The High Cost of Buying Cheap

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When we travelled out from England to buy our first vacation rental home in Ontario, we had a week to close, furnish and set it up for rental. At that time, we didn't have the big stores in UK like Wal*Mart and Home Depot -at least not where I lived – so we were like kids in a toy store. What made it even better was the exchange rate at C$2.50 gave us a lot more for our sterling; there was so much to choose from, and everything seemed so cheap! And boy, did we ever get it wrong!

We bought at the low end of just about everything. Electrical goods, linens, small appliances, china and glassware, entertainment items – we were so entranced with how little we were spending that we didn't stop to really think about the practicality and durability of our purchases. And it was brought home to us pretty early in the rental season, that we'd made some very poor choices.

Since those heady days, we've learnt a lot and each subsequent property has benefited from the learning, giving us less hassle and naturally, happier guests. Here's a few of the lessons I've taken to heart.

Never buy an oven that doesn't self-clean

A saving of $200 is not worth the hours of scrubbing and scouring that come as part of buying a non-self cleaning oven.

Getting a vacuum that doesn't suck, sucks – if you get my drift!

After a year of replacing bags, belts and filters, we finally opted for a Dyson (being British of course). More expensive but the savings in replacement parts and bags add up over time. And does it ever suck!

$9.99 for a box of 18 glasses is not a  bargain

Wow, we thought, you can really get all that glassware for that little! Then 6 of them got chipped or broken at the end of the first rental. OK, so that's only $3 and change but you'll never find a matching set to replace them. Good, strong, replaceable glassware is essential. The same goes for china and tableware.

There's a reason bed linens are so cheap at Wal*Mart

The comforters come apart on the first washing; the sheets aren't deep enough to cover the mattress, and they can be so thin you can see through them.  Guests aren't stupid either. They know cheap when they see it and won't appreciate this type of shortcut. Conversely, when I went the other way and bought hugely expensive, high thread count, Egyptian cotton  linens, they had to be ironed to prevent them looking as though they'd been in the middle of a football scrum.

Small appliances get hard use

In our first rental season we replaced the $18 coffee machine three times. Hmmm…in two seasons that could be over $100. Finance is not my strong point but I believe I'm right in thinking that buying better quality could be an advantage in the long term. On top of that, my guests feel pampered with the Kitchen Aid grinder/coffee maker (and we include a nice bag of coffee beans in the gift basket).

Low quality kitchen knives come top of the complaint list

We all like to see positive comments in the guest book. But, when three weeks running, the notes said, "It would have been nice to have sharp kitchen knives", I got the message and replaced my cheap knife block with a couple of Henckels.

It's OK if the barbecue doesn't have a spice rack

After being overwhelmed at the choice of barbecues we bought the one with all the snazzy features – side burner, rotisserie…..and wait for it….a spice rack. Now how could you not buy the model with a spice rack? Funny though, it rusted and fell apart in the first season. The next one had half the gizmos but the porcelain grill made up for not having those little extras I can honestly live without. Curiously enough, none of my guests have said, "It's a shame your barbecue didn't have a spice rack".

It was brutally clear after our first rental season that our choices had probably resulted in higher expenses overall. Now, we still look for a bargain, but that is when a good quality item comes on sale, rather than opting for the cheapest in the first place.

I'd love to hear your experiences and the lessons learnt in setting up your property for vacation rental.