When we think of truly getting away, usually it means going to the Beach, the Lake, the Mountains or somewhere away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. For many of us, the dream to own a vacation home is often in a city far away from where we currently live. Very often, the decision on where to buy is influenced by a visit, or two, or three, and before we know it we have fallen in love with the location and found the perfect place to purchase our dream getaway.
Years ago, most of us deciding to rent our home on the side would have just handed everything over to a management company. But these days we have many choices! While it is nice to have someone else do all the work for you, it is also very easy to manage and do yourself, even when your rental is in another city.
One of the questions I get asked most often is how I am able to manage my rental business since I don't live in the same location as my vacation rental. Our home base is Houston, TX and our rental properties are in Austin, TX (about a 3 hour commute). With the help of the internet and technology, it is a fairly easy process. So don't be intimidated - If I can do it, anyone can! I have been operating my vacation rental business successfully for 8 years now and am happy to share my tips with you!
This is probably the most important aspect of running a vacation rental remotely. While you can't be there yourself, you do need to have to have someone local to be your eyes and ears, that you can count on to do all the cleaning after guests check out. Your cleaning crew should also do a routine walk through upon check out to make sure nothing is damaged or missing so that any security deposits collected can be refunded.
If you are buying in an area that is popular for rentals, there will be many companies that specialize in vacation rental cleaning. Set up appointments to meet with them and interview several different services until you find one that offers all the services you require. Get quotes and make sure to ask what is included in their fee. Some cleaning services will provide everything needed to get the job done, including paper products for guests such as toilet paper, paper towels, trash bags and hotel toiletries for the bathrooms. Others will require that you provide all the supplies and they just do the actual cleaning.
What will work for you is based somewhat on how often you can visit the property yourself. In our case, we provide all the paper products, cleaning supplies and guest toiletry kits for the bathroom. Since we live within 3 hours, we are able to check on our property every couple of months and make a Costco run to stock up on supplies. My cleaning lady will pick up things for me at the local store if needed, but I like to buy things in bulk to keep my operating costs low.
If you are in an area that does not have many rentals, your local realtor can usually recommend cleaning services and maintenance specialists in your area. Beside having a cleaning service, it is also a good idea to have a maintenance or handyman in case any issues arise that need immediate attention.
We have a both a personal closet and a storage closet for supplies and cleaning items, paper products, toiletries such as guest soaps, hotel shampoos and lotions etc. Our cleaning crew has access to the supplies closet and uses that to replenish any used items after each rental. Our locked off closet does have a sign that reads "owners closet no access" to make renters aware it is off limits. We do use our property from time to time for personal use and it is nice to have some personal items available that we don't have to pack and take each time we go. You can also lock off one cabinet in the kitchen and keep any pantry items and special kitchen items that you do not want renters to have access to.
A digital keypad lock eliminates the need for your renters to stop and pick up a key as you assign them a code to use for access during their stay. This is beneficial for a couple of reasons. First, you don't have to pay a front desk service to handle this for you. Secondly, there are no keys to keep track of or for renters to forget to turn in. And if there are multiple people in the rental group, everyone can come and go with the same code. It also makes it easy for guests arriving late at night as there is no need to stop and pick up a key. The key pad lock we use is by Nexia and sold at Lowes. It is easy to program online - we are able to set it to become active on the check in date and time and also de-activate after checkout so that the assigned code is only valid for the dates of stay. I usually use the last 4 digits of my renters cell phone number to make it easy for them to remember for their stay. My cleaning crew and maintenance man all have their own code so that they can easily access the property for cleaning etc. And I am also able to view a log online to see who has used their code and times of access. This is handy sometimes if I want to confirm my cleaning crew has been in my property to get it ready for the next renter. The lock operates via WiFi but has a battery within the lock that acts as a backup so that it always works in the event of a power outage etc. I receive an alert when the backup battery is running low so that I can change it, which is typically once a year. Nexia also has a feature to control the thermostat, and this can be integrated into the same online dashboard that you use for the lock. It is nice to be able to control your electricity bill by setting the temperature when your property is not occupied.
You may be asking why should I do this? A Guest Book is a great way to welcome guests to your property and provide them with essential information for their stay. Since you are operating your rental remotely, there is no front desk or anyone nearby to ask questions when they arise - you are the primary contact they will be calling you with any questions. Therefore, the more information you have available in a guest book, the better. While I like to be a hands on host, I also want my guests to feel like my place is theirs for the time they are there. I try my best to provide a comprehensive check in with all the details they will need for their stay. But it is also nice to provide a book your guests can refer to during their stay. Some of the essential things to include in your guest book are: A check in checklist for things that should be done upon arrival. A list of important phone numbers in the area in case of an emergency - closest hospital, pharmacy etc. Your contact information. Recommendations on things to do in the area. A list of recommended restaurants. Specific operating instructions for anything that may be difficult to operate such as a hot tub, fire pit, theatre room etc. A check out checklist that they can follow upon checkout. Make sure to label the guest book and put it in a prominent place where guests are sure to find it upon arrival.
Don't Forget it - Pin it!
Since you won't be using a property management service, it is essential to have an online presence to make it easy for people to find your rental. There are many different Vacation Rental websites to choose from. We have used HomeAway and VRBO for years with success. The Vacation Rental industry does not have a shortage of sites to list on: HomeAway, VRBO, Airbnb, FlipKey, VacationRentals, TripAdvisor and others. Online listing sites and personal websites make it easy for travelers to find you and view your photos and prices, availability etc. Most of the rental listing sites also have payment gateways incorporated, making it easy for you to accept credit cards for payment and keep track of reservations via an online calendar.
They can be some of the best people to let you know about potential issues or just keep an eye on your property when you are not there. Our neighbor notified me recently that our AC was making a strange noise. I was able to have it checked out and repaired before it became a potential problem for my upcoming tenants.
This allows you to network and possibly get referrals or accommodate larger groups. We have a neighbor at the lake that is also a very good friend. Occasionally I will get an inquiry that is looking for multiple units to rent and it is nice to be able to set them up with several properties that are close together. This also comes in handy if I am already booked or vice versa.
While all these ideas do work and make it possible to run your new vacation rental remotely, it does not mean you will never have to make a trip to check on things. We visit our property several times a year to check on things, stock up on supplies and do routine maintenance. That way when we do actually get to use if for fun, we can enjoy it too! Let us know if you have any tips that have worked for you!
Happy Renting ~
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