips, and what I call “Rules-of-Thumb,” that I share with all of my property owners.  Following these tips will assure that your property is well supplied and comfortable for your holiday guests and throughout the year.  No owner or management company wants to be pulled away from their Christmas Eve festivities when a tenant calls requesting a roaster for their holiday turkey.   A little thought and preparation may be all it takes to make everyone’s holiday care-free.  Who knows … your vacation home may become an annual tradition for a happy family.  Now wouldn’t that be perfect?!

Rules-of-Thumb!

Rule of Thumb #1:  Your kitchen should be equipped with ample cooking, baking and serving supplies to serve at least twice the number of people that your property will sleep.  In other words, if your property sleeps six … it should be equipped to serve twelve.  And when I say “ample supplies” I mean, turkey roaster, enough pots and pans to cook up to four vegetables, bake-ware for casseroles, muffins, cakes, pies, potato mashers or electric hand-beaters, etc.  You should have ladles, tongs, oven mitts and pot holders, cutting boards, good cooking knives and utensils.  And this also means setting a nice table with matching placemats, dishes, silverware, cutlery and glasses.  If your guests are entertaining they will want to set a beautiful table of which they can be proud.

Rule of Thumb #2:  Never “Pinch a dollar to save a penny”:  I see this all the time and I cannot stress this enough … if you balk at supplying the above for your holiday guests then maybe you are not suited for the vacation rental business.  If spending an additional $100 to $200 on beefing up your kitchen is out of the question for a $2,000 rental … please explain to me your thought process.  There are two facts that you should be looking at here:  1) Creating repeat tenants.  If your kitchen is ill supplied the tenants will not return … no matter how much you’ve discounted them!  2)  You want a good review.  I’ve mentioned in past posts just how powerful the review is.  If a prospective tenants reads a review from a past tenant saying that says the kitchen was disappointing and not well supplied … it will definitely cost you rentals.

Rule of Thumb #3:  Even if “this” tenant is not cooking or entertaining, a well equipped kitchen is never a deal-breaker … however a poorly equipped kitchen is definitely a deal-breaker!  Quick side story … a few years back, my husband and I rented one of our owner’s vacation homes while we were having work done at our property.  It was a two bedroom property that would sleep up to four people.  The kitchen was equipped with six sets of silverware, six sets of dishes, etc.  I had to wash dishes between each meal since I could not justify running the dishwasher with just a few dishes.  Since we stayed at the property a full four months, we purchased more kitchen supplies and left them as a gift to the owners.  Your typical tenant would not do this … they would have called the owner for more supplies and perhaps noted the deficiency in their review of the property. 

Rule of Thumb #4:  It is not necessary to provide holiday décor.  If you have tenants booked over Thanksgiving or Christmas, they will decorate as they see fit.  A live poinsettia or holiday candle left as a gift is appropriate if you are feeling the “holiday spirit,” but putting up a tree and holiday décor can be off-putting to a tenant even if you do know their religious persuasion.  I have seen this happen over and over and often tenants will comment that it was a nice gesture, but they would have preferred not having the various decorations … many people go way overboard on holidays … especially Christmas.

Tips!

I do a lot of shopping for our properties and spending other people’s money can sometimes be stressful.  I’m always looking for furnishings and supplies that are substantial and look expensive but do not break the wallet.  Below are a few of my favorite shopping tips.

Tip #1:   Everyone loves Corning Ware and it can save you lots of money and cabinet space.  Corning Ware is perfect for the table as a serving dish and can be used in the oven and microwave.  If you have white dinnerware (which I always recommend since they are easy to replace … even miss-matched white dishes and plates can work!), white Corning Ware is a perfect complement to any table setting.  I usually look for the boxed set with lids, available at Bed, Bath & Beyond … and of course use a 20% off coupon.

Tip #2:  You should have a large bowl for serving salad … not wood and not plastic.  Home Goods is my “go to” for white porcelain serving dishes, all of which can be purchased for less than $10 each.

