A Great Way to Add an Extra Bed

 

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Have you seen these CordaRoy’s sleepers yet?  May be a good idea for a little extra room in your rental property.  Heck … I’m thinking of purchasing one for my home!  Has anyone out there tried these out yet?  I’d love to hear your opinion … or email me at vickie@vacationrentalsofthedesert.com

 

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Vacation Homes In High Demand

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The owners of this property share their vacation home with paying guests when not using it themselves. It has been a win – win scenareo for over ten years and the rental income helped to offset a total remodel of the property in 2014..

Today I’m sharing an artical that recently appeared in The Journal Gazette with some interesting facts and statistics.  I often receive calls from prospective owner-clients, asking for insights into our local vacation rental market; some prior to buying a property and some who are thinking of renting out the property they already own.  It is absolutely amazing how rapidly the vacation rental market has exploded over the past few years … and is still growing … both as a personal and a financial investment, as Michele Lerner explains below.

Vacation Homes In High Demand

MICHELE LERNER | Washington Post

October 18, 2015 1:01 AM 

If you’re thinking about buying a vacation home, you aren’t alone.

Vacation home sales across the country are soaring, mainly for two reasons: Declining prices mean deals can be had, and empty nesters are flooding into the market.

Baby boomers looking ahead to their days of leisure are snapping up vacation homes at a faster pace than ever, particularly in beach resorts in the South and the West.

Vacation home sales rose 57.4 percent in 2014 compared with 2013 and reached a record high, according to the National Association of Realtors.

In fact, vacation homes now represent 21 percent of all home sales, the highest share since NAR began tracking the market in 2003. An estimated 1.13 million vacation homes were bought last year, up from 717,000 in 2013.

“There are several factors driving vacation home sales, but one of the main ones is pure demographics, with baby boomers nearing retirement age or already retired who plan to downsize,” says Jessica Lautz, director of surveys and communications for NAR in Washington, D.C.

“One in five of vacation home buyers say they plan to live in the home full time in the future.”

Baby boomers aren’t the only ones getting into the game. Some younger families with investment income or home equity from appreciating home values are opting to buy vacation homes to serve as a place to generate memories with their families, invest for the future and generate income from short-term rentals to offset their own vacation costs.

One-third of vacation home buyers plan to use their property as a family retreat, and 13 percent bought for future price appreciation, according to NAR’s research.

“The rise in the stock market last year contributed to the spike in vacation home sales,” Lautz says. “Thirty percent of all vacation home sales were all-cash purchases, and even among those who financed their homes, 48 percent made a down payment of 30 percent or more.”

Lautz says these cash sales were a little easier to make because of the lower median cost of vacation homes, which fell 11.1?percent from $168,700 in 2013 to $150,000 in 2014 in spite of increased demand. She says 45 percent of vacation homes bought in 2014 were distressed sales, meaning they were a foreclosure or short sale.

“People are also buying relatively small homes, with a median size of 1,500 square feet,” Lautz says. “Some choose to buy condos and townhouses, which are 46 percent of the market, compared to 54 percent of single-family homes.”

Buyers of vacation homes traditionally prefer to buy a place close to their primary residence so they can get there on weekends with ease. But according to research by HomeAway, a vacation rental website, that pattern is changing.

The average vacation home bought in 2013 was 322 miles from a primary residence, compared with 49?miles away in 2003.

Beach resort properties are the most popular, attracting 40 percent of buyers, compared with 19 percent in the country and 17 percent in the mountains, according to NAR’s survey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Vacation Rental Owners and Tenants Relate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                The customer is number one

                Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

                Treat everyone with respect

                Treat properties as if they were our own home

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

                It’s not always about the bottom line

                Honesty in all cases

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

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

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

Photo:  https://sundancevacationsblog.com

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Vacation Rentals and the Sharing Economy

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo:  http://whitehousecleaning4u.com/

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What Makes A Perfect Vacation Rental?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breathtaking Mountain Views Overlooking a Sparkling Lake and Double fairway!

 

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

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

 
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Any Rental Will Do

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On-line bookings comes with certain risks. Be smart, ask questions before booking rentals into your vacation home.

