5 Red Flags to Look for on Airbnb and Other Vacation Rental Sites

Originally posted on US News, featuring Kris Getzie of Volo.

With the proliferation of vacation rental sites like Airbnb, HomeAway and TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals, you’ve probably tried, or at least toyed with the idea of, staying in someone else’s home. After all, with competitive pricing and more space and amenities than you would expect at a standard hotel, it’s easy to see why the key players in the vacation rental industry lure those seeking affordable, off-the-beaten path accommodations. In fact, Airbnb now offers more lodging options than heavyweights like Marriott, InterContinental and Hilton.

Yet, for all the advantages that vacation rental sites can offer, there are also a string of caveats and nightmarish tales that have left would-be guests wondering whether branching into the vacation rental market is a smart choice. “We’ve all heard horror stories,” says Kris Getzie, founder of Volo Vantage, a hospitality consulting firm. She suggests finding a vacation owner who does not “view the homes in their fleet as a commodity” but rather “actively engage[s] guests to experiences beyond what they could have thought up themselves.” With this in mind, U.S. News solicited advice from top experts for spotting common scams and smart steps guests and hosts can take to maximize safety and comfort.

Red Flag No 1: Sketchy Payment Sites

“Firstly, customers should always book through a secure service,” says Jeff Mosler, chief services officer at HomeAway. If a host suggests communicating off the official vacation rental platform, that could also be a bad sign, he says, especially if they are offering a service or product that isn’t available through the rental vacation provider. It’s also important to trust your instincts and ensure you use a safe payment method, he says, pointing to the HomeAway Payments system, which allows you to pay with major credit cards and ensures automatic coverage of up to $10,000.

And according to TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals spokesperson Laurel Greatrix, another major tell is being asked to pay through an instant wire service or bank. Instructions to pay a wire transfer to the bank account of a vacation rental site, such as TripAdvisor, FlipKey or Holiday Lettings, could be a scheme, she says. “We’ll never ask you to do this,” she explains. “If you pay through us, payment is taken through our online systems, never by bank or wire transfers.” Greatrix advises booking through the TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals’ payment platform to be automatically ensured with Peace of Mind coverage, a protection that insures the payment is not sent to the homeowner until a day after a guest has checked in for his or her stay. “Paying online and protecting your payment is the safest, securest way to pay,” she adds.

Airbnb advises guests to connect with hosts through their website to prevent phishing scams and help protect you from fraud and other risks. By paying through the platform, you can help secure your personal information, and you can rest assured that your booking will be covered by the site’s cancellation policies. Plus, interacting online allows hosts to be covered by the site’s Host Protection Insurance program .

Red Flag No. 2: Limited or No Reviews

“If the listing ad just seems too good to be true and there aren’t any reviews, I recommend to do a cross-search on various sites to be sure someone didn’t copy the listing as a scam,” Getzie says. She also recommends calling the prospective host as a safeguard for a faulty listing or unreliable property manager.

Mosler suggests calling the homeowner on the listing site as well as conducting a quick Google search or social media search of the prospective host to ensure a trustworthy experience before providing payment. He says reading traveler reviews can also be helpful. “With the Wild West nature of the Internet, sometimes fraudsters go to a third-party site like Craigslist,” he cautions. For homeowners concerned about fraudulent activity, he recommends counteracting scams with sites like TinEye.com, a search engine that allows you to input a property image and then directs you to where the image can be found on the Web.

Airbnb also recommends that guests protect themselves by asking for references, reading traveler-submitted reviews from Airbnb guests and looking to see that host profile pages display a verified ID badge. These IDs are issued by Airbnb after a user or host connects personal social networks, confirms personal information or supplies an official ID.

Red Flag No. 3: Shady Rental Agreement

When it comes to identifying vacation rental contract loopholes, “there can be many and they can be varied,” Getzie says. A smart way to ensure you’re covered if you’re a property owner is to get in touch with an attorney licensed in the jurisdiction of your vacation rental, she says. And as for guests, she says the key is obtaining a short-term rental agreement that comes in the form of a booking confirmation or lease if you’re communication directly with a property owner. She also suggests carefully reviewing the contract. “If you are booking through a vacation rental site, review the owner’s uploaded rental agreement, and the site’s dictated cancellation policy, as both will help [you] understand potential issues,” she cautions. She also suggests that vacation owners purchase insurance either directly through the vacation rental site or on their own, pointing to an emergency like frozen water pipes as a potential issue you’ll want to have covered by your policy.

