21 Lessons Learnt in a Summer of Vacation Rental – Part 2

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As I was writing this post I got to thinking about how much we learn each year and how nothing ever surprises us any more.  What stood out more than anything was the number of guests who had never rented a vacation home before and their pre-conceptions about the experience which are based primarily on media representation of the vacation rental industry.  Expectations of being able to rent a place then hold a big party, were common, as was the notion that it would be OK to pitch tents and invite friends with campervans.  We also had a lot of people expecting resort style amenities close by – restaurants, bars and even casinos.  It’s clear there is a big need to educate new renters about more than just the accommodation and I’d be interested to hear how you do this.

Here’s my second set of lessons gleaned from a summer of fun in the office…..

6. Make friends with a plumber

The summer of 2009 was the season of saturated septic systems and persistent plumbing problems – (I really worked on those alliterations!) Joking aside, there were overflowing septic beds, nasty stuff bubbling up in shower stalls, and sulphur smells from wells. The non-stop rain created some major issues for renters and owners alike. In some areas plumbers were so much in demand that they would only offer emergency service call-outs to existing clients. For owners who had never had need to call out a plumber before, it was very challenging to find someone to fix a problem.

Learning Point #6

It’s a useful idea to find and create a working relationship with local trades people in the area of your property. Call a plumber and an electrician and ask them about their emergency callout fees. Get to know your local people and let them get to know you. Treat them with respect. Then, when you are in a fix, you’ll have a go-to person who will be glad to help you out.

7. Going with the gut – screening

With over 1200 bookings this summer there were bound to be some issues where we would have complaints about guest behavior, and there were about a dozen incidents over the course of the season. Nothing too serious but there were some concerns about things like late night noise; unsafe use of firepits, and a case or two of overcrowding. When we looked back at the files, each one had a glitch during the booking process – either a delay in signing an agreement or a delay in payment, or an excessive number of supplementary questions, mostly repeating ones that had already been answered .

Learning Point #7

If you get a gut feeling about a rental group early in the process and feel uncomfortable in any way, you may be wise to decline the booking at that point. There are often early indicators of potential problems with a rental that may seem minor at the time, particularly if you are really eager to get a booking. This is one great reason to get on the phone and talk to your renters; make sure they are a good match for your property and create a good relationship with them. Listen carefully to their questions since there are often clues in there as to guests’ true intentions. For example, “How many cars can park at the cottage?” can be the clue that they may be planning on having additional guests you didn’t know about.

8. Spare keys and lockboxes

We have a keyless entry system at Osprey Cottage. It’s a neat door handle that includes a number pad and can be set to two codes. We have one for ourselves and for each new rental we set it to the last four digits of the renters’ main phone number. This has a two-fold benefit – it is secure since the code is changed for each new renter, and the renters are unlikely to forget their code (they do, but hey, we’re not all perfect). The only drawback is that it is battery operated and if the batteries die, the lock won’t work.

Learning Point #8

If you use a lockbox of any sort, there is the risk of guests being unable to get into it, of the code being set inaccurately, or renters forgetting the code they have been given. As a back-up, hide a key somewhere on the property so there is an alternative method of entry should your primary system fail. Always triple -check the code when it is reset. It’s also a good idea to remind your guests of the code immediately prior to their arrival.

9. Damage – photos and immediate action

Sadly, there are occasions where damage occurs at a rental but the owner doesn’t notice it until another guests complains. This may not happen until the guests return home and it may then be impossible to trace it back to the guest who was responsible. In these cases the only solution may be to swallow the cost and move on. Handling damage is a big topic as there is a fine balance between accepting accidents as wear and tear and wanting to recover the cost of replacing and repairing items that are broken. However you manage the situation, having all the facts is the key and you can help yourself by collecting these promptly.

Learning Point #9

Use a detailed list to check on every aspect of the rental property during a changeover. For us, since most of our properties are waterfront and come with some watercraft, checking oars, paddles and life jackets is an important aspect of the routine assessment. If there has been normal wear and tear that makes something inoperable, at least we can do a quick repair or arrange a replacement. Always carry a digital camera so you can take a photo of any damage. We supplied our caretakers with an inexpensive camera for this purpose which has proved very helpful in backing up the occasional claim.

10. Just because you know and think it’s simple, doesn’t mean your guests will

We often become so familiar with the quirks of our own property that we forget others may require even the most basic instructions. The most common call we had this summer was about microwave operations – even one at 11pm one night when the guest got frustrated because he couldn’t work out the popcorn mode. There were also queries about how to empty vacuum cleaners; set alarm clocks and work operate entertainment systems. All can seem annoying and occasionally frivolous until you consider that the guests are on vacation and wanting to avoid any stress. Anything you can do to make their vacation simpler will be reflected in their enjoyment of your property and perhaps their decision to book it again.

Learning Point #10

Rather than just leaving a drawer full of operation manuals for appliances and entertainment systems, it’s a nice idea to organize them into a small filing cabinet – office supplies stores have a whole range of these – and categorize them so they are easy to find. Consider typing up and laminating ‘Quick Instruction’ sheets that cover the most common operations. For example, I have one that explains how to reset clocks after a power outage – our stove requires a complicated process of holding down two buttons while changing the time with a third. It may seem time-consuming and even pointless to create these because it seems so simple and ‘anyone with common sense could do it’, but all you are really doing is saving yourself time and potential aggravation, while providing your guests with an abundance of information. There will always be guests who’ll call with the most minor of questions, but on the whole, they will appreciate being able to resolve problems themselves.