Desert is in High Demand

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Some call the desert “a fun place to come to” others say, “it’s something about the energy,” but for thousands escaping harsh winter climates, they call the greater Palm Springs area their “home away from home.” As the number of vacation rentals grow, so do the number of visitors and in turn, many of these visitors will purchase properties of their own. Vacation Rentals of the Desert has experienced this over and over. In the past five years we have lost at least a dozen renter-clients who after being long time seasonal renters have purchased a property and are now owner-clients, listing their property on our vacation rental program.  This “vacation rental effect” has helped our local economy, increased home sales and helped to bring back much of the desert tourism that was literally dying. Once known as “God’s waiting room,” the desert is now being recognized as a younger, more hip community. Drawing world-wide attention with mega music festivals, world-class tennis and golf championships and more recently, the rebirth of modernism, Palm Springs is successfully rebranding itself to draw a younger population. It just might be the shot in the arm that this desert needs.

Slim Aarons Poolside Gossip Palm Springs ChicThis week I found a Facebook post that I want to share with all my followers. Whether local residents or not, I think you will enjoy this short segment from one of our local evening newscasts. This story aired on KESQ, Channel 3, April 23, 2015.  “With the music festivals finishing up this weekend, the Palm Springs area is a hot spot that’s gone global. As Bianca Rae shows us, the desert is once again back in demand.”  Click on the link below …

http://www.kesq.com/desert-is-in-high-demand/32550342

 

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Vacation rentals boost Coachella Valley economy by $7M

 

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Photo: Jay Calderon/Desert Sun

This week I’m sharing an “enlightening” article that appeared in our local newspaper, The Desert Sun, on November 2, 2014.  I think it will be of interest to most of my readers … but primarily all Coachella Valley vacation rental owners.  If you were to do a web search of almost any resort city in the U.S., you’d most likely find similar articles.  As vacation rentals grow in popularity, so grows the challenges faced by vacation rental owners and their management companies.  As the owner of Vacation Rentals of the Desert, with properties throughout the Coachella Valley cities, I actively work with the city officials to ensure that the properties we manage are in complete compliance with the various city ordinances.  We promote “good neighbor” policies and keep our owners and rental guests informed of all rules and regulations.  Vacation rentals are a very Hot Topic these days and all vacation rental owners should keep informed of the ever-changing conversation and become involved with their “business asset.” 

Xochitl Peña, The Desert Sun11:13 p.m. PST November 2, 2014

Why stay in a hotel room when you can have an entire house?

That line of thinking has helped grow the vacation rental scene in the Coachella Valley into a money maker, generating close to $7 million in bed tax revenue for valley cities and about $216 million in “direct spending” in 2013.

Premiere events — Modernism Week in Palm Springs, the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, the Humana Challenge in La Quinta, and the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals in Indio – all continue to attract an increasing number of people each year who choose to stay in homes.

Records requested by the Desert Sun showed valley cities last fiscal year brought in $6.8 million in vacation rental transient occupancy tax, up from $5.1 million the year before, which helps boost budgets and provide for city services. Coachella and Desert Hot Springs are the only cities that do not collect the bed tax on rentals.        Read full article ….

 

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HGTV … Thank You for Spreading the Word!

 

hertz_Garell_Outside_lgBoy do I have the PERFECT Sunday afternoon planned out for you!  I have mentioned many times over the past several months that vacation rentals have grown in exposure and popularity in recent years.  Much of the national exposure has been due to HGTV.  I am a huge fan of “House and Garden TV” and enjoy most of their programs.  House Hunters, House Hunters International, House Hunters on Vacation, Love It or List It, Property Brothers … all have provided great decorating tips which I have used in sprucing up and staging many of the properties I manage at Vacation Rentals of the Desert.

I not only recommend HGTV programs to vacation rental owners, but I believe any home owner will benefit from their decorating, renovation and maintenance tips … besides they are just down-right fun to watch!  If you are “toying” with the idea of purchasing a vacation rental home or listing your second home as a vacation rental property, then the below videos are a MUST SEE!  These short videos give great insight into the value of a vacation rental and its potential income, what guests are looking for in a rental home and some really great advice on amenities.  They allow us to step into the shoes of vacation rental owners as well as vacationing guests.

Once you’re on the HGTV website take a look around … there is so much of interest.  I know … I just spent most of the morning jumping from video to video! 

