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Lau Lau for Christmas Dinner

By William May
Published: 12/22/03 Topics: Comments: 0

It was six years ago on Christmas day. My then eight year old son and I were snorkeling about 40 yards off shore at Poipu Beach Kauai. Having taken weekly swimming lessons since he was just 9 months old Taylor felt safe swimming with me out and around a point in hopes of seeing one of the endangered huge green sea turtles.

As we rounded the point, up swam two local men with spear guns. They were worried.

"Should the boy be put here?" they asked. "Usually only local keiki (kids) come out this far."

"Yes, he's been doing this for two years," I replied.

"Well that's good brah, but hey you want to catch an octopus?" he pointed the question directly at Taylor.

"Sure, I can dive to 18 feet!" he shouted over the noise of the surf.

"You can not."

"Yes I can!"

"OK, big boy, follow me," he challenged He swam with my only child and soon I saw both of them go feet up and straight down down into the blue Pacific.

By the time I could get my mask into the water, I saw my little boy shooting straight back up to the surface with an octopus in his fist, "Look Dad! Look what I got! He was right there under the coral."

We swam to shore with the octopus in hand. My son with the idea of examining and releasing it. Our hosts with the intention of eating it. However, Taylor was also a long time sushi eater and was happy to see how the ink drained onto the sand and back into the water. As we all ate raw octopus my wife and I chatted with the fisherman's buddy.

"Hey, what you doing out here on Christmas day? Your family here?" he inquired.

"No. We're all spread out all over so Penny, and Taylor and I come to Hawaii - our favorite place to seek a little peace and quiet at Christmas time," I explained.

"No Ohana (family) eh? That must be hard yea?" he was looking out to the ocean.

In an area where many bread winners work two jobs to pay the exorbitant cost of living, nothing is as important as family. "So what you having for dinner?"

"Oh, I found a quarter turkey to cook," chimed in Penny with pride that she at least had the traditional dish.

"That's no good," he said. "No good to be away from family. No, I think you go home with us for Christmas. Mama is making Lau Lau. Plenty for everyone. That's settled then. You are coming to our house for Christmas."

We hadn't said a word.

It really wasn't a question. It was a command. And so, perhaps a little homesick, we walked down the beach and up a street to where we found his home and his family and shared a wonderful Christmas dinner, Hawaiian Style. The food was delicious. The hospitality was sensational.


It wasn't Christmas but we had wandered into the Green Garden restaurant in historic Hanapepe town in West Kauai. You won't find many tourists here but it has a big dining room that is often packed.

The hostess showed us to our seats and then said, "Sis will be along to take your order."

The hostess didn't fit the usual definition. She was over 60 and over 300 pounds, and clearly in charge of the whole place. I don't think "Sis" was actually her sister because she insisted on calling my wife Sis also.

Sure enough Sis came quickly and brought us shrimp appetizers without being asked, "It's very busy. I'll be right back. Here is a little something to tie you over. No charge."

We eventually ordered a wonderful meal but, due to the size of the crowd, service was a little slow and Sis came by frequently to apologize. At the end I ordered a piece of Guava pie to go.

But after I signed the receipt she came back with a full pie in a box explaining, "Sorry we're so slow tonight. I gave you a little extra for waiting. Mahalo (thank you) and Aloha."


Over the years I have become a big fan of Hawaiian Music. I can rationalize my fascination because I was a musician long ago. Or because the music is melodic and because simply playing it on a cold winter night in

Seattle instantly transports me back to the warmth of my second home - Hawaii.

It was a revelation last year when I realized another reason I enjoy the music so much. I was sitting in a small auditorium on the Kauai College Campus listening to Amy Hanaialii Gilliom. She has extraordinary singing skills and, although a young woman, has mastered the old ha'i (falsetto) music style of old Hawaii.

She had the 500 person audience in the palm of her hand as she sang songs of old Hawaii and then dedicated one to her "Tutu" (Grandmother).

That's when it hit me. Another reason I like Hawaiian music because it contrasts much of contemporary music. Rather than complaining about "Ho's" (the mainland derogatory term), Hawaiian music glorifies the seemingly small but actually monumentally important aspects of our lives - things like about grandmothers and sunrises and sunsets.


I was first introduced to Hawaiian music slowly by listening to songs by Cecelio and Kapono; a group that drew my attention when they had a few hits on the rock and roll charts in the 1980's.

From there I discovered Gabby Pahanui, Aunty Genoa Keawe, Kealii Reichel and, of course, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. If you think you've never heard of him I guarantee you've heard his music. Its been used in many motion pictures and television shows.

He sang in both English and Hawaiian and may be best known for his haunting melodies "Somewhere Under the Rainbow" and "It's a Wonderful Life."

Not all my friends understand when I tell them I love the music from a 500 pound Hawaiian. But they have all seen the "ER" television episode where Dr. Mark Green, a navy brat who grew up in Hawaii, dies peacefully in his sleep as Bruddah Iz music plays in the background. Most are moved to tears by the tender voice of a giant man.

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was a very big man in every sense of the word. He played a tiny soprano ukulele first with the band "Makaha Sons" and later as a solo artist. He died at the age of 38 in 1997 caused by the complications of his massive size.

In his short life, "Bruddah Iz" became a legend. His last album stayed on the world music charts for an astounding 200 weeks in a row. When he passed away he was put to rest in the Hawaiian capitol, an honor never bestowed on anyone else. Over 18,000 people paid their respects.

What was it they saw in him?

Aside from his massive music and voice, Iz promoted the concept of Aloha saying often,"The world will be a better place when it's more like Hawaii." He was talking about the spirit of Aloha and Ohana. The acceptance of others and the challenges we face in melding together. Maybe that is why today, six years after his passing, he is still the top selling artist in Hawaii.


I was nurtured in music by my mother, herself a highly accomplished musician who attended the legendary Hollywood high school in the 1930's where she was accompanist to many of the child movie stars of that era.

Once she was able to come with us to Hawaii for the Holidays and thoroughly enjoyed herself. Just last week, in need of some cheering up she pulled out the Henry Kapono CD I had purchased for her.

She remembered the moonlit night in the little town of Waimea when Henry sang directly to her and the other Tutu's in the audience. It makes her smile whenever she thinks of "Tell me Why?" a love song he wrote for his wife. It causes my mother to think of my Dad who passed eight years ago.

When Kealii Reichel came to Portland Oregon where my Mom lives, we bought tickets and attended what proved to be a therapeutic concert by this charismatic performer. Already fans, we were not ready for what I have learned happens at the end of many Hawaiian shows.

The audience rises and holds hands and sings a song that is a kind of a Hawaiian anthem. It doesn't matter if you don't know the Hawaiian words, because no one could fail to grasp the message of Aloha.


So what does all this have to do with vacation rentals, or lodging or hospitality? Only this: hospitality is a rewarding and enjoyable activity.

