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Six Tips for Creating More Cash From Your Rental

By William May
Published: 03/08/04 Topics: Comments: 0

Sorry if that headline sounds like a get rich quick scheme. Owning a rental is too much work for that. Most weeks I cover a single topic that owners have been asking about. But today let me catch up on a number of small but equally important tips Vacation Home Owners will want to know. Its kind of a mish mash really but you are bound to find something that will make you a buck or save you two.

FLOOR PLANS:
I was reminded recently about how important it is to have floor plans on your website. Before the Internet (Kinda prehistoric times, eh?) Guests called vacation rental manages and booked rooms or homes with very little information. They relied on the firm's integrity and the knowledge of the "minimum wage" telephone operator answering the phone.

But those days are gone forever. The web has revolutionized our small and comparatively invisible industry. Guests, especially the computer savvy, want to inspect the goods before they buy - all of which is made possible by the web. So you simply must have lots of high quality photos and a long descriptions of amenities, features and location. But I am surprised at how few home sites include a floor plan. They are easy to create and just as easy to post to your site as photos.

Floor plans allow guests to size up the home, count the beds, and get a feel for the roominess. But they also protect you legally. If you've ever had a guest show up and then want to cancel because they children's bedroom is just too far from the parents you know what I mean. (And by the way, I presume you are only taking non-cancelable reservations, aren't you?)

One source for getting floor plans done is (PlumleyDrafting.com)PlumleyDrafting.com.

EARLY/LATE FEES:
They are the scourge of every kind of lodging. Those guests who, knowing checkin is at 5pm show up at noon demanding immediate access to their rental. Some owners have even experienced guests who pick the lock, or (using pre supplied codes) enter early illegally, or brow beat cleaners into allowing them entrance. These are the same folks who will want to check out at 3pm when they know its supposed to be 11am. And if you have back-to-back rentals they cause grief for later guests as well as yourself.

It doesn't matter how explicit your guest agreement is, or how often you've notified them during the phone booking, or even if you have a six foot sign on the living room wall that says CHECKOUT 11AM NO LATER. These are some of the dreaded FIVE PERCENT who are trying to get something for nothing.

So how do you handle this? First, your Guest Agreement and Terms &Conditions must be very clear. And there must be penalties. Coming early or staying late will result in a fee of a FULL DAY'S rent AND any other damages they cause. Should the following guest arrive to an already occupied house they will depart and you could lose a full week or more of income. The second guest might even sue you for wrecking their vacation. So its only fair that the first guest - who caused that problem - pay for it.

Plus you should never offer early checkins or late checkouts for free. A policy that works well is to charge 1/4 days rate for a noon checkin and 1/2 days rate for a 8am checkin. Charge 1/4 days rate for a 4pm late checkout and 1/2 day rate for a 8pm checkout. (These presume you use 11am checkouts, 5pm checkins and that you do not have back-to-back bookings before or after.) Extending the time any more that that essentially gives the guest a full days use for less than a full days rate.

In your contract, make sure you disclose that "Earlys" and "Lates" are not guaranteed to be available and that the guest must call 24 hours in advance to confirm if you can allow it. That way you can still accept other last minute bookings if the opportunity arises. Agreeing to Earlys or Lates far in advance could cause you to lose last minute guests asking for dates immediately before or after the existing booking.

MYSTERY SHOPPING:
Its been said, that mirrors were invented only for the beautiful and the handsome. The rest of us sneak around without looking. But you shouldn't avoid checking the reflection of your vacation home. "Mystery Shopping" is a good way to check out your vacation rental management firm. Call them on several occasions at various times of the day without identifying yourself and posing as a guest. On one call be quiet and reserved. On the next be pointed, asked very detailed maybe even rude questions. You will find out how persuasive they are, how professional and whether or not they feature your unit or hide it from the customer. Its also revealing to send inquiries by email and even by snail mail. You may be unpleasantly surprised.

Remember to write down the dates and times and discuss it with the firm's manager next time you are onsite. A letter, email or phone call will help but you are better of to sit down face to face and tell them what you learned.

If you are self managed, you can double check your telephone etiquette by asking a fried to ask a friend to call and inquire about renting your home when you least expect it. Then have them give you a brutally honest evaluation. Were you factual, easy to deal with, happy with your work, helpful and courteous? We all think we're good looking but the mirror tells the truth.

Mystery shopping may convince you that need to lose a few pounds, alter some attitudes or even find a new manager.

TOLL FREE NUMBER:
Many owners wonder if they should have a toll free number for prospective guests to call. Others are unsure of even how to secure such a number. In my opinion toll free numbers are a scam. Somehow tens of thousands of companies have decided its their duty to pay for every communication with consumers. For larger ticket purchases such as vacation rentals its important to ask - how qualified is the guest to pay you $1,000 or $2,000 or more in rental if they can't afford a long distance calls.

Unfortunately Toll Free Numbers are expected by consumers. If you want to appear to be quiet, personal and unobtrusive then you shouldn't get a toll free number. (I so not pick those adjectives lightly. A lower key approach warns the guest to keep their assumptions in perspective and not to make unreasonable demands before, during or after occupancy).

On the other hand, if you want to have a more formal relationship with guests a toll free number is a good idea. And contrary to my aspersions about guests that can't afford a phone call, you will definitely lose a prospective booking every now and then if you don't have one.