Now … grab your iced tea, a bowl of popcorn and get ready for some fun!

 

This year-round rental house in LA was converted to a successful vacation rental property.

http://www.hgtv.com/video/converting-to-vacation-rental-video/index.html

 

In this short clip the host compares three vacation rental homes in Key West, Florida and tells viewers which will be more successful and why.

http://www.hgtv.com/video/key-west-vacation-rentals-video/index.html

 

This is a cool new show … Vacation House for Free.  Watch short clips on purchasing a vacation rental home that will carry itself.  Note:  There are several clips back to back with short commercials between.  Keep the video player running.

http://www.hgtv.com/vacation-house-for-free/show/index.html

 

One of my favorite shows … House Hunters On Vacation!  Watch short clips or full episodes.  The HGTV host shows lucky guests three vacation homes and treats them  to a one week vacation at the home of their choice.  Step into the shoes of three separate families as they choose a vacation home in Maui, St. Thomas and the California Wine Country;  join two couples as they choose a perfect vacation home in Sante Fe and a very lucky couple from California that decide on a dream honeymoon location in London.  Note:  The video that comes up will feature Maui.  You will need to click on the individual episodes listed below the video screen to view all of the short clips.  You also have the option to choose the entire episode.

http://www.hgtv.com/house-hunters-on-vacation/show/index.html

 

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What you may not know ….

quoteThis week I received a call from a couple who were interested in listing their property with my company, Vacation Rentals of the Desert. Through our conversation I learned that they had purchased the property about a year ago. They found a “fixer” with “good bones” in an excellent residential area in desperate need of updating and TLC. Their initial goal … move to the desert, purchase an affordable property in a great neighborhood, fix it up and occasionally accept short term rentals to help offset their carry costs. Their retirement plans were to live at their beach home in the winter and their desert home in the summer, taking advantage of the opposing seasons and seasonal desirability of their vacation homes. Now, one year later, after extensive renovations, they were ready to advertise their desert vacation home.  Perfect plan until they attended their neighborhood HOA (Home Owner’s Association) meeting and found that their community was trying to ban short term vacation rentals! The meeting was so heated and contentious that the couple is now having second thoughts about renting and are uncertain whether they will be able to keep the property if short term rentals were prohibited.

Over the past few years I have heard various versions of this same story.

Throughout the US, many neighborhoods severely suffered from the 2008 housing bubble. In recent years, particularly in resort areas, many savvy buyers have purchased foreclosed, abandoned and run down properties as investments. Making these very same homes suitable for vacation rentals by investing in improvements and updates on these properties has, in the long run, contributed to lifting these neighborhoods out of the housing crisis and substantially improved the unsightly appearance of neglected homes and increased property values.  Despite these benefits, more and more HOAs and permanent residents are speaking out on vacation rental homes and have labeled many as “party houses.” I could go on for days and days with this subject … but that is not the intent of this post. Rather I encourage all readers who are contemplating vacation rental ownership to first do their homework … especially if you have not yet purchased the vacation home.

I receive at least a dozen calls a year from potential buyers asking for my advice on where best to invest their money on a vacation property, how the vacation rental industry works in our specific area, etc. This is probably the number one, smartest thing a potential buyer can do. I have seen many folks jump into purchasing a property and listing it on a “by owner “ site only to find that they run into rules, regulations and ordinances that they were not aware of … until they found themselves in a nest of alligators!

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The following are a few tips for potential vacation rental owners. This advice holds true for owners who will be managing their own property on a “by owner” site or listing their property with a professional vacation rental management company.

