This page is step 2 of a step-by-step guide to get your business up and running. There’s no fluff here - just information, help, and suggestions for doing it right - the first time!
Everything in this guide comes from experience.
Not a mere 6 months of experience in running an Airbnb, nor a year of co-hosting.
This is from 25 years of being in the vacation rental business, owning 7 properties and owning a seriously successful property management company with over 180 properties.
Our team have attended and presented at countless conferences and we continue our education by sitting in on hundreds of educational presentations, and still do to this day. So, we can bring you the learning from all those experts as well.
So, sit back and enjoy the ride…or the read!
Contents of this step:
I’ve been in this business for over two decades and have seen massive changes in every aspect of it.
Let’s just look back at the past 20 years of vacations and where we’ve come.
1998 - Possible indoor plumbing, TV with rabbit ears and a cassette player, a few old jigsaw puzzles and a well-used pack of cards..mice came as standard. No welcome book. Bring everything. Key is under the mat.
2003 - Washing machine, bigger tube TV & boom box, jumbles of pots and pans and cast-offs; blunt knives and a rusted can opener. Welcome book is 2 sheets of coffee stained paper with instructions on how to turn on the water supply and where to take the garbage. Guests bring their own bed linens, cleaning supplies and toilet paper. Key is sent by mail.
2008 - Dishwasher, ensuite bathroom to master bedroom, bed linens - a little threadbare but passable, used furniture, clock radios, fridge without owner’s food inside, stereo system with multi-CD player. Welcome book is a 3-ring binder with paper in plastic pockets and tourist information from 3 years previously. Realtor style lock box on door with fixed code.
2013 - Flat screen TV with satellite or cable & DVD collection, iPod docking stations, baby gates and safety equipment, duvets with removable covers, themed children’s bedrooms, clean but basic kitchens, non-stick pots and pans. Property Manual has lots of graphics, instructions on using all the appliances and some restaurant reviews in a custom binder. Keyless entry system with code set for each guest.
2018 - Complete entertainment systems with large screen TVs, Wii or Playstation; unlimited Wi-Fi for streaming Netflix; Alexa welcomes guests and delivers local information on demand; all king or queen beds or twins for children; charging stations for devices; concierge services; high-quality kitchen equipment with stainless steel appliances; 500 thread count sheets; property information is displayed on iPad with welcome video. Bluetooth door lock gives all guests access between check-in and check-out.
2023 - Digital welcome books, virtual concierge services, minimal check-out list, safety and sustainability certificates, home automation throughout with voice activation via Alexa for Hospitality, vehicle charging station.
There was no one to ask nor any Facebook groups to drop a question in, or to lurk around and see if anyone else was looking for the same information.
So, I learned as I went along.
I found out that buying cheap makes no economic sense, that anything in a rental will be used harder and with less respect than if it was in your own home, and that things get damaged just from plain use.
After buying the third property, I stopped purchasing inexpensive comforters, and replaced them with duvets with easy wash covers. Solidly built furniture from local manufacturers became the go-to instead of Ikea and bulk furniture suppliers.
And my kitchens were outfitted with robust stainless steel pans, dinnerware that would be replaceable, and mid-range appliances.
I asked my guests about everything in ways that got them providing valuable feedback, and encouraged them to let me know if something wasn’t right. Because the first few reservations were discounted due to the newness of the rentals, no one complained, and all were eager to share their experiences, both good and not-so-good.
With every suggestion and comment, we made changes, upgrades and improvements.
When my property management company got off the ground, I was able to share all this with owners, so we could hit the market with their homes, all ready for five star reviews.
Now I am doing the same with you.
You have to consider what you need to supply in the way of:
Entertainment and technology
Beds and bedding
Family friendly amenities
Kitchen and dining supplies
Outdoor equipment and furniture
General comfort – lighting, furnishings, etc
Ambience – the WOW factor
And anything else you can do to make your property better than your guests’ home, because that is what they now expect.