We retain our right to have visitors and guests in our homes because sharing what we have with others is a pleasure and a joy. It's not always easy of course.

But if so many people in Hawaii rely on tourism to support their beautiful land and can do such a wonderful job, then there is room for the rest of us to participate also.

Let's hope we can do as good a job as most in Hawaii do.

Mele Kalikimaka & Haouli Makahiki Hou.

(Merry Christmas & Happy New Year)



As always I seek your input. Please share your tips, techniques, compliments, and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at


There are wonderful vacation homes everywhere. Lake Tenkiller is the clear water paradise of eastern Oklahoma. And Dale Wemhaner's Five Oak's Manor is a stately and beautiful home. Take a look at (If you want your place considered for Home of the Week please drop me an email.)


Thanks for the great newsletters. I have learned a lot just by reading them and we have been in business since 1994. - David, Bryson City NC

Well you've been at it longer than I have. So its my job to gather info from all owners and help share it with others. - Wm. May


Please see these websites for fun:


- (Bruddah Iz)

- (Internet Radio Hawaii, Hawaiian Music 24 hours a day)

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Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0039 – 12/22/03

Christmas in Hawaii

By William May
Published: 12/15/03 Topics: Comments: 0

Mele Kalikimaka Haouli Makahiki Hou (Merry Christmas & Happy New Year from Hawaii). There are many wonderful reasons for owning a vacation home. But my favorite is the way ownership allows people to make another place home. And I don't mean just a nice place to eat and sleep. Instead, if you are lucky, you can sink into the local neighborhood and culture. And you can help your guests do the same.

Friday we jet off to Kauai to celebrate Christmas, New Years and - yes - to work on the rental homes. For my family that home away from home is Hawaii. And more specifically Poipu Beach on the Island of Kauai.

We do own homes at a lake and a ski area in Washington State also. They are wonderful places that we love for different reasons. But I figure I was accidentally born to english/german parents in Washington State because, deep down, I feel Hawaiian. Several years ago I decided it was my home town. After all, who says where you are born must be your home town. Maybe the place you feel more at home should be your home town.

How It Started:

27 years ago my soon to be wife convinced me we should honeymoon in Hawaii. The idea didn't hold much appeal because my brain was flooded with a stereotypical vision of grass skirted women doing the tourist hula accompanied by toy ukulele's. At the time, I considered myself more of an adventurer who would be bored stiff sitting on the beach drinking a maitai with thousands of other pale skinned tourists.

Boy was I wrong!

From the moment I got off the plane in Lihue Kauai in 1976, at what was then a small open-air airport, something changed. I slowed down. Way down. Everywhere I looked people were smiling at me. It felt like the twilight zone. How could so many people act so happy? At first I thought they had been trained to be courteous - as workers are at many tourist destinations. It took several return trips before I began to learn more about Aloha and the Hawaiian Culture. The Hawaiian people have a long history of accommodation which has been continually augmented by the culture of peoples from China, Japan, Puerto Rico and the Philippines who were brought in as workers beginning 200 years ago.

Hawaii is the most isolated major island group on the globe, the population is one of the most diverse and one of the most religious (Christian and other). The concept of "Ohana" (recently celebrated in the Disney cartoon Lilo and Stitch), permeates every race and every culture that has come to Hawaii. Almost everyone participates in politics and local government the island being, of course, much like a small town where people know their neighbors and politicians. Perhaps most important, central to the thinking of every citizen of Hawaii, whether of Hawaiian blood or not, is music, dance and the spirit of Aloha.

Plus of course the wonderful climate that hovers around 80 degrees year round. There are only two states in the US that have never recorded a temperature of 100 degrees or hotter. One is Alaska and the other, surprise, is Hawaii. No house has a furnace and most do not have air conditioning. Cooling trade winds blow 85% of the time giving the place that kind of euphoric feel and smell that every Hollywood movie tries to capture in their version of paradise.


Even if you have never been to Hawaii you have undoubtedly heard the world Aloha. If you've been there once or twice you've noticed it being used in almost every conversation. "Alooooooha" - it is often used, almost without thought, to lure a tourist into a store or to entertain an audience. But to "Kamaaina" (natives or long time citizens) Aloha is much more.

Better writers than I have stumbled when trying to adequately describe Aloha. You may have been told that Aloha means Hello, and Goodbye and Love. And it does. But it also a deep spiritual understanding pervasive to the entire society.

Queen Lili`uokalani (The last queen of Hawaii, 1838-1917) said, "Aloha was a recognition of life in another. If there was life there was mana, goodness and wisdom, and if there was goodness and wisdom there was a god-quality. No Hawaiian could greet another with 'Aloha' unless he felt it in his own heart. If he felt anger or hate in his heart he had to cleanse himself before he said 'Aloha'."

Now that is a pretty tall order for most of us to achieve with Guests. But I think it's a good goal for any of us who offer our homes to others. Hawaiians aren't perfect either but by infusing Aloha into their lives it sure looks like they are trying to be.

So it is my thinking that the people of Hawaii have become some of the most generous, warm, considerate and kind people in the world mostly because they have a focus. In some strange way it is what in business today is labeled a "Mission Statement." A wise man once said, "If you don't know where you're going, that is exactly where you'll get." Hawaiians have the distinct privilege of being given a clear and concise goal from the time they are born. To live with a spirit of Aloha. It is this that I admire so much.

Management by Aloha:

Only if you are born there or are lucky enough to spend time there does the true meaning of Aloha become clear. It has been a mantra of the corporate world to operate "Management by Objective." MBO dictates that organizations decide what they want to do before they attempt to do it. And, more importantly, that each and every task in the group be directed to accomplishing the goal. This in itself is a worthy concept but has sometimes been taken to extremes that cause managers and employees to subject their lives and families to conditions that are unhealthy.

Some years ago when Hawaiian tourism was suffering a down turn, a professor from the University of Hawaii's hotel management program wrote a book that I happened to come across in a bookstore. (I have forgotten the exact title and his name, but will provide it next week). He made the comment that there are many great destinations in the world with bright sun, white sand beaches and inviting teal oceans. So why should visitors prefer Hawaii? The answer, he said, is that Hawaii has something that no one else has - Hawaii has Aloha.

His suggestion was that Hawaiian hotel properties, often owned by off islanders, should embrace the spirit of Aloha, feature it in their lodging and, in fact, allow it to run throughout their operations. He said employees should be allowed some of the work week to display hand made crafts. They should be encouraged to entertain or sing for guests. Staff "Keiki" (children) should be allowed to come to work with their parents on special occasions. The hotels that embraced the concept were soon enjoying greater occupancies and glowing comments from guests. A trend that continues to this day.

In the past when I have mentioned his concept to groups unfamiliar with Hawaii it has sometimes brought giggles from the audience because he called his concept "Management by Aloha." But if you remember that Aloha is a very powerful mission statement, but one that is based in deep interpersonal values, you can understand why MBA is so successful. It is Management by Objective but with a much deeper and profound foundation.

