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Using Guest Checklists

By William May
Published: 02/09/04 Topics: Comments: 0

Promises, promises, promises. I wanted to get back to the website strategy topic I promised a couple of weeks ago but another Owner question has come up and I wanted to pass on some suggestions on that. We'll get Part two of web strategies published in a future issue. (Hey, I'm a volunteer!)

Many private vacation homes are located in distant or remote areas. Frequently they are in areas and even climates that guests may not be familiar with. Owners are offering their expensive homes to guests that may not know how to operate them. We want them to have fun but we also want to avoid problems.

We've found the best way to do that is to provide and require all guests use a Guest Checklist when they arrive and when they depart - which they must return to us in order to receive their deposit refund.

Members can download a sample Guest Checklist by logging on to (VROA.org). You'll find it under "Forms and Contracts."

As you've probably learned by now our family lives in Seattle Washington - - known for its rain and year round moderate climate. Yes we sometimes get snow in the winter for short periods and we get a few days of 100 degree weather in the summer. But all-in-all its an easy climate to live in. Almost no one has air conditioning and the entire city of 3 million people has only 10 snow plow trucks. So clearly we are not prepared for much difficulty.

Some of our rental homes are located in the Cascade Mountains just an hour away from metropolitan Seattle. Others are located in Eastern Washington on Lake Chelan - a popular resort area that is a four hour drive away. Both climates are challenging. At mid February we already have over ten feet of packed snow on the ground in the mountains (no exaggeration) and by July the temperatures will be over 100 in Eastern Washington.

Naturally, we have air conditioning (Heat pumps) in all the Chelan houses. And rip roaring fireplaces and hot tubs in the mountains. (Hot tubs are a nuisance in any climate but necessary for maximum income in the mountains. Operating them safely is a complicated subject so I'll examine that in a later newsletter.)

Some of you from similar climates may find this surprising, but as we began operating these houses we were surprised at little folks from moderate Western Washington knew about operating air conditioning. And how irresponsible a few guests can be about operating even simple systems such as furnaces and fireplaces.

Plus we've learned that some guests will complain about everything (such as "its too cold" in the mountains or "too hot" in Hawaii). Others will put up with burned out light bulbs, missing silverware and just about anything else. Neither situation is desirable. Houses are big machines that get lots of use from guests. And, just like your primary home, things will break or wear out or go missing. Luckily most owners have realized that the actual costs of such situations are small and simply a cost of doing business that we accept.

But if owners are not alerted to items that need attention then those same items could become problems to future guests. For maximum guest satisfaction maintenance issues need to be handled swiftly.

Owners seem to notify their guests about how to operate their homes in a number of ways. Some produce a "Guest Manual" (often a three ring binder, from the simple to the elaborate) that remains in the house and alerts Guests to the attractions in the area as well as to the Do's and Don'ts of operating the home. Some owners posts printed "Wall Notices" with details about the thermostat, garbage disposal and so forth. Some owners also provide written information in the letter they send guests before their occupancy begins.

Personally we do all three although that may be over kill in locations that have a front desk or where Guests check in personally with the owner or their representative. I've just posted some "Sample Notices" to the (VROA.org)VROA.org website and members are welcome to download, alter and use them as they see fit.

On top of all that preparation we have taken to using a "Guest Checklist" in hopes that Guests will operate equipment properly and keep us posted of any problems. Our checklist is organized in two columns. The left hand side lists things the Guest should check when they arrive. These include things like checking the thermostat settings, opening the blinds and so forth. And asking if the home was ready for their arrival - were the beds all made, towels on racks and so forth.

You might think this is rather obvious but even housekeepers can miss something on occasion and what better way to get feedback on your cleaning firm than to ask guests what they see when they arrive.

And this gives the Guest the opportunity to report anything not to their liking. It is better to hear about a issue immediately when someone can be sent to review the situation than to have a guest demand large (and often unreasonable) credits at a later date. Plus it puts them on notice that the time to report concerns is when they arrive and not days or weeks later.

The Right hand column of the form has pretty much the same checklist of questions. Did they close the blinds, set the thermostat to the assigned setting, turn faucets off, start the dishwasher? It is reasonable to ask them to undertake these tasks especially if they are reminded with the checklist. (Although I am still amazed by those few guests who simply ignore their guest contract and all the written reminders.)

