Discrimination In Vacation Rentals?

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A study by three Harvard researchers found “widespread discrimination” against people with black-sounding names on Airbnb. Credit Matthew Millman for The New York Times

 

Discrimination by Airbnb Hosts Is Widespread, Report Says

DEC. 11, 2015

Airbnb likes to refer to itself as less a company than a “community.” To that end, it has made trust between real people a cornerstone of its business strategy in short-term home rentals.

But new research suggests that when users get real, racism can result.

A working paper by three Harvard researchers found “widespread discrimination” by hosts against people with black-sounding names seeking rentals. Fictional guests set up by the researchers with names like Lakisha or Rasheed were roughly 16 percent less likely to be accepted than identical guests with names like Brent or Kristen.

“Clearly, the manager of a Holiday Inn cannot examine names of potential guests and reject them based on race,” the authors wrote. “Yet, this is commonplace on Airbnb.”

Airbnb, valued by investors at roughly $24 billion and based in San Francisco, said in a statement that it was “committed to making Airbnb one of the most open, trusted, diverse, transparent communities in the world.”

Last July, the researchers sent housing requests to roughly 6,400 hosts across five cities: Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Washington. Renters with names that sounded African-American got a positive reply about 42 percent of the time, compared with roughly 50 percent for white guests.

The results “are remarkably persistent,” the researchers wrote, with whites discriminating against blacks, blacks discriminating against blacks, and both male and female users displaying bias.

The authors suggested the solution is simple: Don’t require users to reveal their names.

With more than two million listings across 190 countries, Airbnb has robust data on the reliability of its hosts and guests, from verified profiles to reviews of fellow users. Benjamin G. Edelman, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School and one of the paper’s authors, argued that those metrics are what should count when evaluating whether to go ahead with a transaction.

“Compare that with whether the guest’s name is Barack or the guest’s name is Bono,” Mr. Edelman said.

“At some point you say, ‘You know maybe it’s nice to see people’s names and faces, but gee, think about the harm that this causes for some people.’”

Airbnb, a standard-bearer of the so-called sharing economy, has argued forcefully that anonymity is incompatible with building trust between users. The anxiety attached to letting a stranger into your home, the argument goes, is lessened by a name and friendly face.

“Access is built on trust, and trust is built on transparency. When you remove anonymity, it brings out the best in people,” Brian Chesky, chief executive of Airbnb, said in 2013. “We believe anonymity has no place in the future of Airbnb or the sharing economy.”

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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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Start a New Thanksgiving Tradition!

turkey-on-grill-corrected-728x444Happy Thanksgiving!

This will be a short post today.  I’ve brought a truck-load of work home that I need to tackle.  Our rental season is here, holidays are fast approaching, tomorrow we have a new employee to start training and everyone at Vacation Rentals of the Desert is busy, busy, busy!

wedding-chefs-4I’m hearing weather reports … up north, some states are getting not inches, but feet of snow already!  So here’s my sales pitch … we still have a few vacation properties, kitchens all decked out and ready for your family Thanksgiving holiday!  Our weather is perfect … in the 70s with lots of sunshine.  No snow to shovel or family to worry about navigating icy roads on their way to grandma’s house … we’re not bundled up in coats and huddled around the fire.  While you’re slipping and sliding around in the ice and snow we’re golfing, enjoying a morning swim or bike ride.  Thanksgiving is taken outdoors with a big fat turkey cooking on the barbecue and friends and family enjoying the perfect weather on the patio while kids play in the pool and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or football game are playing in the background.

 

The perfect Thanksgiving to some … skip the cooking and exhausting clean-up, and have dinner with the Indians … at a casino buffet.  This is what my family does every Thanksgiving.  We have many Indian casinos in the Palm Springs desert and most offer an amazing Thanksgiving Feast.  With one vegetarian, a couple of picky eaters, various degrees of dieting and at least three guys with voracious appetites, the variety, quantity and simplicity of a buffet is a no-brainer for my family.  Only down side is … no leftovers, however eliminating the stress and mess of cooking for a huge family is so well worth a trip to the deli if the urge for a turkey sandwich hits. 

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So think about it … maybe it’s time for a new family tradition … something your family can look forward to all year long.  Give us a call, it’s not too late for this year or to plan for next!

I wish you all a Safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Vacation Rental Owners and Tenants Relate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                The customer is number one

                Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

                Treat everyone with respect

                Treat properties as if they were our own home

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

                It’s not always about the bottom line

                Honesty in all cases

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

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

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

Photo:  https://sundancevacationsblog.com

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Vacation Rentals and the Sharing Economy

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo:  http://whitehousecleaning4u.com/

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What Makes A Perfect Vacation Rental?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breathtaking Mountain Views Overlooking a Sparkling Lake and Double fairway!