Greatrix also says that while booking contracts can vary, if key components are lacking, like arrival and check-out times and cancellation policies, it be an indication of suspicious activity. And according the Mosler, in a good contract, typically the payment terms, including the security deposit and cancellation policies, along with the types of amenities, are clearly outlined.

Red Flag No. 4: Suspicious Rules or Restrictions

It’s also important to keep in mind that “not all cities allow nightly rentals, and others require business licenses to operate,” Getzie says. “And any [municipality] has the authority to shut down an illegally run business, if a guest is staying there or not (potentially leaving you without accommodations),” she adds. To ensure your prospective vacation rental is in fact legal, Getzie says it’s a smart idea to conduct a Google search on the short-term and vacation rental as well as transient rental licenses available in your desired destination. “And by all means, ask the owner/operator if they have a current business license if they are required,” she adds.

“Rules and regulations can vary considerably from city to city, state to state and country to country,” Greatrix explains. She suggests doing your homework and understanding the varied requirements across the U.S. by visiting the Short Term Rental Advocacy Center website, which offers regulations for short-term destinations in a variety of locations.

On Airbnb’s site, you can navigate to a “Your City’s Regulations” section, but not all cities are listed. Conducting your own research is especially critical if you’re planning on traveling to an unfamiliar destination or visiting somewhere overseas. Doing so empowers you to understand individual regulations by town, city, country and state, as there are different tax regulations, zoning restrictions, safety and health standards and licenses required.

Red Flag No. 5: Request for a Wire Transfer, Expedited Payment or a Discount

If a property owner or vacation rental site asks for a wired or international transfer, that’s a major red flag, Mosler says. A request for a discounted payment or expedited payment could also be a telltale sign of a scam, he adds.

Another suspect behavior to flag: a request to pay the full amount too early, Greatrix says. “You shouldn’t be asked to pay the security deposit (usually up to 25 percent of the total booking) and settle the full cost of the rental until about eight weeks before your vacation,” she explains. And if there’s a switch in the email address of the person you’ve been communicating with during the booking process, that’s another clue of a possible scam, she adds.

Which Amenities Should Vacation Rental Owners Invest In?

It’s normal for any vacation rental to need time to develop—it’s a living organism, so to speak, that must adjust to the demands of the market. Additionally, managing a rental can be daunting for newbie owners, as they must assess the amenities of their competitors’ properties and then evaluate what they can reasonably afford.

With that being said, I often get asked by vacation rental managers which amenities can help drive maximum profit (by way of increased rates), regardless of the owners’ duration in business.

Our friends at Tripping.com, the world’s largest search engine for vacation rentals, provided us data taken from ten cities in the U.S. to get a better understanding of this question. In general, a hot tub and killer outdoor space, conducive of al fresco dining, add the most value per night (per room).

Tripping Graph 1

Why These Amenities?

“Kitchen” in this data set refers to access to a private kitchen, which logically, is a huge selling point. Travelers often choose to book a vacation rental instead of a hotel to have kitchen access. It’s a mandatory feature and often the focal point in the most successful rentals.

kitchen-island

In addition to a kitchen, which allows guests to prepare and share food without having to eat at a restaurant, guests look for space and amenities that help them relax leisurely- something that outdoor space, pools, and hot tubs all do.

A Closer Look at These 10 Cities

vacation-rental-value-add

If we look at the ten cities independently, we see that the amenities contribute to a different value add, depending on the location. For example, we see that a hot tub is a great investment in Miami Beach and New York City but not in Chicago.

Although a pool on average drives the lowest increase, it provides the highest value increase when compared to the other four amenities, in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Which Amenity is the Best?

I think this data is a great gage, but ultimately, owners need to understand what will drive connection (between your guests in your home, to your home, and to the location), comfort, and enhance the overall experience you offer your guests.

If you are outside of these ten cities, research what your competitors offer in your local market then determine if your findings fit into your “brand”. Instead of choosing an amenity because it seems like a cool idea, think of such additions as an investment that should support your overall business strategy to get the highest return.

I’m also a fan of leaning on the hotel industry—they obviously have a bigger research budget so research amenities at those targeting your guest demographic in your city. Borrow the information as you see fit and can afford.