Entertainment systems: Guests appreciate having access to entertainment systems such as large flat-screen TVs, soundbars, and streaming devices like Apple TV or Chromecast. Larger properties benefit from dedicated home theaters with projectors, screens and surround sound systems.
Voice assistants: Imagine arriving at your vacation rental, and with nothing more than your voice; checking in, finding out how the hot tub jets work, finding a local Mexican restaurant for dinner, raising or lowering the temperature, and asking where the spare pillows are kept.
Integrating voice assistants like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant can make it easier for guests to control the smart home technology, play music, and access information about the local area. Listen to Dana Young from Aipex Technologies talking about Alexa Smart Properties for Hospitality in this episode of the Vacation Rental Success podcast.
Charging stations: Guests often bring multiple devices with them, so having enough charging stations in convenient locations can be a significant advantage. We suggest one beside every bed, and a dedicated charging area on a desk or table where all guests have a place and space to charge their devices.
Digital Guides: The days of the dog-eared and coffee-stained welcome book are gone. If you still want to provide a written guide, consider creating one on Shutterfly or Mixbook, in addition to a digital guide, which can be updated easily. Providing guests with a mobile application that includes check-in and check-out instructions, local recommendations, and emergency contacts can enhance their overall experience.
Another benefit is they can take it with them when they go out – a pocket travel guide.
“What I liked the most?...... the bed sheets and covers in the master bedroom :) Wow...just marvelous, beautiful white embroidered and thick like a cloud. Perfect for those who love to sleep.”
If you were to put a hidden camera in your property (please don’t do this!), and watch people arrive, they would all do much the same, as they look in each bedroom. They will sit down on the bed and make a comment about how hard/soft/comfortable/squeaky the mattress is.
What would they say about yours?
The task of every owner and manager in the short-term rental business is to create an outstanding guest experience, and giving guests a good night’s sleep is the foundation of that experience.
Not only should bedrooms look supremely comfortable and inviting, the mattresses should be the best you can afford. Please don’t think of buying mattresses in a yard sale or from an online ad; people are getting rid of them for a reason, usually because they are old and ready for replacement. Back in 2003, this was a checklist I used to encourage owners to upgrade their bedrooms and how to know when they needed to replace their mattresses:
The mattress is lumpy, bumpy, sagging or uneven
The mattress is 10 to 15 years old
It makes noises, squeals like a pig, or sways when you lie down
There’s signs of wear, it’s torn, has stains or smells like mold or mildew
Today we wouldn’t dream of letting any form of bedding get to this stage. Most hotels change their mattresses every 3 – 5 years and if your property is constantly occupied, this should be the timing you put on replacement as well.
Remember that putting a new mattress on an old foundation, pairing it with a foundation it wasn’t designed to work with or adding a board between the mattress and foundation will affect comfort and reduce the useful life of your new mattress.
Don’t forget mattress encasements as these are essential to avoid issues with bed bugs.
You don’t have to get the top grade tempura-posture-paedic-throw-on-a-bowling- ball-type of mattress; however, pay as much attention to the comfort of your new vacation rental bed set as you would if you were buying a new one for your own home.
The rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t sleep on it for 14 nights, don’t inflict it on your guests. Invest yourself in your guests’ sweet dreams.
In the words of an owner:
“I love to create a sleeping experience for my guests that they will not forget. In summer we have crisp, white, Egyptian cotton sheets and floral sprigged white/blue covers on the lightweight duvets. When the cold weather comes, the duvets are changed to heavier-weight duck down (warmer, but still feel light as per the ‘thick like a cloud’ comment). The covers have a richer look and there are throws for additional warmth and comfort.”
Your guests will often choose one similar property over another based on how the beds look in photos. Show off sumptuous beds and bedding, so get with the flow and start making some changes.