• Search vacation management sites and “by owner” vacation property listings in the area you are considering. If the area is heavily populated with vacation rentals you should be able to gather quite a bit of information. Read the listing descriptions, rules and regulation. You may find that these listings will mention T.O.T. (transient occupancy tax) or that short term rentals are prohibited in the area. Read carefully however … if the listing states “No Short Term Rentals” this does not necessarily mean that they are prohibited. This may simply mean that the owner will only accommodate long term tenants. This search will also be helpful in finding your potential rental rate and by viewing the calendars you may get an insight on rental demand. Note: by owner sites may not have accurate calendars since dates must be manually entered where professional vacation rental sites will have calendars that are linked to reservations. Once the properties are booked the dates automatically appear on the calendar.
• Look up the city’s website and search vacation rentals. Many cities will have a vacation rental ordinance and the rules and regulations surrounding the operation of vacation rentals. Some cities do not allow any rentals of less than one month. Many cities will require a vacation rental license for your property and some even will require that the owner or manager must obtain a business license. Your city may require T.O.T. be submitted on rental fees for short stays under a specified length of time and the city many additionally require tax on not just rental fees but also cleaning, pet fees, etc.
• Talk to a vacation rental professional in your area. Say for instance you have narrowed down your search to a particular city, neighborhood or gated community. Do an internet search for a vacation rental management company that specializes in that particular area. Call and speak to the owner or manager of the company and then ask for their insights. Vacation rental professionals are by nature and necessity, chatty people. The potential for adding another property to their program will be incentive to share their knowledge. Even though your realtor may know the basic regulations and restrictions of any given area, such as whether a particular area will allow short term rentals, a vacation rental professional will most likely have more insightful information on the politics and challenges that their owners and managed properties are facing … efforts to restrict certain rentals and a “behind the scenes” sense of potential problems that buyers may want to be aware of before throwing their nest egg into a nest of alligators.

 

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Rental house owners can profit from a professional manager

guidebank_largeThe following news story was published in the LA Times on January 26, 2014.  It is an excellent endorsement for vacation rentals companies and the benefits of listing your vacation home with a professional.

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Professional property managers offer their full time and attention, along with marketing, screening, housekeeping, record-keeping, periodic inspections and more.

It’s one thing to manage a rental house when it’s nearby. But it’s another process entirely when the rental is in a distant vacation retreat. Unfortunately, many second-home buyers find that out the hard way.

According to a survey by HomeAway, an online marketplace for vacation rentals, owners spend an average of 8.6 hours a week managing their properties. That’s one full workday a week. And even then, it’s doubtful that the typical owner can market his vacation pad, maintain it and do all the other things necessary to have a successful rental regime.  Click to Read the Entire Article

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Article:  www.latimes.com

 

“Billy the Kid” Scam! Owners Beware!

billy_film_landingThe following story takes place quite a few years ago … before I opened Vacation Rentals of the Desert. At that time I was managing the vacation rental division of a local real estate company. This was my first and only direct experience with a “rental scam” and is only one of a multitude of scams going on every day.  Owners and managers must constantly keep themselves informed and involved in their vacation rental properties.

 

“Billy the Kid”

Some years ago I ran into this wily scoundrel … I’ll call him “Billy the Kid.”  “Billy the Kid” had rented a property from us for a three month stay … and of course he received a nice discounted rate due to the length of his reservation.  The story unfolded after one of our maids reported that she had been approached by a lady while cleaning a neighboring property.   The lady asked if she was available to do a cleaning job for her.  Since the lady was staying at a property that we managed, the maid called our office to see if she could be scheduled to do the cleaning.  Our maid told us the name of the lady who spoke to her and the address of the property … but that name did not match the one on our reservation for that property.   This is not unusual.  There are many occasions when two couples will rent a property together … or in some cases a wife will keep her maiden name.  We were not alarmed but we did call the guest to confirm that someone from their party had indeed ordered the clean.  When we asked whether “Billy the Kid” had requested maid service, the guest explained that they had rented the property from the owner, “Billy the Kid,” and that they, the guests, had actually requested the clean.  Now I had lots and lots of questions for the guest.  It turned out that the guests had found the property advertised in their local newspaper months earlier, reserved the property for two weeks and paid “Billy the Kid” directly.  Ah Ha!

“Billy the Entrepreneur”

Apparently “the Kid” had a relative in the desert that he would visit during the winter season. He would rent vacation properties for multiple months to get the lowest rental rate then advertise the property in his home town newspapers and internet sources several months prior to his arrival, then sublease them out for shorter periods of time at a significantly higher rental rate.  After arriving at his relative’s home in the desert, he would check into the property and collect the keys, garage door remotes, etc.

A little more digging and we found that we were not the only rental company “Billy the Kid” had targeted and in fact it looked like he was running his very own vacation rental company right under everyone’s nose!  After repeated attempts we were unable to reach him for comment.  Of course by then he knew that we were on to his wily ways.  Since the truth about “Billy the Kid” came out at the end of the three month reservation, we welcomed “the Kid’s” guests to stay.   They were, after all, innocent victims and as surprised as we were.  We reported “Billy the Kid” to the police but it did not go anywhere as far as I know.  “The Kid” was not a U.S. citizen, and by then, I’m sure he’d have high-tailed it out of the U.S.

