5 Images that would drive me to book elsewhere – and it only needs one!

great_vacation_rental_imagesHow do you pick the property you will stay in on your next vacation?

Do you go for the price? Perhaps the location, or maybe the beauty of the landscaping and exterior?

Or is it the interior photos that will make or break your decision?

I recently recorded a podcast inteview with Mercedes Brennan who talks about being obsessed with renting vacation homes and mentions she and her family have stayed in 52 separate properties over the years since her children were toddlers. She goes on to say she makes the decisions because of her eye for décor and furnishings and the fact that she only chooses those that are aesthetically pleasing.

I have to agree so I thought I’d take a look through some listings and pull out some images that are a complete turn-off from my perspective.

Here are the five things that would drive me away from a listing even if the price was right, the location was wonderful , and the beach was right in front of the deck.

tweetThe key to #vacationrental success are great images! @Cottageguru shares 5 bad images that would make guests run!


1. Second Class bedrooms

When I am choosing a vacation rental for my family, I want all the bedrooms to look great, not just the master. It’s a real bugbear that there are so many where the master has a queen or king bed, yet the second bedroom has a double, or even worse, twin beds.

In Second Best Can Be First Class I gave some tips for second bedrooms to avoid this:

“When families or friends travel together, the decision on who gets the best bedroom is a tricky one, particularly if the cost has been split equally.  How do they decide who is going to enjoy the king size bed with the pillow top mattress and plush bedding, and who gets the double with the older mattress and aged comforter?  This decision can often result in resentment, disappointment and subsequent negative reviews.”

In addition, the secondary bedrooms must have the same appeal as the master. How would you feel if you went on vacation with friends and the second bedroom was this:

or even worse, this one:

Extreme I know, but I think you get where I am going with this.

Even if the secondary rooms are small, really go to town on making them look appealing and just as enticing as the master bedroom.

So here is how a tiny second bedroom was turned into a romantic and cosy space with only the cost of attractive bedding, pillows that look as though they are really comfortable and some good lighting.

Before After
bad_second_vacation_rental_bedroom_before bad_second_vacation_rental_bedroom_after

I rest my case!


2. Ugly Living Space


Regardless of where we are going, it’s important that the living space is comfortable. Even when outside living is what we are expecting most of the time, the weather doesn’t always play nice, and we could end up spending far more time inside than planned. If it’s a break in winter (in a winter environment) then I want to see a fire lit, ambient lighting and the feel ing that we are going to be cosy and warm.

  • This one would have me running for the hills and I wouldn’t know where to start with correcting it, but a couple of things are clear.
  • Remove exercise eqiupment from living space – sure we’d like a gym in the house, but not in the living room.
  • Co-ordinate the lighting. This is such an important feature in living space, it should not be a mish-mash of styles.
  • Replace old and outdated carpeting. Immediately!
  • Give a lot of thought to the furniture. Does it serve any purpose? How can it be arranged to create a space where people would actually want to sit?

This is probably more of a lost cause and I challenge any stagers out there to come in with some suggestions. Needless to say, I would not book this one at any price.


3. A Kitchen I wouldn’t want to cook in….

Back in the UK many eons ago, we didn’t talk about holiday rentals or vacation rentals. The expression was ‘self-catering accommodation’ and that really described what we should expect. A place where we catered for ourselves, meaning it had a kitchen in which to prepare culinary masterpieces for family and friends – just as we would like at home.

When I’m on the hunt for a place to rent, the kitchen is important. I look for good quality appliances, shiny surfaces, usually a breakfast bar or a place for the non-cooks to sit and keep me company. I want to see an image that makes me start planning the meals I am going to cook there, not wonder however we’ll manage, and start looking up nearby restaurants and takeaways.




4. Dark and Scary Spaces

Seriously, there is no excuse for poor photographs any more, and these can kill any interest that someone may have in a property. If you don’t know how to take a picture, then find someone who can and please, please avoid posting anything like this on a listing.


5. Your Happy Family Snaps

I saved this one till last as I have had it around on my computer for a long time and am not sure which lisitng site it came from but I used it in a presentation a while back and it got a wonderful reaction from the audience. Most were just dumbfounded that it was a genuine listing I had found it on, and could not believe anyone would see this as relevant or appropriate, but hey, ‘life is just a box of chocolates – you never know what you are going to get next’.