Lastly, don’t underestimate good ‘ol common sense. In addition to considering your guests’ needs, it is important to consider the weather and also the logistcs and costs associated with maintaining these amenities.

Creating a Sensory Guest Experience!

In my therapy practice, I use a grounding technique I call 5-4-3-2-1. I instruct anxious, dissociated, dysregulated, or stressed clients to pan the room, the full extent their necks will allow their heads to turn, and list out loud:

-5 things that they see with their eyes

-4 things they hear with their ears

-3 things they feel, not emotionally, but sensate

-2 things they smell

-1 thing they taste.

This simple exercise engages all five senses, grounds them in their bodies, and roots them in the present moment, right here-and-now leaving behind stress and anxiety.

#12 rift valley historic farmhouse view

One of the reasons I love international travel is because my anxiety levels are very low when I am on an adventure. I attribute part of this fact to being in a state of intense sensory stimulation while traveling that keeps me grounded in the present moment. Travel is a feast for the senses: scenery, colors, native tongues, music, textiles, chicken buses, tuktuks, stench, spices, foods, and flavors, newness all around.

It is long supported that human sensory experiences are linked to memory. What small details does your vacation rental offer to create a signature sensory memory in the mind of guests? Yes of course the view, the clean bathroom, but how about other small sensory experiences beyond sight? How do you tickle your guests’ sense of smell, delight their sense of taste, excite their sense of touch, and arouse their sense of hearing?

#12 butchering chicken for dinner (1)

I have had the pleasure of experiencing several sensate charms that I have carried with me around the globe:

-The smell of the fresh milled soap at Grand Tikal Futura in Guatemala City, our Spanish was not that great and we were asking the housekeeper for “más sopa, más sopa?” translated more soup, not more soap! We wanted a few extras to take home with us!

-The fresh squeezed, room temperature orange juice offered on a silver tray while waiting to check-in at La Inmaculada in Zona 10 in Guatemala City.

-The chunky, not too sweet, owner made jams served for breakfast at El Tesoro del Elqui in Pisco Elqui, Chile.

-All of the crazy sounds coming out of an antique kalliope music box played by the owner at the Cedar Beach Inn, in Door County, WI.

-Butchering a chicken for dinner at the Historic Farmhouse in Rift Valley, Gilgil, Kenya. I got to see the chicken’s ovary and all of the eggs soon to be released, interesting stuff!

As a vacation rental owner, you want guests to remember their stay with you, for booking return visits or to recommend your property to others. You want guests to leave behind stress and anxiety, be grounded in the beauty of their vacation and your amazing rental. Are you thoughtfully offering guests experiences that touch all five of their senses multiple times over?

This post was written by Cori Hildebrandt, avid traveler and psychotherapist.

Cori Hildebrandt

8 Tips for Repeat Stays: Family Edition

This post was written by Volo for Dwellable.

Catering to families is probably one of my favorite vacation rental niches. Not just because I have two kids that travel with me a lot, but because of the connections that deepen and the memories that are created during those times.

That is what this industry is (or should be) about! Connections to something, someone, somewhere.

Most vacation rentals that are “family friendly” are actually pretty generic; generally a larger home (3+ bedrooms with a couple of bathrooms), are central to tourist draw of the given area, and may offer a few recreational activities.

While a foosball table and pool are great to have, there are many more opportunities to take a thoughtful approach to creating a family-friendly experience and making your rental a magnet for a specific guest.

“Obsessively specialize. No niche is too small if it’s yours.” Seth Godin

First, start looking for gaps. Who is catering to families in your market? What type of property are they offering? What’s missing?

You don’t have to have a large home to build a killer family experience. Understand what type of family you are catering to (or that needs to be catered to); a large, extended family or a young one with a toddler or two? Or maybe you have the ability to cultivate a family experience by appealing to an ethnic group? All can cater to families, but are extremely different experiences.

Regardless of the experience, there are some mandatory basics for “family friendly” rentals; safety items like a pool gate (if you have a pool) and hard-to-travel-with items like a portable crib, highchair and basic linens.

If you want to crush the competition, you have to step up your game from the basics. Even if you are on a tight budget, your guests will love the thoughtfulness. They will talk about it and probably even post pictures on social media (be sure to provide the appropriate links to be tagged). Some ideas:

Arrival snacks: I love my kids dearly but sometimes they can become pretty annoying after a long day of travel. Especially when they are “hangry.”

