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Blog Posts in September 2014

 

Refundable Security DepositsI know that many property managers feel very strongly about refundable security deposits. I have spoken to many of them over the years, and they have outlined several advantages - both real and imagined - most of which can be learned about in this VROG video. But here, I'm going to focus on the dark underbelly of security deposits, so readers beware: it's not for the faint of heart...

Guests Hate Them



Don't they? Who wants to have to cough up another $200, $300, $500, or whatever it is for the property manager to hold over their heads to ensure that they don't damage the property? This "guilty-until-proven-innocent" policy runs against the grain of American values. Plus, it's just another stressor for the guests as they feel they have to babysit this to make sure they get refunded when they return. So they've got this liability nagging in the back of their minds throughout their whole vacation. Fail!

Credit Card Companies Hate Them



Don't they? If you think about it, there is very little good that can possibly come from a security deposit from the perspective of a credit card company, the issuing bank, or the merchant account. No matter how you implement it, it's a nuisance for them. If you issue a "hold" on the account, then the available balance for the credit card is reduced, leaving less room for more charges that the bank would receive fee revenue from, and on top of that, they don't get any fees for a "hold". Most VR managers that implement this as a charge-then-refund will only do this if they can reverse the charge and also reverse all fees. Again, to the bank, this is nothing but an expense (dealing with two transactions) with absolutely no revenue for it. Moreover, any security deposits that end up being claimed by the VR manager (i.e., for damage) statistically have a higher probability of being challenged by the consumer (guest), dragging the credit card company and/or issuing bank into an arbitration process. This is an expensive pain in the neck for them, with no chance of earning any money from it. Fail!

Booking Systems Hate Them



Don't they? Refundable security deposits cannot be accounted for the same way as other payments, because they cannot be applied to the balance due for the booking. So a completely separate list of payments has to be maintained just for the security deposit, complete with its own balance due. If the VR manager is implementing this as a "hold" mechanism, then it's important for the booking system to capture that as well, so that no one tries to refund the deposit (the hold will automatically expire after some number of days, more on this later). This also means that when it's time for the customer to pay the security deposit, a special and separate transaction has to be completed, because the booking system must communicate to the merchant account that this is a "hold" transaction, or at least that this is a security deposit payment so that when the merchant account notifies the booking system that the payment was completed, the booking system knows where & how to record this as a security deposit payment (leaving the booking balance due unaffected). Blech!

Security deposits also create more requirements around other things that a booking system may have to deal with, such as: marking a booking as not yet ready for check-in if the security deposit balance is not paid in full, and withholding key-swap/door code/final arrival instructions correspondence (emails) from being sent until the security deposit is paid. Fail!

VR Managers Hate Them



Don't they? It adds another layer of complexity to an already painstaking rental process. It's just another thing you have to follow-up on before and after the booking is complete. More transactions each year in and out of your account that may be costing you fees in both directions. Many VR managers like to wait until closer to the check-in date to collect the security deposit, partly as a courtesy to the guest, but mainly because they have a better chance of being able to refund it cost-free if it's within 30-60 days. But this creates yet another follow-up correspondence that has to be managed, and also yet another transaction that either the guest or VR manager has to process. And then un-process after check-out. Fail!

Online Payment Gateways Hate Them



Don't they? And for the same reasons that merchant accounts and banks hate them. The vast majority of the time, security deposits are not used to pay for damage. This means that they are either "held" and "released" by the gateway, or they are charged and then refunded (but VR managers almost never implement it this way unless it is totally free), so in either case it's at least two transactions per booking that the gateway gets no revenue from. Placing "Authorize-Holds" on credit cards is also a common technique used by frauders to feel out the value of an account, so a "hold" that goes uncollected for many days raises security flags.

Some VR managers are under the impression that holds are automatically released exactly 30 days after they are placed, but this cannot be relied on. Our research suggests that 30 days is the (legal?) maximum that holds can last, but it could be much less, and is controlled by the policies of the issuing bank of the card used. Some will expire holds after only one day. Some vary the hold period depending on the card tier (silver, gold, platinum, premium, whatever), the specific customer, the specific merchant, and even the specific time of the year. I'm guessing on and around Black Friday most holds might even be dropped within the hour, to make room for other sales that are not pausing on the authorization-hold during the crucial and very busy holiday shopping season. All of this sure seems to put a big question mark on the usefulness of this approach, doesn't it? Fail!

