Turning your house into a vacation rental can seem overwhelming at first… but it really doesn’t have to be. This is a process that you can really enjoy and have fun with! I have set up houses as vacation rentals dozens and dozens of times, for my client’s properties, as well as my own houses. I understand what is involved and required from every aspect, from assuring the property is in compliance with governmental agency rules and regulations, to making sure it has all the essentials that most guests require. In my commitment to assuring that my clients are continually successful with their vacation rental houses, I often find myself in the role of ‘vacation rental counselor,’ mostly pertaining to governmental agency and code compliance, quality assurance, and ongoing property maintenance required to meet the current industry standard.
So, with that in mind, it’s important to begin with the basics when you decide to offer your house as a vacation accommodation to travelers. In this article I will provide you with the 5 most important steps to follow to assure your vacation rental success. As you read through this, I advise you to consider the fact that your house is in a unique town or city, that this article is a general guide, and that it is critical for you to become aware of your local community sentiment, and rules and regulations about short-term rentals. Always remember, your house is a private property, it is are not a hotel, and preparing your house and managing it as a vacation rental accommodation for tourists must be carefully and thoughtfully done.
1 – LAWS, ORDINANCES, RULES, AND REGULATIONS
The very first thing you need to do is to educate yourself about your local city, county, and state laws, ordinances, and rules and regulations pertaining to offering your house as a vacation rental in your unique community neighborhood. Please don’t just assume that because it’s your property, you can do whatever you want with it. And, please don’t put a lot of effort and expense in setting up your house as a rental for tourists until you rule out the possibility that there are laws preventing you from doing so. Many local and state government agencies have clear regulations stating that setting up your house to rent as a vacation rental turns it into a business, and it will probably be subject to some level of city, county, and / or state licensing. Many governing agencies also require that to legally rent your house as a short-term rental, you must collect local and state tax from tourists who rent your property.
A quick search in the vacation rental news reveals, that as short-term rentals become more and more popular, many communities have licensing restrictions and very specific rules and regulations regarding renting houses short term to tourists. Call your local town or city governmental offices and get to the appropriate licensing department that can answer your specific questions. Find out what specific licenses and / tax numbers you need to legally rent your house, and get them. I highly recommend that you seek the assistance of an established licensed local rental agency that can properly assist you understanding and complying with licensing and tax requirements required in your community.
2 – YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD AND YOUR NEIGHBORS
Now that you’ve determined that it is legal for you to rent your house as a vacation rental, and you’ve obtained the proper licenses and tax numbers, it’s time to think about the neighborhood where your rental house is located. This might seem silly, and many people gloss over this important step, but believe me you can save massive headaches and fights with neighbors by dealing with this issue pro-actively. Nearly every news article you read on communities that are resisting or trying to restrict vacation rentals point to the same neighbor issues: noisy tourists staging loud parties, tourists taking parking spaces from local residents, and tourists being careless with their garbage.
In all the years I’ve been in the vacation rental business I’ve seen several neighbor-to- neighbor squabbles that have involved code enforcement, the police, and even expensive law suits. Most of these issues could have been avoided with plain common sense and consideration. Find out who your neighbors are, and do your best to communicate with them and determine if they will resist you renting your house to tourists.
Once you begin renting your house to vacationers, you need to commit to being selective about who you rent your house to. It is important to talk with them and determine if they will be a ‘good fit’ for your neighborhood. Ask them directly what they plan to do while they are renting your house for their vacation. For example, if you discover a potential guest is planning to rent your house to accommodate a wedding party or a birthday party, think about the impact on your neighbors and if they will be okay with this. Some properties I manage are in neighborhoods that will only tolerate very quiet couples, others are set up to accept larger groups and the neighbors are clear on this and understand the rules. Know your neighborhood, and set up your own ‘House Rules’ that your tourist tenants must agree to comply with.
The biggest complaint that most neighbors have who live next to vacation houses is noise. Some neighbors are more ‘noise sensitive’ than others, and you need to know if your neighbor is going to call the police every time a group of vacationers sit around the swimming pool and listen to music. Give neighbors who live next to your rental your phone number, and ask them to call you directly if there is a noise problem. And when there is a problem, call the guests and ask them to quiet down. Since you are renting your house to tourists, it is your responsibility to make sure the guests you bring into your rental house are respectful of the local neighborhood.
3 – FURNISHING YOUR HOUSE AS A VACATION RENTAL
Furnishing your house can be daunting if you’ve never done it before. Below is a very detailed list of basic home furnishing items you will need to provide. This includes suggestions for bed configurations, kitchen essentials, soft goods, and household items. Your guests will be looking for the basic comforts most of us look for in our daily living.
Enjoy setting up your house for tourists – and strive to strike a balance between nice and economy. If you are striving to attract a ‘higher end’ clientele add some nice touches and things that you would appreciate if you were ‘a guest in your own house.’ You don’t need to purchase all new items, but please doesn’t use junk or your house will start to look like an unappealing garage sale. Add some interesting art work, wall mirrors, artificial plants, and some nice nick-nacks – just take care not to overdo it or it can start to look cluttered. Some personal pictures (a shot with your friends or family members) are nice to place on shelves… it reminds guests that they are in some one’s house, and not a hotel.
