What’s Owning a Vacation Rental Like?
We purchased the beach houses about 5 years ago and since then I’ve had a lot of friends and guests ask what it’s like to own vacation rental beach property. Here’s an attempt to answer that question for anyone who is curious or considering taking on a second home to share with guests.
Run it like a Business, Not a Hobby
Our main purpose for the beach houses is investment. They need to pay their own way – this includes mortgage, insurance, utilities, taxes, etc. This expectation guides us in all aspects of the houses, including our personal use of the them. We limit our time there in high season and only stay at the beach in the summer on days that weren’t rented by guests. I’m not an accountant, so some of the financials have been challenging – lots of record keeping and getting to know QuickBooks. I also have high expectations for the people that work on the beach houses – and honestly, sometimes you go through a few contractors to find the right one. Good people to work on the houses are as valuable as gold.
Running a vacation rental as a business takes time – updating the calendar, marketing the houses, learning new skills (accounting, blogging, tweeting, other forms of social media.) Time management is important as well as is a schedule. I answer inquiries as they come in. Every day the “Calendar is up to date” button has to be pushed. The heading on the listing should be changed weekly. Friday morning is the time I sit down and refund damage deposits, send welcome info and work with lock codes for the next few weeks. On days with guest turn overs, I make sure the new lock code has set. I watch the lock texts to make sure the house keeper has arrived. I keep my phone on and near around check in time in case the guest has trouble the the lock code.
According to most other owners I know, gone are the days when you can just list a house on a listing site like Homeaway.com or VRBO.com and wait for the inquiries. There are a lot of vacation rentals out there and an increasing number of listing sites – it takes time and thought to make a vacation rental stand out from the rest of the crowd – and that is probably another blog post!
Be Prepared for Problems
There are always going to be hiccups with a vacation rental. This year between the houses, we’ve put on two new roofs (one due to an incredible hail storm and the other due to age), replaced two water heaters, a washing machine, a dishwasher, painted one house’s total exterior as well as the interior trim. All this to the tune of upwards of $20K. Not the right kind of banner year for the houses! Crossing my fingers and saying prayers that 2015 is really a slow hurricane season. Other challenges we’ve faced: I’ve paid to send guests to dinner if the house wasn’t ready on time (twice in 5 years) and have also had to replace 3 box springs and a mattress in a 4 hour window between guests (hence the house rule of no jumping on the beds….) Make the house your own, but don’t have anything in it that would break your heart if you lost it.
What’s the P.I.T.A. Factor with Guests?
Many people have have asked if dealing with guests is a problem. Some things do get damaged and have to be replaced but most of the time it’s not a big deal. By and large all the guests are delightful and I wish I knew each one beyond their vacation planning with me. People are so interesting and working with guests is really one of the best parts of owning a vacation rental. I talk to each one on the phone prior to booking and it and pays dividends – they know I’ll take care of their vacation needs and I trust they’ll take care of my place. It’s a win win.
Owning a Vacation Rental is Great
I have really enjoyed having the beach houses. I encourage anyone who’s interested to seriously consider it. Make sure the financial numbers work for you and enjoy!