Taking into consideration that most kids, of all ages, are a hot mess by arrival, providing an assortment of healthy and kid-friendly snacks is an amazingly warm welcome for parents and kids alike.

Kids Welcome

Depending on the ages you attract, a fruit assortment with some juice boxes or Horizon milk singles is great. Complete the care package with a unique itinerary and small toys for kids to play with during their stay.

If you’re short on ideas, Pinterest never fails! ☺

Games! There will always be down time at your rental for guests. Some of it by choice, other times because of illness, fatigue or because of inclement weather. Additional activities are key when disaster strike.

Books, DVD’s and toys are great go-to’s. We turned one of my clients’ lofts into a rainforest themed Lego Land. Décor was complements of Ikea, so it was awesomely inexpensive. The walls were painted in chalkboard paint, classic books covered the shelves, and beanbags littered the floors.

When parents presented rental options to their kids, do you think this house was at the top of the list? Never underestimate the power of a child’s opinion.

Above all, I’ve found that the best activities are board games! Risk is quite possibly the best game in the history of the world, in my opinion, but be sure to include games suitable for all ages. I particularly love those that engage an entire family and create a good ‘ol fashioned connection.

Extras: Paying attention to details and being ample with extras are what make a good vacation rental great. Especially if there are kids! Kids are messy, they get sick, and they have different needs. More often than not, families need a true home away from home:

a. Linens: Provide extra sheets as no parent wants to wash a load at 2am if someone gets sick. Same holds true for towels, throw blankets, and pillows. Complimentary detergent (and other cleaning supplies) is also a plus if you can fit it into your budget.

b. To-do lists: have unique itineraries available! Both for nearby attractions and those requiring a small/medium length drive. You know the area best (hopefully), so share it along with tips and tricks you’ve picked up being a “local” (buying discounted passes, for example).

c. Kitchen: Stock your kitchen so a family can cook, and eat, a proper meal. This is one of the foremost reasons for choosing a vacation home. Unfortunately, so many kitchens I visit are devoid. If you’re going to spend money on one room, make your kitchen amazing.

This post was written by Kris Getzie.

Kris Getzie Hospitality Consultant

Vacation Rental Nightmares & How to Avoid Them

This post was written for Tripping by Volo.

There are a lot of vacation rental horror stories online: from guests refusing to leave, to being sued for an accident, or even nasty reviews. Although I’ve personally never experienced a circumstance needing legal intervention (knock on wood), there have been a handful of instances over the years where I was happy to have a solid plan of protection in place.

Legalities are important, and they’re something I cannot adequately speak to. Max Neuhaus, a real estate attorney, has chimed in with some advice to help you properly start your vacation rental business:

NIGHTMARE: A LOOPHOLE IN YOUR VACATION RENTAL CONTRACT COSTS YOU THOUSANDS

Consumers that are “guests” subject to vacation rentals are typically going to have more legal rights than consumers that are subject to other kinds of rentals, such as car rentals or commercial real estate rentals. The only way to be sure your rental contract is protecting you to the fullest is to consult with an attorney licensed in the jurisdiction where your vacation rental is located.

I always advise my business clients as follows: “I know the law, you know the industry. Tell me what you want, and I’ll tell you if it’s legal.” So let’s take some specific vacation rental issues below and see what the law has to say.

NIGHTMARE: YOUR GUEST WON’T LEAVE

First, make sure your lease specifically spells out in easy-to-understand terms what the consequences will be. Consider a provision in your contract that includes a promise that you will call the authorities to have the guest forcibly removed. It is likely that enforcement will consider a guest that has overstayed their welcome an illegal trespasser, and the authorities will forcibly remove them.

That said, be careful that you are not advertising your vacation rental as “residential housing.” If you do so, the trespassing guest may be able to convince the authorities that they are actually tenants. In most cases, a tenant can only be removed by legal eviction, which could mean weeks if not months before the guest would be required to leave.

From Kris: I’ve never personally met someone who this has happened to. Don’t let the thought scare you from starting a vacation rental business. Do consider a provision, as Max suggested, so you are protected from an anomaly.

If you have personally had a guest refuse to leave, I’d be interested to hear the situation and how you resolved the issue in the comment section below!

