Getting Ready for Rental - the Cottage Audit

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Whether you are a vacation rental owner who has been renting for some time, or new to the cottage rental business, spring is a busy time preparing for the upcoming rental season. Although my place rents year round and I have honeymooners in there at the moment, I always set aside a week in spring to get ready for the busy time ahead when I don't have the opportunity to do tasks at leisure.

Once my guests have gone I will be doing my annual Cottage Audit. This is a comprehensive checklist that covers a whole range of things, both inside and outside the cottage, and that will get the place into tip-top condition for the prime rental weeks.

Renters will explore your cottage, outside and in. They will open all drawers and cupboards that are not locked or sealed. They will look under beds and behind furniture. They’ll read anything you have left – except the Cottage Guide! By the time your renters have been in your cottage for a week, they will have missed nothing.

This isn’t intended to frighten you away from renting your property; it is simply a truth. We are a curious species and put in a new place, we generally want to check out the territory, establish our boundaries and mark it as our own – even for a temporary period.

In general, everything is likely to be returned to its rightful state by the time you arrive to do your check and changeover so you may never know. But, given the strong likelihood that no nook has been left unexplored, and no cranny has escaped investigation, it really is worth making sure your guests don't find anything you would not wish to find yourself.

We rent our cottage year-round so I do two thorough audits – one in the late spring and the second in late September/early October. The fall one coincides with our winterizing schedule – cleaning and storing the watercraft; scrubbing decks and power washing the siding, but just as I use my spring cleaning to prepare for summer guests, my fall routine has a different flavor.

This time I change the lighter summer comforters to cozy winter duvets; swap some of the artwork to include wintry scenes, and generally create a warmer look in contrast to the cool summer colors and accents. I use a checklist to make sure nothing gets missed and thought I’d share that with you as it has been refined over the past few years and is pretty comprehensive now.

I start a week or so before the fall clean and tour the property as if for the first time. With notepad in hand, I am ultra-critical and just imagine myself as a Bree Vanderkamp (of Desperate Housewives fame), checking every corner, drawer, window frame and toilet bowl with a perfectionists eye. I don’t subscribe to the viewpoint that ‘It’s just a cottage and nobody expects it to be spotless’. I have guests paying a substantial rate to stay in my cottage and they deserve to be treated in a respectful way. That means a pristine presentation, even in an older property. And when it has been in constant use over the summer, there is some wear and tear and a few things that need addressing before I am happy it is ready for my fall and winter guests.

Doing a cottage audit like this may uncover a few things that are likely to be spotted by your eagle-eyed guests. So, here’s a few tips to make sure you’ve covered everything.


  • Arrive at the cottage as if you were a guest for the first time. What is the first thing you notice? How inviting does it look? Think of two things you could do to make it look more attractive. Walk around the cottage. Are there any areas you store things that need cleaning up? Does the siding need cleaning?
  • What could you do to improve the approach to the cottage? A new sign you’re your cottage name? Hanging baskets with seasonal plants?
  • Is the exterior neat and tidy? Are tables/chairs stacked neatly? Are items stored in an unsightly way under the deck?
  • Is the waterfront clean and clear of clutter – is the dock in good condition – are there any areas that need repair? Do you have a lockable storage shed where you can store items you don’t want your guests to find or use? If there is anything you don’t want touched or used, then make sure it is out of sight, or clearly marked ‘Not for Use by Rental Guests’
  • Are decks and docks free of rotten wood and exposed nails and screws? Replace and repair as required.
  • Look at the cottage critically from the outside. Do you need to power wash the siding? Are the windows clean? Would the frames benefit from repainting? Does the barbecue need to be replaced? Is it clean and functioning correctly? Have you provided a new brush to allow your guests to clean it?
  • Check all patio and outdoor furniture and dispose of stained, mildewed and broken chairs. Check umbrella – is it clean and free of mildew and stain. Do the same for tables.
  • Are your boats/kayak/canoe/paddleboat in good condition with no leaks or weak spots? Are oars and paddles in good condition? Do you have a safety kit for each boat?
  • Are there any materials or items stored outside that could pose a safety risk for children? For example, rat or mouse poison, fertilizer etc.


  • Enter the cottage as if for the first time. What is your first impression? What does it smell like? Does it feel damp or smell musty? Walk through each room and record your impression in a notebook. Then do a more thorough and methodical search checking all appliances for cleanliness; carpets and rugs for stains and wear; drawers and cupboards for mess and clutter; bathrooms for lime deposits and hard floor cleanliness; window frames for bugs and dirt.
  • Are children's toys, games, and books generally clean and in good condition? If you have any toys or games you don’t want used, then remove them. Buy a lockable chest or cupboard to put in the basement or storeroom and clearly mark it ‘Owners’ Cupboard’, or something similar.
  • Do you have sufficient plates, cutlery, and glassware for the maximum number of people you will accommodate, and do you have spares?
  • Do you have sufficient plastic plates, cutlery, and glassware for outdoor use?
  • Are your cooking pans and utensils in good condition?
  • Bedrooms: Are the mattresses comfortable – not too soft and not too hard? Are they clean and free of mildew and damp smells? Check for evidence of bed bug activity.
  • Do the bedrooms look attractive? Are comforters or bed covers clean and fresh? Check all pillows for stains – replace if necessary. Check the mattress covers too and replace any that are stained or worn. If you supply linens, consider buying new sets for the new season.
  • Move the beds and check underneath. You may find more than dust bunnies! Vacuum thoroughly
  • Check all your cleaning supplies. Your guests won’t clean unless you provide the supplies and equipment for them to do it. Restock with paper products – toilet paper, kitchen towel, coffee filters; laundry detergents; bathroom and kitchen cleaning products, and furniture polish.
  • Check your Cottage Guide. This should be a neat, typed document that is easy to read and presented in a friendly tone. Is it up to date? Are the contact numbers still the same? Have you bought new appliances or equipment that may need explanatory notes in the guide? Is the Guide dog-eared, grease-stained or otherwise unsightly? Do you need to buy a new binder or Guide cover?
  • Renew your tourist information. This is all free from your local tourist office. The only thing you may need to buy is a map of the local area, and make sure you label it with your name and a request to leave it behind when your guests depart.
  • Make sure you have working smoke alarms on each level of the property, and a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.