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How to Choose a Vacation Rental Photographer

By William May
Published: 03/01/15 Topics: Photography Comments: 0

Exciting indeed is the increase in lodging consultants and experts who put great photos at the top of the list for improved bookings.

Guests give websites but a few scant seconds to decide if it's professional, if it has what they need, and whether they are willing to look further. In two seconds, most people can read only a few words but a glance at a photo reveals dozens of thoughts and conveys quality, emotion, and content.

So why do those who tout themselves as experts constantly talk about the need to hire a professional photographers but then recommend vendors whose work is not up to modern standards?

An easy comparison of various vacation rental photographers will reveal the obvious differences. To help illustrate the differences, here are questions to answer when considering a photographer for an Inn, Resort, Hotel, or Vacation Rental Home.

Education - Digital cameras are great but it is not easy to use every bell and whistle to create accurate, stunning photos. If your photographer did not get a professional education then they won't know how to do everything they should.

Self Taught - Teaching yourself to shoot photos is fine, but unless you have 40+ hours (per week) to devote to the craft and for many years, you can't keep up on technology.

Flash Lighting - If your photographer uses a flash attachment to shoot your homes, they are shooting incorrectly. With today's technology, all photos should be done using High Dynamic Range techniques. Because HDR relies on multiple shots and accounts for each pixel at different exposures, a flash should never be needed.

Raw format - All great HDR photos must be shown using a camera's raw format because it is the most densely packed number of pixels. With more pixels, color correction, toning, and sharpening have the best chance for establishing accuracy. Any photographer who does not shoot in RAW, is not up on technology.

License - Sometimes you can get a better deal on prices if you only need the photos for limited use. For example, if you put them on your website but not elsewhere the price maybe lower. If you want all internet rights, usually a bit higher. And if you want exclusive rights, even denying the photographer the right to display them on his portfolio website; that can get trickier.

Travel - If your photographer is local he is less likely to be at the top of his game. Great photographers are in demand which means they usually travel from destination to destination. That is because they are in demand.

Time - Hiring someone who is instantly available should make you wonder why they are always available. Sure you might get lucky to fit in a shoot between your photographers other sessions.

Speed - Anyone who can shoot your property one day and have dozens of quality HDR photos to you the next, is fooling you. Retouching photos and creating HDR masterpieces takes time and talent. A photographer who needs some time to complete work is more likely to produce excellent products.

Weather - Even interior photos look better if shot on a blue-sky, bright sun day. If your photographer can set a date days in advance and stick to them when the weather is bad, they are taking advantage of you. The schedule must slide if the sun "don't shine."

Cost - If the cost for shooting is anything under $500 for a condo, $750 for a house, or $2,000 for a complex then they are only shooting and not processing.

Great photo sessions and images can cost much more depending on the size, type, and location of the property.

Barter - If your photographer is willing to do all the work of shooting and processing great photos for the privilege of staying at your home when he does it, he isn't a professional. Sure everyone loves to go on vacation but a great travel photographer has more free stays than he can stomach.

Expert - Not everyone who says they are an expert is one. Great photographers are found by looking for great photographs. No sales pitch or self-professed expertise can make up for a lack of quality.

HOW TO CHOOSE

Now that you are ready to talk with photographers, get prices, and look at their portfolios; here is how to go about picking the very best one:

Big Screen - Be sure to look at each photographers portfolio using a very big computer screen. Not all guests have large monitors but many do. The larger screen will show you photos that are not sharp or explicitly in focus. If a photographers shots are not super clean, scratch them off your list.

Portfolio - Lastly, open a web browser, simultaneously pull up each photographer's website portfolio, and then switch back and forth. Great HDR photographs should stand out.

The difference between them and conventional (even professional) photos will be stunning.

Save your pennies until you have enough to hire an HDR expert photographer. The expenditure will pay off quickly and repeatedly with greater bookings and more occupancy. You'll make more money by spending the relatively small cost of finding a truly qualified lodging photographer.

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Author: William May, Signatour Photo Team
Blog #: 0008 – 03/01/15

Mouse in the house. Or Rats, Bears, Ants, Termites, Cockroaches, etc.

By William May
Published: 03/01/15 Topics: Property Management, Vacation Rentals, Wildlife Comments: 0

Whether a home is a vacation rental or just a treasured second home where families get away periodically, pests are often more of a problem than in the owner's primary residence. The question is . . . why?

Location --- While vacation rentals have become popular in urban and suburban areas, most vacation homes are in desirable locations such as by lakes, in the mountains and at the ocean. These areas are generally more remote and - shall we say - a little closer to nature.

LIONS & TIGERS & BEARS

And with nature comes wild animals. We can't say "Lions & Tigers & Bears" but we can say Bears, Mice, Rats, Bats, Raccoons, Snakes and Insects. And - no one wants to say this aloud - bed bugs are also possible.

These critters are not dumb. They know where food is, they are adept at finding it. They seem to have a knack for attacking when no one is home - as is often the case with second homes.

Motels, hotels, inns and resorts in rural or remote locations are just as suspect able to the same problems, even though in those cases there is often staff far closer at hand.

Killing the Messenger

Owners who use professional vacation rental managers find it convenient to blame the manager (messenger) for bringing them bad news that one or more pests have decided to call their place home. But owners need to understand why such things happen and the limits to which planning, attention and diligence can help prevent such things.

Unfortunately, no one can protect a home full-time unless of course they want to pay for costly daily inspections. Even then, there are clear reasons why pests are a bit more common in second homes.

Preventive Steps

Cats - In a primary home, many owners have a cat or dog for friendship. But even the most docile cat is greatly feared by mice, rats and even insects. Mice hate the smell of cats. Just let loose your friendly feline to see that rage that lights up their eyes when they decide to torture a mouse. Creepy as it sounds, if your cat is not interested in patrolling you are feeding them just a bit too much.

Of course, it is not possible to leave a cat in a second home which is a great incentive to pests to show up.

Lights, Noise & Heat - Some vermin also are adverse to lights and noise and will avoid it if other equally desirable habitats is available. There are some pests like mice that actually prefer a warm abode.

Of course, it would be expensive to keep a home heated, lit and noisy at all times so that solution is of little help.

Lighting Fast - Arriving at a home with bugs or mice does not mean that housekeeping is lax. Think back to being a child, and discovering a line of ants waltzing in and out of a home following the chemical trail they have laid down.

That is, after all, how it works for insects and even small mammals. Find a spot, explore until you get in and then send back messages for the entire troupe to charge in. You may think it takes days or weeks for an infestation to happen but that would be wrong.

The gestation period of mice is only 20 days followed by an average of 10 off spring. They are ready to give birth in 3 to 4 weeks which means one mouse can turn into 300 in a year.

Research shows that ants can take over a house in as little as a hour. Mice and rats gleefully take over even faster and once they have moved in, they are not as easily convinced to move out..

Proliferate they do. There is a reason that ants, other bugs, mice and rats become visible almost instantly. A small infestation can go unnoticed even by the most diligent observer. But all these pests...

Hiding - And pests are great at not being seen. They have not survived for millions of years by offering to be prey to other animals. It takes some looking to find pests until they have expanded their colonies and left tell-tale signs.

Avoiding Infestations

There are some things that will slow - but not entirely avoid - discovering unwanted pests have one day invaded your second home.

Live there - Ok this is simply not a solution because owners must live most of the time in their full-time residence.

Get a cat - This idea too is unworkable for second homes, but has to be mentioned because it works so well. Outdoor cats? Nah, someone has to feed them and many prefer outdoors making them no threat to your indoor. Plus they are easy prey for coyotes and even raccoons.

Sealing Tight - Seal every entrance to the home and lock it tight when departing. If you think your place is tight as a drum, getting down in the under floor crawl, or shimmying through the attic may convince you otherwise. Check around plumbing and heating fixtures.

If necessary, mice and rates will eat the plastic off wires to make more space. In summer when doors and windows may be left open they seize the change to move right in. In autumn, when food falls short they are more determined to get inside. In spring, after some dormancy, they are even hungrier. Your house looks like a McDonalds with ready made meals.

Doors - The most frequent access to many homes is actually right in through the door. Did you know that many small mammals have the uncanny ability to flatten their rib cages which allows them to squeeze into the smallest of spaces. Make door seals air tight if possible. Older homes have more ":leads' than new homes.

You can almost hear the mice giggling when they find what - to them - looks like a expressway into your house.

Lock Tight - Never leave food out where the smallest ant could find it. Flour, pancake mix and other dry ingredients may seem safe at home but in vacation homes they are a feast for animals. Even oils and other baking goods should all be kept in sealed metal containers. Plastics is not as good because some critters will chew right threw it.

Inspections - Frequently take the time to look at every nook and cranny of your house, not just after you have discovered a mouse. Remember, rats in particular are excellent climbers. They feed in trees and your house is just another bridge to food.