Police

NIGHTMARE: YOUR GUEST WANTS A FULL REFUND

Make sure your contract clearly states the circumstances where a guest is and is not entitled to a refund. Be careful when you use the word “guarantee” in your advertising. The difference between “you’ll love seeing the whales” and “we guarantee you’ll see whales” is the difference between good advertising (the first) and a legally enforceable promise you are guaranteeing as the owner (the second).

When guests are not entitled to a refund due to unforeseen circumstances, this is called a “force majeure.” It’s a French phrase adopted in American law that literally means “superior force.” If, for example, the municipal water plant has an emergency shut down causing you to close your vacation rental, it will be likely that a displaced guest will not be legally entitled to a refund. Granting a refund would, of course, still be a voluntary option for the owner.

From Kris: My personal contracts are pretty buttoned up to protect me. However, I do objectively look at each situation to determine if I should give a refund.

A guest once booked one of my homes for two weeks in the off-season at a very reasonable rate. Unbeknownst to me, the neighbor had planned a full exterior remodel and landscape project at the same time.

Needless to say, there was a lot of dust, noise, and commotion that irritated the heck out of my guest. Although she didn’t ask to be released from her reservation (nor was I legally liable to release her), I offered it and refunded her payment on a prorated basis. I couldn’t take the thought of getting another phone call from her without being able to remedy the situation. I just don’t want anyone to be miserable at my property.

A different scenario: Some guests’ business plans changed, they cancelled their reservation four days prior to arrival and asked for a refund. Of course, I also had no obligation to refund them but offered to accept last-minute bookings and refund IF rebooked. It didn’t get rebooked, and I did not refund. After all, this was peak season and I was running a business. They understood and appreciated my efforts.

Both guests mentioned above have referred their friends and returned themselves.

It goes without saying that there are people who you just cannot please, even if you have gone above and beyond. Don’t let the fear of a negative review push you into refunding when it’s not necessary.

NIGHTMARE: YOU GET SUED BY THE CITY

As a general rule, the larger the population base of the area in which your vacation rental is located, the more likely there are to be additional county and or city regulations you will have to follow. Additionally, you should verify if there are any environmental regulations you should be aware of by contacting your local United States Department of Agriculture office as well as your local Department of Natural Resources office.

Kentucky Capitol

From Kris: The most common regulations I come across are the need for a business license and charging a transient sales tax. Many owners think that if their vacation home is personally used for a portion of the year that they do not need to do either. However, that is often far from true. In many instances, if the vacation home is rented out for more than a mere 14 nights per year, a license and applicable taxes are required. This is a great time to loop in your accountant for a personalized approach and set up a separate business checking account. (More on that in the next post!)

NIGHTMARE: YOUR GUEST TRYS TO SUE YOU FOR AN INJURY AT YOUR PROPERTY

A rental owner’s first line of defense against liability is almost always going to be to insure against the loss. How you calculate your risk is typically a conversation you have with your insurance agent outside of the counsel of your attorney.

The second most common form of liability protection is for the owner to transfer their interest in the subject real estate into a business entity that is owned by the owner, and with that, modifying all contracts accordingly. In doing so the liability of loss falls on the business and is limited to the assets of the business.

From Kris: There can be tax benefits and consequences to putting your vacation home into an LLC (business entity referenced above), depending on your situation. It doesn’t hurt to consult an accountant before doing this.

Max Neuhaus is a business, family and real estate attorney practicing in western Wisconsin, and has served as corporate council for a number of realtors, real estate companies and real estate managers over the years. You can contact Max by visiting him and his law firm at www.riverfallslaw.com.

Hotel Pasatiempo

Throughout childhood (and predominately still), I was surrounded by a Monday through Friday, forty-hour American workweek model. I will never forget the moment of realization that one does not need to work a 9-5 job, settling for only a few weeks of vacation a year and a one-hour lunch break!

It was Spring Break 2001; I was on a trip to Costa Rica with three housemates. We were staying in Playa Tamarindo at Hotel Pasatiempo, a quaint, quirky boutique hotel.

It was 9am and I was waiting by the pool for my friends to venture into the one-main-drag-dirt-road town,sandwiched between surf shops and the Pacific.

The owner a middle-aged, sun weathered, gentleman from the Dakotas was dressed in board shorts, lit cigarette dangling from his lip, net in hand, and waist deep in the pool skimming out bugs and leaves.

He basically looked at me and said, “Hey, this is the life. I went through a rough divorce, liquidated my retirement funds, and left the US.” He looked pleased and happy, connected to being in the moment. He talked about buying land, building bungalows one-by-one, slowly building his hospitality business.