With guest expectations rising and so much competition, the relatively small investment to create a picture perfect bedroom is worth the time and money. Here’s a few suggestions to help you get started:
Use quality bedding to create a sumptuous looking sleeping space. Bare beds and flat comforters with old pillows are reminiscent of third-rate motels, so avoid this look if you want to attract quality guests.
Choose matching side tables and lamps and switch them on when you take the photos.
Use large pieces of artwork and other accent pieces to add colour and texture to the image.
Add interest to a bed by placing a throw across the bottom third.
Photos taking in as much of the bedroom as possible are important for guests to see the ‘whole picture’; however, try some close-ups of any special features
This deserves its own section.
I have stayed in multiple rental properties in the past few years. Way too many of them had too few pillows, and those they had were well-used, flat and uncomfortable. In our property management company, the minimum standard was 2 pillows per person and they needed regular laundering, and replacing every 6 -12 months.
At the risk of being pounced on by the STR minimalist police, do not think about renting out your property without providing at least 2 pillows per person.
That means 4 sleeping pillows on each double, queen and king, and 2 on each twin.
Sleeping pillows are emphasized here because decorative pillows with shams do not count. The covers are not necessarily designed for actual sleeping on and can feel uncomfortable. Notwithstanding the possibility that they have not been laundered as well!!
So your queen bed would have 4 pillows + shams and any decorative cushions.
Think about the last time you shopped for pillows.
Did you go for feather and down, or memory foam, synthetic or latex? That’s just a few of the wide choices available.
The chances are that your guests will have different preferences, so it’s a good idea to keep some alternatives available.
For example, you could use a mix of memory foam and down on each bed with some synthetic pillows offered as spares for those with allergies.
Just ensure every pillow has a clean protector that is laundered regularly, and check for stains on each changeover. There is little more destined to produce a poor review than a sweat-stained pillow.
Be careful with baby equipment – there are liability issues you need to be aware of when providing items such as cribs or high chairs. It’s a much better idea to point your guests in the direction of rental items if possible.
If you are providing these items, create a safety and maintenance checklist for every turnover and ensure there is a protocol for cleaning between guests.
Even with all the digital entertainment available today, people still love board games and cards, so it’s worthwhile providing some well-known varieties – Monopoly, Clue, Pictionary, Game of Life, etc. Include a couple of kids’ games too, not only do they entertain children when the weather isn’t so good, they can also provide parents with some much-needed relaxation time.
You cannot be in control of how attentive your guests are with their children; however, providing childproofing supplies such as outlet covers, cabinet locks, and stair-gates offer safety options for them to use. Ensuring all cabinets are secured to walls is essential as part of your overall safety obligations to accepting families into the home.
Offering access to streaming services such as Netflix or Disney+ and providing a selection of family-friendly movies can keep children entertained during downtime or rainy days.
If the property is located near a pool or beach, providing pool or beach equipment such as floats, towels, and umbrellas can make a family's stay more enjoyable. If the beach is within walking distance, include a beach cart to make it easy for guests to transport all of their stuff easily. They will love you for that one!
One of the most coveted comments on a review is:
‘This place was better equipped than my own home’
What you don’t want is complaints about a kitchen that lacks the materials for guests to cook and cater for their families.
I admit to making this mistake when I first started in the rental business two decades ago. Buying cheap appliances, utensils and other kitchen equipment was a false economy; nothing lasts beyond a season. And the reviews weren’t great either.
Learning quickly, as my business grew, I began raising standards in every area, but particularly in the kitchen.
The first mistake I made was buying a cheap oven without a self-clean function. If I was doing this all again, I’d be investing in an induction stove as they offer serious safety benefits and a cleaner carbon footprint.
Here's a list of essential elements for a gourmet kitchen:
Invest in high-quality cookware made from materials like stainless steel, cast iron, or copper. This will ensure that your guests can cook a variety of dishes without any issues. Avoid Teflon-coated pans - look for predominantly nonstick cookware that don’t contain any PFAs and are PFOA-free.