Traps & Bait - Treating for pests yourself sounds like a good idea, but seldom is a full solution. But putting these devices in locations - safe from children - can be a barrier to entry. Baits can be dangerous so read the label and follow it explicitly. Re-bait and check traps often.

Occupancy Helps

Vacation Rentals - Having guests arrive frequently helps in two ways. First, activity in the house alerts pests that humans are present and humans are dangerous to them. Guests arrive on unpredictable schedules another detractant to unwanted animals.

Frequent housekeeping - With guests comes regular cleaning of the home. Removal of crumbs from the floors makes less food available.

Pests usually show up suddenly and housekeepers can keep an eye out of invasions. They wont notice them all but this is a first-line of defense.

Periodic Deep Cleans - In addition to regular guest cleans, homes should be deep-cleaned periodically often once, twice or more per year. The goal is to clean unusual spaces such as inside cupboards, seldom used closets, dusting high spaces and other areas remove possible food and provides a visible inspection. Air vents must be opened and inspected.

Food in Refrigerator - When in residence, it is wise to keep all food in the refrigerator. This includes dry goods and bread and is a common recommendation in tropical climates where cockroaches are expert at finding any morsel outside the fridge.

Professional Help

Lastly, every home (not just second homes), should have regular pest inspections by a skilled pest control company. Hiring them once an infestation has started will require a higher cost and longer period of treatment. Do not be surprised when the pros recommend sealing the house further, and many of the steps recommended here.

When you home finally succumb to a pest invasion you will have a professional already familiar with your house who can jump right in and increases methods to rid your home of the problem.

And no matter how diligent the inspector, you can hope you will never experience an outbreak. When an outbreak comes, don't blame the pest inspector or you manager. Just realize that your second home is in a battle with some very small but very determined enemies that no one can completely avoid.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0474 – 03/01/15

Sponsor: Vortex Organization –

Expert Says Photos Best Return on Investment

By Joseph Romain
Published: 02/01/15 Topics: Marketing, Photography, Vacation Rentals Comments: 0

In a recent blog post on his website VacationRentalMarketingBlog.com, Matt Landau proclaims professional photos to be the most effective marketing tools to increase bookings and revenue.

Landau says, "When you have limited resources, you must examine the return on investment (ROI) of everything you do." He then lists the Top 10 cost-effective Vacation Rental Marketing Activities.

Number one on his list is professional photos which he illustrates by providing a cost versus benefit graph clearly showing photos as the best investment.

Other steps, such as building a private website, increasing your paid listing rank, soliciting reviews and trying to speak with guests by phone also are beneficial.

While hiring a professional photographer is indeed a good idea, to this day many professionals have still not discovered or mastered the art of creating High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos.

Without that even the best cameras, a photographic education and lots of experience prohibit the photographer from creating truly accurate photos such as those HDR can create.

HDR photos are not easy and they are not cheap, but the benefit of having compelling and accurate photos attracts more guests, more bookings and more revenue.

Landau posits an analogy about whether a government should invest $10,000 to cure ten Malaria patients or the same amount to save a single AIDS patient. Tough call of course, but it illustrates that spending money on great photos is by far the most cost efficient treatment for vacation rental marketing.

Matt Landau is the Founder of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog, an online resource for vacation rental owners and managers. He is also the owner of Los Cuatro Tulipanes vacation rentals in Panama, and a columnist for HomeAway and FlipKey, the world's two largest vacation rental marketplaces.

http://www.vacationrentalmarketingblog.com/top_10/

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Author: Joseph Romain – Creative Director, Signatour Photo Team
Blog #: 0003 – 02/01/15

Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk

By William May
Published: 01/23/15 Topics: Communications, Football, Sports Comments: 1

Although the Seahawks football team have been the talk of our home town Seattle (as well as the whole country), I have noticed some very peculiar behavior.

When our surprisingly competent quarter back, Russell Wilson, comes to the line of scrimmage, it is not unusual to see him start the count that signals for the play to begin.

Frequently he turns his head left or right and barks commands to the team, or to individual players. Sometimes he steps back and commands the running backs. Sometimes he taps them on the arm or he puts his hands to his mouth megaphone style to alert the wide receivers.

He is alerting them that something has changed in the 5 seconds it took them to leave the huddle (where he had called the play) and jog to the line. He sees a defense he doesn't like, or notices an opponent not aligning as anticipated. .

He must believe his players do not see what he sees, or know what he knows. That makes it his job to communicate with them. So he talks, talks, talks, talks and talks some more.

He does all of that because a failed play can send very mean and very big 300 pound opponents crashing in on top of him, throwing him violently to the ground and destroying the play. He has great motivation to communicate with his fellow players.

Most of us do not risk physical pain when we fail to communicate. But using constant communication to do our jobs, and be successful is just as important. It is not an option, it is a requirement.

Do it in person, do it on the phone and, for less urgent matters, use email or snail mail. Then check back to make sure the other person received your message.

If you fail to talk talk talk, you won't get tackled but you will be letting your team mates down.

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Author: William May – Seahawks Fan, Signatour Photo Team
Blog #: 0002 – 01/23/15

HDR Photography is not HD

By William May
Published: 01/01/15 Topics: Comments: 0

Do not be mislead. Do not be deceived.

The term "High Definition" may apply to your television or computer screen but "High Dynamic Range" photography is a different breed of animal.

HD and HDR are entirely different things and they are what Signatour Photo Team does exclusively.

HDR refers to a technological process so powerful and so compelling that it has been patented by Adobe software. Almost anyone can use HDR. In fact a rudimentary version is built into Apple’s iPhone 5.

Only one in every ten thousand amateur photographers (one in a thousand professionals) can master HDR to become truly capable of using it for dazzling accurate photos.

REVOLUTION FOR ACCURACY

HDR has many uses but the Signatour Photo Team goal is very simple.

HDR is the advanced tool used to produce architectural photographs that actually reproduce what the human eye sees. You may get tired of hearing the phrase, but that simple capability is essential to making your photos accurate and proper.

Even the world's best SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera requires the photograph to pick an aperture and an exposure time.

For example, for Aperture most SLR cameras have a standard seven "F Stops" that can be chosen, but one must be chosen to take a photo. F-Stops represent the amount of light entering the lens, with digital cameras, the amount of light arriving at the sensor.

Further, aperture values are not absolute measurements. They are relative requiring the photographer to divide the aperture's diameter by the focal length of the lens.

For example, a 50mm diameter aperture on a lens with a focal length of 200mm would have an f-stop of 1/4 - generally written as F4 or 1:4.

Prior to digital cameras, photographers had to spend hour upon hour using special hidden lights to overcompensate for dark areas inside a room, or screen away light form outside.

Very expensive magazines have been doing this for decades but it requires a bunch of workers, toiling together for days to get a single accurate photo.

MIRACLE OF THE HUMAN EYE

On the other hand, the wondrous human eye can adjust all F-Stops on it's own lens and judge focal length at the blink of an eye (actually much faster than that.) So as you switch your glaze from a dark interior space to a bright outside window, then back to another interior dark space, your eyes sees it all perfectly. Automatically.

Surprisingly, not all animals can do this well, but humans can. And they never know it happened! The miracle is taken for granted

HISTORY IN THE MAKING

For over a hundred years photographers tried to solve the aperture and exposure problem using odd techniques and time consuming methods.

Decades ago, some shooters actually tried to take multiple shots of the same image using different exposures. They then cut apart their glass plate negatives, glued them together and made paper prints from them in hopes of getting accurate exposures. It was unpredictable. It was expensive. It was tough.

Other photographers spent hour upon hour in the dark room, covering parts of the light source used to expose sensitive photographic paper to manually adjust the black or white (later color) to represent what they remembered to be correct.

Most famous photographers "dodged" and "burned" and "blended" photo prints relentlessly in the dark room to improve or change the character of the photo.

It was said that Ancil Adams - a dedicated outdoorsman famous for his stunning Yosemite National Park photos - spent more time in the darkroom creating photos than he spent shooting them.

Shooting HDR photos is not for the unskilled or lazy. To do it properly requires patience, proper equipment, computer skills, a good memory (more about that later) and the fine hand of an artist.

SIGNATOUR STILL PHOTOS

The problem with shooting interior spaces is that the range of light and contrast in a room varies from very dark (back in a corner), to the diffused light (on a ceiling), to the very light (seeing through a room out a window).

To correct that problem our team members use very sensitive professional cameras, mount them on heavy tripods, locked down so it will not move, and then shoot up to 16 photos each with a different F-stop.

Be careful - if the camera is jiggled, the photos are useless. Even the slightest movement means the photos can not be amalgamated into a truly accurate photo.

Each single photo is shot repeatedly, at the highest possible digital camera range and in a "Raw" format to stuff the photo full of every pixel of light (or dark) in the room. The files are huge and there are 16 of them for every single photo to be created.

