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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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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A Kitchen Your Guests will Love

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Well I’ve almost completed my summer project … sprucing up a tired vacation rental property. Trying to fit this, so far, three week project into my busy work schedule has become a true labor of love but the condo is looking spectacular and I firmly believe that it has not only been time well spent, but also that the owner’s costs will be more than covered with added bookings. My staff has a new and improved level of confidence in recommending the property to prospective tenants and they love the updates … which in turn creates an excitement about the property and generates more rentals. A win – win situation for everyone!

Today we’ll talk about kitchen supplies. If food is the key to a man’s heart … a well-supplied kitchen is the key to a cook’s heart. A well supplied kitchen is crucial for renters that book for extended stays and large family gatherings. You should inventory your kitchen often and with a critical eye.

The last thing you want is for your tenant to open a kitchen cabinet and find chipped or miss-matched dinnerware. Same for silverware, glasses and cookware. Everyone has that favorite plastic spatula or cooking spoon, discolored from the dishwasher or burned from cooking. That’s OK when it’s “your” utensil … you know that it’s clean … just well-used. Or that beloved novelty coffee mug that you picked up on vacation … stained with coffee, but your go-to when visiting your vacation home. These items are fine at your own home but to a guest … absolutely gross! You must approach your kitchen with a guest’s eye … if the item is questionable in your mind … toss it. And I mean toss it! Don’t make the mistake of leaving it there “just in case” the guest doesn’t mind … believe me someone will and it will only lead them towards questioning …everything. The other thing it will do is take up space and add useless clutter. If you buy new dishes or glasses, toss the old ones. If you don’t, pretty soon you will have a hodge-podge of kitchen supplies and incomplete, miss-matched kitchen furnishings that will eventually cost you in bad reviews.

Below are this week’s before and after pictures. These updates cost the owner $220; purchased from HomeGoods and Target was a complete eight place setting of dinnerware (dinner plates, salad plates, bowls and coffee mugs), twelve place setting of Oneida silverware plus service pieces and steak knives, twelve drinking, highball and juice glasses, all new utensils, measuring spoons and cups. The difference it made to the kitchen … HUGE. I tossed all the old glasses and novelty coffee mugs and all the old utensils. The owner had a set of unbreakable Corelle dinnerware which is perfect for every day use but paper thin and not suitable for entertaining.  I kept the Corelle dinnerware and added the white porcelain place setting for eight … for a whopping $40!!   The utensils were badly worn, and even though there were at least three dozen glasses … no four matched … so I tossed them all. I also tossed out three old coffee carafes that did not match the existing coffee maker, at least two dozen rusted miss-matched steak knives, six stained storage containers and three aluminum pie tins saved from frozen pies. Many owners and guests just hate to throw things away, but in a vacation rental you have to clean out and replace kitchen supplies on a regular basis.

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BEFORE … Miss-matched dishes and mugs.

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BEFORE … Corelle dinnerware and misc. tea cups.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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AFTER … All white, matching and organized serving ware.

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AFTER … We kept the Corelle dinnerware for casual use and added white porcelain dinnerware for entertaining.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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BEFORE … Miss-matched glasses.

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BEFORE … Misc. glasses, novelty mugs and serving ware.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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AFTER … Matching glasses in sets of twelve.

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AFTER … Matching coffee mugs, tea cups and dessert dishes neatly organized.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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BEFORE … Three different sets of silverware, none complete. Miss-matched steak knives and worn novelty knives.

 

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BEFORE … Worn and dated utensils. I tossed everything except the scissors, salad forks and peelers.

 

 

 

 

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AFTER … New silverware and steak knives. I tossed the old and worn knives. This is how a well organized silverware drawer should look.

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AFTER … New, quality utensils. I recommend stainless which will last longer, but some plastic is needed for non-stick cookware.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Should You Go With a Pro?

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The following is a post I am sharing from the Vacation Rental Managers Association’s Blog dated April 23, 2015 by Trisha Howarth. There are many reasons to consider professional management of your vacation home. Trisha has just about summed it up … but there are additional benefits and you will find a few below her post in the comments section. The final comment I submitted yesterday. As a vacation rental owner, there are many points mentioned below that you will want to consider when making your decision on professional or self-management.

Why Should Homeowners Go With a Pro?

Thinking about renting your own vacation home? Here are some things to consider.

