For owners: The best listing sites right now

For owners:  The best listing sites right now

Maine Vacation Rental

Where should I list my vacation rental by owner?

Disclaimer:  By the time this is published, I’m sure there will be even more changes with the vacation rental listing companies.  It seems every day one company or another tweaks their website or changes their terms and conditions.  Many owners are getting out of the vacation rental business altogether – if they were purchased as an investment, they are either selling or converting to long-term rentals.  If they are family vacation homes, the owners are just deciding that they are not enjoying being a vacation rental landlord anymore and the few dollars they net is just not worth the hassle.

To confuse matters, everyone and their brothers are starting new listing sites so there are a plethora to choose from.  Below are some of the pros and cons of the most popular.

AirBnB

Yes, I’m listing this one first because it seems like all of its competitors are changing their formats to copycat AirBnB.  It was started as a home SHARING site, but now has many, many whole house listings.

Pros for owners:

  • Well known worldwide
  • Ranks high in searches
  • Free for owner to list
  • Owners can show an unlimited number of pictures
  • Only 3% commission for bookings

Cons:

  • The actual process of writing and editing a listing is not intuitive.
  • Owners have to choose one of the set cancellation policies and they are not ‘owner-friendly’ for vacation rentals in seasonal properties.
  • Owner is not provided the last name or contact info until after the guest has booked, so communication is not always simple.
  • It can be hard to have traveler agree to an sign a rental agreement – it can be signed only AFTER a booking is confirmed.
  • Although AirBnB charges and remits lodging tax in some locales, if they do not, there is no way to all it to the listing as an extra charge (it must be built in to an all-inclusive rate or collected at arrival).

Pros for travelers:

  • Huge selection of properties, many very unique.  Some are entire home rentals, some are just rooms in homes (and some are treehouses, Airstream trailers, and top bunks of a bunkbed)

Cons for travelers:

  • …fee added on the the rental rate that goes to AirBnB
  • May be hard to communicate with owners since info is masked
  • Very clunky search platform – lack of filters makes it hard to narrow down properties unless the map is significantly zoomed in upon.

HomeAway/VRBO

The former giant of the vacation rental industry has significantly changed the way they operate.  Owners currently have a choice of paying for a subscription or listing by commission.  The current fee for a new yearly listing is $399 plus approximately 3% for credit card processing fees if you process payments through their system (or $549 per year if you process payments on your own).  For listings using the commission plan (PPB), the commission is 6% and you are required to use their payment processing.

Pros for owners:

  • Well known worldwide
  • Ranks high in the searches
  • Can be free to list if you choose the PPB option
  • Option of processing your own payments
  • If you choose an annual subscription, you are shown the guest’s name and contact info immediately

Cons for owners:

  • If you choose the PPB option, you are not shown the guest’s contact info until after they book.
  • HomeAway/VRBO’s has new cancellation options which don’t allow for custom cancellation policies.
  • The listings now include a ‘booking assistance’ phone number.  Guests wanting to know more about a property might call this number and find themselves speaking to someone in a call center in another country.
  • Owners are required to uphold certain standards to have their listings shown higher up on a list. In theory, this is wonderful.  But in order to respond to an inquiry within an hour, I know that I’ve gotten out of bed at 3am or pulled over into a rest area in order to respond to an inquiry.
  • Direct website addresses are blocked.  This is very frustrating to me.  I understand that the company doesn’t want someone to direct someone to another site to book, but many times I want to pass along the website of a whale watch tour company or another local business.  This is not allowed.

Pros for guests:

  • Huge platform for vacation rentals – if you can’t find one you like here, it probably doesn’t exist

Cons for guests:

  • ….fee on top of the rental amount that goes to company,  not homeowner
  • The new search and best match ‘features’ make it very hard to narrow down properties in one small area.  Travelers are being shown properties hours away from where they are actually interested in staying.
  • Can be hard to communicate with owner because identity is masked for PPB listings

TripAdvisor/Flipkey (Vacation Home Rentals)

This is the next listing site that is changing things around and is now looking like they are trying to be a copycat of AirBnB as well.  Just to make it more confusing, TripAdvisor has swallowed up Vacation Home Rentals and is consolidating listings (you can no longer list on VacationHomeRentals.com).  It’s similar to HomeAway/VRBO in that owners have a choice to list via commission or purchase an annual listing.

The fee for a yearly subscription is currently $599 (plus 3% per booking for online payments).  The fee for the commission listing is 3%.

