My son and business partner, Mike, had no idea I was writing this post, so it’s coming as a surprise to him, but when I saw the latest review for his property, Sea Breeze, and read all the previous ones, I thought it was time to share his success with you.
Our cottage rental agency rented this property for several years with a previous owner, with moderate success. The cottage has the benefit of an wide swathe of private sandy beachfront on Lake Ontario, so it was always popular in summer but we struggled with getting fall, winter and spring interest. Then, when it came up for sale, I suggested that Mike and Andrea take a look. He was just 30 at the time, married for a couple of years and thinking about starting a family, so even though buying a vacation home was on his goal list, it wasn’t front and centre on his radar.
They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and it seems Mike was cloned from my business psyche. He immediately saw the investment potential in the cottage and it was a done deal in days. That was in September 2010. It is a sweet 2-bedroom, 1 bathroom cottage with a neat kitchen and good-sized bathroom and at that time it was ready for rental. However there were a few things he did that secured some immediate bookings, and have continued to increase the flow of guests throughout the year, many of whom come back over and over again.
Put in a hot tub
This was a no-brainer for Mike. In our area, the low season is notoriously tough to book with a lot of competition for a smaller market. His target market was couples looking for a romantic break coming out of the city of Toronto (1.5 hour drive). The investment in a quality hot tub paid off in the first year. I was going to express this as a percentagebut since there were 2 weekends rented in the low season ( September – June) by the previous owner, and Mike now has every weekned rented, most of which are 3 or 4 day reservations) it just wouldn’t compute. Suffice to say the hot tub made a massive difference. This doesn’t mean a hot tub is right for every property – this is more about determining what amenity or facility will beat the competition in your area, and invest in it.
Find a reliable and committed property manager
Mike and Andrea do some of their own changeovers when they can since they live less than 1 hour away, however both are emergency service shift-workers and now their family has increased by two more small people. One of the first services they brought in was a professional and reliable cleaning company. Fortunately they managed to find a great company in the area that was willing to work with them to ensure their standards were maintained. This was also the time when they included cleaning in the price of the rental and not listing it as an additional fee. This made a huge difference in converting enquiries to bookings from the traffic to his listing.
I have just recently written the Vacation Rental For Profit Guide To: Property Management where Mike and I conferred on many of the topics to help other owners find and keep a great property manager. This really is the person or company who can make or break your vacation rental business.
Welcome to Pets
From the outset Mike wanted Sea Breeze to be known as a pet friendly property that was not just tolerant of dogs, but positively welcoming. The pet corner has dog bowls, pet toys, old towels for feet wiping and a welcome not to their four-legged friends. It’s not surprising that 90% of their guests bring their dogs and mention how much they enjoyed it too.
Create a Video
Mike claims this video was done in a hurry and is not his best work – he’s redoing it this spring. I love it because it gives a real flavour of the beautiful location, sandy beach and pet friendliness.
Create an appealing space
Being a property with a sandy beach on Lake Ontario, Mike and Andrea thought the beach house theme was the right way to go. To their surprise their guests didn't just like the look and feel of the property but fell in love with it. There are several comments in their guest book about how the decor transports them to the seaside. Lake Ontario can give the impression of being at the ocean and combined with the light colors and brightly coloured accents this really give the property an airy and relaxed feel. I have mentioned their welcome chalkboard many times on this blog and for such a simple idea it receives constant praise in the reviews. Note the added shells, starfish and sand dollars to the chalkboard. A little extra effort goes a long way!
Furnish and equip with guests comfort in mind
Thankfully Mike grew out of his Xbox phase (which is surprising considering he is in his 30's) and he donated it to Sea Breeze along with a flat screen HDTV, great surround sound system and 100's of games, movies and DVD's. This is the kind of thing some guests may not even notice but when the rain cometh and the sky falls and the guests feel like their vacation is ruined some great times can be had playing a few hours of Rock Band or a ‘Team Death Match' in Call of Duty. All the while snacking on the popcorn (provided for each guest) and the selection of candies beautifully arranged in glass jars in the kitchen.
As I'm writing this I thought Mike would have some additional insights to share that might be helpful so here he is with a few more learning points from his vacation rental investing experience.
Reading through this is very flattering and seems like we have had a fairytale time with our rental experience.We like to be very open on this blog and I can tell you that we have had some very low lows as well. The trend has always been on the up which shows we are doing things right, however our success is mainly due to ensuring both our operational and administrative systems work perfectly.
Within the first 3 months owning Sea Breeze, we discovered that the well supplying the water to the cottage did not have a flow rate that was enough to support full-time rental and had run dry on several occasions during guests stays. This was heartbreaking and we did not have the money for the repairs so we had to take a huge loan to redrill the well and install a cistern holding tank that would easily support heavy use. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to have reliable utilities that will easily supply enough water, heat/cold, electricity and more importantly peace of mind for you and a happy vacation for your guests. Don't go cheap. It will cost you way more in the long run!
Andrea and I were convinced that this venture was going to bankrupt us but we were determined to keep marketing and providing the best service to our guests in the hope they would write great reviews and get more people to come to Sea Breeze. We also now understand that the key to a great vacation is making sure the kids are happy!
Cater to the kids
Having 2 kids of our own and traveling to several different vacation rentals with them has really made us realize the importance of catering to families. Look at the names and ages of the group coming to stay at your property and leave a little gift pack for each child with their name on it. Include some activities in this gift pack like an animal spotting check list or colouring book. Make sure the activities are age appropriate to your group. I guarantee that your guests with kids will come back time and again if the kids have the best time.
Check out some of Sea Breeze Reviews on Flipkey to see what Mikes guests are saying.