Vacation Rental 101: Guest Inquiries and Screening

Astrid LindstromLeave a Comment

How to handle inquiries and screen guests

You created a listing for your beautifully furnished new vacation rental, and you’ve just received an email from a traveler interested in giving you your very first booking!

First: they have some questions. And so should you. The inquiry stage is the best place to set traveler expectations, provide some friendly customer service, and vet the traveler to be sure they’re going to be a good guest for your vacation home.

Let’s talk about inquiries.

What Questions Will Travelers Ask?

Your potential guest will often have a few questions about your rental, and as the owner many of them will be easy for you to answer. For example, if they want to know whether your stove is gas or electric, you’ll know right off the top of your head.

Other questions may not be quite as easy to answer. Travelers will have questions about your property’s suitability for their particular needs, which can vary quite a bit.

You’ll commonly get questions like:

  • Is your property suitable for children?
  • Is your property suitable for elderly people or people with disabilities?
  • Is your property in a safe neighborhood?
  • Can you walk to [downtown, hiking trails, etc.]?

These questions are a bit more objective. Your property may be suitable for children in that you’re happy to rent to parents, but it may not be “suitable” in the way the traveler imagines. They might think “suitable” means that there are child-proof outlets, for example.

You’ll want to be able to provide specific answers to these questions, so spend a little time thinking about what you can and cannot promise. A good answer to “is this property suitable for the elderly?” might be:

Well, the house is mostly on one level, and there is a bedroom on the ground floor, but there are stairs to the second floor that might be difficult to navigate. The bathroom has a shower-tub combination, which might be a little difficult, but it does also have a safety bar.

Be honest about what you can and cannot promise, and be as specific as you can. If your property doesn’t fit this family’s needs, it doesn’t. It is very unlikely that a traveler will arrive at your property and be so amazed by how great it is that they forget you promised them something you couldn’t actually deliver.

Travelers will appreciate your honesty, and you’ll find they may even come back to you as an option if they’re traveling with a different party in the future.

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the #1 question travelers ask:

Is the kitchen fully equipped?

If you’ve followed our advice on stocking a vacation rental kitchen, your answer is definitely yes. If you’ve decided not to offer spices, cooking staples, or certain cooking utensils, you should tell them so – once again, your idea and the traveler’s idea of what “fully equipped” means might differ, and you will practically guarantee yourself a bad review if the traveler feels misled.

What Do You Need to Know About Your Area?

You’ll find quite a lot of travelers want to know more about your general location and the availability of amenities in the area, particularly if you have a property near water or skiing.

We highly recommend having ready answers to the following questions:

  • How near are you to [common attraction or destination]?
  • Do you have a grocery store nearby?
  • Is there a hospital or medical care facility nearby?
  • Where can I rent ski equipment/a snowmobile/waterskis/a boat?
  • Are there any good restaurants nearby?
  • How far are you from the airport?

Be prepared with precise answers. You should be able to tell them there’s a grocery store within walking distance, a medical facility 5 miles away, and a great ski equipment place right by the slopes that you recommend highly.

Have the names of all your recommended destinations available. Travelers want to hear that you know the area and will be able to help them get the most out of their vacation.

Saying “Oh, yes, there’s a good Italian place … what is the name of it, I can never remember” tells them you haven’t been there recently and your recommendation might not count for much. If you say “You must go to Marconi’s, it’s wonderful, we go every time we’re in town,” they feel far more confident they’ll enjoy it as much as you do.

If you can, recommend specific people to talk to! You can even ask those locations if they’d be willing to offer a small discount to your renters in exchange for you sending business directly to them. “Ask for James at the water ski rental and tell him you’re my guest, he’ll give you a 10% discount.”

James will be happy to get the business and your travelers will be happy to get the discount. You’ll be happy to get a great review for going above and beyond the call, too!

What Exceptions Should You Make?

Many travelers will ask if you are willing to make exceptions to the rules stated in your listing. You should know in advance which items you are and are not willing to negotiate on.

