Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Get Involved!

I just returned from Destin Florida, where I was to attend our HOA meeting and budget meetings for one of the communities I have a home. I am on the board at Cottage Retreat in Destin and have held the Presidents position for the past 3 years.

The reason I bring this up is I think we need more owners to get involved. Everyone wants a nice community, clean streets and sidewalks, beautiful homes,l clean pools and hot tubs, but there is some work that needs to be done to get them there.

I have enjoyed my time I spend working with the other board members. It really has not been too bad a time commitment. If more owners became involved, then they would have a voice in the rules, regulations and direction a community is heading.

If you do not get involved, you can not complain when something does not go your way. I wanted to be involved in the early years as many rules, and items needed to be completed. If I did not voice my opinion, how can I expect the outcome I am hoping for. The HOA has to take into account the good of all the owners, not just the board members. A good board of directors will keep that in mind. It is not a place for a "good ole boys" attitude, but you must do what is best for everyone.

Think about getting involved in your community. You may enjoy it as much as I have. It is also a great learning experience. There are state laws that help protect the owners and the community. There are rules that must be followed so that no one is at a disadvantage.

GET INVOLVED! Your investment depends on it! Go to your next meeting and run for a position on the board. You may be surprised how happy others are to have your help! Then you can start to shape and mold your own future!

Good luck!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Why use Online Booking?

We get this question often. Some owners of private vacation rentals have been in business for years. So they have "some" type of system in place to take bookings and keep track of the guests coming and going. So we understand the resistance to change. But.....

THINGS CHANGE. What use to be standard a few years ago is now out dated. Look at all the technology we have now in our cell phones, DVDs, TVs etc. So why not look into a state of the art booking system for your vacation rental business.

The ivacationonline.com software is built so the owner may perform a transaction with the guest, online, and all parties are informed and all parties have the needed documentation for the transaction.

SPEED COUNTS. We all know in the vacation rental business the owner that returns the calls and emails the fastest usually gets the booking. So why would you want to put a 4-7 day freeze on that process.

Let's say you return a call of a prospect that is very interested and wants to book your unit. You call them, they ask questions and you both agree to the booking. Now you have to email or fax the paperwork to them, they must print it out, sign it and write a check and mail it back to you. This is the normal way of doing business without online booking. VERY SLOW and puts too much on the guests.

You are taking a person who wants to buy something from you and putting a 7 day period into the equation and chances are they may not follow thru. The odds are not in your favor. Is your property "pending" or do you rent it to the next person that acts faster? What if they do not return the paperwork? How long do you wait for the paperwork before you try to track the prospect down? See the problems here?

You can now get that booking online and get it when the guest is wanting to do business with you! Which is NOW! In about 60 seconds it can all be done! We have taken an online survey of guest after they have booked with the ivacaitononline.com system and to date, 100% of the guest said they want to book a trip with a credit card. This is what the ivacaitononline.com system promotes. In any business, if you give the consumer what they want, you will attract more business. Make the sale when the prospect is ready to buy. Not one week later. Online booking gives you that option. Online booking is the way of the future.

Most of the owners we consult with that are not doing well, have a very difficult booking process. They have too many "rules", they do not take credit cards and are slow getting back to the prospect. They do not advertise enough. There is too much competition now. The owners that are making these changes, doing online booking, taking credit cards and removing roadblocks to the bookings are getting the lions share of business.

THE PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE. This is the best way I can describe what the automated online booking system, ivacationonline.com, can do for you. Make it easy on the guest, open the door WIDE open. Welcome them with open arms. Have your terms and conditions well written, have them agree and book them now! When the guest has you on the phone and they are all excited, that is the time to take the booking. Not 2 days later when you email them the documents and they have to write a check.

What would happen if a car dealer showed you a car you loved on the lot, you wanted to buy it and they told you to go home and wait for an email, print it out, then fill out the form and mail them a check back! They would never sell a car! So why do that in the vacation rental business?

NEW TREND. Here is the trend we see with online bookings. Owners are now removing taking a security deposits, asking for 100% up front, and they have language in the terms that they reserve the right to charge the credit card used in this transaction for any damages that may occur. The benefit here is the guest perceives a lower cost as they do not see an inflated price due to the security deposit. The owner has less work after the booking as they do not have to return a deposit. The owner has a copy of the card on file in the merchant service so they are protected. It is a win win for all involved. Again, this is making it easier for the guest and they respond by booking faster with these owners using these policies.

TRY IT. You can always go back to the OLD FASHION way. If you do not see how this system benefits you, go back to what you where doing. The owners that are using this technology to the fullest are having record years on the rentals.

Hope to see you taking online bookings soon! You will not regret it!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Details, Details, Details; Winning with a Vacation Rental by Owner

Today I wanted to go over what very successful owners are doing to stay successful!

I work with owners form all over the country with vacation rentals in many different areas. The underlying trait that the successful owners have is they pay attention to the details.

One of the most successful owners I know are Jay and Betty Coppic in Destin Florida. I have known Jay and Betty for about 5 years. They called me when they had one unit in Destin and were not very happy with the management company. I shared with them what I was doing to run this business on my own and they soon gave notice and left the management company. They have some rentals in one of my communities in Destin and they did so well with it they started to buy more. They now own 3 in the same complex.