Tip #3:  Make sure all your silverware is matching and of some quality.  I recommend a complete service for twelve including serving pieces.  Always turn the forks and spoons over to make sure the back is finished.  This week I purchased a complete 65-piece set with twelve place settings from Bed, Bath & Beyond for $99.99 and with a 20% off coupon the cost was $79.99.  You don’t need to spend a fortune … you just want it to look like you did.

Tip #4:  That sterling silver that you hate to polish is NOT a good option for your vacation rental property!   Believe me … your tenants do not want to polish it either.  Pack it up and put it in the attic!

Tip #5:  Matching placemats are a must!  I recommend the type that can be thrown in the washing machine and matches your décor and serving pieces … no plastic or woven straw type materials.

Vacation rentals are not as easy as one may think and tenant’s expectations are very high.  I’m faced with new challenges every day and tenant requests ranging from egg-cups to humidifiers, rolling pins to electric mops.  Some requests are justified, some funny and some just make me shake my head and say “what the heck?”  But remember … the customer is always right … even when they’re not!  As always … please feel free to contact me.  I’m happy more than happy to share insights, information and tips.

Photo:  http://www.hercampus.com/school/conn-coll/6-best-things-do-thanksgiving

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Things to Consider When Considering Pest Control

vlcsnap-2013-05-29-23h55m12s89Antmania!

So today I wanted to talk about pest service … extermination.  Often my weekly posts will reflect events of the prior week.  This week it’s all about ants.  We had about six properties with ant invasions since last Sunday’s post.   You wouldn’t think ants could cause such a commotion, but to our tenants, it was like … The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  The worst case … an emergency call at about 8 p.m. one night.  The tenants reported that their kitchen was literally crawling with ants and they either wanted us to move them to another property or to a hotel.  Since we didn’t have a property to move them to and the option of a hotel was not only costly but would further inconvenience the tenants, we sent our handyman over with a big can of Raid and the hope of solving the problem until the exterminators could be called the next morning.  Surprisingly, there are no 24-hour emergency extermination services!  Thank goodness, the tenants were troopers and settled in for the night without any further problems.  First thing the next morning, our exterminator went over and found a huge nest under a stone slab in the interior atrium and slayed the offending critters.  He later told us that he had never seen such a bad case of ant invasion inside a property!  So the final cost … besides the inconvenience to the tenants … the emergency handyman fee and a can of Raid, the exterminator, about $60 in lost pantry food, the cost of cleaners for a deep clean in the kitchen to remove dead bodies and insecticide, and the tab for two breakfasts at a near-by diner, where the tenants escaped during the cleaning.  I guess we’ll see how tolerant the tenants are when we receive their review.  In this case there was nothing that the owner could have done to prevent the invasion … nothing was overlooked, the property was spotlessly clean … it was just the time of the year … reseeding of the golf course.  Happens to us every year, but this year has been particularly bad and may also have something to do with our current drought.

So this is just a story to demonstrate how things can suddenly go wrong and quickly get out of hand.  The appearance of creepy crawling critters is very disturbing to vacationing guests, but bugs are a fact of life wherever you go.  How quickly they are addressed … now that is up to you and will definately be reflected in the tenant’s review.  I have found that a small pest control company is often more desirable than a large nation-wide company when it comes to fast service, and in the vacation rental business, everything needs to be dealt with fast.  The small, local pest control service we use is not only more accessible, but can fit in emergency service quickly.  For example, I have the owner of the company we use, Insect Eliminator’s, on speed-dial.  This past week, I called him immediately after sending our handyman out to deal with the ants.  I left a voice message hoping he could squeeze us into his morning schedule … which he did …  and by 8:30 the next morning he was knocking on the tenant’s door.   We have many clients who are signed up for monthly service through larger pest control services such as Western, and it typically takes a day or two before they send a tech to deal with an emergency.  I prefer mom-and-pop size services for just about everything.  I’ve found that they often provide a more personalized service, are more accessible and flexible and have more competitive rates … all of which are important when managing a vacation rental home.