This man never wore shoes from what I observed and something about his life appealed to me. He was free, he was his own boss, he was peaceful, and he had time to genuinely connect with others.

Attached to the hotel he had a sweet little bar and restaurant, which was the most popular in town, hotel guests, locals, and other travelers gathered to share food, drinks, and nightly open mic sessions. It was simple and brilliant!

What is your ideal vision of flexibility, financial freedom, and connection to life through your hospitality business? Do you have the courage to step outside the role you and society have created for you and choose a new perspective on how you will interact with the world? How do you want to spend your free time, what’s your pasatiempo?

This post was written by Cori Hildebrandt.

Cori Hildebrandt

5 Tips On Prepping For The Spring Rush

A long busy season can cause wear and tear on a vacation rental and its supplies. With the end of the winter season nearing for some and the spring hustle looming for others, this is a great place to start to get your home dialed for the next round:

1. Freshin’ Up Your Linens

I’m a bit of a freak with linens. It’s these details that can make a great stay exceptional! One of the biggest differentiating factors is giving your guests the best night sleep they’ve had since forever… it will keep them coming back, for sure. As such, make sure your sheets, pillows, towels and mattresses are refreshing and in great shape. After the busy season or a few weeks before the new season (giving myself time to make adjustments), I tend to stay at my vacation homes for a weekend to get a true feel of things and replace linens at the first sign of wear and tear. It’s also a great time to change your linens for a more seasonally appropriate option; LL Bean flannels to something with light, natural fibers allowing for circulation during the summer.

2. Double Down on a Deep Clean

In larger vacation rentals, it can be hard to do any variation of deep cleaning during the busy season, so put this at the top of your end-of-season list to keep your home in great shape. Clean out junk drawers and the closets; it’s amazing at how much stuff people leave behind. Pull out appliances and large furniture, scrub baseboards and walls and make a list of what needs the attention of handyman, before it could become a bigger problem (leaks, wiggling porch stairs, and so on).

Again pay attention to the details; rewash everything from the silver wear to crockery. Wash out all the cupboards, drawers and the refrigerator in the process. Guests notice the difference.

3. Stock Up On Complimentary Items

I leave an array of complimentary goodies for my guests. Spices, coffee, crackers and other local luxuries are nice touches, but even in small individual packages, they can go stale. Always check them between seasons (or more frequently, if possible).

4. Replace Utility items

Make sure these items are in working order and that there are additional replacements. Lightbulbs (and the working condition of lamps) tend to be overlooked as well as batteries. Think of all the flashlights, smoke detectors, remotes and electronic key entry systems that are battery operated. All are essential to the flawless functioning of your home.

5. Update Your Welcome Information

This includes your house book, local magazines, and the travel brochures you provide. Make sure they are current, seasonally relevant and in good shape (no one likes coffee stained or crinkled materials!). Many guests rely on such things, so be generous with your stash and thoughtful of the activities for your location.

This post was written by Kris Getzie

Kris Getzie Hospitality Consultant

5 Reasons To Love Being A Vacation Rental Host

5 Reasons To Love Being A Vacation Rental Host was written for Tripping by Volo.

1. Giving Money to the Local Economy

There are many studies that prove buying from independent and locally owned businesses have a compound effect on the communities in which they exist and their tax base.

The reason is that a substantially larger portion of your money spent is then used to make additional purchases from other local businesses, service providers and farmers (which will also reduce the environmental impact!).

Even if you aren’t a full-time resident where your vacation rental is, when setting up your business, think local and buy local when you can. It will enhance your business by way of a stronger and more attractive community.

2.Supporting the Preservation of Beautiful Locations

Cities that make efforts to preserve historic structures tend to be pedestrian/environmentally friendly (because of the time of their design), sustainable, and hold a high esthetic and economic value as they are places people want to live, invest in, and travel to.

They evoke a connection and are just good for your soul.

St. Augustine, FL, for example, was founded in 1565 and has structures dating back to the 1600’s- it’s considered one of the oldest cities in America. In 1999, Florida’s Department of Transportation deemed that one of America’s most unique bridges here was structurally unsound. An easy fix was to tear the bridge down but leaders and preservationists put forth a $77 million dollar effort to save the bridge as historic structures are a core value to residents and huge draw for tourists. Kudos, St. Augustine.