 

The vacation rental industry has certainly changed … especially in the past few years.  I’m sure this is true everywhere but here in the desert it went from then, to now … almost overnight.

Back in the 80s I managed the vacation rental side of a small, successful real estate company that specialized in two country clubs; one in Rancho Mirage, the other in Palm Desert.  Back then, vacation rental properties were scarce and not well known.   Prospective tenants paid a deposit and were put on a list based on three choices; the preferred country club, a two or three bedroom condo and an A, B or C (C being “luxury”), price point.  The booking process went like this … during the summer we would gather the reservation requests.  A seasonal calendar was mailed to the property owners with a request for them to mark any “owner use” dates and return the calendar by the end of September.  Once we received the marked calendars and the dates recorded, we (usually I), would go into a private conference room, and for several days, work reservations into the properties one by one … like fitting pieces into a puzzle.  The goal was to fit in as many requests as possible, based on the tenants three choices, with a minimum of unoccupied time between reservations.  The property calendars we used looked much like accounting ledgers and were computer printed on dot-matrix sheets that were as much as ten feet in length in order to accommodate all the months of our rental season.   When working with sixty to seventy properties and about two hundred requests of varying requirements, you can just imagine what a long process this was.

Also remember that back in the 80s, computers were not in most homes.  We used a computerized reservation system, but the entire booking process was done over the phone and through the mail.  There were no websites to look at pictures and if a client wanted to see photos of a property, we had to mail them actual 3X5 photos and request that they return the pictures.  It was not until the early 2000s that websites and property listings started to appear, after personal home computers became common.

So … this long description of what vacation rentals were like leads me to the simple point of today’s post:  once upon a time, tenants were simply happy find any available property!  Vacation rentals were just not plentiful.

This is no longer true.  Since the late 90s the industry has grown and after 2008 it has doubled, then quadrupled, and then again and again.  What used to be an “owner’s market” is now definitely swung in the opposite direction.  In my view, there are three major contributors that have driven the growth and changes in the vacation rental industry over the past fifteen to twenty years … turning the industry into a “renters” market.

  • The computer
  • An abundance of vacation rental properties
  • The owner managed vacation rental

The computer has taken vacation rentals global.  Once, vacation rental companies had to identify their potential “key” markets and pay for newspaper advertising … at best this was a costly, hit or miss proposition in light their potential world-wide cliental.  Now, companies vie for position in search engines and among ever growing competition.   There are a great number of start-up companies that promise more rental income and lower management rates but at the trade-off of poor property and occupant oversight and property damage.  Most of these start-up “tech” companies are located far from the area, promote on-line booking and rely on cleaning services as their eyes and ears.   As owner of Vacation Rentals of the Desert, a traditional vacation rental management company, it is hard for me to watch these companies gain ground, but as they grow, so does my business.   It doesn’t take home owners long to discover the importance of local, responsible oversight and management and personal tenant screening.  We hear a lot of horror stories.

Side Story:  Just yesterday we received a call from a prospective tenant inquiring about a private home with a pool.  He wanted to pay $500 for just one night so he and his friends could throw a 21st birthday party.  Would a directly an on-line booking have caught this one?  It’s doubtful.  I have personally seen the results of these kinds of parties … heck, years ago, I went to these kinds of parties.  $500 might not even touch the clean-up and repairs, much less the fines for over-occupancy without an “event permit.”  Did you know that many cities require a permit for parties at vacation rental properties and that significant fines can be levied and/or the loss of rental privileges can come as the result of not having the correct permits?  Check your local city ordinance.

As recently as five-ten years ago, when talking to property owners interested in listing their “dated” vacation home, I would explain that there was a price point for all tenants.  If the property was nice, neat, clean and provided all basic amenities, it would appeal to those with a limited budget.  This is no longer true, which I will explain further below under owner managed vacation rentals.   If a property is dated, it will most likely be passed up unless it is the very last possibility … in which case the tenant will complain during their entire stay.