It may be tempting to place your home on a “for rent by owner” website and attempt to handle the rental of your home without using a professional agency. While saving on agency fees may be tempting, are the savings really money in the bank?

Time is money. The value of having an agency handle rental for you allows you to focus on the enjoyment of your second home versus the rental and maintenance aspect associated with home ownership. Filtering inquiries, booking reservations, greeting guests, servicing the guests while they are in your home, maintenance calls, trust accounting, tax submissions, and marketing all take a large amount of time. How does the return on the time it takes to do all these items compare with your regular earning potential during these hours or to the value of time spent doing things you love?

Security of your investment is key. On-site personnel is essential for assuring that your home is in good order and guests have left the home as they found it. What if something does happen during a guest’ stay? Handling collections and legal issues surrounding damage or an event can be difficult especially if the issue isn’t caught in a timely manner. How will you know if your home is secure and maintained without hiring some to check it for you?

Attention to you and your guests are the focal points of a professional agency. Vacation rental management companies are in business to bring agency, homeowner and guest together in business transactions that benefit all parties. It is what they do. Agencies hire full-time employees and provide them with professional and legal training as well as stay knowledge about industry trends. Agencies also have systems in place to take care of owners and rental guests. Some agencies also may have an attorney on staff to assist in daily decisions regarding rental receipts and advise on issues that arise.

Exposure through marketing brings awareness and results in bookings. When you list your home with a website provider you become limited to one stream of exposure. A professional agency may list your home on the very website you are considering and pay the associated fees; however, an agency invests money in many forms of advertising including web, print, direct mail and public relations.

Satisfaction comes in many forms. In the short-term the savings may seem worth it; however, peace of mind is worth something. “For rent by owner” sites taut booking results, but what about your personal experiences with rental guests and the overall experiences of the guests themselves? Taking the worry out of maintaining a home you visit several times a year, the challenges of customer service and all the various components of renting a home is what a professional agency does.

Before listing your home on a “for rent by owner” site, research rental agency firms and weigh your options. Vacation rental management companies with proven track records can offer a way for homeowners to enjoy their second home instead of manage it.

 

Comments

By: William LeMasters

On: 04/28/2015 12:31:37

Additional benefits of professional management comes with stronger vendor relationships that a management company develops which results in faster response times and better pricing on repairs and supplies.
Additionally a management company works with larger data blocks and can be more effective setting and adjusting pricing to maximize revenue.

By: Erin Mitchell

On: 04/28/2015 13:34:58

William brings up a very good point. Strong vendor relationships is huge and can ultimately make or break a guest’s experience if something does go wrong. We have had last minute issues with pools, appliances, AC- you name it and our strong relationship with certain vendors helps us solve these issues much quicker. In Hawaii, this difference is especially exaggerated as there is a very small vendor pool to call as it is and repair parts are often not in stock.

To add to the point about “Time” – No matter what, someone always has a question in the group (where’s the extra TP, can you recommend a cab, what time is sunset, do the trees block the view, etc.) and having a professional manage your property means you have some available to answer the many questions a guest has and at all hours.

By: Vickie Murguia

On: 05/23/2015

Another advantage would be in handling city ordinance regulations and the oversight of short term vacation rentals. It is difficult for an owner to manage their property from a distance when city ordinances have strict monitoring regulations. Many cities require a responsible party be available twenty-four hours a day and within an hour’s drive if a code enforcement violation is received. It is also beneficial to have an advocate of vacation rentals present at HOA and City Council meetings to represent absentee owners and their rights. Attending these meetings, I have noticed that some of the most vocal complaints from residents opposed to short term vacation rentals, site absentee owners who manage their properties from a distance and feel that there is no oversight of the tenants reflecting a lack of concern for their surrounding neighbors. Vacation Rentals of the Desert makes it a practice to pass out our business cards to neighbors of the vacation home and encourage owners to do the same. I have found that when neighbors feel that their concerns matter and have a local professional company that can be contacted directly, it has often circumvented complaint calls to city officials, and saved the owner costly fines. It will also generate a better relationship between the vacation rental owner and their neighbors.

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Spot Cleaning Carpets

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This week I want to talk about carpets again.

One of our rental guests called to report that she had tracked mud into the master bedroom.  Having found a bottle of carpet spot remover hidden in the back of a utility closet, she attempted to clean the carpet herself. The carpet turned blue. Yikes!

