Best practices

The habits of successful Short Term Rental Owners

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Success in business is considered by some to be luck. While luck can play a small role, success is not dependent on it in any way. Take for example, the sheer number of short term rentals today and the people that are now living forever changed lives as a direct result of the income they are producing. There are more people seeing positive returns than there are negative returns by a large margin. What ingredients will get YOU to that level of success?

Wait a sec, what is success? It may mean something different to everyone but here we will define it in pretty simple terms: profitable and cash flowing enough to live on. Successful hosts talk in terms of a business. While a hobbyist can make money, one unit rented for part of the year does not compare to the person running multiple units with a high fill/occupancy rate year round. These people implement strategies for marketing, know who their ideal guest is, what is happening in their market and what may draw someone to the area. The homes they represent are often planned down to the finest details, including decor, amenities, linen thread count, and selfie opportunities. The goal for the business minded host is to give their guest a comfortable stay without worry.

The business minded host is concerned with all of the following:

goals

Hosts that are getting consistent bookings and good reviews are getting them because they chose to. They develop a plan to keep fill rates high, minimize loss, maintain cost controls, and develop a price strategy to achieve the overall goal of net positive yearly earnings that this is their “job”. They don’t just post a listing and hope for the best, they know what they want to achieve and have a plan of action to make their goals reality.

Developing goals is a game changer and will help you develop follow through.

Setting larger, more encompassing goals on top of those for an individual property is often a driving force behind real success. Successful owners may include the goal of growing their business; through property acquisition or management of other people’s properties as an example.  If you have never set a goal before, don’t worry it’s not an exact science. To get comfortable with the idea of goal setting start with something simple like getting a unit clean and ready within 4 hours of a guest leaving.  Set goals that are achievable. Lofty goals are not entirely unreasonable, but they can look daunting if not broken into edible pieces. We all know the best way to eat an elephant…one bite at a time.

GUEST EXPERIENCE

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Forget the words ‘renter’ and ‘tenant’. The people that stay in your short term rental(s) are in fact GUESTS. It means you care for them, that you value, respect, and genuinely appreciate them. Treating them as this word implies will generally result in, at the bare minimum, consistently positive reviews.

It is not surprising that some hosts have developed lasting friendships with guests, further exemplifying the value of a personal connection.

Check-in should be simple, house rules should not be vacation inhibiting, and everything throughout the process should be developed with the thought of your guests in mind. The house itself should be much the same. Think about what may happen if it rains and your guest gets stuck inside.  Maybe you have a beach close by, consider providing Beach equipment. Developing your property, your standards, and your policies to meet the needs of your guest will improve your guest experience at the same time.

This does mean that every guest is a bouquet of fresh flowers; in fact, some can be downright difficult, picky, and demanding to the point of frustration. But giving them the same experience you give everyone else, communicating with them as you would want to be communicated with, and meeting their needs often results in a positive stay they will talk about with their friends anyway.

THE INQUIRY

Utilizing best practices when responding to a guest inquiry will be a cornerstone of your long term success. You can beat your competition in an overcrowded market by simply responding quickly and kindly.

We live in a world where you can order a package and get it THE SAME DAY. People have come to expect transactional speed in all facets of life, so if you respond faster than other hosts do, you have already given this potential guest a positive perception of how you handle your business. Making it personal rather than robotic will help win them over too. Responding “in due time” isn’t going to keep your unit(s) full nor will it fetch you top dollar.  Automating your initial response can be a good idea because it can give you a bit more time to notice that you must respond or even send something more unique.

TEAM

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Who is on your team? Everyone that keeps it running smoothly – the pool company, maintenance, cleaning folks, trash folks, yard-care company, anyone you may have direct contact with that could affect a guest’s stay. These people are integral to your business and need to treat it the same way you do. The result is, again, a happier guest.

Because these people are vital to the smooth operation of your STR(s), treating them to the same standards you treat your guests only makes for a happier work environment. Creating such a good culture will promote loyalty and a sense of belonging that will keep you in high ratings.  

Asking your team for their input will make them feel included and welcome. These people are going to have considerably more experience than you in their field and that can mean valuable insight for you vacation rental.  Not surprisingly, this will lead to more and better communication.

MARKETING

The common trend is to set up a short-term rental listing, put it on a hosting site, and hope for the best. We are seeing more and more complaints from people that do ONLY this. Successful hosts know that this minimalist style of marketing is not going to win in the long term. Every successful host has a social media presence, utilizes email marketing campaigns, and generally has follow up routines to continually market to past guests. The great thing about this kind of marketing is it is generally speaking, almost free.  It does take some effort but with every stay you should be growing a contact list that will eventually become a gold mine.  That list will allow you to market your properties without the necessity of an outside marketplace, allowing you to make more money for direct bookings.  Frankly, most social media still remains relatively untapped for hosts.  Twitter, Tik-Tok, LinkedIn, and even Facebook should be your friends.  If you learn the value of engagement, then every one of your audience members audience becomes your audience too.   