The abundance of vacation rental properties has come as the result of several factors but most significantly from the recession starting in 2008.  In our area, as in many “desirable” locations throughout the United States, there are many second homes that were used only by the owners and their immediate family.  In the midst of the recession, many owners struggled to keep their second home and since the bottom had dropped completely out of sales, vacation rentals became a logical solution and a means to off-set some of their carrying costs.  Here in the desert, the number of vacation rental homes grew rapidly.  Fortunately many of our tenants were Canadian which did not get hit as heavily by the recession.  So the “rental” side, despite our economy, still brought in a brisk business.  With property values at rock-bottom and the Canadian dollar high, it was not long before our northern neighbors started buying homes and using the vacation rental income to off-set some a good chunk of the expenses supporting an out-of-country property.    I cannot tell you how many tenants we lost when they bought their own vacation home … but our inventory grew as these very same tenants listed their newly purchased homes on our rental program.  There were also “investors” who came in, flipped run-down properties and listed them as vacation rentals.   In addition, industrious couples of all ages, purchased properties in hopes of enjoying and self-managing the home as a vacation rental.  All the above were lucrative investments and all helped to grow the local vacation rental industry, but as the number of properties expanded, competition grew and “the bar” was set higher.

 When you’re the only restaurant in town, your tables are always full … add fifty more restaurants and your chef had better be amazing!

The owner managed vacation rental market grew with the above … wide-spread computer access and taking advantage of depressed home sales.  VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owners) launched twenty years ago in 1995, but it was not until the early 2000’s that vacation management companies and the general public, started to take notice.  The U.S. recession had a major influence in growing this VRBO and many on-line listing sites such as FlipKey, soon followed.  With one annual fee, a home owner could list and manage their property locally or from a distance.  This had two great owner appeals … one, it eliminated the management fee from a professional vacation rental company and two, certain owners were attracted to the hands-on interaction and pampering of their tenants … it was looked at as a fun second or retirement job … kind of like managing a bed and breakfast.  But the unfortunate truth about owner managed properties are that they generally have a negative impact on the local vacation rental industry and this fact is almost completely unknown by the owners doing the damage.  It comes in various forms but an example would be a home owner that lists his property as “for sale by owner,” then prices it way below the neighborhood comps.  Inexperienced new property owners who do not know the vacation rental market may in the long run do themselves and the surrounding vacation rental properties, a disservice by underpricing their vacation rental and causing a “race to the bottom.”  Professional management companies look at area “comps,” and even though they do not typically get together to set rental rates, they do look at market norms and head typically in the “up” direction instead of driving rates down.  Over the past few years, I have rates between owner managed and professionally managed properties, run all over the place with ridiculous variances.  A perfect and true example is a three bedroom, completely updated, newly furnished, perfectly located property that I would have listed at $4,800 per month, the owner was renting at $2,500 per month.  Lucky tenant … but now it makes it more difficult for my $4,800 property and all the other properties listed at “market” price, to compete.  Bottom line is that this owner is potentially driving the market down instead of in the other direction.  Now this may not have as much of an impact in some areas, but in a highly sought after country club that tenants seek out year after year, go with friends, associate and meet at the pools, dinners, etc. … this has a huge impact.  Those tenants who have rented directly from owners will slam their phones down in our ears, when we quote them our rates.

There has also been a huge fall-out from owner management rentals who usually are run by absentee owners who are entirely focused on their bottom line and not on the behavior of their tenants or “justifiable” complaints from their neighbors.  These are the owners that disregard the city ordinance regulations and rent their properties as party homes or a two bedroom condo to eight people.  These “problem” properties fall into the “one bad apple” scenario.  This is one of the major contributing factors to stiff city ordinances, negative press on vacation rentals and the disgruntled and very vocal neighbors that show up at every city council meeting.  It has added to owners hesitating to rent out their properties and renters hesitating to stay in particular areas.  Ultimately it reflects on all vacation rentals, whether owner managed or professionally managed and hopefully will not end in the demise of the entire industry.

So … things have changed a lot and I guess that’s a good thing.  We all have to make adjustments to these changes as they arise.  Bottom line is this … tenants no longer are happy to with just anything available.  They want the best, with all the bells and whistles and at the best price.  There is a lot of competition out there and if you are not willing to provide “the best,” someone else will.  If you think about it … isn’t that exactly what you look for in any purchase you make?

