We all want 5 star renters; those who leave the place as if they had never been there; write lovely comments in the guest book, and never call at midnight asking how the microwave works. Just as much as we'd like to win the lottery; raise kids who never act out and save the planet single handedly. Will that happen? Well, if anyone ever told you there was no risk involved in renting out your pride and joy, and you believed them…perhaps you also believe that pigs can fly.
There is always risk of some minor breakage, or that the cottage will not be as clean as you would have liked. And occasionally there may be some more substantial damage – a broken window or screen door; a burnt countertop, or scratched wood flooring. This is why we ask for a damage deposit, and ensure our renters sign a rental agreement that is clear about their responsibilities in the case of higher value accidental damage.
We can also minimise risk by screening potential guests carefully and creating a relationship with them before they book. This is why I don't like the idea of guests being able to make a reservation with a third party booking service, or booking online. Screening is about communicating and establishing a rapport with your renters – feeling confident the match between the rental group and your vacation home is just right. If you don't have that one-on-one discussion you are taking a big gamble.
There is no hard and fast rule about doing this. Just get into conversation and ask why they are interested in your place. If you do this right you can do sales and screening in one go. Listen to what they say carefully. Here's a couple of examples:
"Hi – I'd like to rent your cottage for New Year's – is it still available?"
"Yes, it is. How many people are in your group"
"Well, we've got about 6 interested so far – it does sleep 10 doesn't it?". "How many cars can we park?"
"Hello – your cottage looks gorgeous. I've been looking for a place for our family summer vacation and I wonder if you have availability for the second week of July."
"Thank you – it is a lovely place, and we do have that week available. What did you like about it?"
"I loved the sandy beach and it looks so private. And it's great you have such a big deck"
"Great – how many are in your group?"
"There'll be 6 of us most of the time. Some of the family won't stay for the full week. It's got three bedrooms, right?"
"Yes, it has and 6 is the maximum it will accommodate, so it should be fine for your family".
"Well, there might be a couple of nights when there's more than 6 – like when my sister and her kids come up. Will that be a problem?"
"How many people are we talking about here?"
"Well, on most nights it'll just be my parents, my brother and his wife and myself and my boyfriend….and the kids."
"So, the 6 of you ‘most of the time' don't include the children? How many of them do you have?"
"Oh..do kids count? My brother has 3, and I have two – but they are all under 10 – just little people. And they are only staying for the day of the wedding, then my sister is taking them all back with her".
"The wedding. Is this an event you were intending having at my cottage"
"If that's OK with you – it's such a gorgeous location. The guests won't be staying the night anyway and they are all family. We can send you the photos after and you could put them on your web site"
" Out of curiosity, how many guests were you planning on inviting to your wedding? Those who won't stay the night?"
" This is so exciting! We've invited about 80 but I don't think they'll all come, so probably around 60 altogether. You do have a big barbecue don't you?"
Both of these requests were turned down. The first because it was clearly a party group. Where an organiser is trying to find people to fill a place, you should hear alarm bells. The second one is not unusual and shows just how listening well and good questioning can reveal a lot more than the renter planned to say.
What are your secrets of screening?