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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A Picture Pretty Vacation Home!

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

Know anyone looking for an amazing vacation home?

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

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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner!

Are You Renter-Ready for the Holidays?

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

Rules-of-Thumb!

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

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

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

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

Tips!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vacation Rentals and the Sharing Economy

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo:  http://whitehousecleaning4u.com/

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What Makes A Perfect Vacation Rental?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breathtaking Mountain Views Overlooking a Sparkling Lake and Double fairway!

 

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

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

 
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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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The Power of The Review

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

  1. The property was not as described

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

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

Click here to read entire article ….

 

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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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Eye-Catching Improvements to Generate More Rental Interest

Hammock-Sleeping-420x0Awww … the quite time of the year!  Afternoon siestas, no phones, no emails, lots of time off work.

Ha!  Fat chance!  We’re busy bees getting ready for next season, making reservations, marketing for new properties, cleaning up files … and this is the time of the year when many owners ask for my assistance in “dolling up” their property, coordinating renovations and repairs, purchasing replacement supplies, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  Any improvement on a property we list is beneficial to my company too.  Enhancing a property only makes it that much more desirable to a potential renter and easier for us to promote.

This week I started a new “facelift” project on a property that has been with our company for years.  The owner and I were discussing ways to generate more income on her vacation rental condo and I suggested a few areas that needed to be updated and improved.  Based on this project, over the next few weeks, I will show you how you can spend a little money and make big “eye catching” improvements that will generate more interest in your vacation rental home.

The first set of pictures below, are the “before” shots of the master bedroom that were posted on the Vacation Rentals of the Desert website.  The bedroom walls are painted a soft blue-grey, so this was our base color.  As you can see, the duvet is a light color, is boring and looks rather drab.  The TV is old which guests interpret as the owner being cheap … and may also make them wonder about the rest of the property and what other corners may have been cut.

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So we purchased a bright new duvet cover and euro shams from The Pottery Barn with just a touch of blue in the pattern.  The bright colors and bold print updates the bedroom and adds excitement to the décor … now the photos “POP.”   When we put on the new duvet we found that the sides were just short of covering the box springs and with the wood frame surrounding the sides of the bed, a bed skirt was not an option.  See “after” photos below.  Tip:  To address this problem we took an extra white fitted sheet and put it on the box springs.   If you use the same color sheets to make your bed you will never notice if the box springs are showing.

When I approached the owner about replacing the TV, she explained that she was limited to the size of the existing entertainment armoire and thought that a new flat-screen would have to be fairly small to fit the space.  So I measured the width, 32 ½ and actually found a 32 inch TV which is the recommended size for a standard bedroom.  Tip:  The size of a TV screen differs from the width of the TV.  The TV screen is measured diagonally, from top corner to opposite bottom corner.  The 32 inch TV was actually only 29 inches wide including the frame of the TV.  I may have been able to get a slightly larger screen but I found a great sale at Best Buy and was able to get a 1080p TV for $199.  Tip:  Replace all older TVs with new flat screens … they are inexpensive and quickly pay for themselves with bookings and happy tenants!

We also found a great bedroom chair at a consignment shop and purchased it for $80 which filled an empty space in the room and created a cozy reading area with lots of natural light.  We’re still looking for the perfect standing lamp to go behind the chair … otherwise the room is complete.

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We went through all the bedding.  This condo has a California king in the master, two full size beds in the guest bedroom and a queen size sofa bed in the den.  To make it easier to identify damaged sheets, it is best to have only two sets of sheets per bed.  Typically cleaners will immediately strip used beds and throw the sheets in the washer.  Then they remake the bed with clean sheets from the linen closet.  If you only have two sets per bed, cleaners can easily spot damage and stains when making the bed up or when folding the laundered sheets.  If you wish to deduct damage from tenant deposits or have insurance coverage on these items, finding damage on a timely basis and identifying the source are very important.  If you have ten sets of sheets … it is likely that some are miss-matched and some are damaged.  Tenants who find a “bad” sheet will usually fold it back up and put it back in the linen closet and it will eventually be pulled out by another tenant.  When found by a tenant, often the result is a bad review on the condition of the property.  Tip:  Just keep it simple.  With only two sheet sets per bed, the linen closet will look much neater and you’ll be able to identify damaged bedding before the next tenant arrives.  If you have several sets of good sheets, lock them up in your owner’s closet to use them as replacements in the future.

We tossed the two king size pillows since they were stained … no pillow protectors … and purchased four new king size pillows and four protectors.   I always recommend four pillows on king and queen beds to give a luxurious spa look and feel to a bedroom.  Tip … choose pillows of various firmness so all tenants will be sure to find one that fits their taste.

Tip if you are buying new sheets for multiple beds, I suggest you purchase only one color for each size of bed … it will make it easier to identify the size of sheets you are looking for in the linen closet.  We have one property on our rental program that has a California king in one bedroom and an Eastern king in another.  It is a nightmare for anyone to find the right size of sheets from a linen closet full of all white sheets in various sizes.  Labeling shelves does not work.  Some tenants and cleaners will stack clean sheets anywhere and disregard the labels.  For example you could purchase all white sheets for the Cal king, all ivory sheets for the Eastern king, tan for the queen, etc. or whatever colors match the rest of your bedding.  Then tape an index card inside the linen cabinet door noting which color of sheets and bed size corresponds.  Trust me … your guests and cleaners will love you.

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