Pros for Owners:

  • Ranks high in search engines
  • Listing process is easy
  • The commission listing is free to list

Cons for Owners:

  • Guest contact information is masked unless a subscription is purchased
  • Money is held until 24 hours after guest checks in
  • Cancelation policies are not customizable
  • Owner may be assessed a $200 penalty for canceling a booking under certain circumstances

Pros for travelers:

  • Well known worldwide
  • Large selection of properties

Cons for travelers:

  • …fee added on the the rental rate that goes to AirBnB
  • May be hard to communicate with owners since info is masked

HomeEscape

Of all of the new listing sites that are coming to the market, HomeEscape is probably the one that is better known.  It is free for the owner to list and free of fees for the traveler.  There is an option of process payments through the site, but it is not a requirement.

Pros for owners:

  • Free to list
  • Ability to communicate directly with traveler without masked information
  • Payment processing if needed.
  • Ability to customize policies

Cons for owners:

  • Does not rank high in searches

Pros for guests:

  • No traveler fees
  • Ability to communicate directly with owner without masked information

Cons for guests:

  • At this time, not a large selection of homes

GlampingHub.com and Campnative.com

are two niche listing sites that are listing vacation rentals if you think that your home is appropriate for that category.

Owner Pros:

  • Free to list
  • Small charge per booking (4%)
  • Both Glamping Hub and CampNative will create the listing for you

Owner cons:

  • Editing a listing on either site is very confusing — it is not an easy platform to understand.
  • Does not necessarily rank well in a search (unless someone is specifically searching for camping or glamping sites).

Traveler pros:

  • If you are looking for that ‘glamping niche’, both are good sites to search on
  • Traveler cons:
  • Traveler fees are additional on top of rates
  • The search feature is not very user-friendly

Avroa

Avroa is The Association Of Vacation Rental Operators & Affiliates and has a database of vacation homes.  Memberships start at $49/year and owners can list up to three properties at that level.

Owner pros:

  • Low annual cost to owners
  • Owners are actually joining an association of vacation rental owners and managers
  • Listings are fully customizable

Owner cons:

  • Does not rank high in searches
  • Owners must have a way to process payments for bookings or only accept checks

Pros for travelers:

  • No fees

Cons for travelers:

  • Does not rank high in searches – easier if travelers go to website directly

Private property managers

Some owners just don’t want to deal with all of the hassles of booking.  There are plenty of property management companies out there.  Some just do the advertising, marketing and booking of the property.  Some just do the day to day maintenance of the property and some managers do it all.  Some will let you list your property on your own, some will want exclusive control over all bookings. Fees and services vary widely, so when inquiring, make sure you ask just exactly what they provide.

Pros for owners:

  • Hands off – Not having to deal with inquiries and bookings.
  • Local knowledge – Most likely, a local property management company won’t have someone in another country answering calls.

Cons for owners:

  • Fees – depending on location and service, fees can vary anywhere from 10% – 40% or more.  Some property management companies also charge a yearly fee.
  • Hands off – not having complete control over your own property could drive you nuts if you’re like me.

Pros for travelers:

  • Local knowledge from mostly small companies
  • Traveler fees – some property management companies charge zero fees to travelers.

Cons for travelers:

  • A manager may or may not be as flexible to unique situations as an owner would be, such as the ability to modify a rate or schedule.
  • Fees — although some property managers do not charge a fee, many charge fees up to 20% to the traveler as a service charge.

Maine Vacation Rental

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Vacation Rental Ownership for Beginners

Vacation Rental Ownership for Beginners

Back when I worked as an exclusive buyer’s real estate agent, most of my clients were looking to purchase vacation homes. Almost every home that we looked at, the selling agent included in his or her sales pitch, “And it would make a great vacation rental”.

So just WHY do people consider renting out their vacation homes to strangers?  Well, duh – ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s money, of course.  (Although, I say 99% of the time, because, one of my properties is that 1% — we started renting it out because, as an old house, it needed to be lived in… to have the systems used regularly, instead of sitting and rusting away 50 weeks out of the year).

With the popularity of AirBnB, I’m seeing people all around me jumping on the bandwagon to purchase vacation rental homes. It sounds so easy — buy a house in a vacation location, list it on AirBnB and sit back and rake in the cash.

And then I sit next to the woman at the vacation rental conference. We exchange information — she has a lovely home on a lake.  She’s been renting it as a vacation rental for about 20 years.  For a lady of a ‘certain age’, she seems very internet savvy about listing on all of the different rental websites. We chat for quite awhile. Then she says… “You don’t actually make a profit from your vacation rental, do you? I’ve never met anyone who actually made a profit.”

