3 Rental Decisions: Credit cards, calendar, cost structure

After a couple of false starts, we’ve finally moved into the last phase of buying our beach house. This experience is entirely remote. We found a notary, signed until our fingers bled, and overnighted our documentations to the title company. We now have to make a couple of key decisions that will have a big impact on both our day to day operations, and also the experience of our potential customers.

Credit Card Strategy

The first decision was whether to take credit cards. As the author of 13 technical books (including, most recently, Seven Languages in Seven Weeks), let me tell you, I like technology. But I don’t like technology for the sake of technology. So I needed to get my head around whether the low-tech solution would work, and whether the benefits of taking credit cards would override the cost. The possible players were:

1) Checks. The paper method.

I must confess, I would really like this decision to work. Sign our rental agreement, mail us a check, and you’ve reserved the house. Pay when you get into town, and you buy the keys. Behave yourself, and we mail you a rental deposit back to you. Ultimately, we decided that renting without credit cards is a dying model. We’ll accept them, somehow.

2) Pay pal.

This is the lowest tech solution of those who remain. Pay with a paypal transaction. We don’t have to have a merchant account. We just have to have a paypal account. We don’t even need to use paypal to return the security deposit, so we save a little bit on the transaction fees. Handling disputes can be problematic, because Paypal can lock up the funds.

3) A merchant account.

Eventually, this is where we’ll wind up, one way or another. Whether the management company handles it or not, this solution is a little bit cheaper, but we’ll need to make sure that the merchant account that we use will allow our policy for deposits and cancellations. If you go in this direction, make sure you know the story here. There are a few credit card companies that specialize in vacation rentals. HomeAway has a new one, and there are a few others as well.

4) Let my management company solve the problem.

Since we’re trying to do some of the marketing of the house ourselves, we are going with a management company that is a little less experienced. Wherever we land, I am going to help make the decision to get us there.

In the end, we’ll take credit cards somehow. We’ll start with Paypal because of the low setup costs. Moving on…

Calendar.

No one has the perfect solution for marketing a beach house. There are national chains that have great search engine optimization, but a poor user experience. Other sites have great local affinity, but don’t cast a broad enough net. I also wanted a whole site for the house (this one) that allows us to personalize the user’s experience.

But that means you need to synchronize calendars. What will we do? I am not sure. There are a couple of automated solutions that we’re looking at, and a few manual approaches too. In the end, we may just use HomeAwayConnect or the MyVRZone widget. We are also considering GoogleCalendar, or a WordPress plugin. Sorry we’re late with this. We know it’s a problem.

Cost Structure

The final question is what to do about the cost structure for the house. Do we take a pet deposit? Do we charge a cleaning fee? Do we pass the credit card fees on to the customer? I think we’re just going to keep the previous owner’s policies intact, with one exception. We’re going to start charging a security deposit.

So the cost structure is easy to understand. You will pay the rate dependent on the season, and city and state tax. You’ll reserve the house with one day of rental, and you’ll pay the security deposit (plus a pet deposit if applicable). That’s it. Deposit, the seasonal rate, and tax.

We’ll know if the closing all went through on Monday, and we’ll keep you posted. How do you like the decisions we’ve made so far?

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