I’ve been to rentals that have ice cream makers, bread machines, Instant Pots, a Vitamix and other non-essential small appliances, and I loved them! Consider stocking your kitchen with some specialty gadgets like these. Not all your guests will use them, but the ones that enjoy cooking will be very appreciative of your thoughtfulness in supplying them.
Vacation rentals had a bad rap for years for dull knives and rusty can-openers, which seemed a staple of the business. Hopefully those days are long gone. Your kitchen should be equipped with a variety of utensils and tools like chef's knives, cutting boards, measuring cups and spoons, and mixing bowls.
Don’t forget the simple bakeware that will make your guests’ stay more enjoyable. If a guest wants to bake some cookies on a rainy day, or create a dessert for an in-house meal, ensure they have the essentials to do so. Baking trays, muffin tins, and loaf tins are all inexpensive items that will add to your gourmet kitchen inventory.
Don't forget about the presentation! Make sure your guests have access to quality glassware and dinnerware to showcase their delicious meals.
Lastly, provide your guests with a well-stocked gourmet kitchen, you'll be giving them the tools they need to cook up a storm during their stay.
Whether you have a balcony, a deck, or a garden where guests can hang out, it’s essential to have the equipment and furniture to help them enjoy the outside just as much as the inside.
Outdoor dining is a must in many areas, so your al fresco dining area should be attractive, welcoming and the perfect place to enjoy a meal. Tables and chairs should be sufficient to accommodate the number of guests the property accommodates. For example, if you advertise your place sleeping 12, then your outdoor areas should be able to seat that number as well.
Lounging beds, firepit seating, dock chairs, etc, are all part of a vacation experience, so be sure to provide enough that everyone gets a seat. Always check weight limits on outdoor seating and go for the highest load rating. Buy solidly made furniture that will take hard use, and avoid hammocks (liability issues).
All of these pose safety risks, so purchase and install carefully. A good barbecue should have an automatic start function and be located away from the sides of a building and not situated under an overhang.
Fire pits need to be sited well away from any buildings and attention paid to local fire ordinance and regulations. Check these before you begin.
Make sure to provide adequate outdoor lighting, so guests can enjoy the outdoor space even after dark. String lights, lanterns, or even motion-activated lights are great options. This is also a safety feature, so consider all areas of the property’s exterior where guests may be after dark, and install adequate lighting accordingly.
Consider providing outdoor games such as cornhole, bocce ball, or horseshoes. This can be a fun way for guests to spend time together outdoors.
Years ago I stayed in a vacation rental on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. We were there with our son and his wife and my 5-month old granddaughter. I’m an early riser, so once I heard the baby had woken and been fed, I got to look after her while her mom and dad enjoyed a good sleep. Arya would sit in her rocker chair and play with a mobile while I curled up in an easy chair and read a book and had my morning tea. The chair was super comfortable and there was a reading light right beside it, so I didn’t have to turn on glaring overhead lighting.
It was a perfect start to the mornings, and I have never forgotten that ambiance and comfort.
I tell this story because it is so important that you consider how your guests are going to use each piece of furniture:
Might they use it in the daytime and at night?
Is the lighting well-located, plentiful, and arranged so a reader doesn’t need to reposition the furniture in order to easily see a book?
Are there power points and USB ports so a laptop or device can be charged and used at the same time?
Is the seating arranged in a way that people can maneuver in and out and around the room without danger of knocking anything over?
There is a lot more to consider here than just putting in a three-seater, two chairs and a coffee table. Planning on how your guests will use the interior space can make a massive difference between them just having a vacation, and enjoying every minute of their stay!
You have a responsibility as a vacation rental owner to ensure the safety of your guests to the degree that you use your knowledge of the possible risks to create a safe and secure environment for them.
Many travelers to short-term rentals have never experienced this type of vacation before, so will also need some guidance on how to manage potential hazards they may not have encountered before.
It may seem as though this is going too far along the ‘extra mile’ and we can’t possibly protect them from everything that might occur, but in a liability claim situation, your proof that you were not negligent, can go a long way.