A year later it happened again … “Billy the Kid” was back … he had used another name on his reservation but when we spoke to a guest who called our office after not receiving their refund deposit, they explained that they had rented directly from the owner, “Billy the Kid.”  Apparently they had found our company information in the property during their visit and had taken it home … just in case.  They thought there was something “strange” about “the Kid.”

Needless to say, we have learned to be extremely cautious.  We routinely visit our guests no matter their length of stay.  These visits have created some very long-lasting relationships and the number of our repeat guests has soared.  A recommendation to owners who live a distance from their vacation rental property … know your neighbors.  Make sure your neighbors have your contact information.  I’m sure they will call if they feel something is not quite right.  Also … call your guests periodically.  This serves two purposes … one, your guest will feel welcome and view you as a caring owner, and two, you’ll know that the guests at your property are the ones you rented to.

Last I heard there was a warrant out for “Billy the Kid.”  I would expect that he does not come to our area any longer … but I’m sure he’s out there … somewhere!

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Billy the Kid Photo:  www.google.com

Are “You” Suitable for the Vacation Rental Business?

2986365-pictures-of-the-hands-of-a-person-tied-up-with-black-ropeI was going to write a completely different post today … however in light of the past couple of weeks …  I have decided to go in a completely different direction and get a very frustrating issue off my chest.   

My company, Vacation Rentals of the Desert is currently in the middle of our rental season … busy does not begin to describe this time of year.  In the midst of all the check-ins, check-outs and dealing with day to day business … I have discovered a few property owners who may not be suited for the business of vacation rentals.  Yes, whether you manage your own vacation rental property or you place your vacation home into the hands of a management company, you are in the vacation rental business and your vacation home is a business asset.  This business comes with an absolute responsibility to your paying guests and the costs in maintaining the vacation home during their stay.  Maintenance and upkeep are a necessary expense that you should expect.  An owner must be able to separate themselves from taking guest concerns lightly or personally.  Remember your tenants are not your “friends,” they are clients PAYING money for the use of your property AND they will have certain basic expectations.  Repairs, cleaning issues and replacement of broken items should never be up for discussion.  They are absolute necessities.  You should never be offended or take these issues personally when a tenant or your management company reports these issues.  If you cannot do this … you should not be in the vacation rental business … period.

This week I had an owner with a $9,000 vacationing guest tell me that she would not fix the dishwasher which broke mid-stay.  “The tenants can wash dishes by hand.”  My head begins to pound.  Another owner informed my office after welcoming a vacationing guest paying $6,500 that they were not going to spend any more money on their vacation property and that they would not repair or replace the telephone system that had stopped working.  Yet another owner, “I have decided not to install Wi-Fi service.”  This was told to us one week before the tenant arrived for a $3,400 stay which had been booked and paid for two months earlier with the promise of Wi-Fi.  Wi-Fi is a $30 service and a minimum requirement of Vacation Rentals of the Desert.  And now my right eye begins to twitch!  Can you imagine relaying this news to my guests … sorry, there is nothing we can do?

When in the business of vacation rentals you must realize that once your rental money is in the bank your responsibility does not end.  Expect to replace light bulbs, clear clogged toilet and drains, address leaks, replace stained sheets, repair broken appliances and sometimes all these repairs and replacements happen at the same time!  Things may cruise along for several months without a single issue and then out of the blue the garage door stops working!  Your vacation property may be a second home where you spend much of your time … you leave Sunday and your tenant arriving Monday calls to say the key doesn’t work in the front door or the kitchen blinds are laying on the floor.  We are constantly scratching our heads over maintenance issues that arise overnight … but just as you experience at your own home … things break, locks go bad, blinds and pictures and décor fall … it is just part of the expenses every home owner experiences in day to day life.  If you cannot separate yourself from taking guests concerns personally, if you are not capable of putting yourself into your guest’s shoes, if you are not prepared to repair, replace and make your guests happy, simply put … you should not be in the vacation rental business.  In my experience the best vacation rental owners have been previous “renters” themselves.  They tend to have a better understanding of tenant expectations.  When planning your next trip, consider a vacation rental home instead of a hotel.  You will learn a lot whether it be a good or bad experience.  Or, if you have ever stayed in a hotel and called the front desk regarding cleanliness, blankets, pillows, room temperature … you have a basic understanding of tenant expectations.

