Today, Mollie and Jim Platt are successful vacation rental owners. Their high-season calendar is packed with bookings. They’ve hosted dozens of guests. They’re making thousands of dollars in vacation rental income.
You wouldn’t know it, but just a few months ago, the Platts were newbies. They’d never run a vacation rental before and, like most owners, they worried about whether their business venture would succeed or fail.
They’re not alone. Hundreds of investors and second-home owners are looking to enter the vacation rental industry every day. That’s why we asked the Platts and other experienced owners to reveal what they wish they knew when they were just getting their rental properties off the ground.
Do your homework about vacation rental
“When I first started in the business back in 2005, there wasn’t as much information about vacation rental readily available. I would read everything I could get my hands on and study other rentals in my area,” said Karen Hopkins.
Karen is a vacation rental veteran who owns eight short-term rentals in Branson, Missouri, with hundreds of bookings per year.
She paved the way to profitability by learning as much as she could about how to manage a short-term rental and putting that information into action. Not to mention that she has a reliable team (her family) helping her stay on top of all the demands of a thriving vacation rental business.
These days, first-time owners don’t have to look as hard as Karen did. They can easily find answers to their questions about setting rates, furnishing a vacation rental, using listing sites for marketing, etc.
We think Evolve’s blog is a great place to start, but you can also find a wealth of information on:
- 1 Chic Retreat
- The Distinguished Guest
- Avalara MyLodgeTax
- Cottage Blogger
- The Business of Holiday Rental
Let someone else handle the brass tacks of business
“We started our vacation rental business in June and have been wildly successful for the past three-and-a-half months!” said Mollie, the proud owner of Mermaid Cottage.
Her secret to success? She avoided taking on too much work out of the starting gates.
“We studied the pros and cons of going with Evolve and it was a no-brainer! I am happy to let Evolve handle the business aspects of running a vacation rental. It frees us up so we can spend more time bringing 5-star-above-and-beyond customer service to our guests.”
Welcome guests with simple luxury
“I should have skipped the cheap colored linens, the themed heavy comforters, and the mountain of coordinating throw pillows,” said Tyann Marcink, a professional vacation rental photographer and the owner of three short-term rentals in Missouri.
“After learning from The Distinguished Guest that happiness is a well-made bed, I did a thorough update of all of my bedding,” she added.
“I should have gone straight to commercial white linens with extra pillowcases, the triple sheet method of making the bed, and creating a theme or adding color with a simple throw blanket and a single beautiful throw pillow.”
Exercise discretion when decorating your vacation rental. Remember that your goal is to create a comfortable space for guests who may not have the same style preferences as you. Crisp white sheets and neutral curtains are crowd-pleasers that most travelers will enjoy.
Splurge on good furniture for guests
“Old furniture does not make a good impression on guests. At first, we used the outdoor furniture we had instead of shelling out for new chairs and our guests noticed,” said John “Jeff” Lisanick, the owner of My Sweet Escape, a cottage in Virginia’s Northern Neck.
“We corrected that right away and added ample deck chairs and cozy cushions.”
It’s a sound lesson to pass along. The scuffed furniture and mismatched cushions you’ve had for years might be perfectly comfortable for you and your family. But it looks like wear and tear to guests. And they may start to wonder why they’re spending their hard-earned vacation funds on a place that’s seen better days.
An investment in new, comfortable furniture is an easy way to make guests feel at home in your vacation rental. That can, in turn, help you earn positive reviews and attract even more guests down the road.
Invest in aesthetics to make your listing more attractive
On a similar note, you’re wise to spend a little money upfront to make your vacation rental look polished and welcoming.
“I would add more decorations sooner than I did,” said Al Williamson, a successful property owner and the expert behind the Leading Landlord Blog.
“Then I’d quickly get a professional photographer in so I could show off how great the place looks. This would have shortened the time it took me to recoup my initial startup investment.”
Karen Hopkins echoed this recommendation. She said, “It’s surprising how much of a difference the right amenities and local decor can make on your success.”
Ski condos outfitted with mountain touches and beach houses with coastal accents tend to get more bookings than those with generic interiors. Guests are going on vacation and want their accommodation to feel like an extension of the destination.
Don’t pinch pennies if you want to become a top earner
“Starting off, I thought I needed to do everything myself to preserve as much of the revenue as possible. When in actuality, after I made the switch to using Evolve, my revenue increased by far more than my fees,” added Karen Hopkins.
“Plus, it left me with more time to take care of all the other parts of the business so we could continue to grow.”
When you’re just getting started with vacation rental, it’s tempting to do everything yourself so you reap 100% of the rewards. But you also have to really work to generate those results. Many owners start out this way – only to discover it’s too much work.
After hiring a vacation rental management service to help, homeowners often realize that they can get significantly better results without giving up too much of their rental income. And like Karen, they make more money overall while doing a lot less work.
How you can give your vacation rental a head start
While the individual suggestions vary, each of the recommendations strike a similar note.
Whether in the form of upscale decor, a new set of furniture, professional photography, or vacation rental management, you need to invest in your vacation rental business if you want it to grow.
Cutting corners will only slow you down and make the path to profitability longer and more challenging.
If there are other ideas, advice, or mistakes that you’d like to contribute to our list, please leave a note the comments section below.
Evolve is on a mission to make vacation rental easy. For just a 10% booking fee, you’ll get all the support you need to out-book the competition and cash in on your vacation property.