Owners Although managing your own cottage rental can be rewarding and, in some ways, economical, it is very time consuming and demands a high degree of attention for it to be successful. This is where rental management companies can offer a great alternative, or become an additional tool in your marketing plan.Types of agencies and servicesThere are many advantages to relinquishing all the hassle to an agency; however, one disadvantage is that the agency may insist on having the property fully available for rental for a certain number of weeks, including the peak season and other holiday periods. It may simply not be worth their while to spend money advertising and marketing your cottage if you’re going to spend a lot of time there yourself. This means you may not be able to use the property yourself, or pop down on the spur of the moment. The rental management agency’s contract should cover owner occupancy, so make sure you agree on this before signing it.Agencies have two sorts of customers: the cottage owner, for whom they deliver a range of services as mentioned earlier; and the cottage renter, for whom the agency supplies information and reservation facilities. The agency that represents your cottage should not only deal promptly with your queries and concerns but must also provide excellent service to the people that want to rent. If it doesn’t do that, you won’t get the customers you need to rent your cottage effectively. Good agencies should pay equal attention to both owners and renters, and if they are acting efficiently on your behalf you should expect a high level of service from them.Booking agenciesThe upsurge of demand for cottage style vacations has led to growth in the number of rental agencies now established in Canada. Many concentrate on a single region, with perhaps a few cottages outside their immediate area. The larger agencies cover a wider geographical area and have many properties on offer ranging from basic cabins to the luxury end of the market. A number of companies offer a booking service only. They will inspect the property, advertise it on their website, process contracts and rental agreements, and collect rental fees and security deposits. However, they do not have the facility to manage rental changeovers, check for damage and cleanliness, or respond to any problems that may arise during rental. Full service agenciesFull service agencies will undertake the same tasks as booking-only agencies but will also offer additional services, either through their own resources or by affiliation with other companies. Examples of these services are guest care, maintenance and emergency repair, linen rental, cleaning and changeover, bicycle and equipment rental, etc. With this in mind, it’s really important to know what you expect from an agency. If you simply want them to advertise, set up rental agreements, and handle money, taking away the hassles of marketing and dealing with incoming enquiries, then most of the agencies currently advertising on the internet will be able to handle that service for you from your vacation home, haven’t anyone reliable to manage your cottage in your absence, and don’t relish the idea of troubleshooting whilst your renters are there, you will need to ask potential agencies some searching questions to establish if they are right for you.When you start to look for an agency, prepare a list of questions to ask. In this way you can be sure you are asking each agency the same questions and can compare the answers. Ask for their information package to be sent to you so you can do some initial comparisons on their commission rates, for example. You shouldn’t expect any agency to give you an estimate of rental potential without visiting your property. Many different things determine a market rate, and it would be unfair to ask for such an estimate sight unseen. You may already have a good idea of what to expect from looking at the agencies’ rates, however, keep in mind that some of those rates include a booking fee that is payable by renters. A reputable agency will provide you with a comprehensive information package telling you how the agency operates, where they advertise and market their services, what experience they have of managing rental properties, and include testimonials from current owners registered with them.Agency ratesAgency rates vary, though not as widely as it may seem from a first glance at their rate sheets or websites. Some charge a flat commission rate that is payable only when the cottage is rented; a few have an initial set up fee and advertising charge, with a variable administration fee per week; and most charge renters a fee for booking. Commission rates vary from 12% to 30%, with a renter’s booking charge of between C$25 and C$65 per week. Doing your homework thoroughly will indicate where you will get the best value whilst remembering that the old adage also applies, ‘You get what you pay for’.ViewingWhen you contact agencies, they will want to arrange a viewing of your property. Even if you are inviting several agencies to view, expect them all to take photographs and carefully question you on the facilities and amenities available, and any restrictions you may want to impose. When you appoint the agency, they will have the photographs and information so will not need to revisit. Make sure the cottage looks its best for a viewing, as the photographs will reflect the way it looks on that day. If the weather is poor, or the season prevents the best exterior shots from being taken, have a selection of your best cottage photographs available for the agency representative to view.Well in advance of the viewing, prepare a detailed sheet listing room dimensions, bed configurations, additional features and kitchen appliances. Some agencies will provide you with a form on which you can complete all the relevant details.Smaller agenciesOperating in specific areas, smaller agencies may offer a more personal approach as they are only representing a small number of properties. You will need to weigh up the advantage of this against the wider presence offered by the bigger agencies.Making the decisionGood agencies will provide you with references from their clients, so look at their websites and property lists and ask for references from cottage owners of your choosing. Select properties in your rental price bracket, but also take the time to talk to people who have cottages at other ends of the spectrum. This will give you an idea of how the agency operates. Don’t just rely on the testimonials on the site. Although these are likely to be genuine, they will be biased towards the positive end and you want to find out what other clients don’t like as well as what they do. That way, you’ll get a balanced view of the agency, which will enable you to make a really informed decision.With growing competition, agencies need to offer top class customer service to generate good feedback from renters, and consequently generate more potential renters through word of mouth recommendations.