I will be speaking frankly to a few of our home owners at the end of the rental season.  One bad review costs my company money, future tenants, rental bookings and has a significant effect on our reputation.  Word of mouth travels quickly.  Ultimately being a difficult owner will definitely affect their property in future bookings!  It is only human nature to think twice before booking a “problem” property … once bitten, twice shy.  I want to shout in frustration … Please don’t tie my hands when I am trying so hard to make you money!

And so went my week … 

Despite these unfortunate challenges … we always find a way to make our guests happy!  Always!

 

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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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How to Find Your Perfect Vacation Home ….

 

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Part Two of a Two Part Article
(See Part One Posted 1/19/14)

In researching and writing this article I spent quite a bit of time on VRBO.com and FlipKey.com and found the following reviews.  These reviews are random samples.  I will discuss my thoughts further into this post.  The following reviewed properties are not represented by Vacation Rentals of the Desert.

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Review 1

“The unit was satisfactory for our needs   (2 out of 5 stars)

  • Guest Unhappy Renter from Palmdale California
  • Date of stay 04/13
  • Review Submitted 05/08/11

Very odd floor plan. Entrance from the garage goes through the master bedroom. Atrium needed some updating. Kitchen items were very minimal. Patio furniture needed to be upgraded. There was supposed to be a TV in every bedroom, but there was only one and that one was from 1980. Living room furniture very old. The unit was clean and well kept, but needed major upgrade.”

Review 2

“Never Again (1 out of 5 stars)

  • Guest Unhappy renter (BC, Canada)
  • Date of stay 01/26/11
  • Review Submitted 08/01/11
We rented this unit in January and February 2011. It was dirty, run down and the appliances and televisions are old and out of date.”
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Review 3

“Dated but a great location (2 out of 5 stars)

  • Guest Thomas
  • Date of stay 11/26/13
  • Review Submitted 12/04/13

My family was out during the Thanksgiving Holiday week and though we loved the weather and the location of the home we were a little disappointed. The house was old and some of the Formica cabinets were coming apart and the fact that there were no flat screen TV’s in this day and age was also surprising. The owners are nice and very accommodating but they did not have clear directions on how some of the appliances worked, i.e….the spa and the DVD player. I would stay there again, but at a much lower cost.

Owner response: We have had dozens of groups use our home over the years, many of whom are repeat visitors, and we have never received this sort of feedback about the house. Unfortunately, our recent guests expected the home to be brand new and to include amenities that we do not indicate or suggest the house has. The pictures in the listing reflect exactly what the house looks like so if you don’t like the decor, please do not consider staying in our home. We appreciate that the house did not meet the expectations of these guests and because of that, we choose to return all of the money they paid for their stay. So rather than acknowledge that they might have had unrealistic expectations of what less than $500 a night might get them for a group of their size, they felt compelled to leave this review. Sometimes there is no pleasing people. Fortunately for us, we have had hundreds of happy guests with whom we have great relationships who love our home.”

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OK … the truth is … in respect to vacation rentals everything is relative to each person’s perception.  At Vacation Rentals of the Desert we try to price the property in keeping with its desirability, location, amenities and market value.  Example …. let’s take two properties sitting side by side with the same floor plan and bed arrangement … Property #1 is newly updated throughout: new flooring, kitchen, appliances, furniture and supplies.  It  will rent for let’s say $3,600 per month.  Property #2 is 25 years old:  original flooring, etc.  It will rent for $3,200 per month.  A difference of about $12.90 per day (based on a 31 day month) … not a big difference in $$$ but it may be a HUGE difference in the quality of your vacation … depending on your “must haves”.

The above guest reviews tell me that they did not ask about the age of appliances, TVs, kitchen supplies, etc.  It is difficult to get all the information from pictures however the response from the one owner does indicate that the description and pictures were accurate and perhaps the guests were unrealistic in their expectations.  The owner’s response also shows that he was offended by the comments and if indeed he returned all the rental money, that would indicates that the owner was also uncomfortable taking payment from an unhappy guest.

If you take out the cleaning and maintenance issues … after the Guest Reviews these three properties now have a lower desirability rating because the guest’s expectations surpassed what the property owner clearly described and photographed.  In all three examples above, after review, I found that the each of the listing descriptions were clear, the pictures plentiful and the rates were surprisingly low when  compared to similar properties.  However the rental experience was less than the guest expected and the property received a bad review … a very unfortunate outcome for both.