If you are a guest in a vacation rental home … please don’t use spot cleaners. If you own a vacation rental home … please don’t leave spot cleaners for your guests. There are so many variables when it comes to spot cleaning a carpet. The kind of stain, how long the spot remover has been sitting in the cabinet, the type of carpet, manufacturers recommendations and most important of all … making sure you do not leave any residue. Removing the residue is very difficult and if not fully removed, the residue will act like sticky glue, grabbing everything on the bottom of shoes and will most likely become a permanent stain. In many cases the carpet will look beautiful after professional carpet cleaning, but the spots will quickly return once people start walking on it again.  So the bottom line … saving a little money by spot cleaning may cost you the price of a carpet replacement!

Below are a few visual examples.  The carpet photos with the blue spots is the results of the spot remover our guest (mentioned above), used to remove the muddy footprints. We had our carpet cleaners immediately go out and do a thorough cleaning. Hopefully these spots will not come back.

The second set of photos is of a vacation rental property where the owners spot cleaned the carpet themselves. The carpet is pristine after professional carpet cleaning, however within days the spots return and they are appalling. This carpet will be replaced after this rental season. In the meantime we have laid down area rugs to hide the unsightly carpet.  Pretty nasty … huh?

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Inventory, Update, Replace

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Joss & Main

 

Today I would like to continue last week’s post, “Dress Up for Success.”   Since all of the properties that my company, Vacation Rentals of the Desert, represents are second or vacation homes, not investment only properties, I have run into one particular problem again and again.  To quote a paragraph from last week’s post; “… over the years, supplies such as linens, towels and kitchenware, purchased piecemeal, have become a hopeless, disorganized hodge-podge of misfits.”

Very often if a guest calls to report that something is broken or damaged … for example a toaster that burns the toast instead of popping up or a stained sheet, the vacation management company will deliver the newly purchased replacement and not retrieve the damaged item.  So unfortunately these damaged items usually end up back in the kitchen cabinet or linen closet for the next guest to find.  Over a period of time you have cabinets and cupboards full of damaged, unsightly and miss-matched items.

The property I dressed up last week had eight fitted king sheets and six flat sheets.  Most miss-matched, some worn, some torn and some just plain old outdated and ugly.  A couple of sets were acceptable … and these were the ones that were currently being used.  After purchasing two sets of sheets per bed, I tossed all the rest.  Similar in the kitchen … two partial sets of silverware, three sets of glass with no more than four of any set that matched.

Because our property owners visit their properties on and off throughout the year, I have always left the inventory and replacement of supplies primarily in the owner’s hands, except where needed during occupancy.  It has now become apparent that I will have to offer our assistance.    A full inventory of your vacation home supplies is necessary each and every year.  To do a thorough check takes hours and can be daunting … especially here in the desert where the interior temperature of a closed up property during our off season can run 100 degrees.

This is what an inventory consists of:  Remove all pots and pans and examine inside and out.  Replace any with burns or scratched Teflon … ask yourself, “if this was not my pot, would I use it.”  If not … replace.  Count silverware and make sure you have complete matched settings of at least eight.  If you have a larger property then you will have more place settings to consider.  Regardless of the size of your property, less than eight place settings and your guests will have to run half loads in the dishwasher and probably after every meal.  Remember … your guests are on vacation.  Dishes should be counted and there should be no chips, crazing, cracks, knife marks and all should match.  Seven dinner plates, eight bowls and six salad plates … not good.  Visit HomeGoods and spend $40 on new dishes … then take the old ones to Good Will.  Don’t leave them in the cabinet or you’ll end up with a hodge-podge mess.  The same goes for utensils, serving ware, glasses and coffee mugs.  You should not leave coffee stained mugs in the cabinet … and logo or novelty mugs are just tacky and appear to be “cheap” … unless, of course, they’re from Starbucks!  Weed out the aluminum pie tins that people save and the plastic butter tubs, etc.  It’s OK for your own home … not for a vacation property.  Wood utensils are gross in a vacation rental and your tenants will probably not use them … would you? And please, please, please do not make your purchases at the 99 Cent Store!  As tempting as it may be, you’ll lose repeat guests … people recognize quality.

Towels, sheets, bedspreads, blankets, pillows, mattress pads … all should be perfect.  No stains.  Toss the old ones … there is no need to keep them even for rags.  Rags after washed, always seem to end up back in the linen closet.  The next guest will reach in for a clean towel and … surprise … minutes later you or your vacation rental manager are on the losing side of a phone call from an unhappy guest.