Those photos are then uploaded to a high powered computer with lots of storage and computing power because the software needed for the next step eats computer memory alive.

To complete a single photo, the photograph next pulls all 16 photos into a single screen (remember these are huge files) and overlays them in a cascade so he can examine the exposure of each.

Using various software tools he does what those photograph explorers did a century ago with their glass plates - he picks and chooses the proper exposure for every inch of the room.

The software automates this some, but not entirely. It is necessary to examine pesky problems like blinds or draperies that are composed of very dark and very light components.

Sometimes the photographer must tone each color in the room to match what his eye remembers (remember the memory requirement?) Then set about to insure that lines are as straight (or not) on the photo as they are in real life. Camera lenses are round and naturally straight lines, such as ceiling to wall junctions can appear rounded.

After all the proper parts of each photo have been chosen, the photographer instructs the software to combine them leaving out all the photo parts not chosen. Software helps make intricate connections clear but it takes an artist to insure it is realistic.

In the end the photos are truly dense in pixels which is where the term "High Dynamic Range" originates. The file is massive but full of details.

Today architectural photos are primarily used for the internet and large file sizes can cause web pages to load slowly or improperly. Therefore the next step is for the photographer to resize and reapportion the photos to reduce file size while retaining the same accuracy.

Using nothing more than his wondrous human eyes the photographer artist reduces the file size until just before its reduction would be visible. He does this separately for each final size and reduces the file size significantly without decreasing the quality and accuracy of the photo.

This entire process is all made possible by multiple images of different exposures, a huge computer file size and the millions of resulting pixels but only if the HDR process is properly handled at every prior step.

It takes hundreds of hours to master. Great HDR photographers get progressively better over years.

THE ONLY PROBLEM WITH HDR

Many try, but few succeed. Signatour photos are better than those produced by some other very skilled HDR photographers because completing the photo to match what the eye sees, requires a true artist.

The difference between Michael Angelo, and his contemporaries, was not their tools or the quality of their paints or marble for carving. It was that Michael Angelo had the touch. He had the eye. He had the magic.

Signatour Photo Team members use HDR in ways far beyond what your garden variety professional photographer can do. By specializing in architectural photos for the travel and tourism industry they are able to proceed through the photographic process over and over again.

Each time they use specialized skills to create photos that are as vibrant and accurate as what the miraculous human eye can see.

PERFECT TOUCH PHOTOS

Putting inaccurate and embarrassing photos in your advertising or website means you are subliminally telling customers that your property is not of the highest caliber.

Using Signatour HDR photos tells them just the opposite. If you care about the quality of your advertising then they will presume you care about the quality of your business.

The Signatour Photo Team process is called "Perfect Touch" because we use the latest technology, the best equipment and have movingly beautiful properties to shoot - but mostly because we have artists who can make every photograph come to life.

Now all you have to do, to get photos that will properly show case your property and business, is to call us today.

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False Assumptions

Every now and then someone says, "But gee your photographs look fake or odd." In some ways they are correct, but mostly they are unobservant.

For hundreds of years, printers have been forced into reproducing photos using a pattern of tiny dots to trick the viewers eye into thinking it was seeing a photograph. To produce color photos, they had to overlay four versions of those dots, offsetting them slightly to fill the gaps. It worked but close inspection shows imperfections and inaccuracies.

In very high-end printing - such as National Graphic Magazine - the dots are so small (and the printing so costly) that your eye can not see the dots. But in most pulp printed newspapers, a close look at the photos reveals those dots with the naked eye.

These methods were good for the day, but they were not accurate, failing to reveal the proper dynamics of dark and light and medium. In short, what you saw in print was not what your eye saw in person.

WHEN EVERYTHING IS RIGHT

Until the advent of digital photography, amateur photos, such as those most amateurs get back from the photo store, the problem of F-Stops remained. Photos of moms, dads, kids and vacations were taken with simple cameras with scare ability to alter exposures and aperture.

Now that everyone has a pretty camera in their pockets, their phone, the number of photos taken is skyrocketing. Although some smart phones have rudimentary HDR, the onslaught of photos simply means that a whole lot of people are seeing far more photos that remain improperly exposed and focused.

The result is photos with improper exposures. Yet - due to a history of looking at bad photos - consumers have been subconsciously trained to think that crappy photos are accurate. They are shocked to see accurate photos that they think something is wrong with them - when nothing is wrong with them - and everything is right.

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Author: William May, Signatours
Blog #: 0380 – 01/01/15

Crowing about VRA Mobile Websites

By William May
Published: 11/01/14 Topics: Comments: 0

We are just going to go out and say it, "Our new mobile website for smart phones is by far the most comprehensive, beautiful and functional mobile website ever."

Yes, there are many ways to build mobile websites "But no one has built anything like this" said Salman Arshad of Redstone software.

Redstone Systems, creator of HelpBook.me software for the Inn, Resort & Vacation Rental industries just added this new mobile website capability and has donated use of the system it to the Vacation Rental Industry website.

That means that all the websites which use the Vacation Rental Multiple Listing Service (www.VRMLS.org) also now have very functional mobile versions. You can see the sample at:

www.VacationRentalCentral.com

While that may not sound earth-shaking it is actually evolutionary - the first efficient, effect and persuasive mobile websites for smart phones.

Redstone started by studying hundreds of mobile websites for Inns, Resorts & Vacation Rental management.

Joseph Romain, Creative Director said "The variety was astounding, as was the lack of features. None of the websites had all the design and foresight necessary to easily book unique properties on a smart phone."

Some websites had nice graphics, some had adequate photos, showed property amenities and maybe a map, but none of them made properties shine, and none made it easy to envision what the guest was getting if they rented that particular property.

"Let's face it, smart phones are a 'very small piece of paper' on which to write a graphic novel so to speak," said William May, project manager. "The other websites look like someone just jumbled things together from scratch without enough forethought."

"So we started from scratch. To figure out how mobiles should work and then do it, rather than copy what others had done"

The Redstone Advisor Board includes many experts in graphics, video and other commercial creative arts. Their input commanded the staff to start with a clear goal, and have every aspect of the website support the mission.

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Author: William May, Plumbob Publishing
Blog #: 0379 – 11/01/14

Vacation Rental Pet Peeve Week

By William May
Published: 10/08/14 Topics: Comments: 0

Who knew? This week is Pet Peeve week and that provides us license to admit that everyone in the Vacation Rental industry has a few - pet peeves.

In fact, if you mill around at an industry conference, read vacation rental blogs, chat with competitors, or belly ache with your co-workers, you have certainly heard plenty of gripes about Guests, Property Owners, and even those giant vacation rental listing websites.

Here are the top 10 Vacation Rental Pet Peeves:

10. Early Arrivals - Guests who show up while the cleaners are still in the house, then want to walk around, use the bathrooms, and generally make a mess.

9. Giant Portals - Those who want to control "Their Guests" until there is a guest or manager problem, and then they proclaim to only be a "listing service". Can you spell hypocrite?

8. No Tippers - Stingy guest's who leave the place is filthy, and of course are the ones who do not tip.

7. Nosey Neighbors - Who stand on their porches ogling all the guests, then call if the "children are making too much noise in the pool" (and at noon, no less.)

6. Missing Bookings - Customers who call in to discuss their booking when they don't have one. Then after arguing vociferously, realize they booked some place else.

5. Undisclosed - After registering 6 guests, those people who bring 16. When caught they say "Well they're only going to be here for a few days. Or, "I didn't really invite them all, they just showed up."

4. Taxes - Rent-By-Owners who don’t pay lodging taxes, screwing up the industry for all of us who do.

3. Scofflaws - Portals who don't cause advertisers to pay lodging taxes.

2. Cities & Counties - Who want to prohibit or regulate vacation rentals out of business, "To protect our communities" even when there has never been a legitimate complaint.

1. The number one Vacation Rental pet peeve is: people who tell you about their pet peeves!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Send us your vacation rental pet peeves and we'll publish them here.

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Author: William May, Plumbob Publishing
Blog #: 0372 – 10/08/14

A Map, a Map, My Kingdom for a Map

By William May
Published: 07/20/14 Topics: Comments: 0

Long ago we had these very nice travel aids called maps.

They were printed on paper, folded like origami but you could unfold them to see towns, roads, rivers and other landmarks. Because they showed lots of land -- often a full state - it was always possible to get a general idea of where things were.

From there you could find your way to where you were going, or to find your way to the next state. You could even drive all the way across the US if you wanted. Hey, you could even drive into Canada.

They had these darn Maps in other countries too. Other than a few very remote places, you could unfold the origami and practically drive around the world (if you wanted to swim much of it.)

ALONG CAME TECHNOLOGY

First it was GPS devices that allowed you to know the latitude-longitude coordinates of wherever you were in the world based on signals they received from Global Positioning Satellites. All very high tech stuff. Over time the devices improved and you could find where you were and where you are headed to see a detailed route.