Although each vacation rental home is in fact a very small business, working to greet guests and make them feel at home is a worthy goal that could make any home in any location produce more revenue and enjoyment for the owners as well.

Next Week:

If you'll indulge me, next week I will be telling you a few of our hometown Hawaii stories. Experiences I would have missed had it not been for the opportunity to own vacation homes and live at least least part of my life there. They allow me to sink into the community, to get to know people, to leave one world behind and enjoy another. It is my pleasure to have more than one hometown and all the joy that comes with that. I'll be telling you about:

- The Friendly Fisherman
- Lau lau for Christmas Dinner
- Songs about tutu
- Free Guava Pie
- Brudda Iz
- The Hawaiian anthem

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


As always I seek your input. Please share your tips, techniques, compliments, and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at

Home of the Week:

Overlooking downtown San Diego you'll find Foxwood Suites just minutes from all the beautiful sites and activities San Diego offers! Owner Darrin Fuchs offers exclusive accommodations for vacation, business and even the military traveler. Take a look at ( (If you want your place considered for Home of the Week please drop me an email.)


Hey,Great newsletter this week for a newbie who is still trying to get ready for a spring 2004 opening.
- Deeanna, Penrose Colorado

Hey, back at you Dee. Good luck with your opening. Its fun to get things rolling and even more fun when its under control.
- Wm. May


Please see these websites for fun:
- (
- ( (Internet Radio Hawaii, Hawaiian Music 24 hours a day)

For Fun:

P.S. Want to sing a Hawaiian Christmas Carol?

"Mele Kalikimaka" was written by R. Alex Anderson who from high school to his death in 1995 composed nearly 200 songs. He wrote the song in 1949 and it may have been first recorded in about 1950 by Bing Crosby with the Andrews Sisters. It was a big hit. You can find the sheet music for Mele Kalikimaka at or buy recordings of it at

The Words:

Mele Kalikimaka
Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say,
On a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day,
That's the island greeting that we send to you
From the land where palm trees sway,
Here we know that Christmas will be green and bright,
The sun to shine by day and all the stars at night,
Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii's way
To say "Merry Christmas to you."

Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say,
On a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day,
That's the island greeting that we send to you
From the land where palm trees sway,
Here we know that Christmas will be green and bright,
The sun to shine by day and all the stars at night,
Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii's way
To say, "Merry Christmas,
A very Merry Christmas to you."

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Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0038 – 12/15/03

The Art of Getting Your Email Read

By William May
Published: 12/01/03 Topics: Comments: 0

Almost everyone loves email but spam makes it difficult for legitimate messages to get noticed. Users scan dozens if not hundreds of emails every day without much of a glance. There are some tried and true rules you can adopt to make sure your important message doesn't get tossed in the can.

Almost 30 years ago (yes I am showing my age) I operated a medium sized Advertising agency here in Seattle Washington. My training was in Mass Media, such as writing and producing advertising for Magazines, Newspaper, Radio and TV. It was a fun business because we got to spend all day every day writing and creating ads and commercials - figuring out how to get the clients message across.

AGE OLD RULES: ass media is much different than the personal communication we all use everyday. So when given a chance to take a letter writing course I figured it would be good training. And boy was it! The course title was boring - "How to Write Compelling Business Letters" - but what the instructor imparted were common sense tips that have proven to be just as effective in writing emails as they were in typed letters (There I go showing my age again).

So I thought I'd share some of those ideas you can use when writing emails to prospects and guests. You will notice that I have adapted them for today's email needs but I would urge you to keep them in mind when preparing letters as well. You will find these tips are wonderful for sales and customer service. But they are just as helpful in dealing with vendors, government authorities, and other kinds of contacts.

(1) WRITE PERSONALLY: Pompous letters are boring letters. Every business needs a lawyer but sales and customer service letters shouldn't sound like legal briefs. Many recipients will not read anything that is long or boring. Use the kind of familiarity you would use in writing your mother, brother or children. "Hi John" is better than "Dear Mr. Jones."

Yes people like to be respected but your goal in writing personal communications is to "breed familiarity." You don't want them to say "How does this person know me.' but instead, "How do I know this person."

## The cool thing about writing personally is that it's fun. And you don't have to follow those old grammar school rules. Show your personality. Show your enthusiasm.

(2) WRITE AS YOU SPEAK: English teachers insist on complete sentences. But readers do not. In fact, long or complicated sentences actually decrease comprehension. Its been estimated that the average person can hear and comprehend thousands of words per minute. That same person can speak up to four hundred to eight hundred words per minute but can usually only write about 40 words per minute. (Think about a typing test.) Part of the reason is that when writing we shift into a "as taught in school" mode that we casually discard when speaking. Professional writers, such as newspaper or magazine journalists, know better. They write using short, tight sentences to get your attention and keep it.

BAD: "Hello Mother this is your eldest son speaking. I would like to invite you to dinner next month. I will be happy to pay for the dinner. Call if you are interested in accepting my offer." (OK its a silly example)

BETTER: "Hi Mom, can I buy you dinner?"

(3) USE PARAGRAPHS: Have you ever gotten a 500 word email that was all one paragraph or, worse yet, one sentence? Forget what they taught you in high school and, instead, start noticing how newspapers are written. They employ short crisp sentences and short paragraphs. Many paragraphs are a single sentence. Newspaper writers and editors have been honing their craft a long while. Every article fights for the readers attention. They know they have to get out the facts quickly and bundle sentences into logical short paragraphs. You should too.

WRONG: "Mr. Jones, Enclosed herewith please find our contract for the reservation of the unit we have available at the Wapato Point Lake Chelan Resort Community. You are required to execute this legal document and return it to us within 10 days or you will lose your deposit without further notice. Wapato Point is a gated community and we require Guests to follow the rules and regulations and all state laws regarding lodging. You must checkin at the reception desk and sign further documents. If you have questions you may call me at 888-628-8989. Otherwise I await the return of the contract - Penny L. Taylor, Guest Relations Director"

RIGHT: "Hi John, Thanks for deciding to stay with us. Please return the enclosed paperwork in the next week. I'll send you the directions and rules.

Call me if you need anything else. You'll love Wapato Point.

Penny Taylor, Sunspot Vacation Rentals 888-628-8989"

(4) USE THE CUSTOMERS NAME: No one would think of sending a letter without including the person's name at the head. Your emails may be getting only a glance from recipients as they discard spam. You can improve being noticed by including the person's first name in the Subject of the email and as the first line of the text as well. As an example, you will notice we include members names in all emails including this newsletter.

(5) CHOOSE SALUTATIONS CAREFULLY: The way a letter starts alerts the reader to whether you know them. It is always best to use a person's first name. However, and this is a big however, if you use the wrong first name you will reveal that you do not know actually know them. For example: I use William or Wm. on my correspondence. But most people call me Bill. If you phone or write and ask for William this tells me we've never met.