Travelers will often ask questions like:

  • I know your maximum occupancy is 6, but we have 6 adults and a 2-year-old who would sleep with Mom and Dad – is that okay?
  • Your property says you only have space for 2 cars but we have 3. Can we park the third car on the street?
  • You have a rule that says “no parties” but we would like to host a small dinner party of just 8 people – no noise, no problems. Is that okay?

It is not unreasonable to offer exceptions to your rules, but you’ll want to know in advance where you are and are not willing to compromise. Otherwise, you may find you feel pressured into making exceptions when you would really rather not.

It’s best to know in advance what kinds of behavior your rules are designed to avoid so that you can feel comfortable knowing when an exception is appropriate.

You might feel flexible on your “no children” rule for a couple with an infant in arms, because your real intention is to avoid small children breaking your delicate knick-knacks, and a baby cannot cause that problem. You may feel flexible about small parties of older adults if you feel you can trust the group to behave responsibly.

It’s entirely up to you. If you don’t feel comfortable making an exception, simply say you’re sorry you can’t help them. If they push back, close the conversation and wish them luck finding a rental that can better accommodate them.

Finally, there’s a common exception many travelers ask for: a discount on the nightly rate.

You should always have a little leeway available in your rates, particularly if a traveler is booking in low season or snapping up a few days in an otherwise-packed calendar. Know your rock-bottom rate and stick to it – and be discerning about to whom you will offer a discount.

(Not sure what your rock-bottom rate should be? Take a look at this post on vacation rental pricing.)

If a traveler asks belligerently or tries to tell you that your property isn’t worth the price, they’re likely to cause other problems down the line and are best avoided. You’re better off offering discounts to travelers who appreciate the favor and behave accordingly.

What Should You Ask the Traveler?

You may have heard some horror stories about travelers who destroy the property with wild parties or willful neglect. Allow me to reassure you that such travelers are few and far between, and that you can often avoid them with a few judicious questions in your vetting process.

Look out for any obvious “red flags.” Ours include things like:

  • A different name on the reservation vs. on the credit card
  • A traveler whose home address is near your property
  • A stated number of travelers that doesn’t match up with your occupancy (e.g., the traveler says they have 2 people, but they’re renting a 4-bedroom property)
  • A large number of people, even if the property accommodates large parties
  • Large groups of adults traveling without children

All of these can have perfectly logical explanations. A husband may be using his wife’s credit card to make the booking. Someone may be booking a property on behalf of their relatives who are coming to visit. A traveler may not have noticed that they didn’t enter in the number of travelers, so the system defaulted to 2 adults.

Regardless, you should ask, and then listen closely. You can usually hear when someone is trying to pull the wool over your eyes, and if you don’t feel the guest is being straightforward with you, do not rent to them. Your gut instincts are often right!

Take a little time to chat with them about their trip and their intentions. “What brings you to town?” is a great, friendly question, and most people can answer readily. People who intend to use your property for a party they know isn’t allowed, however, will have a harder time answering, and that hesitation is your warning sign.

If you have concerns about safety, you can go to additional lengths such as asking for a copy of their driver’s license to verify their identity. That said, many legitimate travelers aren’t comfortable sharing this kind of information simply to rent lodging, and vetting strategies often prove more effective to find the rare problematic guest.

We can count the number of bad apples we’ve had this year on one hand – and we’ve made over 30,000 bookings in that time! Again: the vast majority of guests are ordinary people who simply want to have a nice vacation, and they’ll generally treat your property with respect. Your most common incidents are always going to be accidental damage, not fraud or catastrophic renters.

Listen to your instincts in the vetting process and be sure you’re covered for accidental damage, and you’ll enjoy a long string of great guests.

This post is part of Evolve’s Vacation Rental 101: The Expanded Ultimate Guide to Success series, where we discuss the ins and outs of vacation rental ownership for newcomers and experienced veterans alike.

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