Suggested Bed Size Lay Out
Your vacation rental property needs to be practical and ‘user friendly’ as well as beautiful to look at. I have found the following general layout to meet the demands of most guests. As a general rule, avoid putting too many extra beds in a bedroom, you do not want to give the message of ‘the more the merrier.’ If your property has an office or den, it is a nice feature to add a desk or set up an office.
Try to make the ‘nicest’ bedroom the master bedroom. The nicest bedroom is usually determined by the view and features – such as en-suite bathroom, private deck, French doors that lead to the swimming pool or porch, or it can just be the largest bedroom if the property offers no other unique features. If your property has more than one bedroom with an en-suite bathroom and/or view than you are lucky to have a property that can be marketed with more than one master bedroom or suite… and that is a fantastic feature. That way, couples traveling together don’t have to ‘flip for’ the best bedroom!
About bed sizes: The layout below is suggested after nearly 2 decades of being in this business and listening to what guests require. Today, it seems like most people sleep in king size beds at home, and many couples who stay in vacation rentals insist on a king bed. For some couples, not having a king bed option can be a ‘deal breaker’ since they are convinced they won’t be able to sleep in a smaller bed with their partner. So that being said, here are the basic suggested guidelines…
Two Bedroom House
Bedroom 1: Master bedroom – Prefer King bed. If room is too small use a Queen.
Bedroom 2:- 2nd bedroom – Queen or 2 twins. (I find that 2 twins are a better option as they can be pushed together to make a King.)
Three Bedroom House
Bedroom 1: Master bedroom – Prefer King bed. If the room is too small use a Queen.
Bedroom 2: 2nd bedroom – Queen or King or 2 twins.
Bedroom 3: 3rd bedroom – 2 Twins or Trundle bed
Four Bedroom House
Bedroom 1: Master bedroom – Prefer King bed, but if the room is too small use a Queen.
Bedroom 2: 2nd bedroom – Queen or King
Bedroom 3: 3rd bedroom – Queen or King or 2 twins.
Bedroom 4: 4th bedroom – 2 Twins or Trundle bed
Guideline for Cookware and Kitchen Items
Equip your vacation rental kitchen with basic cookware and kitchen items. Buy a good set of good cookware, as much quality as you can afford. It does not pay in the ‘long run’ to get the cheapest as it will not last, but not necessary to buy the very best either. Sometimes you can find a nice stainless steel set in a box. Do not get the cheap aluminum stuff.
Stove Top Pans: Provide a basic set of 2, 4, 8, and 10 quarts.
Skillets: 7 and 10 inch
Oven Pans: Glass baking dishes: 9X13 and 8X8, roasting pan with lid (holiday dinners),cookie sheet, muffin tin, 1 pie pan, 2 cake pans, 1 pizza pan.
Mixing Bowls: 2 large: 8 – 10 quarts; 2 medium: 2 – 4 quarts; and 2 small: 1 – 2 quarts. These can be stainless or glass. These can also be used as serving bowls.
Knives: Paring, large vegetable, butcher, bread, and a sharpener.
Cook Prep Items: Colander, spatulas (1 medium size, l large size), mixing spoons (1 large, 1 medium), wire whisk, can opener (a good manual one is best), plastic cutting boards (1 large and 1 small), measuring spoons, rolling pin, ladle, funnel, and tongs.
Small Kitchen Appliances: Toaster, coffee pot (electric drip – Mr. Coffee Style), blender (good quality that will spin frozen drinks)
Other Kitchen Items: 2 to 4 pot holders and trivets, placements for complete table setting, 6 dish towels, teapot (for steeping tea; not essential but nice), bread basket, aluminum foil, and plastic wrap.
BBQ Grill: Inexpensive gas grills are best. Plan on replacing them about every couple of years.
Flatware and Serving Ware: Dinner plates, soup / cereal bowls, small plates (Service for 8 – 10 works best for property that sleeps up to 8), glasses (service for 8-10), flatware (service for 10 plus meat fork), 6 to 8 Serving spoons, 2 slotted spoons, coffee mugs or coffee cups and sauces (service for 10), 2 to 3 serving bowls and platters for hors d’oeuvres, or maybe a turkey or roast. Bright colorful serving bowls are nice and also help to add a ‘pop of color’ to the kitchen.
Cleaning Supplies (keep in property for guests): Hand dish soap, dishwasher soap, degreaser, window cleaner, cleaning cloths, large 2 to 3 gallon plastic bucket, mop, 2 brooms (1 for inside and 1 or outside),1 dust pan
Guideline for Soft Goods
Equip your vacation rental house with nice quality bedding, towels, and window coverings. Do not buy the cheapest soft goods. They won’t last and you will likely receive complaints. Guests expect good quality towels and linens and will write bad reviews for poor quality items. You can save money by purchasing from discount warehouse and home furnishing stores.