Although GPS was great party conversation, only a small percentage of the popular had one. That increased as car dealers started to install them in vehicles and as the devices improved.

ARE PHONES SMART?

Today, many people have adopted to use of Smart Phones - such as the ubiquitous iPhones, Androids - and are delighted to find that those phones have what they call GPS, but is actually based on the triangulation between multiple mobile phone towers and not on satellites.

They work well except in distant locations where only one tower exists and then they are dead meat.

ARE PEOPLE SMART?

With innovation comes complexity and then comes reliance on technology. Unfortunately some folks take this to mean they can quit thinking smart.

Many lodging operators send out detailed instructions on how to get to their properties, even including Lat-Long coordinates. So with a phone or a GPS devices you can type in the coordinates and your car will practically drive you directly to your destination.

Unfortunately, not everyone gets how this works and they find themselves out in the boondocks with a non-helpful smart phone and without a tightly folded up map for backup.

For help they call the property staff who must always be friendly and helpful, even at 3AM in the morning.

ACTUAL CONVERSATION

GUEST: Can you help me find the house?

STAFF: Yes. Do you have the written instructions we sent?

GUEST: No.

STAFF: Do you have a map, or GPS or Smart phone?

GUEST: A Smart Phone but the map is not working out here.

STAFF: May I ask where you are?

GUEST: I don't know.

STAFF: Do you see any recognizable landmarks, a house, a river, a store or anything?

GUEST: No.

STAFF: Have you passed any landmarks recently?

GUEST: Not that I can remember.

STAFF: Is the land flat or hill?

GUEST: Kind of both.

STAFF: Do you have anyone else with you?

GUEST: Just my 2 year old? And I have my dog.

STAFF: Does the dog have a map?

GUEST: I don't think so. Could you just come find us?

STAFF: Yes, I guess so . . . . may I ask where you are?

You get the idea. Good. Get a map please.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0373 – 07/20/14

Outdoors-For-All, the Heroes Among Us

By William May
Published: 06/09/14 Topics: Comments: 0

It was over 10 years ago that we first came in contact with the Ski-For-All Foundation.

In the Northwest United States, snow skiing is a rite of winter. Not everyone in the area participates, but the mountains beckon to most of us. In fact, many people are zealous about spending time in the great outdoors and especially in winter.

It is no wonder that some of the most fervent fans got together to share their joy with those least likely to get out.

OUTDOORS FOR ALL:

Using committed volunteers, generous donors and specialized equipment, Ski-For-All helps disabled children and adults to ski and snowboard.

Even the blind can be lead down the mountain at speeds that able bodied non-skiers find frightening, but that finds the sightless skier whooping and laughing at the top of their lungs.

By holding onto a short leash with a sighted skier, and sensing the tension between the two it makes your heart flutter so see how fearless they are.

Who could imagine that even quadriplegics can ski?

It is done by putting the client into a toboggan with four skiers hold tethers affixed to the four corners, the client can speed downhill at an astonishing rate, and everywhere others skiers stop and watch and often cheer.

It takes lots of preparation and time for just one run. But one run is seldom enough for the client. So the volunteers load the toboggan and the client back onto a chair lift to go back to the top. They repeat the journey for as long as the client wants or until the ski area closes (usually the later.)

VACATION HOMES

Knowing of this wonderful organization, we thought it grand to donate use of our vacation rental homes to Ski-For-All and were delighted when they could bring clients to the mountains for over-night trips.

After the first stay, however we received a disappointing phone call. It was the housekeeper who said, "something is wrong, no one slept in the beds."

Embarrassed, I called Ski-For-All and apologized saying "of course it would be absolutely fine for them to sleep in the homes we provided."

The director laughed out loud on the phone. "You don't understand," she said, "these kids spend much of their lives in bed. So sleeping in a sleeping bag, in a cabin on the floor was a thrilling time for them"

"Oh," I said, "I had no idea."

I would like to invite you to donate use of your vacation rental home to charitable groups too. It would be great if you wanted to call Ski-for-All, but in fact your generous donation will be appreciated by any not-for-profit group you can think of.

You'll receive nice thank you of course, but the warm glow of satisfaction will come the minute they book your place. You will be using the riches you possess to help those who need it most.

VACATION RENTAL ANGELS

To recognize the generosity of the wonderful vacation home owners who donate to worthy charities, the Vacation Rental Association (Vrai.org) has formed a "Vacation Rental Angels" program on which their properties can be advertised. Its all for free and our small way of saying thank you. (VacationRentalAngels.com)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - ---

Over time the Foundation has increased its programs to include hiking, biking kayaking, canoeing, yoga and even rock climbing. The newly christened "Outdoors-For-All" is the same great bunch of people now spreading its love of the outdoors to an ever wider circle of people who long to get out and enjoy the environment. (OutdoorsForAll.org)

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Author: William May, Plumbob Publishing
Blog #: 0377 – 06/09/14

What I do for a living

By William May
Published: 04/08/14 Topics: Comments: 0

On a Saturday, March 22, 2014, the small community of Oso, Washington State was covered 8 to 20 feet deep with dirt and debris after a massive hillside above the area cut lose and thundered down upon houses, cars and residents.

Reports were daunting for rescue personnel first on the scene. The viscous nature of the earth turned it to black oozing mud making it almost impassible on foot.

Highway 530 which ran along the river at the bottom of the hill was lost in the muck which actually flowed across the Stillaguamish River blocking its flow. The Corp of Engineers are working diligently to re-open the channel and prevent down river flooding.

Shortly after the catastrophe a number of people were rescued and sent to area hospitals with varying degrees of injuries. Since, then the search has escalated to as many as 800 rescuers and volunteers.

As news of the slide began appearing, there were many news reports of un-authorized volunteers sneaking into the dangerous and muddy slide areas attempting to find and rescue survivors.

Due to the extreme danger in the area, at first authorities were intercepting these volunteers, threatening them with arrest and even, in a few cases, detaining determined volunteers.

Then in a Seattle Times Newspaper article on March 26, 2014 the authorities made a surprising about-face. After reconsidering the situation they decided to authorize many of those same unofficial volunteers when they learned how capable those unofficial volunteers were.

"Right off the bat they should have had every one of the loggers here in there," said Forrest Thompson 18 years of age who works for logging companies in town. "Climbing across logs and mud all day is what I do for a living."

Crisis situations crystalize the thinking of those involved. Survivors will never forget the experience and first-responders may suffer delayed stress. It is safe to say that no one who lives in the area will drive the road again without reliving where they were a the time.

Watching the rescuer's work 24/7 and without pay and sometimes without acknowledgment should make us all wonder what we are capable of. And maybe, just like Forrest Thompson, it’s a good time to ask just exactly what it is we do for a living.

If you are not familiar with what a logger does in the woods, Thompson's quote of "Climbing across logs and mud all day is what I do for a living" pretty much sums a very difficult job.

The areas they work in are not the nicely treed backyards or parks most of us think of. They are steep and dangerous mountain terrain that has often never been cut before. Danger is everywhere.

Can you imagine the physical and mental strength it takes to arise at 4 AM in the dark every morning, ride in a bus 2 hours, arrive at the work site where it is unbearably cold in winter and torturously hot in summer?

Could you trudge through mud all day jumping over logs sometime taller than yourself all while dragging heavy metal cables behind you? And after 8-10 hours of brutal work, you get to ride 2 hours home, collapse into bed only to get up the next morning at 4 AM to start again.

While silicone valley gets the press, and corporate workers get the perks it is loggers and hundreds of professions like them who actually make America work. It is refreshing to see even that small quote in the Seattle Times acknowledge that at least these people know exactly what it is they do for a living.

If you are a lawyer sitting at a desk are you an attorney, or do you help people right wrongs?

If you serve food in a restaurant are you a waiter or are you trying to make people happy?

If you work in a bank, are you counting money or protecting it for your customers?

To what extent would you go to perform you job? Could you call it - as young Thompson - "just what I do for a living?"

Luckily, most of us will never come face to face with situations as dire as those in Oso. But now is a good time to think ahead, decide what you would do in such situations and realize that in your own world, in your own job there is more you can do and people you can serve.

Thompson said that he has already marked several dead bodies and dug out at least one that authorities had extracted from the scene. He had also recovered family photo albums, jewelry and sentimental possessions from the debris.

A State Patrol spokesman acknowledged Tuesday that these area residents were well-equipped to aid in the effort because of their work in the local logging industry. Several used their dump trucks, tractors, trailers and other equipment to get through wreckage. "Frankly, their experience is highly valued."

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Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0361 – 04/08/14

Top Reasons to Do-It-Yourself Vacation Rental

By William May
Published: 03/15/14 Topics: Comments: 0

Ron and Cheryl are successful. He a physician. She a professor. They found their dream second home, spent money outfitting it perfectly, and looked forward to fun and profit.