LEARNING

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This means a lot of things but it should never end. Constantly learning can also mean constantly evolving; watching trends, observing what is working for others and what is not.  It can simply mean making mistakes and not making them again.  It can be the result of staying in someone else’s short term rental and seeing something cool that could be impactful to yours.  The host that is willing to learn and implement changes based on that newfound wisdom is going to sit on top pile.   We are currently in the process of writing a piece about the most sought-after amenities in a home, surprisingly we have shared some of those top amenities with some of our hosts and they rejected the idea of adding those offerings to their home. This is backwards. Change is profitable, 1970s decor is not.

So, learning in and of itself in this sense is also about whether or not you will apply what you have learned. Perhaps the best places learn is in hosting Facebook groups, local meetups, or networking with other people in any way related to Vacation Rentals. People that could give you advice, your pool guy will know whether or not you should have a heated pool. He will also know whether or not a saltwater pool is worth the investment for you. Your vacation rental handyman will know what he sees the most often and what you may want to keep on hand as a result.  In other words you can learn from others as a, you can learn from your own mistakes, or from guests through direct communication or even reading comments on your listing and other host’s listings.

As the short term rental environment gets more competitive, consistently seeking learning opportunities should become part of your overall strategy. One of the best ways to learn anything is to teach what you know, share it, contribute to your professional peers.

LOCAL EXPERTISE

We all carry around supercomputers in our pockets but those cannot replace the recommendation from a well knowledged local host or property manager that knows the best places to eat , things to do, or things to see and do.  Providing this information doesn’t have to be unique.  You can research this information one time and leave it somewhere for your guests to find and you will be remembered for doing it.  You can be their source of ‘inside knowledge’.  

Recently I stayed in a short term rental out of state and was surprised to find a television screen to check in on that also doubled as an information center. Could I have found a lot of the information that was in that box on my phone? Sure, but that host did the work for me and I even took a tour that had been suggested that turned out to be a ton of fun.

One-time research using a vacation guide, setting up a Google alert (to tell you what is going on or coming up in your area), or my favorite weird stuff to do site https://www.atlasobscura.com/ could put you over the top and get you that five star rating.  Become a local expert and your units are more likely to stay full.

NETWORKING

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This should come without saying, though we have already said it; networking. Yes, it got it’s own heading…  It doesn’t matter where you are doing this; forums, online groups, face to face, on Twitter, or the moon. Networking should be built into your weekly routine.  We just mentioned learning not too long ago, well this is where you’re going to do a lot of it.   Another way to get a lot of networking done in a short period of time is to attend HomeAway style Summits.  You will get more out of networking if you learn to share your stories, listen to others, utilize what you learn and report back again. Consider attending a conference or two. San Diego hosts a vacation rental managers association annual conference which could be the equivalent of a year’s worth of networking in 3 days

The value in networking will come even if you are afraid to speak. If all you can muster is listening and perhaps periodically asking a question or two it will make you more successful.

IMPROVEMENT

Improving is an offshoot of learning. When we talk about improvement we mean two specifically distinct things. The first of those being constantly willing to improve your presence and offering both digitally and physically at your short-term rental. The second is to actively implement the things that you’ve learned.

Let’s say you started your first vacation rental and took pictures using a cell phone. Well, that may have got you by last year, but it won’t this year because everyone else had professional photos taken and now you are not getting quite as many bookings as you used to. The clear solution is to have professional photos taken and let those represent your listing online.

Maybe you were unsure about what you were going to put in your short term rental next to help attract more guests.  But after reading our next blog about the top 10 amenities guests search for you decide to install a barbecue grill and a hot tub.  Perhaps a few months down the road you add a putting green and a selfie worthy wing wall.  These improvements may very well set you apart from your competition.  

And now that you are a networking professional you are seeing what is working for other people, it shouldn’t be overly difficult to improve on the best of their offerings.

Summary

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Start thinking about this endeavor like a business, not a hobby.  Develop goals for yourself both in the short-term and long-term. Develop goals for each one of the properties that you host and for your overall business.  Ensure that the guest is your primary focus at every single listing you maintain. Make sure check-in is simple, your rules you are not overly complicated, and always be respectful from the moment of the first inquiry a guests entire stay.  Cultivate a culture that becomes infectiously good. If you have to talk negatively to a team member, do it privately. Make sure you are marketing your business using every conceivable channel without overwhelming yourself. Start networking to see and hear what the best of the best hosts are doing and saying.  Finally, always be willing to improve your online presence and your actual physical property.  Investing in the experience will matter in the long run.

  

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