Not all … but most vacation properties are second homes for the property owner.  Whether they are modest studios or luxurious homes … most owners takes pride in ownership.  If you are a guest looking for a wonderful vacation property and require more than just a bed to sleep in, you should be very diligent in finding a property that will fit your needs and expectations.  When I am speaking to prospective guests I have no idea of their level of expectation without asking.  They may live in a $500,000 property on an expansive lot in an affluent area.  If that is the case then they may not be happy with the gorgeous, updated $150,000 condo on the second floor overlooking a community pool that I have suggested for their extended stay.

If you are searching “By Owner” websites then compare similar properties amenities and rates.  In addition, look up local vacation rental management websites such as Vacation Rentals of the Desert and view posted rates for properties in your search area.  There will be a difference in rental rates but you will be able to compare amenities and get a better feel of what to expect for your dollar.  If you are working with a professional management company, ask for a rating scale such as …. “standard,” “deluxe,” “luxury” or where a particular property falls on a one to five star scale.  You should also ask about cost difference for a more desirable property at a higher level?  You may be surprised what a difference a little higher rate can make.  Remember above … $12.90 per night!

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Follow these four steps and you WILL find your PERFECT vacation home …

1)   Never Assume …

2)   Make a List …. Know What You are Looking for In a Vacation Home…

3)   Ask Lots of Questions …

4)   And Compare Similar Properties!

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Lastly …. when posting a review, be fair.   Did you get what you paid for … or did your expectations surpass the properties description and photographs?  And please always remember you are a “guest” in someone’s home.  Be kind to the vacation rental property!  Whether you love it or not … someone does!

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(Reviews from:  vrbo.com, flipkey.com)

How to Find Your Perfect Vacation Home ….

You get what you pay for!

 Part One of A Two Part Article

70s_porchOkay … So you’re your searching for the “perfect” home for your upcoming vacation.  Unless you have a friend, or a friend of a friend who has a vacation home in your desired location … you have only two choices … search the web for an owner listed property (VRBO, FlipKey, HomeAway, etc.) OR contact a professional vacation rental company such as Vacation Rentals of the Desert.  Searching on the web could take a lot of patience and time but you may find a fantastic deal.  Using a vacation rental company could save you hours on “By Owner” websites but expect to pay slightly higher rates.

If you are using “By Owner” websites you’ll find a vast number of vacation homes from which to choose.  On the up side … owners will sometimes offer rates much lower than a vacation rental company.  Some owners will include arrival gifts such as fruit baskets or a bottle of wine and owners will most likely know their property better than a vacation rental company.  On the down side … not all owners keep up their calendars and many are difficult to reach or do not respond to inquiries.  Many owners will describe their vacation home with words such as “beautiful, updated, well maintained” but “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”  I have viewed prospective properties for my company where the owners have described their property as updated and found upon viewing that the property was last update in the 90s, had Corian countertops and southwest pastel decor.  In the owners eyes it was a gorgeous home and they had updated it … but almost 20 years ago.   In addition, many owners live out of state or even out of country and contacting them for concerns or repairs during your stay could be a challenge.

If you use a vacation rental management company like Vacation Rentals of the Desert, you can eliminate many hours of searching websites. On the up side … You can quickly narrow down your search by speaking to a reservationist who will ask you questions about your desired dates, location, number of bedrooms and desired amenities.  They can walk you through potential properties on their website describing the location, amenities and total cost.  Most vacation management companies will be local and typically easy to contact or visit if you have concerns during your stay.  They have a reputation to maintain in the community and want to avoid unpleasant visits by unhappy guests.  On the down side … the reservationist may not know the property any better than the pictures and descriptions that you are viewing on their website.  Be wary of management companies who are located out of the area and do not have local offices.  They defeat the benefits of working with a local professional company.  Some vacation management companies do not negotiate rates … posted rates are “take it or leave it.”

Ask the Right Questions!

You know the old saying “buyer beware” … this holds true on vacation rentals.  Never, ever “assume” anything!  Whether renting directly from an owner or using a vacation rental company … ask questions, but before you do, sit down and make a list of important “have to haves” in your perfect vacation home.  The following are a few suggested questions … and why you may want to ask.

