How To Minimise The Rental Risks

pig 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?"

" 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?


Heather, thanks for your great story. It made me laugh ;).

The only point I would disagree on is the online bookings. I think that online bookings are unavoidable in a long run and they have a lot of value if implemented properly. By proper implementation I mean the online form that asks many questions, like maximum number of people at any give time, name and age of all renters in the group including children, event type, etc. This form should also have legal section describing implications for the renter in case of misrepresentation of information. Cottage Owner would review submitted form and approve/reject it electronically based on his/her own criterias.
Also, having electronic form will have more value in case of any disputes unless you taping all your phone conversations with renters.

However, I would agree that simple online booking form with name and booking dates only and immediate approval without review can cause a lot of harm.

Heather Bayer

Max – I appreciate your viewpoint however as a cottage owner myself, I would rarely accept a booking based on an online form. Nothing beats speaking with the renters directly, and this communication has allowed us to screen out undesirable renters in the past. We ask all those questions you have mentioned on our online application form, but still follow up with a phone call to establish rapport. It would be interesting to hear what other owners say.

Alison Meacham

This post really made me smile Heather.

You are right that some renters present big red flags from the start. These are rare but I hit the delete button straight away! But others you have to talk with them a little while to get a sense of whether you really want them in your home. My rule is that if I ever feel even slightly nervous about someone then just don’t take the risk. I think that you get an instinct for it but you have to be careful.

Most people are completely genuine and I have had many guests over the years who remain online friends and come back year after year. But as you say, you must always be aware that you have to be on your guard.

Alison Meacham’s last blog post..Mickey Mouse is 80 Today

Heather Bayer

Alison – you are right about developing an instinct. When you get that gut feeling that something isn’t quite as it seems you need to trust it. On the odd occasions something has gone wrong in one of our places I can go back to the start of the process and usually find something I should have picked up on.

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