An how to get a toll free phone number? That is a lot easier than you think. Simply call your long distance provider and tell them you want one. It may take a few days especially if you want to search for a number that is memorable or meaningful (that can be difficult.)

NOTE: Unless you can find one of the few remaining 800 numbers you should always include the words "Toll Free" before or after your number if it has a prefix like 888, 866 or 877. There are still many consumers who don't recognize those as toll free. And why pay for their phone call if you don't get some marketing advantage out of it.

LOGO PRODUCTS:
Guests often fall in love with their vacation spots. A great way to reinforce their enjoyment and remind them to return is to offer merchandise with your name and logon on them. I have been using "logo wear" at various companies for over 30 years. But that usually required a minimum order size and some costly up front setup fees. Now, however, there is a wonderful new service called "Cafe Press" that allows you to upload logos and designs and store them on a webpage where customers can find and purchase your goods.

You can link your site to it and they take care of the rest. They print products one by one, take the customer's credit card and ship the merchandise direct. There is a wholesale price that you see but you get to set the retail price and CafePress even sends you the profit. If you want to order some for yourself or to use as gifts you get the wholesale price. You will be surprised at how affordably they can do this customer one-off printing, billing and shipping.

It is revolutionary. Click on this link to see our VROA CafePress store. (cafeshops.com/vroa)cafeshops.com/vroa. To setup your own store please click on this long URL:
(cafepress.com/cp/info/storeref.aspx?refby=VROA)cafepress.com/cp/info/storeref.aspx?refby=VROA

AUCTIONTAMER:
This suggestion may seem trivial. However, if you are outfitting a home, buying supplies or other goods you really should keep you eyes on the eBay Auctions. If you are still a novice to the whole auction thing you will be amazed at the millions of products, often new, that are sold there. Plus it is safe. We've made over 200 purchases without any problems due to eBay's rigorous shopper feedback system.

Buying through auctions, however, can take more time then you might like especially if there is a item you really want soon. You have to make the bid, sometimes raise it to stay ahead and wake up in the middle of the night to see if you've won.

But there is a little known techniques that makes these problems disappear. Its called "Sniping" and that is the system of using a software program to manage the bids for you. We highly recommend a software product called "Auction Tamer." It keeps you list of what you want to bid on, where you rank in the bids, which you have won and those you have paid for. But best of all, you can wait to bid and it will enter your price just a few seconds before the auction closes. Competing bidders won't know you are going to bid and they won't have time to up their bid. You win the auction and they end up scratching their heads. Its a killer tool.

To take a look at Auction Tamer click on this URL:
(auctiontamer.com/ref.asp?aid=45179)auctiontamer.com/ref.asp?aid=45179

AUCTIONING UNSOLD INVENTORY:
Did I mention you should also be SELLING your last minute availabilities on eBay? Every now and then we do. A few weeks ago we had an unsold week in one of our Kauai homes so we listed it. We set an acceptable reserve (minimum) price and let her rip. We sold that week for close to the regular rates. But more importantly we received 20 other phone inquiries and sold six other bookings - all at the regular rates. The listing fee was $12. eBay is, without a doubt, the most cost effect direct marketing we do.

More importantly, and here is the clincher, the leads we get from eBay are deadly serious about buying. Apparently eBidders only go to auctions when they are truly ready to spend money. And we, of course, are always ready to take it. So if they see your ad on eBay and call to ask about other dates you should take their inquiry very seriously.

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INPUT:
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.

HOME OF THE WEEK:
The City of Victoria on Vancouver Island Canada is a slice of Merry Old England just a 60 minute float plan trip from here in Seattle. Its truly a world apart and now you can stay at Deborah Scott's rental "Leigh-on-the-Lake." Take a look at (members.shaw.ca/leighcourt)members.shaw.ca/leighcourt/. See (PawPawsLanding.com)PawPawsLanding.com. (If you want your place considered for Home of the Week please drop me an email.)

FEEDBACK:
"Kudos to you for this article...I am with you 100% on this one. I have been researching credit cards and the laws and how they effect Vacation Property owners. I am not convinced that they are the best thing for owners, but I can see the benefits."
- Christine Karpinski (Teacher, Author and Speaker Specializing in Renting Vacation Properties "By Owner"

After writing the article I rechecked the standard Visa/MasterCard Merchant Account contract. Here is what it says in a nutshell, Visa/MasterCard, "will enforce the Cardholder's right to cancel if they are unsatisfied with the accommodations." They WILL NOT up hold the booking even if you can produce the signed NON-CANCELABLE contract. There are a number of excuses deadbeat guests may try to avoid honoring a reservation. But the smart con-men guests know how to use this "Get out of jail free card." It is a "blanket" excuse that causes their payment to be automatically withdrawn from your checking account days ahead of when you get notice. Of course you can always sue them on your contract to recover but that takes time, persistence and money. So the advice for now - - take credit cards if you have to (especially for last minute bookings) sell far in advance and ask for payment by check. Be careful there are things you can and can not say about accepting cards once you've signed up for the merchant agreement. Follow the rules but do work within them to cut your fees and avoid chargebacks. More on this important subject later.
- Wm. May

ONLINE:
Please see these websites for fun:
- Sample Booking Confirmation and
- Sample Terms &Conditions (for Early/late checkin/out suggestions)

TELL A FRIEND:
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)vroa.org/tellafriend/form.asp

Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0044 – 03/08/04

Comments: 0

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