Who should not be in the vacation rental business?


There are two distinct types of vacation rental properties, each with their own drawbacks from a rental guest perspective. The cottage or holiday home that has been bought for investment and is solely used for rental purposes can sometimes lack ambience and charm while, on the other side of the spectrum is the property that is the vacation home (or permanent home) for the owners who give up a few week of each year for some additional income.

I viewed two cottages last week – one in each camp – and was really struck by the difference in owner attitude and presentation of the properties.

The first had been built, furnished and presented with income in mind and I’ll be returning to this mindset in a later post. The second is the much loved vacation home to a family who have owned it for over 30 years, but are now facing rising taxes and repair and maintenance costs that are rapidly turning it into a money pit.

Reluctantly, they have decided to rent for a few weeks each year as they see this as the only way of raising funds to keep the cottage in the family. The big challenge was to get the owners to appreciate the changes they would have to make; that it wasn’t simply a case of having a good tidy, emptying a couple of drawers for guests to use, and clearing a shelf or two in a food cupboard. Having to convince them that renters might not embrace their ‘It’s just a cottage’ viewpoint , was not easy.

Guests don’t expect to enter a property and feel they are intruding on someone else’s personal space; they want it to be clean, charming, ambient and welcoming – not cluttered with personal photos, grandma’s crocheted throws on every bed, and closets full of other people’s clothes. They want to sleep in beds with upgraded mattresses – not the stained and mildewed foam pad that has seen several generations of children pass through (if you get my drift), and want to watch television on a set that doesn’t look more at home showing I Love Lucy than The Simpsons. They want to bathe and shower without looking at black mould around the tiles, or see water coming out of lime-encrusted taps.

Since I’m at risk of this developing into an all-out rant, I’ll just list the recommendations I made and will value any comments. Am I being too harsh? Is there a place in this business for half-hearted efforts if the location is spectacular?

Here’s my recommendations to them (and to anyone considering of renting their family vacation home):

  • All closets and drawers must be empty of personal items
  • Personal non-perishable food items can be left but must be in one area leaving at least one empty kitchen cabinet for guest use
  • Refrigerator clean & empty
  • Kitchen cupboards cleaned and tidied – old pots and pans removed particularly old Teflon coated non-stick where the Teflon is peeling off
  • Replace all chipped, cracked & mismatched dinnerware and glassware
  • Clean out all kitchen drawers – replace rusted and old kitchen ware & knives
  • Buy new small appliances – replace 20 year old lime stained kettle and coffee makers
  • Replace old and inefficient appliances – stove and oven must be spotlessly clean and in full working order
  • Remove all personal photos in free standing frames and limit wall hung family photos to one or two
  • Clear the clutter and reduce the kitsch – ornaments, decade-old dried flower arrangements, prints in old frames and mementoes of the last 10 years of family holidays in Mexico should really be removed.
  • Bathrooms must be spotlessly clean – replace fixtures if necessary & update accessories.
  • Replace old shower curtains
  • Remove and replace stained and damaged living room furniture
  • Upgrade all mattresses and supply mattress covers for each bed + new pillows and new bedding
  • Check all board games to ensure they are intact and buy new sets of playing cards
  • Have the property professionally cleaned including all carpets and upholstery

This seems quite an overwhelming list but in fact, most of it could be done relatively inexpensively. It is possible to find good quality furniture and appliances in online classified ads , and much of the rest is down to disciplined de-cluttering and cleaning.

Are they prepared to do the work? On this occasion, I don’t believe so. There is still a mindset that it’s OK to take money from people while offering them sub-standard accommodation and a lousy experience, and I wish that could be changed. All it does it show new renters a side of our business we would like to eliminate. Over time, as our rental guests become more savvy and vacation rentals are seen as a viable alternative to resort and hotels, the bad apples will get weeded out. Until then I continue on my soap box!!