Towels: For a 2 bedroom rental – 12 bath towels, 12 hand towels, and 8 wash clothes; for a 3 bedroom rental – 14 bath towels, 14 hand towels, 14 wash clothes; for a 4 bedroom rental – 16 bath towels, 16 hand towels, 16 wash clothes
Sheets and Pillow cases: 2 sets for each bed. Get at least 400 count sheets
Bedding Protectors: Mattress covers for each mattress zip pillow protectors for each bed pillow (these go on the pillow before the pillow case).
Bed spreads or comforters: We take our cue from high end hotel rooms. At this writing (2011) travelers like duvet covers (over comforters) and / or mattalesse coverlets in the contemporary market. Bed covers MUST be washable.
Decorative and Comfort Items: Throw pillows, 2 or 3 blanket throws, throw rugs, door mats
Beach / Pool Towels – 2 per bedroom
Window coverings – Nice curtains and / or blinds
Entertainment and Internet Service:
Flat Screen TV’s: People expect TV’s in the bedrooms as well as the main living room / great room. I recommend a large TV (minimum 36 inch) in the living room, and smaller ones in the bedrooms (15 – 24 inch are fine). Small flat screen TV’s need to be mounted on the wall or bureaus for security reasons.
Cable TV or Satellite: Don’t offer ‘pay per view’ features. It’s too hard to keep track of those charges.
Internet (DSL): WiFi router is an expected feature. Almost all tourists travel with laptops… and they get upset if they don’t have internet access. Most renters do request WiFi.
Stereo and C/D player: Most guests travel with iPods in today’s market, but most still expect some kind of music player. This should not be an expensive unit. It can be a large ‘boom box’ type with detachable speakers and should be large enough that people do not try to take it outside.
4 – Maintenance and Housekeeping
Your vacation rental must be well maintained and kept immaculately clean. Keep in mind, that while your house is not a hotel, you are offering it as a vacation accommodation to travelers, and guests will expect maintenance and cleanliness standards set by nice hotels. This is not a place to cut corners, and if you do, your house will soon appear on a travel log such as Trip Advisor, Flip Key, or rental review sites with negative comments. Bad reviews about poor cleaning and maintenance, even if they are exaggerated by unscrupulous guests, can quickly stigmatize your house and discourage future guests from renting it. You simply must commit to bearing the cost to keeping your house to quality standard.
Most vacation rental agencies collect a departure cleaning fee in advance from the guests to clean it when they leave. Guests expect and deserve to arrive to a clean and tidy property. Set a cleaning rate that will cover your costs to clean the house thoroughly each and every time guests depart. Make sure you plan enough time to clean the house, and better yet hire a good professional housekeeper. Make sure carpets and furniture are cleaned as needed. During periods when your house is not rented, be sure you give it a deep clean. Replace towels and linens with new ones as necessary, and never make a bed or make up a bathroom with tired or stained linens or towels.
If your house has porches or decks and outdoor furniture, they must be kept scrubbed and free from mildew and look fresh for every guest who checks in. Same with windows, yards, landscaping, swimming pools, and Jacuzzi tubs – they must be maintained to quality standard or you will get complaints.
This goes for household maintenance issues as well. You will need to hone your handy-man skills and make sure all the light bulbs work, a/c filters are changed, the internet is working, TV remotes work, the toilets are flushing properly, and the pool and Jacuzzi heaters are working right. You will also need to be ‘on call’ to go over to the property and provide minor repairs. Unless you live in the same town as your rental, and you are absolutely committed to maintaining it, hire professionals to do this for you. If you are not willing or able to do this, or cannot quickly respond to any maintenance needs, I strongly recommend that you hire a professional rental agency that is staffed up to provide these kind of services. It will save you a lot of head ache and could save the reputation of your rental house.
5 – Managing Your Property – Advertising, Reservations, Rental Contracts, Bookkeeping
The final basic step to turning your house into a successful vacation home is to start advertising it and taking reservations. Today, there are several mega-vacation rental advertising websites to choose from that have huge data bases of available rental properties. Most of these are set up so you can you can post your own ad copy and download your own property photos. Expect to pay over $500. to get positioned on-line so that prospective renters can find your property. You can also use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to promote the availability of your property.
If you decide to manage your property yourself, you must be completely committed to every aspect of the administrative process. This means answering email and phone inquiries in a timely manner, maintaining an availability calendar, talking with potential guests to determine if they are appropriate renters for your house, writing and sending rental contracts to guests, collecting rental fees, collecting and paying required bed and / or sales tax, collecting and refunding security deposits (or determining costs where there is damage), paying housekeepers and maintenance people, paying utilities, keeping licenses current, and generally staying on top of the bookkeeping. There are several home-based reservation management software packages available to help you stay organized, but they will only work if you are diligent about keeping the information updated.