Beds need to be stripped to check out mattress covers and flip the mattress to check for stains and damage.  Hangers should be resupplied, batteries replaced in flashlights, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and TV, electronics and ceiling fan remotes, fire extinguishers checked, brooms and mop-heads replaced, toilet brushes replaced.  Everything, everything, everything check, check, check and double check.

If you have an inventory list or minimum requirement list from your vacation management company, it will make this job much easier.  Some companies require all bedding, linens, towels … replaced every year!  I don’t think that is necessary, but looking at these items with a critical eye … or the eyes of your paying guests, is absolutely necessary every year.

Some people hate to throw things away; it’s wasteful.  I get it.  If you feel this way … take the old items home and use them yourself or donate them to Good Will.  Some people are frugal … but I cannot stress this enough … You! Have! Competition!  Your neighbors would be happy to take care of your guests in the future.  The vacation rental industry has become very, very competitive.  There are plenty of property owners out there that “get it” and will provide newer, shinier homes with more amenities for less $$.  It’s a business.  People are not going to pay Saks Fifth Avenue prices at K-Mart.  Gone are the days when people were just happy to get away on vacation.  Vacation rental guests have high expectations and are not afraid to voice them … loudly.  When you look at your rental income, you also have to look at “the cost of doing business” and if you have to spend a few hundred to make several thousand … that is part of the deal.  Once you put the rental money in your pocket that is not where “the buck stops,” that’s just were it begins.

Here’s a question for you … what if you were required to provide a complete inventory list to each of your vacation rental guests and the guests in return were asked to look over the list upon their arrival and report any missing or damage items.  How would your property fair?

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It Is Very Expensive to Be Cheap!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Some Place Like Home

Furnishing Tips … What You Don’t Know May Cost You!

What do guests look for in a vacation home?  Simply put … Some Place Like Home … the comforts, amenities, functionality and beauty of their own home …  just in a different location.

Over the years I have worked with many home owners new to the vacation rental industry.  To some, decorating and supplying a home can seem pretty daunting … others find it fun and exciting.  My advice … if you have professional experience or a natural flair for decorating … as exciting as a new decorating project may be … you will want to give some thought to the purchases you make for your vacation rental home.  I have found that sometimes beauty can be impractical and cutting corners to save money can be costly.  Below I’ve address some of the unexpected issues that occur time and time again.  Even if they do not pertain to your vacation home, you should apply this line of reasoning to All of your purchases.  Believe me … it will save you time and money in the long run!

4897036275023lgLighting:  Your home should be well lit.  If you have overhead can lights … it is not enough.  You will want to have good lamps in the living room and bedrooms.  Your guests will be “living” in the home.  Think of a couple in the living room … one watching TV, one reading.  Are the overhead lights sufficient for reading?  Probably not.   Too much light for watching TV?  Probably.  In the bedroom … decorator lamps with dark shades are gorgeous but not practical for reading.  You may want to consider purchasing one or two standing lamps with three directional lights.  These lamps may not go with your décor but can be stored in a closet and are easy for guests to move about the property as needed.  This is an easy and inexpensive solution to any lighting problem … about $30 at Lowe’s or Home Depot.

Towels:  Colored towels to match your décor are beautiful but may be impractical.  My personal preference is all white, ivory or tan towels … or a mixture of these colors.  Decorator colors, such as blue and brown, may look wonderful … but that will only last until they are washed together.  You will soon find that you have blue fuzz on the brown and vise-versa.  Monotone towels throughout the property will generally last much longer than multi-colors.  This also applies to pool or beach towels.  I recently purchased six beautiful blue and white stripped pool towels for one of our properties.  I immediately washed the towels to make sure they were color safe … unfortunately they were not.  I returned the towels and exchanged them for a tan and white print.

Sheets:  If you have beds of varying sizes you may want to consider color-coordinating to a specific bed size.  I recently purchased all new bedding for a three bedroom property.  The beds were a king, queen and two twins.  We require two matching sets of sheets per bed so I purchased white sheets for the king, ivory for the queen and tan for the two twins.  After washing all the sheets (always wash new sheets before using), the beds were made and the second set of sheets were stored in the linen closet.  I typed up an index card and posted it inside the linen closet door noting, king sheets/white, queen sheets/ivory, twin sheets/tan.  We have found that the linen closet stays neat and organized because guests know exactly which sheets to use when changing bed linen and I am certain the tenants and cleaners find it helpful when changing sheets.