I had fun with this, but it was a little unnerving how easy it was to find examples of images that were a complete turn-off. I also know that most readers of this blog are here because they want to do better, and create the very best for their guests. But, if anything strikes a chord with you, take a look at your listings, and ask yourself if you’re using an image that might trigger a negative reaction with your prospective guests.

Get a third party to look at them. I’m always happy to offer constructive feedback too as long as you don’t send me any of the above.


Tyann Marcink

Oh, my, Heather. I am right there with you. If the photos in a listing look like this, I hit my back button as fast as I possibly can!

    Heather Bayer

    I’ve been called out to see places like these and the owners wonder why I terminate the conversation and hotfoot it out as fast as I can.

Andy McNulty

Sad but true that these kind of photos really do exist on listing sites! I cringe every time and move on to the next listing!

    Heather Bayer

    Andy, it cracks me up that someone will pay for a listing, then post photos like this and expect some ROI.

Eva Whitney

Thx Heather! We promise not to take shots of us in bed???? great input!

    Heather Bayer

    I think there must have been some motivation behind the shot…look how comfortable this is?….or something!

Liz Van Cleave

Hilarious! Nice to have those peeps provide us with a bit of humour in our days 😉

    Heather Bayer

    What concerned me is that is didn’t take much effort to be amused!


Hi Heather! Regarding your windowless basement … We have the same issue in our vacation rental, and our solution was to create a window. Using a wallpaper mural on the wall, we built a framed window with a small window sill over it, and added curtains. The response from our guests has been pretty great. We are considering a mellow light at the top of the window to make it look like the sun is shining down. We call it the UnderSea Bedroom… my daughter calls it The Aquarium.


Heather, I enjoy reading & listening to you. Thanks for what you do. Here’s my listing for your unbiased review:
VRBO Listing #423409


    Hi ereed2,
    I’m a Cottage Blogger follower, but had a chance to review your home.
    First of all “WOWZERS!” What fabulous shots of the outdoor living space and love the night time shot of the home.
    Here is where I saw potential for improvement:
    Use a wider angle shot on your interior home photos, it will make your kitchen and bedrooms feel more spacious.
    You market your home to fit 8 people, often owners forget that 8 people will actually be in the home and sometimes in one room. I would move your Living room TV over the fireplace to create more seating (enough for 8). Even if it calls for just bringing in bean bags until you can afford a more solid choice. Most folks are taking a family vacation to gather together and share in special moments. (I would also replace the patterned couch in the sunroom, it looks a little dingy ~ Ikea Ektorp has a nice inexpensive slipcovered option, which can be removed and washed.)
    Same goes for your dining table. It says it fits 6 people but the dining area section states 8 will fit. Your photos don’t show the extra seating area and let’s face it, most renters won’t take the time to go through all of the lengthy details. They shop by photos.
    Love the photo of the bedroom with the window overlooking the dock, it evokes the same feelings as your exterior photos.
    Hope that helps… have Fun!


      Thanks Nancy for your excellent suggestions! Getting viewpoints from other owners is a real help.

    Ridgecrest Cottage

    Love your pictures and your space – indoor and out. I had to laugh – we have the same bunkbeds! Love them!


The sad and frustrating issue is a VR most likely relates to the owner’s personal style rather than a style appealing to travelers. It’s a hotly debated topic amongst many owners. I think the masses have finally agreed professional photos are a must and perhaps now there can be a shift to having homes assessed by professional decorators – stagers. Small changes have a powerful impact!

    Heather Bayer

    Julia – I agree, the nature of the market makes the change to a guest-centred business inevitable. With so much choice for guests to make, much of which is delivered by owners who understand the the new market, those who are not willing to make those small changes will disappear over time. Just looking at sites like Dwellable where huge photos are the norm, makes it more necessary for those photos to be reviewed and be given professional treatment. After all, given the cost of a listing, its seems to be a poor economic decision to short change on the images.


I have to agree with this article whole heartedly…. but if there weren’t a bunch of these types of vacation rentals out there, then we wouldn’t look so good! LOL
Take a peak inside our homes….