Cut Out the Middle Man

Renting the house seemed like a good idea. It was only three hours from home and they found a book explaining how easy it would be. Find a reliable housekeeper, throw up a website, buy some ads, and renters will be pushing money at you! Ron and Cheryl decided to cut out the middle man to show everyone how smart they were.

#1 Websites are Easy

Cheryl used a do-it-yourself website company to build a website. It didn’t have maps, rates or online booking but it was cheap. Cheryl spent every night for a week getting it to work.

#2 Digital Photos Are Easy

Being a camera buff, Ron thought his photos looked good; until his grade school grandson asked, "Why are they so dark?" So he hired a professional photographer for hundreds more.

#3 Advertising is Easy

Cheryl placed ads on a big vacation rental listing website for just $329; but no one inquired. She bought others, spending hours every night posting new ads. After spending $1,500 in advertising she got her first inquiry - for a $500 booking.

#4 Guests Will Come Flocking In

In time, Cheryl started getting a few inquiries; but each wanted an hour of her time. She tired of recommending restaurants; and getting low-ball rental offers. People were rude. In the end, she figured she was earning $4 an hour.

#4 People Will Prefer My Place

Ron and Cheryl's house is gorgeous. Unfortunately three bigger houses in the neighborhood siphoned off their best leads. Ron cut his rates to compete. The competition cut theirs.

He pleaded "my place was better", but guests wanted it for half-price. He lost order after order.

#5 Friends Will Rent It

Ron posted flyers around the hospital and handed out cards at his club. Friends were happy to come but could not understand why good old Ron would charge them for staying.

#6 Housekeepers Are Everywhere

Cheryl figured she could find someone cheap to clean her place. But the first cleaners left the place dirty. She had to hire a cleaning company - at high prices. But whoops they don’t work weekends!

On the third reservation, the housekeepers didn’t show up at all. So Cheryl jumped in the car, drove three hours, and worked her fingers to the bone, only to have the guests scream because the place wasn’t ready on time.

The Guests demanded a big refund. It happened twice in the first six months.

Cheryl was embarrassed. She and Ron were losing money.

#7 Get a Cheap Handyman.

Everybody "knows somebody who knows somebody" who is a retired carpenter just dying to earn your $10 per hour, handle late night calls, and always shows up on time.

Ron found one who took the job but never answered his phone again. Ron realized this on a Saturday night and had to drive a six hour round trip to flip a fuse.

#8 Staff to handle problems.

Ron figured a well maintained home won’t have any problems. However it seemed that every other guest found a sink dripping or a lock sticking. The first year, Cheryl refunded $1,700 to guests when Ron couldn’t fix things fast.

#9 Guests will follow the rules

Ron was on site the day the first visitors arrived - but with two dogs. Ron demanded they leave.

The guests demanded their $2,000 back - in cash. He paid. It was too late to find replacement guests. Chalk it up to another loss for the "sure-thing" vacation rental.

#10 Nothing Will Go Wrong

The last guests drank and sang till the wee hours. Neighbors called demanding quiet. Ron apologized. The neighbor called the cops.

The next morning, the guests departed early and demanded a full refund because the neighbors harassed them.

Vacation Rental Math

For part-time amateurs, self-managing a Vacation Rental is a recipe for disaster. Ron thought the profit would be higher by doing the work themselves.

Cheryl would cut corners and cut out the middle man. What they forgot was there is no way to cut out the work.

Only a few mistakes caused their income to plummet. Adding their own time to the equation meant they were running in the red.

Cheryl began to hate the house. Ron began to hate guests. Being absentee landlords was creating a money pit. They were in over their heads.

Finding a Professional

A friend recommended a local vacation rental manager who agreed to provide a turn-key service for a reasonable commission.

He knew where to advertise and where not to. He pumped money into the marketing, answered the phone 24 hours a day, had reliable housekeepers, and was on call 24/7. Bookings rose, problems disappeared.

More Smiles

Ron and Cheryl are vocal advocates for owning a second home, but not of being hobby landlords.

They make more money, have no hassles, and enjoy the house when they use it. Best of all Ron and Cheryl are proud of their home and the customer service guests receive.

Now they can smile when thinking of their dream home.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0359 – 03/15/14

How to Hire & Retain Happy Housekeepers (10 rules)

By Wm. May
Published: 01/28/14 Topics: Property Management, Vacation Rental Association, Vacation Rentals, WAVRMA Comments: 0

How to Hire and Retain Happy Housekeepers - 10 Tips

Servers at restaurants, both fancy and plain, demand tips. The valet who parks your car puts his hand out. Even your neighborhood Starbucks barista wants money for making up your fancy café mocha, skinny, double cup, with foam.

In Lodging many guests simply do not know they need to tip those hard working housekeepers who slip in and out of their rooms while they sit comfortably in the dining room, paying too much for dinner, and giving the smiling cheerful waiter a big tip for being so attentive.

Recent anecdotal responses indicate that tipping in Vacation Rentals occurs less often in hotels. That is a disrespectful situation that must change.

Industry research consistently points to lack of cleanliness as the most common complaint of travelers. Everyone wants a good clean place to stay. But some guests are even reluctant to stay in a vacation rental for fear it is not sparkling clean.

It is time to prove them wrong.

Heavy Work

Those who clean bathrooms, scrub kitchens and scour barbecues deserve the highest respect not the lowest. It is hard work and under appreciated.

By comparison, being a corporate executive is a piece of cake. Those big wigs must even "Carve out" time everyday to go to the gym for the workout they do not get at work.

Housekeepers don't need a trip to the gym. They get down on hands and knees scrubbing floors, they climb ladders to clean or change light bulbs and they tote tons of trash out of homes.

Rent By Owners

Vacation rental rent-by-owners complain they can not find housekeepers, or good ones, can't keep them, or lose them often with little notice. That is because amateur owners base their hiring and retention methods on personal observations instead of empirical knowledge.

There are secrets to finding and keeping most any kind of employee, but they are especially clear and unavoidable for housekeepers and other workers who do societies dirty work.

Rental Managers:

Some vacation rental managers make the same complaints, but often they are new to the industry or have an over-blown sense of their own importance, while avoiding the hard work of personally cleaning homes.

Walking a mile in a housekeepers shoes is the only way to understand how difficult and deadline driven the work can be, and why those housekeeper shoes are often worn and tattered.

Luckily, most vacation rental managers eventually discover the secrets to finding and keeping the kind of loyal, industrious and committed workers who are willing to clean toilets and do other unglamorous work.

10 Iron Clad Rules

To find and keep top-quality people, who serve your guests well and do so with a smile on their faces it is necessary to follow some iron-clad rules.

PAY - Stop scrimping and pay people well. Pay them based on the hours cleans take and not on your budget, which is often far too little, and seldom accounts for differences in how guests leave a home.

SCHEDULING - Arrange cleaning dates as far in advance as possible. Provide online tools so workers can see where they are to be and when. Adjust schedules to accommodate second jobs, day-care, etc.

FULL TIME - Don't hire more people than you need. There will be employees who prefer part-time work but most want to get a full week's pay or close to it.

WEEKLY PAY - Pay your staff weekly, do it direct-deposit and never miss a payroll deadline, even by a few minutes. Everyone needs to get paid. They have bills to pay.

TIPS - Put out cute and subtle time envelopes, signed by the cleaner that just so happen to mention tipping. Guest actually like to reward those who serve them. Unlike restaurants, lodging guests need a reminder. This can increase pay 24 to 30% making housekeepers beam.

STANDARDS - Write clear concise cleaning "Hospitality" standards. Do not demand "Hospital" standards because they are not necessary or economically feasible. If you don't know the difference, someone else in your organization needs to be the inspector.

TRAINING - Require even experienced housekeepers to work along side current staff to learn the ropes of each home. Use checklists. Train, re-train and train again. Inspect work. Provide pleasant feedback.

HONESTY - Only hold housekeepers to a standard you could attain. To prove it - clean multiple houses in one day, and invite the housekeepers to inspect your work. Then do it for a week.

BE KIND - Cleaning small simple hotel rooms is far easier than scrubbing large personal homes that can have owner possessions, far more furniture and utensils and even peculiar outfitting.

RESPECT - Every housekeeper must be treated with the utmost respect. Never raise your voice. Never complain, Never insinuate.

This is the most often violated rule, but the most important one. Never fall victim to your feeling of superiority.

BONUS TIP - Believe every word housekeepers tell you. If a home needs deep cleaning - believe them, If a house needs extra cleaning after an owner says they cleaned it - believe them. If the vacuum cleaner needs to be replaced - believe them

Anything less disrespects the challenging labor to they do for you so reliably.

The Result

Not all new hires will be good housekeepers. Not all will achieve hospitality standards. Not all will remain employees for years to come. But converting your thinking to these iron clad rules will insure you achieve the following:

  • High Quality Hospitality Cleaning.
  • Happy guests and property owners.
  • Respect from wonderful housekeepers
  • Personal satisfaction in knowing you treated people well.