They too love Destin like we do. They love it so much, they moved there and now live in a community near their rentals. So they now have a great advantage in this business. They can enter the units on a weekly basis and check on everything and keep the units in great condition.

The main reason I want to bring them up is the level of detail they put into this business is second to none! When I work with an owner that is not having success, I can see a trend of not putting in the time it takes to make this business work.

The old style of, "This is my second home, if you want to rent it, do what I say." Is out the door. As I always preach, this is a business. And if you are not running it like a business, you will suffer the economic consequences.

So now I see a direct relationship between owners like Jay and Betty, that take the time that is needed to run a great business and are VERY successful and owners that pay very little attention to it and they are not doing very well. So let me go into some detail so you can see what owners like Jay and Betty are doing to stay fully occupied and cash flowing their properties.

The devil is in the details! Jay takes great photos and uses them to "sell" his units. We could not agree more. Take as many pictures as possible. Use the Picasa Slide shows. Do what ever you can to show off your property. This takes time and the owners that take the time to do this are the ones seeing the benefits.

Advertise properly. You can not just throw up and ad on VRBO and complain that you are not 100% booked. The ad must be written correctly. Give details about everything. The bedrooms, the living rooms, inside, outside. You can not put too much detail on the web portals. The guest want to read all about a property, once they have interest.

Communicate with your guest. First owner that gets back to them, gets the business. Use this mentality and do not count on just emailing the guest and getting the bookings. CALL THEM ASAP!

Have all your policies in place and stick to them. Do not let the inmates run the asylum! You must know your policies and state them clearly on your sites and follow them. If you change your check in and check out time for every guest that ask, you will go crazy! Stick to your minimum day booking requirement. You need to run a successful business, you will also have to learn to say NO. NO, I do not allow pets. NO, I can not take a 2 day booking. NO, I do not rent to students under 25. NO is OK.

Follow up and stay in touch with your guest. This is rarely done. Getting someone to come back to your property is much better that trying to find a new prospect. They know you and your unit. They have been there. They are an easy sale. If you are not contacting them on a regular basis, they will forget who you are and end up booking with someone else next year.

Take the time to re-think your business. Take a few days or evenings and update all your sites. When is the last time you changed your copy on the web portals you advertise on? Keep it fresh.
Yes, this does take time, but if you start paying attention and run your properties like a business, the way Jay and Betty do in Destin, you too can be fully booked and cash flowing your units. Try it! You have no place to go but UP!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Off season, time to update your Vacation Rental

Many of us are going into what we may consider to be the slow season. Some markets are now just heating up. Either way, updating your property and doing normal maintenance is part of this business.

If you are running your business successfully you may be booked during the "slow" time when other units are empty! This is a great problem to have. What I will normally do is take as many bookings as possible up to about Nov. 1. I know in my market of DESTIN FLORIDA, any bookings we can get in Nov. outside of Thanksgiving is really a bonus. So if I am going to take time off the calendar it is usually around the beginning of Nov.

I have found it is worth missing one or two weeks of low rent and keep my units updated as much as possible, so my high season guests are happy when they return and see an improved unit. And since we run usually over 90% booked, I have very few weeks a year to get this work completed.

Here are some items you need to consider.

1) Have your HVAC cleaned and inspected. Much of this will be preventative. There is not one of your guests that want to arrive and not have heat or air. This is a great way to stop a problem before it happens.

2) Paint and decor. It is always good to keep your vacation rental fresh with the latest colors and decor. How long has it been since you painted the entire place? Do you have enough touch up paint to keep the place looking good. Guest bringing in and out large travel bags and suite cases can leave your walls "dinged" up. Touch them up and keep enough of the original paint on hand so this is easy and fast.

3) Pressure washing. I love my pressure washer. You can make anything look new again. Decks, sidewalks, driveways, siding on your home. If you do not have time to do it your self, hire someone. There are always plenty of handy man around to do this. This will make everything look new again. I have one of my homes pressured washed once a year, they do the drive way, patios, front porch, sidewalks and side of the home for about $200. It is money well spent.

4) New Furniture. You will know when it is time. If I see a worn couch or chair, we will make plans to replace it in the fall. This is one thing that everyone needs to consider. The furniture does take a beating. Try to budget for it. Make it part of your yearly expenses. If you buy one or two pieces a year, every year, you will always have furniture that is in great shape.

5) Carpet cleaning/Replacement. If you have carpet, clean it! The guest can tell when you have worn out dirty carpets. I like to put as much ceramic tile down as possible. But where I have carpet we have it cleaned at least twice a year. You should also have your tile cleaned once a year as the dirty tile can transfer the dirt right back to the carpet once it is clean. After 5-6 years it may be time to consider replacing the carpet. I always try to pick colors or patterns they go good with dirt! Brown carpet is much better in vacation rentals then white!

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking. What do yo uhave at your place that needs work. Now is the time to schedule the improvements.

I hope these items gave you enough ideas to get motivated to improve your unit. I assure you the better you take care of your place,the better your guest will like it and want to come back. Building up repeat business is GOLDEN in this business. They feel safe booking with you as they have a track record with you and they know you keep a clean updated place.

The more you put into this business, the more you will get out. Keep up the good work and keep your units updated! Happy Renting!