I think she hit the nail on the head — most folks who purchase homes specifically as a vacation rental will most likely be out of business within a few years or so.  Most naively go into rental business not realizing the work that goes into it.  Yes, you can break even.  You can even make a profit, but not without lots of work and elbow grease (both the physical and mental kind).  Here is just a short list of things to consider before you sign on the dotted line an go into the vacation rental business:

1) Legalities.  I think that too many people go into business… and YES, it is a business, without really thinking it through.  Depending on where you live in the United States, you may need to register with your town, county or state, obtain a business license, pay sales tax and most definitely pay income taxes.  Yes, that’s right. If you rent out your vacation home for more than fourteen days per year, you will have to declare the income and pay income taxes on the rents. You will be a landlord. Of course, expenses and trips to the house can sometimes be written off, but talk to your accountant!

2) Insurance.  Then there are things to consider such as insurance. (My first 10 years in the rental business, I had the wrong kind of insurance — I was darn lucky I was never sued).  In most cases, your regular homeowners insurance isn’t going to cover you if a guest trips over a tree stump and breaks a leg and sues you.  Your insurance company will determine that you are renting your home as a business and they will only cover you as a homeowner.  So, insurance shopping you must go…  Luckily, with vacation rentals becoming more popular, more companies offering commercial coverage for short term rentals are becoming a tad easier to find, although, often they are double the price of regular homeowners insurance.

3) Safety.  Once insurance is taken care of, safety issues must be addressed. Smoke detectors, CO2 detectors, fire extinguishers and/or fire blankets should be up to date and tested regularly.  Upstairs rooms should have two means of egress — one of my rentals was an old house and I needed to enlarge a window to make it big enough for someone to escape in case of fire.  Bannisters and deck railings must be secure.  If an owner is going to provide kayaks or bicycles (or even a highchair or crib), make sure that the insurance will cover the liability and there are no recalls. Providing kayaks and bicycles adds another set of safety concerns — remember to provide PFD’s and helmets and make sure that someone inspects the equipment in between EVERY rental to make sure everything is in good working condition.

4) Cleanliness and Cleaners.  Okay.  So now you have insurance and have taken care of all of the safety issues in your home and on your property.  The next step is to concentrate on cleaning.  It is a new world — the world of yelp and reviews.  If your home isn’t clean, you will hear about it.  And the entire world may hear about it, if the guest is so inclined.  Since owning vacation rentals, I find myself much more understanding when I find a spare dust bunny in a hotel room.  Changeover days are usually weekends and, believe me, those cleaners work hard!  They may have multiple homes to clean in a very small sliver of time and they never know what kind of mess they might walk into.  Cleaning standards for vacation rentals need to be a higher standard than just an ordinary house cleaning.  You should also consider having a spring deep cleaning, especially if your property has been closed up for the winter.  When you find a good cleaner — treat her (or him) well.

5) Property Managers.  Speaking of cleaners, unless you live near to your vacation home, you’ll need to start interviewing and hiring a local team to service the property. Sometimes a neighbor can step in and do the work (make sure you reward him/her handsomely).  Sometimes you’ll need to hire a property manager.  You’ll need someone to do the changeover cleanings, someone who can do the yard care, pick up trash and someone to be available in case of questions or emergencies that can’t be handled from afar. Sometimes there will be real emergencies.  Hurricanes. Broken water heaters.  Dry water wells.  A St. Bernard  will pee on a sofa .  Yup.  It’s all going to happen at some point and you’re going to need someone reliable to be on it immediately. (By the way, did you know that there is a company that will ship you a new sofa in boxes via UPS?  Homeware.com – awesome!)

6) Decor.  Decorating is usually the fun part.  Once upon a time, vacationers didn’t really expect much in the way of decor in a vacation rental.  But, like everything else, times have changed.  Travelers don’t want to lounge on threadbare sofas and feel the springs coming through the bed mattresses.  Most rentals these days supply linens and towels so these must be provided, clean and unstained.  You don’t need to spend a fortune, but a small investment usually pays off.You never know what particular amenities that a guest may want (and you can’t please everyone). But there are some no-brainer amenities that should always be included depending on your area (ie.  in Maine… a lobster pot).  There are some items that will need frequent replacing— towels, washcloths, fitted sheets, pillowcases, mattress covers, potholders, dishtowels – usually need to be replaced every year if not more often.