Choosing the correct salutation to use for many names is obvious. For "Steve Smith" you would use "Dear Steve." But if the name is "Stephen Smith" the choice is difficult. Call him "Steve" or "Stephen" and you may get it wrong. In such cases the only safe bet is to address your letter "Mr. Smith."

And what do you do with names where eve the gender is unclear? The answer is to avoid the name altogether. Normally you would never want to use a generic greeting but in the case of unknown gender its wise to resort to something like "Hello There."

(6) WRITE DESCRIPTIVE SUBJECTS: This is a goal borrowed from print advertising. Advertising copywriters can spend days writing hundreds of headlines in order to boil their headline down to the single best six words. They invest this time to draw readers to an ad that may have cost tens of thousands of dollars to run. Think about it. Drawing readers to your email messages can be as difficult as getting a magazine ad read. So the words you put in the subject will determine whether you pass the test.

- If you are sending information you want to include reference to your home or resort. Such as "Bill - Snoqualmie Pass Rental Info"

- If you are responding you might try. "Jennifer - Answers about the Caribbean Dive Shack."

- If you they really don't know you, how about "Mrs. Smith - Paris Artist Loft Info - From Louis Armond"

There is limited space for your email subject. But many are too short. Include everything important and nothing extraneous.

(7) KEEP IT SHORT: A one sentence letter can receive 20 times the readership of a 20 sentence letter. There may be certain keys that must be covered and require a letter to be longer than desirable. But the text of the letter should be as short as possible without eliminating crucial data. On the other hand, the text area allows unlimited space and sometimes you must use it to fully answer questions or provide essential information.

(8) USE ASSUMPTIONS: Emails and letters are not essays or term papers. You don't need elaborate explanations and references and footnote like descriptions. When someone calls about your home in the Great Smokey mountains you do not need to where they are. Assume callers have some knowledge. Of course, if you detect that they think the Great Smokies are in Colorado you'll want to ask a few questions and make sure they really want to stay in your location.

(9) DON'T OMIT POINTS: This may sound contrary to the tip just above, but writers often fail to include the most basic of information. If you require that rent, cleaning fee and deposit be paid in advance you must be careful to always discuss them all together. This will eliminate confusion and disagreements at later dates.

BAD: "The rent is only $250 per night."

BETTER: "The rent is only $250 per night (plus cleaning and deposit)."

(10) ELIMINATE OFFENSE WORDS: No I'm not talking about profanity. But there are certain words that scare people or cause them to question your sincerity. Those words include legal terms such as "Contract", "Signing" and "Obligations." You may indeed have to use these words after the fact if a guest attempts to circumvent the intention of the legal document.

But in sales it is more persuasive, and just as ethical, to use equally clear but more easily accepted words. For the word "Contact" you can use "Paperwork" or "Understanding." Don't ask people to sign things when they are happier to "Approve" details. Everyone is willing to follow the "Rules" but almost no one wants to be obligated to things they do not understand.

(11) ELIMINATE WEASEL WORDS: Every beginning advertising copywriter learns about weasel words. These are the suffocating terms inexperienced writers accidentally use to weaken their message. They include terms such as "Up to", "Almost everything", "Selected Items" and so forth. Maybe a lawyer has pulled at the writers ear or the client has instructed the writer to do so without fully understanding how this alerts the consumer to the deception. Weasel words also include things like URGENT, IMPORTANT, IMMEDIATE. Not because these are bad words but because they have been so badly abused. Writers naturally discard these words as having any importance.

Would you rather go to a sale where "URGENT - Almost everything was up to 50% off?" or would you want to go to a sale where "Absolutely everything 40% Off".

In advertising or writing about your rental be explicit but make your offer bold. If you offer the low season at half off the high season rates have the guts to say so. Try not to include a lot of rules, caveats or exceptions.

(12) PUT FACTS BELOW SIGNATURE: By now you've learned these newsletters are seldom short. I like to think we are delving into some subjects that many members have never discussed. Last week the topic of Terms and Conditions required a good deal of legal jargon and accompanying explanations. So I choose to put all that beneath the signature line. You should use this same method if, let's day, you had a laundry list of directions and operating details guests needed to know prior to checking in. Write a short intro email and indicate the details are below your signature. That way the guest can see the email is from you and read the balance at a later time if they don't have right then.

(13) ASK FOR COMMITMENT (THE ORDER): So after you've written this nice little letter or email don't stop dead in your tracks and sign off. Instead, always tell the recipient what, if anything, you are asking them to do. And don't white wash it. If there is anything I have learned about selling, it is that people want to be told what to do to get what they want.

BAD: "Here is the information you requested. Thank you."

BETTER: "I'm including our brochure and rate card. Please call when you get this. The summer is booking up quickly"

(14) DROP FORMALITY: I am sure your family and friends are impressed if you are the "Vice President of Sales and Marketing," but in casual communications titles intimidate and that is something you only want to have happen in cases of severe disagreements or problems. My full names is "William Victor May" which is appropriate in some circumstances. But usually I sign letters Wm. May or Wm. and without a title.

(15) INCLUDE CONTACT INFO: And do remember to sign all email. It is amazing how many messages I receive where I am unable to determine who sent it. In the first message or two it may be warranted to include extensive contact information so the recipient is sure to find you again even if its months or years in the future. In that case I might use a signature block like this:

Jimbo Jones
Happy Days Rentals
PO Box 555
North Fork, MT 55555
Voice: 555-555-5555
Fax: 555-555-5555
Web: (

But after a few emails, letters or phone calls it is time to switch to a more informal signature. By then the recipient knows who you are and why you are communicating with them. Repeating your contact information defeats the purpose of emphasizing familiarity. Of course, there is some information the person will find handy such as your phone number but usually so you might shorten your signature as follows:

"Jimbo Jones 555-555-5555"

If you are an accomplished writer, you may have found these tips obvious and sophomoric. But its been my observation that most executives and business owners write very few letters, sales materials or other documents. Its my theory that so many teachers have spent so much time editing and correcting and requiring strict conformance to formal writing rules that many students simply give up trying to communicate effectively and personally.

Perhaps a positive attribute of the Email phenomena is that it has prompted or even required people to put their thoughts in writing. Most of us now do more writing in a week than we used to do in a year. And if you are going to bother doing all that writing think about how these tips can help make your thoughts easy to understand, more informative and persuasive.


As always I seek your input. Please share your tips, techniques, compliments, and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at

In French "Pied-à-terre" means a secondary or temporary lodging. From artist's loft to country farmhouse, members Chara & Walid Halabi have three marvelous homes in Paris for your next rental. See ( (If you want your place considered for Home of the Week please drop me an email.)

