Home away from home: Preparing a swoon-worthy vacation rental is worth your time and effort
October 26, 2018
If you're thinking of listing your home as a vacation rental, first check your local municipality for regulations regarding short-term rentals, and then have a listen to what travelers say makes a space inviting and welcoming and what's a turnoff.
For starters, amenities and cleanliness matter.
"I would have loved better sheets and towels, as well as decent soap and amenities," said Carol VanderKloot, of New York, who was underwhelmed by a recent Michigan rental.
Nice linens are mentioned often in online reviews. In a poll conducted by Airbnb this summer, travelers rating their vacation experience cared most about the quality of their accommodations, followed by amenities that are functional and thoughtful. So along with nice shampoo, consider a bottle of wine, a bicycle or scooter for summer guests or a sled or snowshoes for winter.
A host in Los Angeles whose home is popular with young families stocks kids' books. In Milan, Italy, a host with a pool set up Bluetooth speakers outside.
Focus on potential guests' comfort, both in your decor and your marketing, said Peter Lorimer, a Los Angeles-based real estate expert.
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Clean and fresh
Lorimer has teamed up with interior designer Genevieve Gorder on a new Netflix series, "Stay Here," in which they help homeowners refurbish and redecorate their spaces to make them more attractive to visitors.
"Massively bad for repeat business is dirt," he warns. "After every guest, there needs to be a cleaning plan. Look at this as an investment in your business; if a restaurant is dirty you'll never go back, and it's the same with short-term rental."
Gorder notes that everyone has different standards for tidiness, so it's best to go pro. "It has to look, feel and be clean," she said. "That means having a professional service handle your rental before and after each guest checks out. Your reviews will skyrocket, and that's worth its weight in gold."
Get rid of stained or worn carpeting, refinish wood flooring, and lay fresh tile or new rugs. Provide several good mirrors, as well as storage, and a folder or notes on how to operate things. As Lorimer points out, "the last thing any guest wants is to try and figure out how to use the TV remote or turn the ceiling fan on and off."
Consider including "insider" suggestions for what to do and where to go in the area. Post links to online calendars along with your listing, such as http://www.vaildaily.com/calendar or https://everything vailvalley.com, to help guests plan their stay.
Consider an incentive gift for longer stays, like a gift certificate for a local restaurant, or lift tickets for Vail or Beaver Creek. Displaying some local photography or artwork might pique curiosity and help you build a relationship with nearby shop owners, too.
Gorder warns against the "junk drawer" effect, where owners try to save by kitting out their rentals with dated furniture and hand-me-downs.
And keep the decor relatively neutral.
"Owners tend to decorate for themselves and how they live instead of for their guests," she said. "Home is in many ways a reflection of our most intimate selves. When you turn a property or a room in your home into a short-term rental, it's time to shift your thinking."
The key is finding a balance: a space that's neither too personal nor impersonal.
Renters differ about how much personal style they like in a space. VanderKloot enjoyed an array of vintage radios displayed on a shelf in a Michigan home, but appreciated not having kitschy decor in a rental in New Orleans.
"The Scandinavian interior in that rental was a perfect counter-palette to the excess of (the city)," she said.
In an apartment in Copenhagen, New Yorker Darby Drake said she would have appreciated some personal touches.
"What turned me off most was how bland everything was. It didn't quite feel 'lived-in,'" she said.
Invest in a standout piece or two, if you can. Drake fondly recalls a big, comfy, cowhide lounge chair in a different Copenhagen rental, as well as another great piece: "There was this massive gray bean-bag lounger that was wonderful. After a long day exploring the city, it was great to be enveloped by it."
The lounger wasn't shown in the online photos, Drake said. And that could have been a missed opportunity.
"The No. 1 reason for guests not booking is bad marketing," Lorimer said, and cellphone photos won't do. "A professional photographer must be engaged, and the whole area needs to be designed or even staged so that the lifestyle is being sold every bit as much as the accommodation.
"Think of short-term rentals like online dating. If you take bad pictures and/or don't dress up for the shots, you just get swiped and forgotten."
Take seasonal photos of your yard or nearby attractions, he suggested, and change them online accordingly.
Consider, too, a well-stocked snack cupboard, some unobtrusive but pleasant home fragrances, a first aid kit and perhaps some chilled beverages in the fridge upon arrival; small, thoughtful details make even the most modest space welcoming.
"It may be your guests' first time in your city or town," Lorimer said. "You may not physically be there, so anything you put in your rental is acting as guide and host. Anticipate what they'll need before they know they need it. That's the key to a happy guest."
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