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Author: Wm. May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0338 – 01/28/14

Coming to Skippy's Class ill Prepared

By William May
Published: 12/11/13 Topics: Comments: 0

As an 18 year old, on the first hour of the first day of my freshman year, I wandered into the dreaded English Literature classroom at Grays Harbor College and met a person who changed my life.

Virginian Clarke Younger
Virginian Clarke Younger

Once I might have thought that Virginian Younger, who passed away this week at the age of 90, was just another teacher. But that was until that first day in her class when she began to talk, or better yet I should say began to teach.

Knowing nothing of the English Literature (or maybe any literature for that matter) I was surprised to find how fascinating and revealing that subject, maybe any subject, could be in the hands of a master educator. Here was a person who had such a zest for her subject that no one could help but fall prey to her interest.

Mrs. Younger’s favorite topics were Shakespeare and the romantic poets, whom she could bring to life making them as real as if they were standing at the front of the classroom. She would read passages aloud or require students to do so.

Together we would examine every sentence in hopes of seeing the most subtle of meanings. It would get sliced, diced and subjected to the kind of adolescent thoughts common to students. She was never dismissive and only pushed to hear more thinking, more examination.

Looking back it is astonishing to realize that this world class scholar was teaching in a small community college off the beaten path in the Northwest corner of the country. She would have wowed any student in the finest college anywhere. Norton's Anthology was her constant companion. It became mine too.

With Shakespeare’s plays she made the language sing, the heroes heroic, the villains despicable. Her eyes twinkled at the century old jokes until we too found the humor. She even hinted at the naughty parts.

Suddenly the supposedly stilted language of the time range true. It warned and promised us things we would encounter later in life; hopefully with a lesser degree of tragedy, but maybe with a larger dose of joy.

Twenty years later, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival when friends from our home town were attending, a group of former students asked Mrs. Younger to comment on a topic in that day’s play.

"Oh I remember that Cynthia here wrote an excellent paper on it, while in my class." said Mrs. Younger. To which Cynthia replied, "I really don’t remember the paper, and I certainly don’t remember the answer."

To those in attendance it was not the least bit surprising Virginian Younger would remember every good paper written by every student for such a long time.

I came to Virginian Younger’s class ill prepared.

I didn't realize it was OK to want to be smarter, that digging into classics could give me a perspective on the future or that there could be a teacher who cared so desperately for her student's growth she once cried in class. Everyone had done poorly on that week’s quiz because, as she concluded, when all students do poorly it is the teacher who has failed.

We forgave her and dug in with greater dedication - to her.

I took a 90 minute class from Virginia Younger every day for two years, although I could not get myself to call her "Skippy" her life long nickname. Her daughter had been my classmate in high school where teachers could only be addressed with the honor of a "Mr." or "Mrs." So to this day she is forever Mrs. Younger, as a sign of respect.

This teacher’s tests were legendary among students, particularly to those who were looking for an easy grade. In Mrs. Younger’s class they would be sadly surprised.

The every-Friday quizzes were not the puffy multiple choice tests that high school had prepared me for. Hers were blue book examinations for which there was often only one question and a dozen blank pages demanding to be filled. Student’s could leave early when done, but that could only mean you had not thought enough, reasoned with clarity or given it your all.

"Give me reasons. Explain your thoughts. Show you are thinking."

"You must have quotes" and you must attribute them correctly"

"Don’t worry too much about punctuation. Show me that you think. Convince me"

During that first class on the first day I met Michael who was to become a life-long good friend. Initially we sat in the back row until one day, arriving late, we were forced to sheepishly slide into front row seats.

Mrs. Younger noticed, paused for effect and then said, "Gentlemen, to what do we owe the honor? Are you trying to learn through osmosis?"

The students roared with laughter as did Michael and I. After class he asked, "Do you know what it means?" I said no. "Me either" Michael said, "I guess we better go look it up."

Off we went to the library on what was to become a lifetime of looking things up, of finding interest in pretty much everything and of realizing it is OK to want to be smarter. That may have been the exact day I learned that getting smarter is enjoyable and worthy even if, at the age of 18, I had no idea why.

My friend Michael took the student role more seriously than most. After Grays Harbor College he went on to get his bachelors degree, his masters and later is PHD in educational leadership. He became a teacher, a professor and theater director and much more.

Unfortunately I was unable to attend his PHD dissertation, but I did come to learn that dissertations have some odd requirements. Candidates must write their thesis well in advance, then schedule a spoken presentation, invite interested students, colleagues and experts and then - strangely - ask for and be prepared to defend their conclusions. Candidates even have to provide the refreshments. Odd.

Michael completed all the requisite steps including mailing out a long list of invitations hoping experts of note would appear. Having done theatrical work with Michael I know him to be impeccably prepared, rehearsed, detailed and strongly assured. But even he admitted to a touch of stage fright for this performance.

But upon moving to the front of the room, Michael was pleasantly reassured when, as he looked out upon the attendees there was Virginian Younger, now retired, sitting front and center of the first row. Smiling.

With that support he began what he was confident was a world class talk.

As he concluded, and after polite applause Michael’s PHD advisor, asked the audience for comments and criticism. Immediately an unknown middle aged man stood and began a rant about Michael’s entire topic, its weaknesses and what, in his estimation, had been Michael’s waste of the educational system.

Michael was taken aback and paused wondering what to do next. He never had the chance.

Just then an attractive senior citizen woman rose from the first row, turned to face the audience, paused for effect, looked the heckler in the eye and dismissed the enemies every point in great detail. Mrs. Younger did so with a smile in her eyes which secretly told the audience she was smarter; and it was OK to be smarter.

Michael was awarded his PHD.

The only demerit his Advisor levied was that inviting a "ringer" to defend the presenter was considered bad behavior.

Afterward Michael thanked Mrs. Younger profusely for having read his thesis and speaking on his behalf.

"It is not every day that one of my students achieves a PHD but I must apologize to you. I’m so busy being retired I didn’t even have time to read it. But of course I will. Its not my area of expertise but I am sure I will love it"

Upon telling this story later, with much laughter and back slapping, Michael suddenly stopped mid sentence when he realized,

"I’ve spent 20 years getting smarter, getting a PHD of which I am very proud. But it is a daunting to realize that Skippy is still the smartest person in the room."

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Author: William May – Manager
Blog #: 0329 – 12/11/13

Sad Story for Non Renting Vacation Home Owner

By William May
Published: 12/06/13 Topics: Comments: 0

Have you ever gotten a message like this? It came from a caretaker in a home owner association. This owner took his vacation home out of rental several years ago.

Unfortunately he's making less money and lost his friendly attentive vacation rental manager who used to check on the home and drive by it frequently - even when there were not guests.

"Just received call from your neighbor of lot ### he had seasonal renters show up today and discovered someone had came in made them selves at home, didn't vandalize or anything just stayed then stripped the beds put the dirty laundry sheets towels in the laundry room. He was there just before thanksgiving so he is thinking it happened then and so I thought I would ask around if you saw people or recognized anyone? They gained access from hide a key which is now gone" - Home Owner Association Caretaker

Will the home owner wake up and smell the security? Well that just depends on logic.

He already made the mistake of taking a seasonal renter and is subject to landlord tenant laws that give renters great privileges including the inability of the owner to inspect his home and control the tenant's behavior.

The owner is making less money than if he had stayed with nightly rentals. Seasonal tenants use the home non-stop, can invite any guests they choose and always cause more wear and tear.

Collecting for damages is much more difficult. If the tenant's actions are bad or they fail to pay, it can take months to evict them.

Short term rentals - especially in recreational areas - are better in every way. More money, less wear and a friendly manager in the area.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0325 – 12/06/13

How clean is clean enough?

By William May
Published: 03/15/13 Topics: Comments: 0

Lodging guests expect properties that are neat and clean to a very high standard. A level of clean far higher than most achieve in their own homes. Failing to maintain standards can result in discounts and refunds far exceeding the cost of cleaning.

Start Up Clean: Prior to a property being put up for rent, staff members visit each property to inspect it top to bottom. Almost all properties require some cleaning to be guest ready. Many require deep cleaning. Not all steps are needed in all cases, and some can be accomplished over several steps and over time. Each item on the Deep Cleaning list must be in good condition and ready for arrivals.

Out Cleans: After each stay, housekeepers soon triage the home to inspect for damage or theft, turn heat or cooling up or down, begin the cleaning work, and to turn off lights. The goal is to return the property to the condition it was prior to the last guests arrival, including linen washing, supply stocking. Work may be spread over several days.

Check Up: If a unit sits vacant for more than a few days, staff members visit each property prior to the arrival of guests to make sure all is well. They turn on a porch light, and adjust heating or cooling, and open certain blinds.