Thank you, I am very impressed with your site! My friends up in Blue Ridge will be signing up soon!
- Gary, Brooksville Florida

Glad you like it Gary. We appreciate your recruiting. Increasing membership will help us budget more owner services.
- Wm. May

Please see the website section for other ideas:
- Forms & Contracts FREE downloads

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Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0037 – 12/01/03

All about Guest Terms & Conditions

By William May
Published: 11/24/03 Topics: Comments: 0

Writing and enforcing firm but fair "Terms & Conditions" enhances Guest enjoyment and allows for the operation of your rental home that is safe and secure. If you haven't already put it on your list today to spell out your rules, include them with Guest confirmations and post them on your website.

After last week's topic of making your Guest agreement enforceable I received a lot of comments and questions. So this week its time to provide the reasoning for some of the provisions in the sample Terms & Conditions form I referred to and that is available free online to members. Because this is a lot of text I am organizing this week's news letter as follows:

- First I'll print the paragraphs so you can see the actual language:
- Then I'll follow each with an explanation of why it important.

My goal in all this is not to make us all lawyers (I certainly am not one) but to impress upon owners how important establishing their legal terms of service is. If you are lucky, like most owners you'll never have a major legal episode. But you will probably have little issues and the way to avoid what could be a heavy cost is to be prepared and well documented.

Because the discussion of Terms & Conditions is so lengthy I have chosen to paste it below the signature line. Please take a look at it there.

As always I seek your input. Please share you tips, techniques compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at

Buying a vacation home stars as a dream for most of us. Take a look at Rob & Kate's place on Alligator Point 45 miles south of Tallahassee Florida. It's Kate's Dream. I think I could see myself sitting on their deck for a week or two. See (

*** If you want your place considered for Home of the Week please drop me an email.

I love your newsletter!! I had received a bed and breakfast newsletter and hoped there might be one aimed at VR owners. We have been at this for 2 years now and really LOVE it. Definitely be money well spent!
- Mary & David, Black Missouri

Mary & David, That's why many of us buy a rental house - its fun to have guests. I sometimes talk too much about legal and worry about undesirable details but the huge percentage of guests are wonderful.
- Wm. May

You can download samples of Contracts, Booking Confirmation and a Terms and Conditions form on the website ( Before using any sample forms always have your attorney review them. We can not guarantee they are appropriate for you or your area.

Please see the website section for other ideas:
- Forms & Contracts FREE downloads

(a sample from Sunspot Vacation Rentals)

These are the Terms & Conditions upon which Sunspots Vacation Rentals provides the use of private vacation homes and they constitute an Agreement with Guests who make a booking with Sunspots.

SUNSPOTS: Sunspots, a division of TaylorMay Services LLC ("Sunspots") offers homes owned by one of its affiliated parties, or by third party property owners making homes available under contract to Sunspots.

GUEST: The person booking a Unit from Sunspots ("Guest" or "Guests") warrants they are of legal age and reside in the United States and that by phone, fax, email, on-line form or in person, they booked a vacation Unit as specified by the Booking Confirmation form ("Confirmation"). Guest confirms they were advised of the terms of the Booking at the time of purchase and, on behalf of themselves and their Invitees, agree to abide by these Terms & Conditions and such other instructions, directions and rules as Sunspots specifies. These terms govern Guest's current and future bookings unless otherwise later altered by Sunspots.

UNITS: Sunspots grants Guest the right to use the named Unit(s) including access to the Unit's improvements, furniture and fixtures interior and exterior. Guest may not begin occupancy prior to the Start Date/Time and must vacate the Unit no later than the End Date/Time. Earlier or Later occupancy will incur additional charges as noted herein as Holdover.

---> These first few paragraphs spell out who and what is covered by the documents. This means you, your guest and the vacation home. We call them Units but you can simply call it the "home" or even use its name such as "The Totem House."

CONFIGURATION: The Confirmation is the approximate configuration of the Unit. All beds come with linens, blankets and bedspreads. Sleepers may mean a sleeper sofa or a coach futon. Some beds may be bunks. The exact configuration may vary before the first date of occupancy. There will be sufficient sleeping accommodations for the number of Invitees but necessarily for the maximum occupants.

---> Failure to include this section could require you to provide credits to guests if you remove a piece of furniture or rearrange beds.

GUARANTEED RESERVATION: The Booking is on a Guaranteed Reservation basis. Barring emergencies or other problems beyond Sunspots control, Sunspots agrees to provide the Unit to Guest on the dates indicated. In return, Guest agrees the booking is not cancelable unless, at Guest's later request, Sunspots is able to sell Guest's dates to a third party at equal or better rates; in which case Guest's payments will be refunded less a cancellation fee.

--->Last week I explained why required "Guaranteed" reservations is fair to both you and the Guest. In short, if you are going to tie-up a $100 to $1,000,000 asset for a guests it is unwise to allow them to back out of the arrangement later. Depending on how competitive your resort area is this may not be feasible for you. Some owners allow for last minute payments and short notice cancellations. But remember you don't really have to.

TRAVEL INSURANCE: Because the Booking is not cancelable by Guest, Sunspots recommends that Guest purchase Travel Insurance to cover the cost of this Booking and any other costs, such as airfare, related to its occupancy. Refunds are not available due to travel delays, weather or access problems.

--->Reminding guests to buy travel insurance reinforces that you are selling a non-cancelable booking. Plus its good sense too. Large property management firms create a profit opportunity by actually selling the insurance and earning a premium. You can do it too.

INVITEES: Unless otherwise agreed in writing, Sunspots only books homes for the use of the Guest and their immediate or extended family members ("Invitees"). Guest agrees to inform Invitees of these Terms & Conditions and Sunspots Rules and is responsible for their conformance to them. No one may occupy the Unit at any time, even as drop in guests, who are not registered invitees.

---> If you don't limit who can visit the home you are essentially inviting the world to squat in your house. Your confirmation form must specify the number of adults, children and total.

USE FEE: Guest will pay a "Use Fee" for the dates indicated. Should occupancy, at any time, exceed the Maximum Occupants noted, Guest will pay an additional $50 per person per day (or part). For exceeding the maximum vehicles allowed at the Unit Guest will pay an additional $50 per vehicle per day (or part). Guest agrees, upon demand from Sunspots, to provide a list of all people who were in the Unit during Guest's occupancy including persons' names, addresses and phone numbers.

--->Are occupants renting your home or simply being given the option of using it. In many jurisdictions there is a difference. Calling their stay a "Use" begins to clarify that they are Guests and not Tenants.

CLEANING: There is no daily maid services but Sunspots will have Unit cleaned prior to Guest's arrival. Guest may request cleaning services in accordance with the Services Paragraph of these Terms & Conditions. Guest will keep the Unit clean and in good order during occupancy and to leave it in the same condition it was found at the Start Date/Time. Sunspots will have the Unit cleaned after Guest vacates for which Guest agrees to pay the Cleaning Fee(s). Should the term of occupancy be for more than ten days, Sunspots may have the Unit cleaned each week or portion thereof at Guest's cost and at the same cleaning price noted in the Confirmation. Sunspots will charge Guest for excess cleaning defined as greater than would be required for usual and normal for vacation use by not more than the number of Invitees.