 

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

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

 
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Got Your Panties in a Bunch Over Vacation Rentals?

NeighborMrsKravitzWhy is everyone so angry?

I found the following posted on Facebook by 95.5 the Rock, radio station, April 19th.  I have copied it word for word.  Click on the picture to go directly to the Facebook post or read below.

Screenshot_2015-06-29-18-57-37_resizedThis was in a mailbox in Arizona…how would you respond to something like this?

Dear “Neighbor”

You just moved into this neighborhood a year ago, and I wanted to give you time to correct this problem on your own, but you are apparently too inconsiderate to do so.  Every day this week, when weather has been nice and windows are open, you proceed to let your small child run free in your backyard and laugh and giggle and carry on without end.  This is very disruptive for my two dogs and my bird who sits next to the window and like to look into your yard.  Perhaps you could ask him to tone it down a bit, or at least limit his outside time to 15 – 20 mins a day so my dogs can be outside without seeing him running around.  If this kind of behavior persists, I WILL CALL THE POLICE!

Really???  I don’t remember there being so much anger twenty or thirty years ago … or is that just me?  I’ve been accused of wearing rose colored glasses a time or two.  But I remember a time when people were not so sensitive; when children’s laughter was a good thing, when live and let live prevailed.  If year-round neighbors cannot get along, there “isn’t a hope in hell” that vacation home owners can expect to get along with year-round neighbors.  This letter burns me up on so many levels, but it is a typical example of the nonsense complaints I hear from year-round neighbors.

Here are a few complaints that I’ve received …

A local resident called me to complain that the tenants in the vacation rental home next to his house let loose about six helium balloons … just let them fly off into the sky.  I told him that this was not a violation or against the law.  His response was that people do not behave like that in his neighborhood.  Turns out this tenant had rented the house to celebrate a sixth wedding anniversary and the six balloons released by their children represented six decades of marriage and a wish for many more years to come.  But people don’t behave that way in this neighborhood.  Shame on these tenants!

The next city over at another vacation rental property, the neighboring resident called to explain that two teens were throwing a football in the middle of the street.  The property is located on a quiet cul-de-sac and when I asked whether the teens were blocking traffic or being disrespectful in some way, the resident told me no, but he did not think it was appropriate behavior and once again I heard that people do not behave that way in his neighborhood.  I for one grew up throwing a football in the middle of the street and can think of about a million things I would not want to see a teen do … but throwing a football in the middle of the street is not one of them.  Shame on these teens!

originalI’ve received dozens of calls, days and night, reporting open garage doors and trash bins set by the curb on the wrong day.  These kind of calls are typically relayed with such over-the-top anger that it would humorous if the caller wasn’t so serious.  Really … an open garage door is cause for such agony?  I just don’t get it.  I live in a nice neighborhood and I see this kind of thing every single day and never would I think of complaining or reacting as if I was in fear for my life.  But if it’s a vacation rental … that is an entirely different story.

It’s just a small presentage of residents but they make a lot of noise … the vocal minority.  But why all the anger and hostility?

Why?  Sometimes we get legitimate complaints which should be reported.   Unless you live in the country with acres around your home, chances are, you’re going to have a “bad” neighbor at some time or another.  Unfortunately we can’t choose our neighbors.  There just isn’t any kind of interview process where you can “test drive” the neighborhood for compatibility prior to purchasing a home.  Sometimes you get a great friend; sometimes you get Mrs. Kravitz!  At least with a vacationing tenant, if you get a bad one, they’ll be out shortly … and most likely not return.  It doesn’t work that way with a year round renter or owner.  There have been many times in my life where I would have been greatful for a vacation renter rather than the person that lived on the other side of my back yard fence.  I’ve moved a lot and experienced way too many Mrs. Kravitz types.