Usually we receive back the Guest Checklist with no reported problems and often with nice compliments. Most of us are confident we are running our homes professionally but good feedback reinforces all the effort we take to be responsible operators.

The form is also helpful in receiving the kind of news we don't really want to hear - but must hear - if we want the future Guests to have a pleasant stay. No matter how careful guests may try to be, they can inadvertently cause problems for others if they break or damage something. And homes also malfunction through no fault of the Guest. TVs, Stereos and even furniture do not last forever. Silverware disappears (thankfully very slowly) and light bulbs burn out.

Guests will report bad news to you willingly (perhaps too willingly!) but that will give you you time to attend to repairs or replacements. Yes it can be bad news but any business is better off to know of short comings and fix them than to allow them to arise repeatedly.

Your Guest Checklist can also serve other functions. It can include reminders to guests about checkin and checkout times, ask them to turn down the heat at night to save energy and, in short, is a great way for Guests to know what is expected of them. I believe most people will follow rules if they know them. Private Vacation Rentals are not hotels. In some ways we are better. In other ways, due to distance, off site staffing and so forth we need to find ways to maintain control and oversight on our homes.

One last thought for you. Even if you already have a guest checklist please visit the website (VROA.org)and download the sample we have on file there. Be sure to include anything and everything your Guest needs to know and that you expect of them in operating your home. Our sample form provides ideas you may not have thought of.

So you may be asking yourself, how do I get Guests to utilize the checklist? Upon arrival Guests are required to call our toll free number to "Checkin" and report what they find especially if there are issues. We get very good compliance on this and it is a way of making sure that Guests take responsibility for problems that develop while they are in residence. If they don't report it when they arrive we must assume they caused the problem.

Then, when guests prepare to depart they are to complete the worksheet and phone to Checkout. We also have a fax/printer in most homes and they can fax in the sheet if they prefer.

Lastly, Guests are told that we do not process their deposit refund until the checklist is received. Infrequently guests call a few days after departure demanding the immediate return of their deposit. But the Guest Agreement Contract allows up to 45 days for refund after they return the Checkout list (and keys if any). A few guests will forget what they've agreed to and we pleasantly remind them to return the sheet so we can begin the refund procedure.

Do you think this system is too harsh? Or too much work for the Guests? We have only Hotels to blame for our predicament. Even four star establishments frequently will rent a room to anyone who shows up at the front desk with a credit card or cash. But remember they have on-site staff to "inspect" the guest before accepting them and have on-site staff to police the building and to respond to guest issues or complaints.

Private Rentals on the other hand have no such safe guards. Perhaps we can look to Rental Car Companies for a better example. Most companies require a credit card and some rather elaborate paperwork before accepting a renter. They have significant legal and financial exposure and are not about to give you a $10,000 to $40,000 vehicle without setting firm and inflexible rules.

Don't you think we should do the same when we are allowing someone to utilize homes that are 10 to 20 times more expensive?


As always I seek your input. Please share your tips, techniques, compliments, and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at Director@VROA.orgDirector@VROA.org.

Ed Reece has a charming get away home up in our neck of the woods - on Washington State's Puget Sound. I've never asked him why its called Harper House but check out his website at (Harper-House.com). Instead of the usual he has an online video you might like. (If you want your place considered for Home of the Week please drop me an email.)

It all sounds great, William. I would very much be interested in working with you in transforming this "new" activity into a more respectable "industry." One of my main concerns right now is that someone out there counterfeits a whole bunch of properties for rent. It would do so much harm to the reputation our business! That's why I believe in the credentials aspect of your offering.
- Walid, Paris

Thanks for the reminder. As I mentioned in January, we are revamping the inspection program to make it more functional. I hope to have that documented and underway by the end of the month. (For those of you on the inspection list, we will be contacting you directly)
- Wm. May

Please see these websites for fun:
- Guest Checklist Form
- Sample Notices

If you like receiving these newsletters, if we've helped you even a little, please tell your friends by clicking here (Its automated & easy.) (vroa.org/tellafriend/form.asp)

Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0042 – 02/09/04

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