---> Sure you are going to provide out-cleaning, but for how many occupants? And, always ask to do interim clean for longer stays. The more days they stay the more dirt you'll find.

SECURITY DEPOSIT: As security for damages or other charges, Guest will pay Sunspots, at the time of booking, a Security Deposit that Sunspots may deposit into its general bank accounts and not into a segregated account. The Deposit will not bear interest and Sunspots will return the Deposit, less any overages, to Guest within 45 ' can be repaired.

---> Be clear that they are responsible for damages and always charge for costs return for that Guests incur. Some owners have switched to a Damage Waiver system where the Guests pays a smaller non-refundable fee and is exempt for non-intentional damage up to a set amount such as $1,000. We'll be discussing this in an upcoming newsletter.

HOLD OVER: In the event that Guest, contrary to the terms of the Guest Confirmation, enters the Unit before the Start Date/Time or remains in Unit past the End Date/Time, Guest will pay Sunspots for each day or partial day in an amount equal the amount Sunspots pays to other Guests resulting from Guest's Hold Over, or double the daily rate, whichever is greater.

---> Guests who do not leave when scheduled can make your life a nightmare. There must be strong penalties for the grief they will cause you.

PAYMENT: Guest will make payment of charges called for in the Confirmation. If paid by credit card, Sunspots is authorized to charge Guest's card for the Deposit immediately and for the other charges on the other dates indicated on the Confirmation and for any overages when they occur. If paid by check, Guest will make payment on or before the dates indicated and, if unpaid by the deadline, Sunspots may charge such payments to Guest's credit card. If Guest fails to pay by the deadlines, or Guest's check is returned unpaid by Guest's bank, or Guest's credit card is declined by its issuer, Sunspots may cancel the Booking, and sell Guest's dates to any third party without notice to Guest in accordance with the LATE PAYMENTS AND CANCELLATIONS paragraph. Guest will be charged $50 fee for returned checks or dishonored credit card charges. Sunspots may charge Guest a late fee equal to Twenty Dollars ($20) per day for past due payments.

---> Most of us take reservations over the phone and then wait for some or all of the money plus the paperwork. It puts you in a precarious situation. Explain your payment policies at the time of sale and then put them in writing so they are enforceable.

CREDIT CARDS: Guest warrants that Credit Card ("Card") information is correct, that the card has sufficient available credit for all charges and any overages and that the Card will not be cancelled or charges dishonored or disputed with Guest's credit card issuer. Should the Guest's Card expire or be terminated while Guest has charges due, Guest will provide Sunspots with the name, number and expiration date of a replacement card that can then be used as payment for Guest's charges.

--->Credit cards have expiration dates. So what happens if your guest books many months in advance and then their card expires? You must have a mechanism for getting paid..

SUNDRIES: Sunspots supplies minimum sundries for the unit such as paper towels, toilet paper and coffee filters sufficient for a single days use by the stated number of invitees. Guest will provide additional sundries and supplies greater than those noted above. Guest and Invitees are reminded to bring sunscreen, toiletries, food, laundry detergent and other personal items.

---> Do you allow Guests all the Sundries they can steal? Most owner's find it best not to tempt people. Providing a day's worth is courteous and its not unreasonable for them to buy as much toilet paper as their little hearts desire.

SERVICES. Unit may be distant from Sunspots office, staff and service personnel or vendors. Should Guest request services or assistance, Sunspots will make reasonable effort to respond to issues during usual business hours and within the limitations of time, distance and expense as it sees fit. Guest accepts that Sunspots may be unable to address during Guests occupancy. Sunspots inability to address requests during occupancy will not be reason for reduction of the Use or other Fees. In the event Guest requests service for issues caused by the Guest, Sunspots will charge the Guest for Staff and Vendor time and materials required to provide the service. Guest will not be charged for services or problems not caused by Guest.

--->Probably you seldom hear from Guests during their stay. But some visitors are constant whiners - usually requesting goods or services that you did not agree to provide. If they have a problem then you are bound to do your best to help them. But if they demand all kinds of services that are not your problem then the answer is to
simply charge for them - rather than refuse them. No hotel in the world gives away anything. Neither should you

OVERAGES: In addition to the charges indicated in the Booking Confirmation, Guest agrees to pay for charges, if any, incurred or caused by Guest during their stay
("Overages"). Such charges may include, but are not limited to, Guest's unpaid Resort charges or penalties, occupancy exceeding that stated in the Confirmation, service requests, occupancy hold over, damages, excess cleaning services, replacement of keys or re-keying or resetting of locks or lock boxes, occupancy and/or sales taxes, long distance, fees for smoking, excess noise, or having pets in the Unit, missing items, or other violations of Sunspots, Resort, or Homeowner Association rules, late charges, finance charges, etc. Handling charges are added to all such costs. If overages exceed the Deposit, Sunspots may immediately charge Guest's credit card or, at Sunspots option, make verbal or written demand to Guest for payment of overages. In the event Sunspots is unable to accurately ascertain overages at the time they are discovered Sunspots is authorized to charge an approximate amount and later make adjustments to reflect the actual charges.

---> You'll have a hard time charging guests for damages, services and so forth unless you put them on notice that these things costs money. And be sure to add handling charges because everything they cause you to bill for takes your time and effort.

GUEST OBLIGATIONS: Guest agrees to abide by these Terms & Conditions and to follow the Unit Rules and Instructions, as attached here, as posted at the Unit, as specified in a "Unit Services" book sometimes located in the Unit or as later instructed verbally or in writing. In particular, Guest will:

- Utilize the Unit only for family vacation use and for no other purpose without the prior written approval of Sunspots. Will not conduct parties or any gathering that inc
eases occupancy to greater than the Maximum Occupants. To properly use and operate the electrical, gas, heating, air condition, plumbing and other fixtures, appliances, furnishings and amenities. Guest will vigorously enforce Sunspots' NO SMOKING RULE, NO PETS and NO NOISE rules.

- Not do or permit anything to be done in or about the premises which will, in any way, obstruct or interfere with the rights of Sunspots, Owner, Resort Management, Law Enforcement, neighbors or other home owners or guests or injure or annoy them or use or allow the premises to be used for any improper, immoral, unlawful or objectionable purpose, nor will Guest cause or maintain or permit any nuisance in on or about the premises. Guest will not operate any equipment in the Unit unless provided by Sunspots.

- Not destroy, deface, impair or remove any part of the Unit, its appurtenances, facilities, equipment, furniture, furnishings, appliances or fixtures. Not make copies of keys or reveal key codes to any other person. Not sublet the Unit under any circumstances.

- Return all furniture, kitchen and dining utensils, appliances, books, phones, recreational equipment etc. to their original positions. Leave all TV remote controls, garage controls and other non-fixed equipment in their original locations.