I hope these people that picture themselves in bed followed your advise of not showing the toilet in the bathroom pictures!
Jorge Martelanz
Proud owner

Wendy Clements

In the intro, you (?) said that aeons ago it was called self catering accommodation in the UK. I myself shy away from places that advertise themselves as vacation rentals (in the UK anyway) as that is far too Americanised for my liking. I tend to describe my places (4 at the moment) as ‘self catering holiday cottages’ to make sure there can be no doubt as to what people will be getting. Any views or comments? Interesting article, by the way!

    Heather Bayer

    I’m glad the phrase is still in use – I hear about ‘holiday lets’ more these days. It really depends on where you are. Over here in Ontario, it’s cottage rental or they are called ‘housekeeping cottages’ which means you do your own. In other parts of Canada they are cabins.

Mitchell Jordan

I recently stayed at a vacation rental where the master bed was a waterbed frame with a inexpensive and very worn mattress thrown in it. The furniture seemed to come from a thrift store garbage bin. Old worn out cookware and family photos throughout. This place could have been incredible because it did have a few benefits that could have been emphasized. It clearly showed a lack of effort to accommodate their guests.
Further the ad spoke of a river-front cabin. You could almost hear the river over the traffic but could not see it.
False or slightly misleading descriptions can severely damage your retain and certainly g=questions your integrity.

We decorate our rental as a hotel, clean, professional, no personal items and we limit the amount of dust-collecting accents. Despite the popular notion, guests are more relaxed when they do feel as if they are staying at aunt May’s……and they tend to come back and leave great reviews.

We use High-thread count linens with removable washable duvets, professional cookware and dinnerware, and we feature local artist and their art within the rental…..and are dog friendly. Our Pet-Pak is very popular.

    Heather Bayer

    Thanks for your comment Mitchell.
    I use the best linens and washable duvet covers too – I am not a fan of comforters that don’t get regularly washed. I’d love to hear more about your Pet-Pak

      Mitchell Jordan

      Hi Heather,
      The choice to go “pet friendly” was in a large part, your blog. We have had bookings entirely on the fact that we cater to those with furry family members.

      Our Pet-Pak includes: Extra leash, doggy bowls, doggy bags, pet shampoo, pet towels, and a pet bed with removable/washable cover.
      We also encourage our guests to send photos of their pets so that we may post them. There’s a list of pet friendly trails and venues.
      I also tailor my pseudo E-Newspaper to my guests. I include their pets name as well as the owners as “Breaking News” John Smith, rover, and guest arriving in Leavenworth…bla bla.

Ridgecrest Cottage

Would love to have you look at my picture – no they’re not professional – yet. We’re working on that. http://www.vrbo.com/510374


    You have a beautiful cottage and obviously worked hard for so many reviews! Chattanooga is a great city–years ago my Mom rove down the winding mountain roads with just ONE steering belt!

    We have the same bunk bed–do you have any shortcuts for changing the sheets on it?

    Does your private website generate inquiries/bookings outside of vrbo?

      Ridgecrest Cottage

      Thank you so much. We have worked hard and are very grateful for receiving so many reviews in the almost 10 months we’ve been open.

      As for the bunk bed….I love it to death but I agree it is difficult to change the sheets on. I used to be a professional cleaner so have changed my share of different beds but this one has to be the hardest. I do a lot of climbing and lifting up the wall-side of the top mattress. Other than that, no, it’s just hard work.
      We have 2 different colored sheet sets for that bed and if our guests don’t use the top bunk we will go to great lengths to not have to change that top bunk LOL!

      So far, no, our website hasn’t gotten us further than sending people to VRBO and FlipKey but the website is hard to find at the moment – I’m not quite willing to pay for my own domain name…so far we’re staying pretty booked up so we don’t really NEED it at this point. Maybe someday.

      Thanks for asking…and for the encouragement.

RentalSpot Team

Heather, great post. The “Dark and Scary” part rings true. We see so many owners listing properties with RentalSpot.com post photos of dark, dim rooms. Please just turn on the lights! Not every owner can afford pro photos (though it helps increase booking and inquiries).

However, you’re right. In the age of HD smart phones, there is no excuse for dark, dingy photos anymore.


nice thanks for sharing..l

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