Throw Rugs & Bathroom Rugs:  Always choose non-skid rubber backed rugs.  Think about the potential slipping hazard … stepping out of the shower to a cotton rug is not a good idea.  You also may also want to think hard about the kind of rug you put down to hide that permanent carpet stain.  You will want to be sure the rug grips the carpet and is low profile so it will not cause a tripping hazard.

Dinnerware:  I always recommend white dishes.  You will constantly be replacing chipped and broken dinnerware.  If you start with all white dinnerware and serving pieces you can easily purchase replacements piece by piece.  Even if the plate is a slightly different shape this could also work … set an interesting table with all white dishes … two square and two round.  Fun, economical and easily purchased at Bed, Bath & Beyond, The Alley or World Market.  NOTE:  Unbreakable dishes may be used as back up or everyday dishes but are not recommended as the primary dinnerware.  Even though it may save you money in replacements, it may lose you repeat tenants.  It is viewed as cheap furnishings, cheap owners and to your vacationing guests, translates to an owner that does not care about their guests.  You can save money by purchasing inexpensive “porcelain” dishes …   I talked about my “go to” for dinnerware in a previous blog post.  I typically purchase boxed sets of all white four place settings at Home Goods for $20 each.  At this price it is possible to purchase extras sets to put away for future replacements.

Flat Screen TV:  Time and time again I have seen dated TVs become deal breakers.  These days flat screen TVs are very affordable and if it means generating just one more rental … you can do the math!  There is almost no reason not to upgrade to a flat screen TV … and don’t cut corners or size either.  If you have a wall unit … is it time to update with a new TV stand?  If you decide to stick with the wall unit and a 29 inch flat screen will fit perfectly into the existing space for the TV … don’t even bother.  A 29 inch TV is not sufficient unless your property is a studio … and maybe not even then.  Most manufacturers and designers will recommend at least a 32 inch TV in a standard size bedroom … living room would require a size suitable for the room and distance from the seating area.  I have purchased 32 inch flat screen TVs for less than $200 on sale.  TV’s are a very, very important detail … and bigger is better … you can take that to the bank!

BBQ:  I always recommend a natural gas BBQ whenever possible.   When shopping for a BBQ you will probably notice that the propane models are less expensive than the models set up for natural gas.  You may not realize that many of the propane models can be converted for as little as $60.  If your property is already plumbed with a natural gas hook-up you will definitely save money by installing a natural gas BBQ.  Even if you have spare propane tanks in the garage and tenants swap out the tanks, rarely will they refill or notify you that the propane tank is empty.   A refill or replacement tank will have to be purchased and this costs time and money.  If your guests do not know how to switch out the tank or a spare is not available then a handyman has to be called.  When the guest calls for a refill it is typically in the midst of cooking their meal, after office hours … and they will most likely be extremely unhappy that their dinner has been delayed or ruined and it will take time for someone to address the replacement.  One of the properties we represent which had propane BBQ, over the course of one rental season, had three propane replacements … after business hours.  The cost of the handyman services surpassed the original cost of the propane BBQ.  Recently the owner purchased the kit and converted to natural gas.

Wi-Fi:  Unless your property is a wilderness retreat with no TV’s, phones or computers … you will definitely lose bookings if you do not offer wireless internet.  Guests with multiple laptop computers, IPad and book readers such as Nook and Kindle all require wireless access.  This service is an absolute “must have” for 99% of your potential guests.  There is no way to get around this amenity.  If you have TV cable or phone service it is probable that wireless service is available for your property.

Land Phone Lines:  Depending on your guest demographic you may or may not need a telephone line in your property.  My company, Vacation Rentals of the Desert, has a very high percentage of Canadian guests staying for extended periods of time.  A land line with free U.S. and Canada calling is standard in vacation rental properties in our area.  If your property draws out of country visitors you may want to consider adding a home phone service.  Out of country cell phone roaming fees are extremely high.  Locally, Time Warner Cable offers a local, U.S. and Canada calling package for just $29.95 per month.  This is a wonderful amenity for your guests and could result in more bookings.  In addition your property will have 911 capabilities.