Alternatives



For many of these reasons, the trend in the VR industry is to move away from refundable security deposits. Some are simply dropping them altogether and taking the risk themselves - apparently without much regret. But many are turning to the concept of security deposit "waivers", or damage insurance fees, instead. This is usually a much smaller amount that is charged to the guest, but is not refundable. It is instead bundled in with the rest of the booking costs, and is therefore much easier to deal with as it is simply collected as part of all other cost components of the booking (taxes, cleaning fees, booking fees, etc.) The collected fees can be used to pay (in whole or in part) for the premiums of an actual damage insurance policy, or they can be used to fund a self-indemnification plan - accumulated into an account to pay for damages directly at the discretion of the VR manager. Check your local laws for regulations on these practices before deciding on pricing and policy, but this completely eliminates all of the baggage hanging on refundable security deposits. It is also often quite lucrative for the property manager. Learn more: Integrated Damage Protection.

Some are also offering guests the choice of a traditional, refundable security deposit, or a waiver. But this strikes me as adding even more stress and complexity to the process, as not all bookings could be relied on to be handled the same way.

The Bottom Line



If it's not obvious after reading all of this, security deposits are a pain in the neck for everyone involved, and they really don't get used all that often to pay for damages. The reality is that over the long term, the amount of money you are likely to spend on damages caused by guests will be trivial compared to almost all of the other costs involved in owning and operating a rental. Advertising, taxes, carpet replacement, furniture upgrades, bathroom and kitchen maintenance, A/C and HVAC, plumbing, replacing linens and towels every year - any of these are likely to outweigh the cost of damages caused by guests. Long-term, you might even spend more on light-bulbs than on guest-induced damages.

So before you make the decision to collect a traditional, refundable security deposit for your vacation rental, consider the sum total of all the stress, complexity, potential for mistakes, paper, and leg work involved - not just for you, but for all parties involved. Then ask yourself if it's truly worth it.

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Homeaway, VRBO, and Auto-Responders
September 19, 2014, by John Amato

Homeaway VRBO Auto-Responder

What's an Auto-Responder?



Before we get into the good news, let's briefly review what Bookerville's Auto-Responder is. Whenever you get an inquiry from a listing site (such as Homeaway, VRBO, FlipKey, AirBnB, etc.) they usually send an email to you with the details. You can automatically forward a copy of these emails to a special email address at Bookerville, and Bookerville will read those emails, obtain the information in them, and potentially automatically generate replies to the guests with quotes, links to book, see your other properties, or make online booking requests. This is configurable, and there are lots of options on how to run it. At a minimum, Bookerville records all these inquiries and presents them to you for easy administering in a convenient lead-management tool in your Dashboard ยป At-A-Glance tab. You can learn more about our highly-acclaimed Auto-Responder and what it can do for you.

Homeaway and VRBO Lead Management



About a year ago (2013), Homeaway and VRBO started hiding the guests' email addresses from these inquiry emails that they send to you. Because of this, Bookerville would be unable to automatically reply to the guest. This could also create a lot of back & forth in terms of data entry between your Homeaway/VRBO account and Bookerville. Suffice to say, most property managers were outraged by this. But there appears to be good news...

Tell Them You're Using an Auto-Responder



Our recent experience with our customers has revealed that Homeaway's policies provide for a workaround: if you explain to them that you are using an Auto-Responder, they will put the guest email addresses back into your inquiry emails. We've seen them do this for several of our customers, large and small. So it's certainly worth reaching out to your account representative to ask about this, as it appears they are willing to cooperate.

Calendar Synchronizing, and More



And while you have their attention, it's certainly also worth telling them that you want them to open up their API's to Bookerville so that we can integrate availability data, keeping your calendars synchronized automatically. AirBnB, FlipKey, and many other listing sites already do this using our iCal export feature, so it's about time Homeaway and VRBO make your life as easy as those other listing sites do, right?