Let’s start with what you need to have as the minimum in safety equipment:
Install a smoke detector in a hallway outside every sleeping area as well as in, or near the kitchen. The problem with kitchen installations is that they often create ‘nuisance alarms’ when the toast is a little overdone or a stir-fry is cooking. Guests are likely to remove the battery to cut out the nuisance noise, then forget to put it back. Locate it in a position where this is less likely to occur, but will still be effective in a real fire situation. Make sure the alarms are checked on every changeover
A Carbon Monoxide detector should be installed adjacent to every sleeping area. Some smoke detectors now incorporate CO alarms, so a dual-purpose unit is acceptable.
There should be at least one fire extinguisher in the property. Call your local fire department and ask which type is best to use and the best location for it, or pick up one of their leaflets on home safety.
If you provide a boat with your rental, you must also supply the appropriate safety kit. These include a bailer, whistle, throwing rope and a flashlight and can be bought anywhere that sells watercraft.
You may be asked if your property is ‘child-friendly’. This means different things to different parents, and many families will bring along their own items to make the place safe for their children. However if your property attracts a lot of guests with children it is worthwhile doing some additional child-proofing. Buying some outlet covers, cupboard and drawer locks, and a baby gate (if you have stairs) is a good start.
Create a safety checklist that is followed on each changeover. This should cover checking that the smoke alarms work, there are no trip hazards either inside or outside; all deck and dock boards are in good condition, secure and there are no screws or nails that have worked themselves loose. If you have a caretaker or cleaning team, provide a fresh list for each week and have them sign and date it on completion. Keep a copy for yourself and create a form to leave in the property that shows the checklist has been completed.
This is like the forms you see in restrooms showing when it was last cleaned. This just gives you the evidence that all safety aspects are checked regularly.
Create a section in your welcome book that covers safety guidelines. This can mention use of watercraft (and marine regulations on carrying safety kits and using lifejackets); water depth and cautions on diving and jumping off a dock; procedures to follow in case of a power outage; and anything else important to mention that might impact your guests’ safe enjoyment of the property. There should be a section on what to do and who to call in case of emergency.
This is like the forms you see in restrooms showing when it was last cleaned. This just gives you the evidence that all safety aspects are checked regularly.
Back in 2010, I presented at a HomeAway Summit in Phoenix about how to wow your guests by appealing to all their senses.
This meant paying attention to visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory and gustatory senses.
What does that mean??Just imagine for a moment if you were a fly on the wall when a family arrives at your place.
I always wanted to be there when people walked into my riverfront cottage in the dead of winter.
There would be snow on the ground and a deep chill in the air, when they got out of the car.
The outside lights would be on, and the twinkling fairy lights on the deck created a welcoming look.
Opening the door (easily because the right code was keyed in), they would step into the ambient lit and warm interior, to see a fire already lit in the propane stove. Music is playing in the background (a Spotify playlist they had already provided).
There is a chalkboard on the wall with a personalized welcome, mentioning all their names.
A welcome basket is on the kitchen island with some gluten-free cookies from the local bakery, and there is a coffee pot ready to go. They open the refrigerator and there is bread, fresh milk and eggs from the nearby farm. And…a 6-pack of assorted beers from the craft brewery in our local town.
Checking out the bedrooms they find crisp white sheets, fluffy duvets and plenty of pillows on the beds. The bathrooms are spotlessly clean.
What do you think their comments would be?
Lastly, this is not a business where you set up, start renting, and then forget about it. Things will get broken, damaged or go missing; walls will get scuffed and items will need replacing.
Every new guest deserves to find the property in the same pristine condition as it was when you began to rent, so there is a responsibility to keep it updated and up to high standards at all times.
Keep this in mind and create some systems to check on your inventory and property status regularly.
This will keep your reviews at a consistently high level, your guests happy and reduce stress on you and your staff.