  • Location:  Are you looking to be walking distance to shopping, dining, the beach, skiing, etc.?    Descriptions that say “close to” or “walking distance” may be deceiving.  Close could be considered a 10 minute drive but what you desire is a 5 minute walk.
  • Parking:  Is there a garage?  Do you want to park your new Mercedes curb-side?  Perhaps that “view property” you’ve fallen in love with is 200 stair step walk up from the vacation home.
  • Ground Floor/Multi Level:  You may want to ask whether the property is single story or on a higher level.  This may be a challenge for some guests.
  • Traffic/Noise:  Ask whether the property is located close to major thoroughfares, train routes, construction sights, etc.  This is especially important if you are a light sleeper.
  • Sleeping Accommodations:  Ask about beds.  If the property states that it sleeps 4 you may want to ask about the bed configuration.  A sofa-bed may be fun for your 6 year old twins but not very comfortable for older guests.
  • Bathrooms:  A traditional full bath may not be desirable for someone who has difficulty stepping into a bathtub.  Likewise, a walk-in shower may not be suitable for bathing young children.
  • Supplies:  This is a constant concern with rentals.  You will want to find out ahead of time whether the home is supplied with laundry and dishwashing soap.  Also think about your expectations in the kitchen … salt, pepper, condiments, type of coffee maker, etc.  Lack of these items are seldom a “deal breaker” but can be a source of irritation if you expected them to be supplied.  It’s best to know in advance.  Vacation home supplies will greatly vary.
  • Smoking Allowed or Pet Friendly:  Ask whether the property is “non-smoking.”  If you do not smoke and you walk into a property that allows smoking inside … you are most likely going to have an unpleasant, if not unbearable visit.  The same goes for “pet friendly” properties.  If you or members of your party have pet allergies than you will want to make sure that the property does not accept pets.  Tip:  Sometimes properties will advertise “not pet friendly” because the owner has a pet and does not want to cause “marking” by another four legged guest.  Always ask whether the owner has a pet that visits the property. 
  • Cooking and Entertaining Needs:  If you are planning on entertaining guests or preparing a special family dinner … Thanksgiving, Birthday, etc. … you will want to ask about the cookware, bake ware and serving pieces.  Just because the description states that the kitchen is “well stocked” … you will be disappointed if it lacks the necessary cookware and table settings to accommodate your family and guests.  Some guests who are driving to their destination may decide to bring their own special pieces but for those traveling by air, this is not an option.  Discuss your kitchen expectations with the owner or reservationist and perhaps they can make arrangements to supply the necessary items for your visit or direct you to a property more suitable to your needs.
  • Updated Décor:  If you are looking for a beautifully updated property you will need to be very specific about your expectations and may want to ask the age of the updates … how old is the bed, quality of bedding, are there mattress and pillow protectors, when was remodeling done, age of property, etc.  Maybe additional pictures are available that do not fit on the listing site.
  • Electronics:  If you have an I Pad, book reader or multiple laptops you will most likely need Wi-Fi.  Some properties are set up with Ethernet or even dial-up internet service.  TVs … just because a property is “updated” does not mean that they will have flat-screen cable TVs in any or every room.  Same goes for premium cable channels such as HBO or Showtime.  Never assume … always ask.
  • Telephones:  For many destinations and many tenants this is high up on the “have to haves” list.  A great percentage of the guests I work with at Vacation Rentals of the Desert are retirees and/or Canadians that visit for multiple months.  Even though most guests will have a cell phone, the roaming charges between Canada and the US are high.  Also if there is someone in your party that has health issues you may want to think seriously about “911” capabilities.  All of the properties my company represents are required to have free local, US and Canada calling.  It is a vacation rental “standard” in the greater Palm Springs area.
  • BBQ:  If you are expecting to do outdoor cooking you will want to ask whether the property is furnished with a BBQ, what kind (gas or charcoal) and most importantly … the location and working condition of the BBQ.  Within a condominium or townhouse area you may want to ask whether it is a private or community BBQ.
  • Cleaning:  Is the cleaning guaranteed?
  • Deposit Refunds:  When will the deposit be refunded and how?  Charged back to your credit card or by check?
  • Check-In Time and Check-Out Time:  If you are arriving in the morning and the check-in time is 3 p.m. you will definitely want to mention this before you arrive.  Likewise with the check-out time.  Often properties are booked “back to back” only leaving enough time to clean between guests.

(image via:  http://www.retroplanet.com/blog/retro-design/retro-decorating-ideas/1970s-decorating-style/ )

Click Here to Read Part Two

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