Why?  Many neighbors are angry because they think that the owner of the vacation rental property is making a fortune.  I hear this a lot at HOA and City Council Meetings.  The neighbor finds the property listed on the internet, or “knows someone” who tells them how much they saw the property listed at per night.  They always take the nightly rate and multiply it by 365 nights!  Oh don’t we all just wish!!  Here in the desert we are lucky to get four months cumulative in rental bookings.  There are many factors that these residents are not considering.  A nightly rate is the highest cost … the longer the property is rented, the lower the rate.  Example:  $450 per night for 365 nights … $164,250.  I can assure you that that is just not happening.  More like two nights at $450 so that is $900 for the weekend, two to three weeks out of the month if they are lucky.  During season that same property rents for $6,000 per month … but like I’ve explained … it will not rent at $6,000 per month for twelve months.  Still the owner is lucky to get four months of bookings with a combination of nightly, weekly and monthly renters.  For a property that rents at $450 per night/$6,000 per month … it’s probably a property valued in the $400,000 to $600,000 range.  Now think of the carry costs.  Mortgage payment on a $600,00 home plus utilities including full cable, Wi-Fi and phones, electric, gas, water, trash, twice weekly pool service and once weekly gardening if it’s a home, HOA fees if it’s in a country club, cleaning, upkeep, etc.  Bottom line … owners are not making a living from their vacation rental home.  Chances are that the home is an investment towards their retirement waiting till the day they can move into the property.   Or it may be a vacation home that they use on and off throughout the year and they do vacation rentals to offset some of the costs of owning a vacation property.  Here in the desert … vacation rental homes are not huge money makers … our “season” is simply too short.  So why are the neighboring residents so angry at the thought of the owner making money?  Jealousy … I don’t think as much as … why should they make money and I have to put up with the bad behavior.  Like putting the trash bins out on the wrong day or hearing kids splash around in a pool that is not typically used … bad neighbor!

Why?  I have actually spoken to several residents who have no complaints about the tenants and in fact have made friends with many vacationers.  When I asked one particular resident why she stood with the group that did not like vacation rentals, she told me that her “neighbors” don’t like them and she was only trying to be supportive and not oppose these friends that she lives with year-round.  It’s what everyone says in the neighborhood, she told me.  When I pointed out that she rented properties from Vacation Rentals of the Desert each year around Thanksgiving for family overflow, and asked what she would do if a ban on short rentals was mandated she responded; I will just rent directly through a home owner and the HOA and city won’t know.  This is an inevitable truth … if short rentals are banned, owners will go underground and rent out their properties anyway.    A ban will not eliminate short term rentals … and these rentals will have no accountability, no regulation, no oversight, will not pay the transient occupancy tax to the city and are extremely difficult for authorities to prove, charge and stop.  I’ll give you an example of the “friendship effect” at yet another of the properties I manage.  Two neighbors approached me a couple of years ago and expressed great anger (hostility really), at the owner renting the property.  I will also note that the new owner remodeled the entire property and the home went from a run-down house with dead landscape to a show place home, which also improved the property values of the surrounding homes.  Anyway as I was saying, the neighbors were angry about rentals and said that they were going to complain to the city ordinance officers so much that the owner would have to sell the property.  They also shared that they had no problem complaining and often called city ordinance to report the lady who lived directly behind the vacation rental home.  Apparently she is an artist who played her music too loud when she was painting in her back yard.  I personally found this to be true on several of my visits to the property.  Some time went by and sure enough, I started getting calls … but from the tenants, not the city.  The neighbors were shouting across the back walls for the tenants to stop jumping in the pool and making noise.  Code Compliance was called and actually got after the neighbors, threatening to issue a fine for the nuisance calls they were making to the city.  I was at the property for one of these calls and the neighbors met me by my car … the two neighbors that originally approached me plus the lady who played her music too loud when she painted!  Guess they all found common ground in the “agonizing ordeal” of dealing with vacation renters and now her loud music was no longer the source of their anger!  Really???  Come on people … live and let live!

So … the city has their monthly City Council Meetings and the residents complain about vacation rentals.  So … the city throws more rules and regulations into the ordinance to quiet the residents.  In the long run, with more rules to violate this just gives the residents more reasons to call city ordinance.  So they write in another regulation instead of dealing with the source of the problem.

I think a better way of handling this problem would be to talk to local residents about the importance of vacation rentals and try to get a handle on all the exaggerated hostility.   Of course, rental owners and vacation rental companies should be included in these discussions since they will need to take responsibility by educating and monitoring tenants at their properties.   We need to defuse the “over-the-top” anger and work together because vacation rentals are a great source in bringing money to local businesses, jobs to all the various people needed to service these properties,  generate needed tax money for our cities and is great for tourism and real estate sales.

To residents I would say … most vacation renters are exactly like you and if the opportunity presented itself, would probably be good friends.  They are on a hard-earned vacation in our wonderful desert, pretty much the same as you were many years ago.  They may even fall in love with the area and buy a property; perhaps retire here, just like you.  Remember your own children jumping into the pool and splashing around, remember your family BBQs?  Most likely these folks are YOU … just some years ago.

I wish we could all get along together just enough to fix this situation … unfortunately this is happening everywhere.  So why are people so angry these days?  I guess it’s always been this way.  After all, it was over fifty years ago, in 1964 when Mrs. Kravitz first appeared on Bewitched.   I guess the better question would be … what “if” we could all get along and make this work?

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