Freshen Clean: During the Check Up, staff members may find it necessary to freshen the property by dusting counters, wiping surfaces, sweeping and cleaning glass.

Deep Cleans: Fully deep cleaning a lodging property is a big job. Although Out Cleans maintain a home's condition, deep cleans review all conditions and undertake tasks that are needed periodically, usually twice a year, more or less depending on guest occupancy and guest use.

Standards: Quality hospitality housekeeping demands the kind of training, knowledge, diligence and care that Vortex members aspire to. A checklist is used to avoid missing essential work.

Checklist: Many steps are necessary to fully deep clean a lodging property. Not all are done during each deep cleaning session, but all must be attended to as necessary or budgeted.

  • Open windows & doors to air out.
  • Repeat items completed during out cleans.
  • Scrub behind toilets, inside closets, under sinks.
  • Super clean non-window glass surfaces such as showers.
  • Wash and disinfect trash cans, and waste paper baskets.
  • Open all cabinets, remove dishes and other contents.
  • Wipe out and clean interior of cabinets.
  • Open drawers, remove contents, dust/clean & return items.
  • Do not touch owner things that appear personal or sensitive.
  • Wash bed and throw pillows.
  • Wash window sills and moldings.
  • Disinfect remote control devices.
  • Disinfect toys & games left out for gusts.
  • Inspect and clean all flat floor surfaces as needed.
  • Spot clean carpets and/or recommend carpet cleaning.
  • Clean and vacuum blinds & drapes and hardware.
  • Inspect and spot clean furniture, wood and upholstered.
  • Clean underside of dining table & chairs.
  • Open & clean ranges/ ovens, especially range drip trays.
  • Clean toasters, toaster ovens, coffee makers.
  • Open, air out and clean refrigerator and freezer.
  • Open, air out and scrub dishwashers.
  • Clean hoses and all areas of clothes washer.
  • Clean dryer inside out, empty hose and screens of lint.
  • Inspect & spot clean mattresses, box springs top & bottom.
  • Move all furniture & appliances to clean behind.
  • Polish wood furniture.
  • Dust, vacuum and clean lamp shades.
  • Wash doors. dust ceiling fans.
  • Disinfect curios and knick knacks.
  • Dust behind pictures & mirrors.
  • Clean the back insides of appliances.
  • Open and clean inside all light fixtures.
  • Test switches and replace light bulbs.
  • Wash door knobs and grab surfaces.
  • Wash light switch and outlet plates.
  • Replace smoke detector batteries (daylight saving changes)
  • Clean knobs, vents and surfaces of TV's and Computers.
  • Vacuum fireplaces inside and out.
  • inspect and recommend chimney sweep.
  • Replace HVAC filters if necessary.
  • Vacuum baseboard heaters.
  • Degrease, clean refrigerator, oven & vent filters.
  • Inspect and clean grout lines as possible.
  • Wipe down all walls and ceiling.
  • Touch up paint (if paint available.)
  • Sweep all porches, wipe down rails & ceiling.
  • Remove, clean, vacuum and replace window screens.
  • Scrub barbecue grills, flame elements, legs and insides.
  • Clean cove base and remove scuff marks.
  • Clean moldings especially high fixtures.
  • Remove all cobwebs.
  • Inspect for evidence of rodents & pests.
  • Clean door jams and thresholds.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0344 – 03/15/13

Vacation Rental Housekeeper Spills the Beans

By William May
Published: 02/16/13 Topics: Comments: 0

The gigantic listing websites that seek to dominate vacation rental lodging have done a persuasive job of convincing home owners that they can effectively manage their cabins, condos and homes in distant locations.

Just buy enough ads, hire a cheap housekeeper, expect guests to behave and have no requests or problems while they stay. No one needs training, you can teach yourself. It’s a great hobby and you'll make lots of friends while living the easy life.

Professional Managers know this is nonsense of course, but some owners love spending 10-20 hours a week taking phone calls, answering emails and paying those giant websites an overly large portion of their income, all while working for just a few dollars per hour.

In return, the websites insist on posting reviews from guests without authentication or substantiation. They even refuse to remove bogus, slanderous or fraudulent reviews.

What do they get in return? Aside from too little money and too much work, what is life really like for Rent By Owners? What are the properties like for guests? And how do the properties fare?

And it is all made possible by hiring housekeepers who are often paid far too little or, dare I say it, are taken advantage of by owners. Here is an Interview with one long-time vacation rental housekeeper who wanted to remain anonymous.

- - - - - - - - - -

Jane Doe (obviously not her real name), a housekeeper who works for property managers as well as directly for rental by owners, has a surprising tale to tell.

VRA: So how long have you been doing housekeeping?

JANE: My mom had rentals and did housekeeping years ago. I started when I was a teenager.

VRA: What is life like for you?

JANE: Frankly, I work very hard, often on weekends, sometimes at night, and frequently alone. I feel kind of faceless as I clean up other people's messes.

VRA: Are they always a mess?

JANE: Actually no, not always. Some guests are very courteous, even doing the dishes, sometimes sweeping up, and not breaking things. But others are - well - pigs if I must say.

VRA: Which guests are the best?

JANE: Well those that leave tips of course. (She laughs). Although the idea that a housekeeper who spends 4-10 hours cleaning a house should get a tip seems odd to those folks who pay a waiter 20% for a few minutes of work.

VRA: What kind of properties do you like to clean best?

JANE: Well condos are smaller which can make them easier, but sometimes owners let guests cram far too many guests in, which can be a nightmare to clean up after. Houses pay better.

VRA: Do you have that problem with property managers?

JANE: Rarely because but most managers are pros who use strong leases, establish fair but firm rules, and keep a close watch on guests.

VRA: Are you saying owners don't do those things.

JANE: Apparently not, because guests of direct-owners are by far the worst. I can't figure out what they are thinking. Buy a half million dollar place and then give the keys to people you've never met. It's crazy.

VRA: But surely those owners can hire someone local to watch over the home?

JANE: Not hardly. I am happy to clean, but no one in their right minds will agree to be on call, deal with drunk guests, fix unmaintained properties, and get paid a measly $15, $20 or even $25 per hour. It's just not worth it.

VRA: Are you saying that property manager homes are easier to clean?

JANE: They are easier in every way, near as I can tell. Rental by owner homes get trashed very frequently. Property managers can get a bad guest as well, but it seems to be far less common. And when it does I just call in the extra work to the manager, who pays me and, I presume, charges the guests. Owners who self rent want to blame anyone but themselves when things go bad.

VRA: Why don't owners hire managers instead of taking that risk?

JANE: Beats me. They are trying to beat the system, but the guests eventually beat them. I have cleaned dozens and dozens and dozens of homes and I would never ever try to manage them. It’s a losing idea.

VRA: But they save money right?

JANE: No. Without a manager they are just asking to lose money.

VRA: But owners get more bookings by telling guests they are dealing directly with the owner, right?

JANE: Wrong again. The manager properties are busy all the time, and even get bookings in slow season. Owners don't. If I had to rely on owner rentals l would starve during the slow season.

VRA: What is your relationship with owners and managers?

JANE: Every manager I work with is respectful. Most owners are rude and treat me like their personal slave. As I tell you this I am wondering why I actually work for them (laughs.). And when a guest acts up or brings too many people, owners have the gall to ask me to go over and confront drunk people. I just won't do it. That is too dangerous.

VRA: Well the owner can always call the police if its bad right?

JANE: In our area, the police won't come out unless its an actual crime. Putting too many people in a home is not a crime.

VRA: In doing this interview it sounds like you are biting the hands that feeds you, by talking about owners?

JANE: The worst part of working for owners is they become presumptive, often asking me to do favors and tasks for free. Some say they clean after their own use, but it always requires additional touch up or full cleans and those owners expect me to do that for free.

VRA: Do you do that?

JANE: If I don't throw in free work they'll fire me, some even say that. Frankly, I need the job. These are well to do people. Very presumptuous.

VRA: Why are you willing to tell your story?

JANE: I just think owners need to know the truth about how difficult this business is before they jump in.

VRA: But it’s a good business isn’t it?

JANE: It is - if you know what you are doing and hire a pro to take care of everything. And, by the way, when I go on vacation I would never rent from an owner directly. Its just too risky.

VRA: Why not?

JANE: When I travel far from home, I want a manager just down the street not hundreds or thousands of miles away. What would a distant owner do if the oven or AC quits? Or the water is bad? Or the neighbors are noisy. I'll take a professional manager every time.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0342 – 02/16/13

The Vacation Rental Dollar Store

By William May
Published: 01/16/13 Topics: Comments: 0

There are two ways to make money with a Vacation Rental Home. One - Increase income (which we talk a lot about) and two - decrease costs. This newsletters is about the later.

Every now and then staff from our company have picked up products at the local Dollar Store. It was presumed the goods were inexpensive but not always readily in stock. The stores are not necessarily handy.