This finally brings us to the topic of monthly pest control.  I often am asked by new vacation property owners whether they should sign up for monthly extermination.  My usual answer … maybe no … or at least not until you find that you have an ongoing pest issue.  Basically I have found that most tenants do not want to be bothered by an exterminator during their vacation and many are afraid of or are allergic to the chemicals in the pesticides.  If you decide to sign up for a monthly service you will want to make sure that the service tech calls you first to set up an appointment.  When your exterminator calls and your vacation home is occupied, then you understand how tricky this can be.  You will have to track down your tenant for approval and a time that is convenient for them.  Not everyone will be keen on the idea of a contractor, even if bonded, entering the property when they are out.  So with this in mind, you can see why I prefer an “as needed” scenario over monthly service.

Ahhh … the many joys of vacation rentals!  This week …  Antmania!

Picture: http://www.disneyfilmproject.com/2011/11/tea-for-two-hundred.html

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Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite!

 

Why you absolutely need pillow protectors!

 

article-new-thumbnail-ehow-images-a07-k4-v7-prevent-pillows-turning-yellow-800x800With all the bed bug stories on TV and in magazines you better believe your guests are inspecting  your beds with a magnifying glass.  Surprisingly it’s not bed bugs they are finding but something almost as disturbing … stained pillows and mattresses!  I’ve said this before … one open-mouth sleeper and the pillow is ruined.  Might as well throw it away.  Short of replacing pillows between each guest … and there are those who do … it is best to purchase quality pillow protectors.  Guess what a spilled cup of coffee looks like on a mattress?  A mattress is an expensive furnishing to replace so protect, protect, protect.

My company, Vacation Rentals of the Desert, requires pillow protectors on all sleeping pillows, including the extra pillows you store in the closet, AND mattress covers, including sofa-beds.

The protectors are relativity inexpensive and can be washed between guests.  I usually pick up quality pillow protectors and mattress covers from Bed, Bath & Beyond.  They should be water resistant but NOT plastic.  The plastic covers will definitely protect your pillows and mattress but will most likely be removed by your guests.  They are very uncomfortable, hot and make all kinds of sounds when moving around in your sleep. If you’ve ever spent a night in the hospital you will understand.  If they are removed, their purpose is defeated.  I would also avoid the low end protectors.  You will be basically paying “lip service” to the idea of a protector.   This would be equivalent to using two pillow cases and provides very little protection against moisture, oils and sweat.  My opinion … you’re wasting your money … and be prepared for phone calls from your guests!

I found the following information on http://www.ehow.com  

article-new-thumbnail-ds-photo-getty-article-81-9-78634363_XSHow to Prevent Pillows From Turning Yellow

Pulling off your pillowcase only to find a yellow-stained pillow underneath can be a bit disheartening. After all, your pillow is where you rest your head for the night. Pillows turn yellow from body oils, sweat and saliva that seep into the pillow while you sleep. Since you can’t really control these natural bodily functions, take other preventative measures that will keep your pillows from turning yellow.

 

  • 1  Keep a pillowcase on your pillows. Wash the pillowcases once a week along with your sheets.
  • 2  Put a zippered pillow cover on your pillows over the pillowcases. Not only will these covers help protect the pillows from yellowing, they will also help to keep dust mites out. Remove and wash the pillow covers once a month. Take note that pillow covers are different from pillow cases. They are made of materials that don’t allow body oils and other fluids to seep into the pillow itself.
  • 3  Wash your pillows three to four times a year. Check the label on the pillow to see if it’s machine washable or needs to be hand washed. Make sure the pillow is completely dry before putting pillow cases back on.

Read more: http://www.ehow.com/how_8000487_prevent-pillows-turning-yellow.html#ixzz2vVIOC4Bc

If stained pillows are your biggest concern you are lucky … your guests could be finding bed bugs! 

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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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