7) Advertising, Marketing and Booking.  You might want to hire someone to do your bookings and handle the management of rents and guests or you may want to do it yourself.  You certainly can take some pictures yourself and put them on a listing site – AirBnB, VRBO, Flipkey are just a few of the dozens of listing sites that are out there. You’ll need to decide on rates, whether or not you want to charge a security deposit, what amenities you want to offer, the number of guests that you can host. Then you need to be available when an inquiry come in — I’ve found that in the northeast, most inquiries seem to come late in the evening or on weekends.  The more quickly you can respond, the better the chances of getting the booking. From my experience, older folk like to communicate more and sometimes like to hear your lovely voice on the phone.  Younger folk (and I’m talking about under the age of 50), usually like to do everything online quickly via the internet.  Each year, more and more of my bookings are quickly done online with little conversation with the guest.

8) Finances. As far as finances go, PLEASE speak to an accountant, but generally, you’ll want all income and expenses to be kept in a separate bank account from any other household funds.  You’ll also want to keep careful records as much of what you spend on your rental home may be tax deductible at the year end (but that is what your accountant will determine).  Even some of your own vacation may be a write-off if you spend more time of the day working than lounging (I only WISH I had time to lounge when I’m at my rentals).  Your attorney and/or tax professional should also advise you if it’s wise to put the property in an LLC to further protect you from liability.  I am not an attorney nor an accountant so I’ll just leave it with the advice to get advice from the appropriate professional.

Are you discouraged yet?  I don’t mean to be discouraging.   But, unless you pay a property management and booking company to run your rental business for you, it is a job.  Even before I opened my rental business — when I just rented out my two (at the time) vacation homes, I spent a geeky amount of hours improving my properties and marketing my properties.  I find it fun.  Will I make a profit after all is said and done?  Maybe.  Will I retire rich from my vacation rental properties?  Hardly.

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Winter Doesn’t Slow Down the Work at a Vacation Home

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I’m back.  I’ve not posted recently…since last year, in fact.  I’ve hit a bit of a writer’s block – after all, it’s kind of difficult to write about summer vacation travel in down east Maine when we’re dodging snowstorms.  (And speaking of dodging snowstorms — it looks like we’re dodging a big one this weekend).  Do you remember this week last year?  We hadn’t had that much snow to date and then, boom, we had a giant storm… then another giant storm…then another…and another.  I had guests staying in my rental home in Machiasport the last week of February and I needed to hire a front loader (I think that’s what it was) to come in and shovel a pack of snow that was above the top of the garage door.

We’re not going to have a repeat of last winter are we?  Or of the winter 2013/2014 when a historic ice storm dammed up my roof and dripped water on my forehead in the middle of the night?  Please no.  I like snow.  I enjoy the change of seasons and winter.  But I can do without all of these historic storms.    I even bought snowshoes — at a black Friday sale – and I’m excited to try them out at some point this winter.

If you own a vacation home, do you utilize this off-season time to get projects done around the house?  Or do you shut it down, all tucked in for the winter and then deal with maintenance issues in the spring?  I know that I head up to my vacation home whenever I can during the winter months.  The silence of the falling snow is such a luxury.  But no relaxing while I’m there.  Ever.  If I’m not shoveling snow (yeah, before I gave in and hired heavy equipment) and sprinkling salt, I’m scrubbing the baseboards and grout. 

I’m heading up to Machiasport this coming week.  Hopefully I’ll be able to dodge the storm and I won’t be stuck in a seedy motel in Portland like I was last year (although it was very close to a giant Salvation Army store).  I have my list of things that I MUST accomplish — most of which involve chalk painting.  Chalk painting a cabinet, a nightstand, maybe an antique sleigh bed.  We’ll see — I was thinking of sleeping on that sleigh bed so that project may have to wait.  Then I’m replacing all of the stock Home Depot-like interior door knobs with hacked glass door knobs, spray painted (the brass faceplate, not the glass part) to look antique [I found the instructions on a great blog found here].  I’ve ordered a bunch of things to be delivered while I’m there – a new carpet, fire extinguishers, smoke and CO2 detectors, a new router, case of wine.  You know, the necessary things that have to be done.

I have guests staying at one of my houses this week who will depart while I am there, so I’ll go over and clean and wash the linens and hopefully have time to do my semi-annual deep cleaning of the duvets and pillows and carpets.  Then if I still have time (and if my cousin and I have the brute strength) I want to move a sleeper sofa from one house to the other… and just hope that we can get it through the door (a prior sofa bed had to be hacked into pieces to remove from the house).

What winter projects are you planning on doing this season?

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