Of course high quality furniture, linens and kitchen wares are essential to keep a vacation rental in great condition to receive complimentary reviews and return guests. But it is not necessary to waste money on some things.

Recently, as I was awaiting a client in an unknown neighborhood and with time on my hands, I happened t spy a Dollar Store DollarTree.com- - across street and decided to take a look. Boy was I surprised.

First, that had a relatively wide variety of things for sale. And they had lots of them. Sure some of the products were of lesser quality but most were the same darn things that can be bought at Wal-Mart, Target and other higher priced stores. Some things were cheesy like fake flowers.

The shelves were heavily stocked and everywhere I looked were giant signs saying "Everything $1." Being new to the concept I kept looking on the shelves and packages for pricing. Surely that $5.00 package of cookies couldn't be a dollar. Could those 4-packs of wine glasses be only a buck?

The most broken items in Vacation Rentals are wine glasses. We want good quality glassware but price is a factor for anything that breaks. Expensive wine glasses don't break any less frequently than expensive ones. The Dollar Store wine glasses were pretty good quality.

Twice I asked a wandering worker for directions and found them cheerful and actually very proud of the products and prices. These stores are smaller than Wal-Mart but the first two staff members seemed friendly and anxious to help. They constantly straightened the shelves and were actively restocking.

It dawned on me that Vacation Rental owners could find dozens of different items in a Dollar store to outfit their properties. They could save a lot of money. Hundreds really.

I wasn't in need of any products, but after walking the aisles to make mental notes of what they stock, I sheepishly grabbed that bag of cookies and shuffled through the line. Apparently many people already knew the story of the Dollar store.

The line was long but the checkers were very fast because - you guess it - every item was one dollar. They didn't even have to look at the items to find that bar code.

We have a big sales tax in our state, so I was astonished when the checked said "That will be one dollar." It was a steal. How can anyone make, bake, package, deliver and retail 32 cookies for a dollar. 3 cents each.

Surely the secret is that they buy in huge quantities, they buy excess production from factories, they buy overseas. And they must work on narrow margins. The stores are no-frills but clean, well lit and maintained.

Some dollar stores also have online websites where the same kind of merchandise and pricing is available although you usually have to pay for shipping. But remember, when you drive to the store you are in a sense paying for shipping.

As I departed the clerk was especially cheery and I could see the other checkers were equally happy. They were actually having fun. When was the last time you saw that at Wal-Mart?

I might just go back for the customer service.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0334 – 01/16/13

Manifest Photos for Lodging Properties

By Joseph Romain
Published: 12/16/12 Topics: Comments: 0

When putting a property into the rental program, it is necessary of course to shoot advertising photos of a home. But there are many other photos that may prove useful later when attempting to help guests, describe the problem or deal with questions or problems. These are call Manifest Photos. Here are examples:

In general photos should be taken of every closet, nook and cranny, such as:

- The inside of the refrigerator and freezer

- Inside of cabinets, with doors open. Kitchen, bathroom, store rooms.

- Inside of garage and any outside storage closets or buildings.

- Inside of fireplaces and wood stoves.

- Underside of sinks to display pipes.

- Backside of toilets, showers

- Lighting fixtures up close. (labeled by room)

- Furnaces & Air Conditioning units.

- Thermostats & Controls

- Stereos, TV's, DVD's & Cable/satellite controls close up.

- Underside of decks and patios.

- Roofs as best can be seen or photographed.

- Behind TV's, couches, etc.

- Both sides of Doors. Locks (Close ups)

- All furniture, front and back.

- Mattresses without coverings.

- All areas of the yard & Driveway.

- The view from the property out in all directions

- Photos of neighbor buildings from the property.

- Roads as they approach the property.

Of course this takes some extra work maybe just an hour or so. But the photos are indispensable when dealing with guests or owners on the phone and should be retained for insurance purposes. With the advent of digital cameras and cheap hard drives, there is no real printing cost so taking and keeping Manifest photos is just a good idea.

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Author: Joseph Romain, Signatours
Blog #: 0324 – 12/16/12

Sponsor: Signatours Photo Team – After shooting great HDR photos for your property, how about we snap a long list of manifest photos too - documenting your home is great for insurance purposes, but also to service guests after hours and communicate with vendors. – Signatours.com

Setting Property Refund Policies

By William May
Published: 11/08/12 Topics: Comments: 0

Because policies vary by property good managers ask Owners their preference about guest refunds and cancellations. It is not always possible, and most owners do not want to be involved in the small but inevitable situations where guests are due, or demand refunds.

Cancellation Policies:

For "Deadline" cancellation policies, such as "Cancellable up to 7 days prior to occupancy" guests are allowed to cancel without reason but prohibited from doing so after the deadline.

For "Non-cancelable" bookings, such as during high seasons, refunds are not allowed simply because guests change their minds. This is necessary to avoid loss of revenue not caused by the property, owner or manager.

Resell Policy: In all cases, upon Guest request, Managers will attempt to "Resell" non-cancelable dates in order to refund the Guest's payment, less a rebooking fee. The possibility of resale is not guaranteed.

Legitimate Reasons:

For valid problems, such as the loss of hot water, kitchen fixtures, etc. managers seek resolution by relocating guests, offering discounts or rescheduling but may offer partial or full refunds, including for non-cancellable bookings.

No-Fault Reasons:

When guests seek refunds due to factors beyond the control of the property, owner or manager such requests are usually refused. In the spirit of Goodwill, the manager may offer minor credits, vouchers for future stays, gifts or other courtesies.

Owner Choices:

Even during non-cancelable dates, some owners prefer to extend refunds for most any reason. Rather than make unilateral decisions Mangers ask Owners when they would prefer refunds be granted.

Evaluating and setting reasonable policies is something that must be done before a single guest is booked. Only with pre-planning can guest refunds be knowingly administered.

  • For aborted stays (Guest departs or is evicted for noise, parties, etc.)
  • For which of these would you issue a refund? Would your owner clients agree?
  • For money? (Just realized I can not afford it)
  • For change of plans? (Going to Disneyland instead)
  • For area conditions? (Lack of sun or snow)
  • For bad weather? (how bad)
  • For road closures?
  • For car break downs?
  • For travel plans (forgot to buy airline ticket)
  • For dissatisfaction? (Just did not like unit)
  • For invalid complaints? (Clean towels, not thought clean)
  • For insufficient space? (Brought undisclosed extra invitees)
  • For amenities? (Wanted, but did not specify HBO)
  • For inoperable amenities? (such as WiFi)
  • For event cancellations? (such as concerts) i
  • For parties not allowed? (More people than disclosed)
  • For pets not allowed? (Not requested at time of booking) For smoking not allowed?
  • For health of family member? (not traveling with guest)
  • For death of a family member? (not traveling with guest)
  • For health of a planned fellow traveler?
  • For death of a planned fellow traveler?

Keep in mind that refunds come directly out of the property owner's pocket.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0333 – 11/08/12

Vacation Rental Huts on Wheels

By William May
Published: 10/15/12 Topics: Comments: 0

Just about the time I begin to think I have seen it all in Vacation Rentals something new comes along.

The little town of Winthrop, in North Central Washington State balances the fine line between rustic and refined since adopting Westernization rules decades ago. It is a 4 hour drive from Metropolitan Seattle and home to a thriving vacation rental community. (WinthropVacationRentals.com)

There are major mansion size log villas and cozy little wilderness cabins. But located some eight miles west of town is the only known rolling vacation rentals.

Slopped roofs she snow

Rolling Huts (www.RollingHuts.com) were designed as a modern alternative to camping by Tom Kundig of Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects in Seattle. Grouped together as a herd, each of the huts has a view of the mountains and is built upon a group of wheels, albeit ones that don't roll very easily.

Each unit comes equipped with a small refrigerator, microwave, fireplace and Wi-Fi. A sleeping platform is perfect for two, and the modular furniture in the living area can be reconfigured to sleep two more. There is a water faucet outside each hut. Propane barbecues are shared and each unit is equipped with kitchen utensils.

Each hut has an adjacent portable toilet, and full bathrooms and showers are housed in the centrally located barn a short distance away. The idea for the huts came about because the 44 acre site had zoning restrictions that only allowed for RV hookups. They are markedly low impact and low design. The huts cost about $75,000 each to build.

Rolling Huts, Winthrop, Washington

The huts rent for $125 per night, a bit higher during holidays. Pets are welcome for a fee.

There is a restaurant on the site where guests can grab their meals, but many will drive the short distance into Winthrop or further down the Methow Valley to find Western grub and hooch.

Also on site, guests enjoy a picnic area, common room, outdoor volley ball, public restrooms and showers. The resort is ideally situated to access the Methow nordic ski and summer sport trails.

The area is famous for majestic mountains, pristine rivers, hot summers and frigid winters.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0151 – 10/15/12

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