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Photos That Will Make Your Rental Shine!

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I recently received a call from a prospective new client, Tim.  Tim explained that he and his wife have a vacation rental that they were interested in listing with my company.  He told me that I could view the property on Zillow and gave me the listing number.  Based on the photos alone, I almost turned down the property … but being aware of how bad my own photography skills are, I wrote down their lock-box code and promised to visit the property and call Tim back the next day.  (See photo below)  The next morning when I walked into the vacation home, I just shook my head …. this property was absolutely gorgeous.  The photos on their Zillow listing did not even begin to do justice to this amazing home and it was not surprising that their listing did not bring in many inquiries.

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GREAT PHOTOS may very well be the number one component in a successful vacation rental listing … and my advice … never cut corners.    With this in mind, I found a great article on the TripAdvisor Vacation Rental Blog, posted August 11, 2015, that I want to share today.  For vacation rental listings, I am a firm believer in professional photography, however from time to time I have met owners who consider themselves semi-professional or photographers “at heart.”  For those of you who have a better than average camera and eye, I think  the following article will be helpful.

P.S.  This week Tim and his wife signed up with my company, Vacation Rentals of the Desert.  Professional photos are being shot this coming Thursday!  So happy to add yet another “amazing” property to our list of vacation homes.

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7 PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS TO MAKE YOUR RENTAL SHINE

Posted On 11 Aug 2015
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When your potential guests are researching for their hard-earned trip, looks matter. Your photos need to show off your rental at its best to bring in the bookings.

You don’t have to be a professional photographer to take a great picture, but it helps to get some advice from one. Grab your digital camera and read these seven top tips from our guest contributor Mike Frisbee, a TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals homeowner and photographer, who knows a thing or two about taking photos that sparkle.

1. FIND SOME INSPIRATION

First off: check out the competition. When someone else’s listing leaves you itching to book a vacation, note down what’s great about the photos and try a similar approach.  Click here to read the entire article … 

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Pretty Potty!

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Give your bathroom the “spa look” with quick, easy and inexpensive decor updates.

The past few weeks I have been posting ideas for updating and dressing up a tired vacation rental property … my summer project.  It is surprising how small, inexpensive updates, in just the right areas, can greatly enhance your vacation rental business … and again, I cannot stress this enough … if you are a vacation rental owner … you are in business!  You know the old saying, “it takes money to make money.”  This is oh so true in vacation rentals.  A photo of outdated furnishings and décor on your vacation rental listing can turn away business.   Old silk plants, and especially those dated silk flowers, dated bedding and towels … all these things show up in photos and make a property look old and uncared-for.  Always assume that your potential renters live in a nice updated home, that they see the latest trends and décor in stores and magazines.  Why would they select a dated property for their vacation?

The vacation rental business is booming and with the recent growth, there are plenty of properties out there decked out with all the “latest and greatest.”  Back when the availability of vacation rental homes was limited …. guests were happy finding anything.  That has changed dramatically in the past five years.  Now guests can be choosy and sometimes, demanding.  We’re in their world now and as any smart business owner knows, you have to find a way to keep their “customers” coming back and attract new ones.  What you are selling cannot just be available …. it must be desirable too  … and better then the rental next door.

So your friends and family say they LOVE your property.  If you allow your friends and family to stay at your property free or at a small cost, OF COURSE THEY LOVE YOUR PROPERTY!!  If they say otherwise, your feelings may be hurt and you may not invite them back.  You must look at your property through impartial eyes.  I have to do this every day.  It is difficult, but it is in the owner’s best interest that I am honest … kind, but honest.

So today let’s talk about bathrooms.  It is surprising how a few simple updates, at little cost, can go such a long way.  When your prospective guests scroll through your property photos, instead of whizzing through the bathroom pictures, they may even just take a second look.  TIP:  In bedrooms and bathrooms … the “spa” look and feel is what sells.

Below is the master bathroom at the vacation home I am currently updating.  The home owner suggested a blue palate, and I ran with it, adding color with countertop décor and eye-popping towels, to transform this nondescript and sparsely decorated, white and tan master bath to an updated spa like retreat.  This full transformation came in under $200 …. thanks to HomeGoods!

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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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