--->You would think these warnings would be commonly understood by Guests. And in most locations a court would require Guests to pay for damages even if your contract was not specific. But this paragraph serves as just another notice to Guests of what their obligations are. Most people just want to know the rules so they can abide by them.

CHECKIN & CHECKOUT: Upon arrival at the Unit, Guest will complete and follow Sunspots' "Guest Checklist" and will alert Sunspots by phone (or voicemail) at (888) 628-8989 of any irregularities or problems noted in the Unit. Upon departure Guest will return the Guest Checklist (along with keys, if any) to Sunspots by mail or fax within 7 days. The Toll Free fax is (888) 628-0839.

---> If your resort has a front desk or you personally checkin checkout the guest then you don't need a checklist. But this method works great for distant offices. Some of our homes are 3,500 miles away.

ISSUES: During occupancy Guest agrees to immediately notify Sunspots by phone (or voice mail) of any issues or problems with the Unit, or damage to the Unit or its contents or of any conflicts between Guest, Resort, legal authorities or others. Failure to report issues may subject Guest to charges for repair or replacement.

---> Guests are your eyes and ears at your home. They need to let you know what breaks even if its not their responsibility to pay for.

DAMAGES: Unit(s) contains artwork, furniture and fixtures, machinery and equipment and other amenities. Guest will pay for any damages Guest causes including repairs, replacements, eviction, services calls, fines, assessments, cleaning, maintenance, customer service, accounting and other staff time at Sunspots usual rates, costs plus taxes and handling and the loss of subsequent income during the repair period. Guest also agrees to pay additional fees for violations of the Terms & Conditions, such as allowing pets in Unit ($500 charge), or smoking in the Unit, violation of Noise Rules ($500 charge), according to Sunspots rate schedule a copy of which is available to Guest upon request.

---> This paragraph further defines that Guest must pay for what they break. Plus it puts teeth in prohibitions against major concerns such as pets, smoking, noise, etc. If you don't define these penalties you probably can't charge them.

INSPECTION: Because the Unit is for vacation lodging use and not for long-term rental, Sunspots may enter Guest's space, with or without notice at any time, for the purposes of inspection, maintenance, cleaning, rental or sale showings or for whatever other purpose it deems necessary. When entering, Sunspots staff will knock to announce themselves and allow Guest sufficient time to respond.

---> Ever had a Guest call about a dripping pipe only to leave the home so you couldn't get in? In most jurisdictions short-term tenants are not covered by landlord-tenant statutes thai make it difficult to enter your own home. But make sure you clarify that you will be coming and going from the unit even if the guest is out.

AMENITIES: Use Fees are only for the occupancy of the Unit and use of its basic features. For the pleasure of Guests and without additional compensation, amenities are sometimes provided such as hot tubs, pools, artwork, televisions, stereos, phones, faxes, internet access, sporting goods, toys, games, house and pool/beach towels, patio furniture, furniture, dishes/flatware/pans, etc. Amenities sometimes malfunction, become worn, are out for repair, are replaced or are removed by Owner or prior Guests. Sunspots will endeavor to have these amenities on hand and functioning but can not guarantee availability at all times. Changes in decor or unavailability of amenities, or inconveniences such as power outages, adverse road and/or weather conditions, acts of God, area construction, allergic reactions, will not be reason for reduction of the Use Fee nor the payment of damages to Guest.

---> The more amenities you have in the home for Guest enjoyment the more likely that something will break. Give yourself room to upgrade, change or alter what you offer. Guest don't deserve a credit when you improve the home or have to make repairs.

.. ................................
LOST & FOUND: There is no Safe in the Unit so Guest agrees to make their own provision for storage of valuables or to not bring valuables. Sunspots accepts no responsibility for loss of valuables or articles left at the Unit during Guest's stay. Sunspots may hold articles left in the Unit for a period of 30 days. Guest may call Sunspots to identify and claim lost items. Identified articles can be shipped at Guest's cost. Articles unclaimed for 30 days will be discarded, donated to charity or sold as Sunspots sees fit. Sunspots will retain proceeds from the sale as a fee for handling.

---> Some jurisdictions require owners to provide safes of guest valuables. Learn your local laws and include a paragraph that defines what you will and will not do.

UNIT EXPENSES: Guest is not liable for charges for heat, electricity, water, sewage, garbage or other public utilities, normal and usual maintenance, taxes or other operating costs unless Guest's usage of utilities is greater than would be normal and usual for the number of Invitees. Guest will follow Sunspots rules and instructions for the use of utilities and equipment such as heating/air conditioning and are responsible for repair costs that may come about due to Guests misuse. In the event that Unit Expenses, during Guest's occupancy, are greater than would be normal and usual, Sunspots may impose a surcharge to Guest in an amount sufficient to recover excess costs incurred during Guest's occupancy, plus handling.

---> We've never had it happen but what would you do if the guest has a birthday party and leaves behind stacks of cardboard. In many locations it costs money to haul away and dispose of excess garbage. Protect yourself from unusual costs.

LATE PAYMENT & CANCELLATION: Should Guest fail to pay as agreed, or requests a cancellation, Sunspots may sell Guest's dates to any third party. If Sunspots is able to re-sell Guest's dates to a third party at net rates at least equal to those charged to Guest, Sunspots will refund Guest's Use Fee less a Re-Booking fee equal to Fifteen Percent (15%) of the Use Fee or $100 whichever is greater. If only some of the dates are sold then refunds will only be made for those dates sold. No refund will be allowed if Sunspots is unable to re-sell Guest's dates to a third party. In the event the Unit becomes unavailable for use for whatever reason (such as fire, water or other damage, owner remodeling, change of zoning or taxation rules, Owner's sale of the Unit, Owner's failure to purchase Unit, termination of Sunspots' management agreement, or any other problem beyond Sunspots' control) Sunspots may cancel the Booking and return Guest's payments, or may transfer Guest's booking to a comparable or better unit of Sunspots choosing.

---> Be clear about payment terms and penalties. We didn't use to charge a re-booking fee until we realized that re-selling the dates really means double the work for us.

TERMINATION: Sunspots reserves the right to immediately terminate the Booking and occupancy of Guest and Invitees with or without notice in the event that Sunspots believes the Guest or Invitees have done or intend to do any act that violates these Terms & Conditions, Sunspots rules, verbal or written instructions given to Guest or notices posted at the Unit, or that is in violation of any applicable Federal, State or Local statute, or which is not in the good interest of the Owner, Sunspots or other Sunspots guests, or which will be objectionable to neighbors, the home owners group, or resort management. If terminated Sunspots may enter the Unit without notice and require Guest and Invitees to immediately vacate the Unit. Should Guest fail to vacate, law enforcement officials may be called to remove Guest & Invitees. Guest will not be entitled to refund for any payments if this Agreement is terminated. The Guest may not terminate the Booking without the expressed written consent of Sunspots.

