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Top 10 Tips from an Expert Guest to Vacation Rental Managers:

First, I'll tell you why I'm an expert guest. My family and I have been staying in vacation rentals for the last 12 years. I've got tons of experience finding and renting vacation homes. I take the task of finding a rental very seriously. I love doing it! Over the years, we've rented in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and West Virginia. Sometimes it's just for our family; other times, it's for a combination of families and friends. In addition and probably more relevant, I'm co-founder and usability expert for Bookerville, a vacation rental management software company based in Virginia. Since I focus on usability, which means how easy is software to use, I'm quite a "noticer." I notice a lot of things on websites that a lot of people miss. And I analyze it all.

What prompted me to write this article is my most recent (personal) vacation rental challenge: Our Family Vacation! Our perfect house needed to:

o Have 6+ bedrooms and be located in Hilton Head, South Carolina
o Be available during any week of July 2013
o Be comfortable for three families to share (6 parents, 6 younger kids, 1 teenager son, and 1 teenager friend)
o Be located within an easy walking distance to the beach
o Have a private pool
o Have a combined budget of around $6000 for the week

In looking for a vacation rental that will meet the needs of all three families, I experienced some things that were frustrating, confusing, and made my life harder. (A lesser person may have gone the hotel route.) I've neatly packaged what I experienced here into ten items (I'm sure I could think of more though) and described them in a way that might be helpful for vacation rental managers to hear. Yes, I was wearing my guest hat while I shopped around, but I was able to analyze and document what I experienced. Hopefully I've turned these into good ideas for VR managers to improve the guest experience.

So here it is, My Top Ten Tips on How to Rent Your Rental: I'm going to go backwards because that's what you do.

10) If you list your rental on a listing web site, look at how your prices are shown compared to others. As a guest, I'm using those numbers to compare your house to others. On one listing site I used, some prices are listed daily while most were listed weekly. Some show only their lowest weekly rate, when all the others are showing their high. (Do you list yours differently from all the others? Maybe that's not a good thing.) I was burned a few times thinking the weekly rate was $3800, and then found out that that was the daily rate. OUCH. (Come on. As if I wouldn't find out that the house is out of my price range after reading the details. Are they trying to fool me by displaying daily?) Some people are actually looking for expensive "high-end, luxury" homes. Know your audience. Some will see a weekly rate of $20,000 and say "Oh yea, that's the one!"

9) Don't show photos that are depressing, silly or lack information. For example, make sure your reflection isn't in the mirror when you take the shot. (Are you wearing your jammies?) Make sure it's not cloudy when you take a photo of the deck. (Burr, I'm not going out there.) Make sure the pool is clean before your photo shoot. (What's that floating in the pool?) Don't waste a photo by showing one of the stairs. For bedrooms, show the sleeping situation. If there is a sleeper sofa in a bedroom, show it in proximity to the bed. I'm looking at your photos to see if it will fit our sleeping needs, especially if I can't figure it out from the text descriptions.

8) Don't provide text descriptions that don't give enough description. Yes they need to set a tone, but I'm also digging for details. This is a house where my family needs to sleep for seven hopefully not long nights. Please give plenty of boring, excruciatingly painful details about the bedrooms and any sleeping situation possibilities. I am a mom. I want to know details.

7) Call me back if I call you. Email me back if I email you.

6) If you do call me back (thank you) but if you have to leave me a message, speak clearly. Remind me how I found you. Don't refer to the house by its street address if I only know it as the "Fabulous 6+ BR Close to Beach Large Pool." I won't know which one you are talking about. I'll feel bad but I will probably just delete your message.

5) If I ask you a question, post the answer on your site - after you answer me of course, and when you have some down time obviously. The idea is that if you get questions from potential guests, that may mean that others might have the same questions but just might not be asking. Post the answers to the questions I asked on your website to save yourself time, and to possibly answer the question for the next guest. eBay does that - they post all the questions asked as well as the answers.

4) As a way to give more detail to potential guests, one manager created a Flicker account and added a ton more pictures, and sent me an email with a link to the account. Great idea! Include a link to that at the bottom of all your emails. Point it out to me if I email you and start asking questions.

3) If I call you and ask a question like where is the sleeper sofa located, or exactly how far is the walk to the beach, that means you are a contender for my business. That means I am looking hard at your property and trying to make it work for me. It doesn't mean I'm trying to be a pain in your butt by asking stupid questions. See tips #7, 6, 5 and 4.

2) For your guests who want to book online, allow them to actually price out their stay down to a gnat's hiney. Don't throw in all the options and make me think there isn't an easy way to "un-select" them. I tried to price out one house, and it automatically included in the Dog Fee, Pool Heat Fee, Traveler's Insurance, and Damage Waiver. It added almost $1000 to my total. When there was no obvious way to not pick and choose these options, I of course had to pick up the phone and price it out the old-fashioned way. When I gave this feedback to the person on the phone, she said, "Oh all you needed to do was type that into the comments and we would have deleted that from the total." Oh, and now I'm a mind-reader because there were no such directions on the website?

And, drum-roll please, the most important thing:

1) Show your availability calendar!!! Please. What's with all the secrets, vacation rental managers? Sorry, but when I'm on the receiving end of "You can't see this owner's calendar. You have to email or call them," it's very frustrating, time-consuming, and confusing. I'm looking at 10 houses at least, and now I have to wait for an email or phone call back from you just to see availability. That's the number one thing I need. If you are booked, I can move on. If not, you are a contender!!!!! But if you make me wait to know, it's hard to keep track of you. You fall somewhere in the middle of never-never booking land. Hopefully you email me, and hopefully you give me a link to your house so I know which one you are, and why I even asked, and for your sake hopefully I haven't already found another place. It's just easier to show availability.

So that's all! Those are the top ten things that bothered me that you could check on and maybe change for your listing. Easy-peasy right? I know, it's hard work. Good luck! Let me know if you'd like me to take a look at your listing for some feedback.

UPDATE: There is a happy ending! I found a house! It was actually through a vacation rental broker of sorts. She manages several rentals, but when none of her homes worked for us, she found a few others and emailed them to me. One of them was just perfect. We booked it, and she'll get some well-deserved commission. Thanks Dawn from!

2 Responses:

susanlapakko, January 14, 2013:

Cindy, you hit this one out of the park! You are soooo right on every point. I have unlimited photos via Webchalet but I've also started a YOUTUBE channel and place videos of the properties there and they link to Webchalet well and everyone knows exactly what they are renting. As I tell my property owners - If I check into a hotel and the room isn't what I expected they will give me another room. When I rent a vacation property I'm stuck for a week or a month and that shouldn't be the case if owners will put lots of photos and videos online.
Cindy Amato, February 15, 2013:

Hi Susan, Thanks for the reply! You are so right about the options that a hotel gives potential guests. That's who vacation rental managers and owners are competing against. That can seem overwhelming, but it can actually be a good thing. Think of all the things that a VR has to offer over a hotel!

I love the idea of having a YouTube channel - people love videos. It gives a lot of extra info that even photos miss.

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