If you are looking for a new vacation rental, I wholeheartedly suggest buying historic or in a city that prioritizes tax funds to preservation and its natural resources.

3.Unique Experiences

“When people go on vacation they generally seek out destinations that offer them the sense of being someplace, not just anyplace.” Richard Moe, President, National Historic Preservation Trust.

Tourists want to feel local, albeit for a temporary amount of time.

One-of-a-kind vacation rental homes and service providers are what make locations distinctive and full of character. Small businesses (and your home!) have the ability to choose products that create a special experience, based on your own interests and needs of your guests; not on a national sales plan.

One of the best reasons to be a vacation rental host.

4.Local History

History is what grounds us and helps us better understand the world. So, seduce your guests with your town’s dynamic past! You don’t need a museum quality history presentation; opt for historic pictures throughout, blurbs of the famous (or scandalous) patrons of your home or street, and a sense of its story.

5.You Have a Profound Impact On Guests’ Lives

Think about it, most people are overworked and disconnected. They are just trying to make it through the chaos of life with one week of vacation being the yearly opportunity to check-out.

This business can provide additional income and eventually more life flexibility for owners. For guests, it provides a spectacular opportunity to connect with a location and those most important in your life.

The most successful owners are invested and truly care about creating an authentic experience, something unobtainable at a hotel chain (only you can show people around your home and town, your way).

This post was written by Kris Getzie

Kris Getzie Hospitality Consultant

Reducing Your Vacation Rental Minimum Night Stay

This post was written for Tripping by Volo.

Years ago I read a great quote, “Your career is long and the business world is small. Always act with integrity. Never take the last dollar off the table.” – Joanna Shields (President of Bebo.com at the time) quoting her father.

I fell in love with that quote. Unfortunately, in the business world most of us become too competitive, obsessed with short-term performance, or succumb to the pressure of kicking off a new business to be cognizant of such advice.

When applying this to vacation rentals, minimum stay requirements come to mind.

Long Term vs. Short-Term Stays?

Seen as a strategy itself, minimum requirements reflect seasonality and what the competition is doing. Take a Martha’s Vineyard cottage in the summer, for example. Most require a seven-night minimum stay, which is on-par with guest needs. However, if your property is new, has lackluster occupancy, or is just outside the prime location, you might consider dropping your minimum stay requirement (among other branding exercises) down to five nights to capture those who just cannot swing a full week vacation: a secondary market.

During the shoulder or off-seasons (assuming your vacation home is still accessible) you might even consider dropping the requirement further, especially for short holiday weekends like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Presidents holiday which can generate more profit than other days.

Keep the Guest in Mind – But Be Smart

For me, building a financially healthy business is a top priority. But so is the human side of the business. Really, it is the reason I’m here: to help vacation rental owners and guests connect to life again.

My minimum stay requirements are general guidelines to maximize my profits.

If someone is asking for a reduced stay, I find out why… are they not able to afford the full stay, are they short on time or just the wrong guest?

I’ve had people ask for reduced stays because they couldn’t swing the costs for a full week. Skiing with a family of four (plus food, gear, lift tickets and so on) is expensive! In such cases, I consider the overall demand for the requested dates, my gut feeling about the person and their intentions.

Meanwhile, of course, I’m considering my ability to negotiate without creating the perception that my home is a commodity.

In my experience, those guests I have flexibility with become very loyal… which actually decreases the cost of future bookings by way of repeat visits. My point of this post is to have clear strategies in place based on your knowledge of your market. But be prepared to bend when it makes sense.

Nothing is Ever Black and White

The goal for any vacation rental strategy (i.e., minimum stay requirements, pricing or market position) is so that you don’t leave any money on the table. In a way, it’s taking that last dollar by encouraging guests to pay an optimal rate and stay an optimal duration based on seasonality.

But, like most things in life, nothing is black and white.

The quote continues, “You can always do a slightly better deal, but that incremental dollar or windfall is not worth creating an imbalance that affects the relationship. You have to have the intuition to know when to say, ‘I’m going to make sure that we walk away feeling like we’ve both done well.'”

This post was written by Kris Getzie

Kris Getzie Hospitality Consultant

Insider’s Guide to Buying Vacation Rentals

This blog was written for Tripping.com by Volo.

The process of purchasing a home is the biggest step to starting your vacation rental business. It is also the most daunting. That being said, I’ve partnered with one of Sotheby’s top agents to help answer frequently asked questions for those potential investors.

