Keep Calm and Do the Right Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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A Picture Pretty Vacation Home!

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

Know anyone looking for an amazing vacation home?

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

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Mythbusters: The Vacation Rental Edition

scrooge-mcduckI hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving holiday!  

Now … back to business!

Today I’m sharing a wonderful post from TripAdvisor’s blog … Vacation Home Rentals.  For years, Vacation Rentals of the Desert has listed the properties that we manage on FlipKey, the vacation rental division of TripAdvisor.  I am very happy to see TripAdvisor post articles, such as the following, that shines a positive light on the vast majority of vacation rentals. 

 

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Mythbusters: The Vacation Rental Edition

Vacation rentals come in all different shapes, sizes, and locations and, while it’s easy to become a bit overwhelmed by the variety of properties online, you shouldn’t let that get in the way of finding the rental of your dreams. Still not convinced? Here, we’ve debunked five of the most common myths plaguing the vacation rental experience.

Myth #1: Vacation rentals are too expensive for the every-day traveler, and are only available to those who swim in seas of gold like Scrooge McDuck.

The truth: Vacation rentals can be a very affordable option for travelers looking to get the most out of their money. While some rentals do range from super affordable to excessively lavish, that range means there is something available for travelers no matter what their price range. To compete against larger hotel chains, most vacation rental owners/managers offer lower rates, more amenities and no hidden fees that pop up at check-out. A 2014 study by Statista showed that 53% of respondents said that they chose vacation rentals over hotels because they actually ended up offering lower rates than hotels. So, think twice before you rule vacation rentals out based on cost – they can offer a great savings, especially when they replace a group’s need for multiple hotel rooms.

Myth #2: That luxury, beachfront villa will turn out to be more like a shoebox with a view of the highway sign pointing in the direction of the beach.

The truth: In reality, it’s only the most negative experiences, which are few and far between, that actually get any press. Although it is very common among travelers to fear that the vacation rental will be “significantly not as described” (SNAD) the majority of travelers who’ve stayed at a vacation rental have positive experiences. According toPhocuswright’s industry study, Vacation Rental Marketplace: Poised for Change, nine in 10 vacation rental guests intend to rent again and would recommend the experience to a family member or friend. Vacation rental owners and managers take great pride in accurately showcasing their properties, and if the rental isn’t measuring up to be quite as picture-perfect as the photos indicate, it will be evident in the reviews for the property.

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Myth #3: Locking down a vacation rental requires 10 different email exchanges, 5 phone calls and is overall too difficult.

The truth: With the emergence of safe, online booking platforms like ours, finding and booking a vacation rental has gotten a whole lot easier in recent years. Simply pick your destination, compare properties that pique your interest, and inquire on or book the rental of your dreams. You can even pay directly through the site using a credit/debit card or PayPal, so that your vacation is protected and you don’t have to worry about any SNAD myths coming true. Finding and booking a rental is so simple now, you’ll finally have a reason to use the Easy button gag gift collecting dust on your desk.

Myth #4: You need to bring your toolbox on vacation because you’ll be all alone if something goes wrong at the property.

The truth: Most owners/managers take preemptive measures to make sure that their property is in tip-top shape for renters, because no one likes to deal with emergency maintenance issues – even owners/managers. Rentals are typically professionally cleaned before check-in and after check-out and some are even cleaned throughout your stay, so you don’t have to worry about the state of the rental. Whether you’re renting from an individual owner or a property management company, you’ll likely have access to assistance around the clock, in case any issues arise. It could be an on-site property manager or the personal cellphone number of the owner, but either way you’ll be covered when you need help.

Myth #5: If your stay is less than 7 nights, don’t bother inquiring because no one rents for less than a weeklong stay.

The truth: As the vacation rental marketplace has expanded enormously, many owners/managers have relaxed minimum night stays making rentals perfect for weekend getaways and short-term stays. The great, unique thing about vacation rentals is that you’re often dealing directly with the property owner and every owner has different policies. Accepting one, two and three night stays is a great way for owners/managers to fill last minute openings and availability during the off season. It never hurts to ask when you find a property you love for a quick retreat from reality.

March 10, 2015  By Meg Schulte

Article and Photos:  http://www.vacationhomerentals.com/blog

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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner!

Are You Renter-Ready for the Holidays?

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

Rules-of-Thumb!

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

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

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

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

Tips!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Things to Consider When Considering Pest Control

vlcsnap-2013-05-29-23h55m12s89Antmania!

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

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

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

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

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

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Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite!

 

Why you absolutely need pillow protectors!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Vacation Homes In High Demand

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

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

Vacation Homes In High Demand

MICHELE LERNER | Washington Post

October 18, 2015 1:01 AM 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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