 
9 Responses:

Onlinety, September 20, 2014:

Thanks.. this is very useful information.. Thanks for sharing..
Niseko Boutiques, September 22, 2014:

Does anyone have experience with FlipKey offering this workaround? Quite frustrating when some properties listed prior to the changes allow emails and more recent properties listed do not.
Thanks,
John
John Amato, September 22, 2014:

Niseko Boutiques - are they hiding the guest email addresses from you?
Niseko Boutiques, September 22, 2014:

Yes John, with the new Flipkey policies, names and email adresses are not revealed until a deposit is paid. I will try listing on the other sites now that there is a work around though..
Jihn
John Amato, September 22, 2014:

You might try reaching out to your account rep at FlipKey and tell them you are about to switch to a different listing site because of this policy. My suspicion is that may make them change their mind about it.

It's also worth telling them that you're using Bookerville, which will give them confidence that you're not "cheating" them out of any commissions...
Patrick-2503, August 28, 2015:

Hi,
Have you been able to obtain the calendar and other synch with VRBO yet through iCal?
Thanks,
Patrick
John Amato, August 28, 2015:

Hi Patrick - yes, there are two ways to do it. You can enter your VRBO iCal feed URL that they provide into your Bookerville property setup. Bookerville will read it every night and block dates on your Bookerville calendar. Alternatively, HomeAway is now providing iCal sync with external feeds, so you can copy/paste your Bookerville iCal feed URL into your HomeAway account, and they will apparently sync from that.
John Amato, August 28, 2015:

Let me know if I can help you with either of those...
dhouin, April 21, 2016:

If a inquirer asks for a quote and receives the auto response and then comes back and asks a question through VRBO does that mean they get the 2nd auto response? This looks like this is what happened. I am not sure if this is a good thing. It looked to me as if they got the same auto response twice. Is this correct?

 
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Housekeeping Software Updates
September 13, 2014, by John Amato

Housekeeping Software UpdatesSome updates have been made to our Housekeeping functions.

Property Manager Has Full Access



As the main owner of your Bookerville account, you now have full cleaning and inspection permissions on all your properties by default. This means you can click on the "My Clean/Inspect Property List" link in the lower-left area of your Dashboard ==> Master Calendar, and it will take you to the same page your cleaners/inspectors see. From there, you can mark properties as cleaned/inspected yourself.

Add To Comments



You can also click on the "Clean/Inspect Status" link (upper-right area of Booking Details page) to see the status as it pertains to a specific booking. And there you can also add to existing comments, or mark as clean or inspected yourself. You can also delete cleanings or inspections, if they were entered by you.

What's Coming



We are going to be enhancing the My Clean/Inspect Property List page so that when you tap a property, instead of going straight to the Clean/Inspect Report form, it will first show you the most-recent booking, the current booking (if there is one), and the next booking. You'll be able to choose which of those bookings you are about to report on, which will help prevent mistakes and confusion.

Feedback



As always, we encourage you to give us your thoughts on how this can be improved. So don't hesitate to comment right here, or email or call us with your ideas - they are valuable!

 
5 Responses:

PACVL, September 3, 2015:

It would be extremely helpful if the marking of Cleaning/Inspections generated an email notification to the property manager and/or owner in a fashion similar to other automatic emails.
John Amato, September 3, 2015:

It's coming...
John Amato, September 5, 2015:

In fact, it's here! Now in BETA, you can create a new Email Template, and check the "trigger" box to have the email sent on Housekeeping Notifications. Let us know how it goes...
Sabeli Villas.c.b. - E30811939, May 18, 2017:

John, Have been playing around with Maintenance Option and just trying to get my head around it.
1.As I understand it, from the Housekeeping App a Maintenance request can be generated, with Description, which then generates a Works Order record/number which pops up on the At-A-Glance screen as notification to Prop Man. How can I then forward on this W/O complete to the relevant Maintenance area. I don't seem to see a Tag to insert into an E-mail Template. The Email Trigger is working, but how do I link/include the W/O.
2.How do you update the fields on the Works Order ie. Schedule, Completed, Status, Estimate, Paid. Or is this not available yet. System just keeps chucking me out.
3.Is there going to be a separate Works Order Report. As nothing appearing under the Clean/Inspect Rpt. Only if I complete the Comments Section as well as Description on the House Keeping App.
4.Pro Man's can raise a Works Order also via the Master Calendar Screen, but I cannot see that it is possible from an individual booking. The Clean/Inspect Status only allows comments to be updated on previous reports. Could this be a possible new feature.
Thanks John keep up the good work.
John Amato, May 19, 2017:

Very good observations, and thank you. You are correct, that there is not yet a way to assign work orders to individual people yet. But that is in development and will be available soon. There is also no way to email these yet either.

You should be able to edit any work order by either clicking on it from the Work Orders box on the At-A-Glance tab, or going to the Property Setup page >> Work Orders tab. Look for the little edit icon, which is next to the delete icon (red X).

Try that and write back with your thoughts, thanks!

 
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Vacation Rental Guest Reviews: Relevant!
September 2, 2014, by John Amato

Vacation Rental Guest Reviews

Consumer Review Origins



If you need someone to blame, you can probably blame it on eBay. They are the ones who really started it, being the first apex-grade internet site to embrace consumer reviews in a major way.

Soon after, it was Amazon, who really brought reviews to the forefront of American consumerism. And once Amazon proved it worked, virtually everyone followed. Now, every online retailer that matters offers consumer reviews. Personally, I live by them; I don't make any significant purchases without looking at the reviews. And if the product doesn't have any? I pretty much just walk away. It's been a decidedly good thing for products, keeping producers and retailers alike from peddling sub-par merchandise.

And what's good for phones, TVs, and books should also be good for vacation rentals, right?

Pros and Cons



That's certainly the stance of the major listing sites, as they all actively solicit guest reviews by email a few days after the guest checks out. Some property managers protest, mostly out of fear of poor reports. However, sites like VRBO, FlipKey, and others do some amount of vetting of these reviews, and most of them offer the property manager at least one rebuttal comment, in which they can refute or counter the guest's claims, providing a balanced picture by displaying both sides of the story.

But the reality is that most reviews are favorable. Bookerville's own experience has shown an average guest review rating of 4.3 stars (out of 5), and most of the comments are glowing. Even the occasional "poor" review can often serve to enlighten guests about an aspect of the rental they may not have considered without it. If a reviewer complains about a loud, rowdy party next-door to them, that may turn off some family-oriented travelers. But it may be a lure for those looking for a more exciting experience.

Moreover, the occasional bad review, especially if it is in contrast to several other positive reviews for the rental, will usually be overlooked or deemed a rant by prospects reading them. When I see a listing with nothing but perfect reviews, I admit that it makes me a bit skeptical of their validity.

Feedback is Feedback



Glowing reviews are obviously the ultimate goal: nothing screams "pick me!" like a couple dozen 5-star ratings. But negative feedback is valuable too. No one ever improves if all they hear is what they're doing right. To achieve 5-star status, most things require improvement, and not just once, but constant improvement over time. The fastest way to learn what you're missing, or the deficiencies your rental may have, is to hear it straight from the experiences of your guests.

The Guest Review Genie is Not Going Back in the Bottle



Let's face it: consumer reviews are here to stay, and increasingly, prospects are likely to walk away if you aren't even collecting them. In fact, it could be worse to not collect and display guest reviews than to have a couple of less-than-favorable reports mixed in with the rest. By participating, you are telling the world that you are standing by what you're offering, and that alone speaks volumes about what kind of property manager you are.

Bookerville's guest reviews are also available to post on your own website (or elsewhere), using a new addition to our Widgets, and there is also a full report you can run to view, print, or export all your reviews. So your benefit is multiplied!

 
1 Responses:

John Amato, October 28, 2014:

Want to see some great discussion on some of best practices with guest reviews? Read this: 7 Outstanding Vacation Rental Guest Review Techniques.

 
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