Nancy Tallman sells vacation properties in my hometown Park City, UT so I’m very well acquainted with her strategies and work. In fact, she helped me find my first rental in Park City. Being that she is based locally, local examples will be used, but the principles apply anywhere.

First things first, any good agent will want a clear understanding of your goals. So when a client tells Nancy they are interested in purchasing a vacation rental property, she asks a lot of questions to ensure no stone is left unturned and that the client finds the best home for their situation.

Regardless of the your personal goals, all successful vacation rental properties share these same characteristics.

1. Best location.

We’ve previously covered tips for choosing the best location, which focused on local elements; local landscape, the surroundings, and understanding if nearby businesses and homes are complimentary to your intended experience.

Nancy actually helped me navigate some of these topics (i.e. the water main situation at my Park City rental), so I knew she’d have additional input on choosing the best location:

Best, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, so again, it’s important for the agent to understand your goals. Do you plan to spend any time in the rental property? Is this a property you hope to live in one day? If the answer is “yes” to either or both of these questions, then your lifestyle and personal taste come into consideration.

If the property is going to be rented 100% of the time, then you are looking at a pure economic decision. Economic decisions are always a dance between the price and income the property is expected to generate.

From experience, the exact location may not be the strongest indicator of return on investment. For example, the rental differential on a ski in/ski out property may not be sufficient to justify the higher purchase price. An older condominium project with a low price and HOA dues could have hidden costs if there is deferred maintenance and planned owner assessments.

Take time to understand your intent (and financial needs) for the vacation home, so your chosen real estate strategist can better work for you.

2. Expected Appreciation

In Park City, just like in any other town, the location will drive the appreciation. Appreciation is based on supply and demand. There is always going to be a limited supply of properties in walking distance to Historic Main Street, the ski slopes, and other amenities. There is also strong demand for new construction, which has seen strong appreciation even when located further from amenities.

The “average” annual appreciation in the USA is about 3%. In hot neighborhoods, we have seen 10-20% annual appreciation in the past couple of years. For some investors, cash on cash return is more important than appreciation. It depends on your individual goals.

3. Positive Economic Signals

As a property investor, you should look at unemployment, job creation, population migration, economic stability, housing prices and rental yields when deciding where to buy. An unfortunate negative example of the above factors moving in the wrong direction is Atlantic City, New Jersey, where casinos are closing and people are losing jobs.

On the other hand, Park City for example, has all of these factors moving in the right direction. Park City is just 30 minutes from Salt Lake City, which has one of the strongest economies in the USA, and is one of Park City’s major feeder markets for resort real estate. Vail Resorts recently took over two of Park City’s three ski resorts and has promised to make a “significant” capital investment in both resorts this year. The Sundance Film Festival also inked a long-term agreement with Park City, which means we can expect the world famous film festival to continue to draw vacationers to Park City for years to come.

Driving maximum profit starts with a detailed understanding of your home’s location as well as the economy, as we described in planning for vacation rental success. Ideally, it is best to purchase an investment property when the economic indicators first turn in the right direction to purchase before prices have been driven upwards.

4.Reasonable Vacation Rental Costs

Costs can vary significantly from home to home or condo. It’s easy to detail fixed costs, such as the mortgage, property taxes, HOA dues and utilities as the previous owner can typically provide records for the past year(s). However, the cost of maintaining and managing the vacation property will vary; if the property is part of an HOA, some or all of the utilities and maintenance may be covered.

The costs unique to owning a vacation rental can be more difficult to figure out. They may include marketing, furnishing, property management, listing site subscriptions and website development costs.

It’s really important to have your real estate strategist help you determine the property specific costs. A good agent has worked with many types of properties and buyers and can easily dig into the details (HOA logistics, for example). After all, you don’t know what you don’t know so it can be hard to ask!

5.Expected Profits

The expected income and expenses of owning a property will determine the profit. For some clients, spending Christmas with their family in their vacation property will be more important than the income they are giving up.

Even a property with a negative cash flow can be profitable when considering tax savings for depreciation and the property’s appreciation. On the other hand, if cash flow is important, vacation rental properties have the potential to generate tremendous income relative to their cost if they are managed like a business with a high level of customer care and an outstanding presentation.

This post was written by Kris Getzie

Kris Getzie Hospitality Consultant