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Rental, by Owner

We all want a vacation property, but need it to earn its keep when we’re not there. Here’s how

Jul 21, 2014

by Drew Fossum

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Blais O’Brien found success in the vacation rental market through an experiment.

Every November, O’Brien moves to Canmore to coach downhill skiing. Her kids compete in skiing, so they come too. Their condo in Canmore, therefore, gets a lot of use throughout the winter. But when the ski season wraps up in April, O’Brien retreats back to her home, in Chestermere. These days, O’Brien rents her condo when she and her kids are not using it, at a significant profit. But she did not always do this. Instead, when she was faced with paying a mortgage for a property she used for only half the year, O’Brien decided to give the emerging suite of vacation-rental websites a try.

Fortunately, her decision was a good one. O’Brien has managed to rent the condo on a regular basis. She is also now covering the mortgage and creating a positive cash flow. In fact, O’Brien found so much success that she has bought a second condo in Canmore to double-down on her investment. Today her condos rent for between $200 and $400 per night, and there are only three or four nights open this summer.

O’Brien has created cash flow and is building equity through the online vacation-rental booking site called vrbo.com (short for ‘vacation rental by owner’). She pays vrbo.com a yearly fee, and the listing on the site garners substantial interest in her two properties. Her vacation rentals offer a different experience compared to a hotel: more living space for only a fraction of the cost, a more unique destination and the feeling of a home rather than a “room.”

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Vacation rentals like O’Brien’s have always had the potential to be cash positive – if marketed and managed properly. But where the marketing and management used to be the expensive, time-intensive parts, they are becoming far easier thanks to niche websites. AirBnB.com, flipkey.com, homeaway.com and vrbo.com all offer similar services for a variety of fees. All have their own pros and cons. For example, O’Brien used two websites at first, but one of them provided terrible results and she cancelled the service. Vrbo.com was the right platform for her, she says. Finding which service works best for you is one of many things that can be done to make owning a vacation property a successful venture.

Read on for a few more.

Perfect Profile

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Vacation rental sites are all relatively easy to use. You create a profile, upload pictures, fill out a few forms, pay a fee – and you are ready to rent your property. They all run a little differently though. Some rank you higher in searches based on how often you interact with their platform. Update your availability calendar and provide user feedback, and the website will help you get more business. In other cases, if you receive too many complaints, you may be barred from using the services altogether.

Using a listing site will generate “immediate interest” for your property, says Matt Landau, a blogger at vacationrentalsmarketingblog.com. Landau owns vacation property in Panama City, Panama, and he wrote a book on vacation rentals and offers free online consulting services. Landau began renting vacation homes, online, before the approach became standard. He wrote about what worked for him and what didn’t.

Landau says the devil is in the details so make sure your listing is the best it can be. Use a professional photographer to take pictures of your place, he says. Nothing makes a rental seem like a bad proposition more than poorly lit, grainy pictures. The same can be said for your destination’s description. A couple of grammatical errors or vague details of local amenities will discredit your rental. Landau says it always pays to get professional copywriting done if you are serious about getting bookings. He says to look online and you will find people who do a good job, often inexpensively.

Location, Vacation, Location

Location also plays a big part in vacation rental success. If you’re marketing a room or condo in a city like Edmonton or Calgary, you may find yourself being a little fish in a big pond, says Landau. Narrow what your rental offers and tailor your title and description. Avoid using clichés like “Dream Getaway” and “Mountain Vista Suite.” Instead, try a variety of titles and bounce them off your friends to see what sticks and what accurately describes your property. You can also use Google keyword selector, which will help you write a title loaded with the right words based upon commonly searched terms in your the area. The more keywords you hit the higher your search ranking, garnering more interest.

There is also the possibility of using niche sites, which Landau says are the future. “You’re starting to see little listing sites that specialize in pet-friendly rentals, for example, or house boat rentals,” he says. Another recent successful example of this are sites which offer marijuana-friendly rentals in Colorado, since the drug is legal in that state.

Take a Vacation from Management

Vacation rentals can be lucrative, but also time consuming. If you need to meet the guest to hand over the keys and run them through the property, your time is part of the fee. A quick way around this is using the services of ResortLock. The company produces door knobs that come with a unique entry code only valid for the duration of the rental. Your renters show up, you text them the code and they get access to your property, without ever having to personally let them in in. Property management firms can take care of the property, too, cleaning and taking care of details while you are out of town.

Fill out your bio, says Matt Landau. People looking to stay at your home want to know who they are renting from. Give them a glimpse of who you are, including parts that you might think are dorky. If you play cards every Friday night, let rental suitors know that – and you might rent your place out and find some card games, too.

Web Extra: Vacation property alternatives

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