Pillow Protectors & Mattress Covers:  Bed Bugs … these days they’re all over the news.  Your guests will be checking the beds and what they are more apt to discover are stained pillows. If your pillows are not replaced between each of your guests than you will want to make sure you have protectors to extend the life of your pillows.  I hate to be graphic, but the simple truth is that one open-mouth sleeper can destroy a pillow in one night.  A good quality, stain and bacteria resistant pillow protector … NOT PLASTIC … will help to preserve and keep your pillows in beautiful condition.  A good quality mattress cover will do the same.

Less is More:  Let’s talk about clutter.  Too many personal items or decorator pieces can be a turn off for your vacationing guests and a nightmare for cleaners.  It is usually best to keep the décor simple with plenty of room for guest to put their belongings.  Too many family photos, owner’s clothing pushed to the back of the closet, personal toiletries in the bathroom … all lend to the sense of encroaching on someone’s personal space and may have an unwelcome feeling.  I always suggest an “owner’s closet” for personal belongings such as cabinets in the garage or a utility/coat closet where a lock can be installed.

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Kitchen Rehab

Vacation Rentals of the Desert recently added a partially updated two bedroom condo to our vacation rental inventory.  This “potential beauty” was in need of a little extra TLC to attract the desired monthly guests.  The problem areas were primarily in the kitchen.   New supplies, organization and cleaning were desperately needed.  After receiving authorization from the property owner, cleaners were immediately assigned, rolled up their sleeves and dove into the kitchen.  I headed out with the company credit card to shop … one of the perks of my position.

When shopping for kitchen supplies here are a few tips … Base your choices on the level of your property.  If your vacation home is advertised as a high-end luxury property then you should choose high-end supplies that will meet your guest’s expectations.   Whatever the property level, kitchen supplies should always be in beautiful condition and of some quality.  No matter what the level of your property The 99 Cent Store should never be a shopping source!

Never cut corners on … cutlery, utensils, serving ware or cookwareIf your shelf liner is old or damaged … replace it.  If plastic bowls and containers have stains … replace them.  If cutting boards have stains … replace them.  Look at your kitchen items as a guest would … if questionable … replace it.  Nothing will gross out a guest quicker than old or damaged kitchen supplies!  When in doubt … replace!  A small price to pay to prevent bad reviews and ugly phone calls.

Rule of Thumb … Your guests should be able to cook, serve and set a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner table for guests.    This would include roasting pan, bake ware, mixing bowls, mixer, matching dinner and serving wear, platters …. Accomplish this and you will have a well-supplied kitchen.

My “Go Tos” for Kitchen Rehab

Bed, Bath & Beyond For pots and pans I always shop at Bed, Bath & Beyond.  Complete boxed sets in the price range of $100 to $250 should be sufficient.   Bear in mind that you may have to replace annually so pricey sets may not be cost efficient unless you are supplying a “chef” quality kitchen.  Tip: I have had great success with the following set … Great “bang for your buck”.   http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/store/product/Cuisinart-reg-Chef-39-s-Classic-trade-Stainless-Steel-11-Piece-Cookware-Set-and-Open-Stock/133189?categoryId=12063  On pricier items I always use a 20% off coupons for significant savings.  (The 20% in-store coupons do not expire.  These coupons are “gold” … never throw them away.)  I also recommend Bed, Bath & Beyond when purchasing kitchen knives.  A $100 to $150 knife block that includes steak knives is ideal for any well stocked kitchen.  I also find that a complete set of Corningware is a perfect addition to a well-supplied kitchen.  Classic white Corningware can be used as serving dishes suitable for the table as well as baking, microwave cooking and storage.

Home Goods … For table settings I use Home Goods.  Home Goods is the “home store” of the Marshalls and TJ Max family.  (Please see http://www.homegoods.com/ for store locations)  A basic white place setting of four costs $20 … I purchase at least two sets for a 2 bedroom property.  Note:  Purchase one or two additional sets for future replacement pieces.   Home Goods is also my “go to” for silverware (choose a substantial weight with pattern on both sides), utensils (stainless is best and will last … avoid plastic and wood), drinking and wine glasses (matching or complimentary),  serving dishes such as salad bowl, platter, etc., plastic serving ware for patio dining and placemats.

Target & Walmart … For small appliances such as coffee makers and toasters as well as kitchen linens, storage containers, trash cans, sink rugs and shelf liners I usually shop Target or Walmart.

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