---> Did you know that, under the law, the word "cancel" and "terminate" do not mean the same thing? Its obvious to me now, but when I was first in business (A different industry) I made a tragic mistake of saying a customer could cancel his 12 month agreement at any time. He did so at the 11th month and wanted his money back for the 10 months of service we had provided. Luckily the judge saw through the ruse. Be careful to explain who "terminate" and when and why.

INSURANCE: Sunspots or Owner will maintain reasonable and usual Property and Casualty Insurance on the premises but are not obligated to carry insurance for theft. Guest hereby agrees and relieves Sunspots and Owner and waives its entire right of recovery against Sunspots and Owner for loss, damage, injury, disability or death arising out of or incident to the perils described in standard fire insurance policies approved for the use in state where the Unit is located, whether due to the negligence of Owner, Sunspots and its agents, employees or otherwise. Guest agrees to maintain personal or homeowner insurance that would cover Sunspots and Owner in the event of damage, destruction or liability caused by Guest's actions whether intentional or not. In no case will Sunspots or Owner be responsible for loss of use, or other damages to Guest resulting from Guest's use of the Unit or damages or events beyond the control of the Sunspots and Owner.

---> What is something big goes wrong? Who pays and will their insurance cover it? Get your insurance agent's instructions and have your attorney be explicit in setting out the insurance requirements.

ENTIRE AGREEMENT: The Confirmation and these Terms & Conditions constitute the final and complete understanding between the parties hereto and no other representations or promises, verbal or otherwise, have been made. The Terms & Conditions supersede all previous agreements between the parties. Sunspots may make modifications to the Terms & Conditions at any time by notice to Guest or by posting to Failure to enforce any of the Terms & Conditions, Confirmation, Sunspot Rules or subsequent agreement between the parties, will not be construed as a waiver of other provisions. If any portion of the Terms & Conditions, Confirmation Sunspot Rules or subsequent agreements are determined to be invalid, illegal or unenforced all other conditions will nevertheless remain in full force and effect.

---> If you allow them Guests will make all kinds of claims of verbal assurances you never made. Limit the agreement to what is in writing. And, make sure you can alter the terms if need be.
LITIGATION: These Terms & Conditions will be governed in accordance with the laws of the state where the Unit is located. Any claim will be settled by action in the Court have jurisdiction where the Unit is located. In the case of litigation, or past due billings, Guest will be pay for Sunspots' and Owner's staff time charges for collection letters, faxes, emails, phone calls, meetings and court time, Late Charges, Damages, reasonable attorneys' fees, pre and post judgment Interest at twelve percent (12%) per annum, attendant Court and other Costs and Expenses.

---> With luck you'll go decades and never have a legal problem. In most jurisdictions the loser in a court action pays the legal costs of the prevailing party. But write it down here so the Judge won't get to decide about that later.

Revised 11/09/03

--> This seems like a no-brainer, but be sure to date your terms and conditions because you'll probably be altering it from time to time and need to know which "contract": you are bond by for a given guest.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0036 – 11/24/03

Making Guest Agreements Enforceable

By William May
Published: 11/10/03 Topics: Comments: 0

If you have a problem with a guest, is your guest agreement enforceable in court? If they don't pay. or cause damage. or disturb neighbors can you take immediate and effective action? If you are a long time rental owner, property managers or have owned or managed a business this week's column may seem pretty basic.

But even experts need to sit down every now and then to review their Guest Agreement with a fresh perspective. Because situations changes and the way in which Guests select and buy vacation rental time continues to evolve rapidly. What worked last year might cause you trouble next year. Reviewing your contract could save you thousands of dollars.

To start with you might want to log onto ( and download any of the free sample Guest Agreements. You will notice there are really three distinct methods of contracting with guests. You might want to review some of the samples while considering whether your current method is sufficient and whether another method would suit you better.

The first is the VERBAL METHOD - and that is to simply to not use an agreement. Believe it or not there are a large number of owners and even some property managers who choose this system. They just take the reservation (probably over the phone) and hope the guest shows up. If they do thy they hope there are no problems. And if everything goes smoothly, before, during and after the occupancy, then the Agreement really wasn't necessary. I hope you are not seriously considering this method. Should any problem arise your recourse to law enforcement officers or in the courts will be based on verbal agreements and innuendo. You may have lost your rights as a landlord and may be left with egg on your face. I won't go on any further about Verbal contracts because its a terrible way to rent your home.

The second method is the CONTRACT method - where you have your attorney prepare a written agreement in a somewhat traditional lease agreement format. This is a great way to make sure you have the Guest's written approval of rental home use. It would include the dates of occupancy, rules of conduct, charges for damages and other costs, and how disputes would be handled. The only practical way to use a contract is to have it prepared as a form with fields that you fill out depending on the circumstances. This agreement is then forwarded to the guest for signature, then returned to you to confirm the booking.

The third methods is the TERMS & CONDITIONS Method - and this is what most traditional (Non vacation rental) lodging establishments use. When you check into a Hilton, Hyatt or Mariott you will sign a small card and a credit card receipt. The card says you are renting a room and agreeing to comply with their Terms & Conditions. They should, of course, have those Terms available for you to review and many hotels have them posted in the lobby or even in your room. What's more, "Transient Accommodations", often defined as any lodging less than 30 days in length, are governed by specific state or even local laws. And those statues are sometimes posted on the back of the door in each unit. You've probably noticed these postings but have never read them. By signing the card the guest is agreeing to abide by the establishment's rules whatever they may be.

Until recently, we used the Contract Method for our homes. It has some advantages. The Guest is put on very clear notice as to the positives and negatives of the rental. In the unlikely event you find yourself in court the Guest will find it difficult to defend himself for behavior or situations that violate conditions specifically addressed in the paperwork. Of course that doesn't prohibit the guest from claiming a full refund on rent for the silliest of reasons but it does help. I've heard the strangest of stories. Like the one in Palm Springs who thought the highly developed "English Garden" of the home was just too overgrown. No document will help you avoid these weirdos, but a good one will cut down on the chances that you'll have to deal with them.

On the other hand, the Contract Method gums up the works sometimes. Although you have accepted a Guest's reservation by phone, they have not really really agreed to pay for it until the Contract is prepared, mailed and returned. That can take 5 to 15 days in most cases. Yet during that delay you have taken the dates off the market, may have turned away other guests and have less chance of forcing the original guest to pay if they don't return the contract. Also, some Guests are very adverse to signing any paperwork. If you have a career in business you may be usd to signing contracts and other documents. Many people are not. They can go their entire lives signing only a home purchase agreement, a checking account start up and little else. Contracts scare them - even if they are dying to stay in a Hawaii bungalow, an Outer Banks beach home or a French Villa.

Recently we have switched our rental units to the Terms and Conditions Method of operations to accomplish several objectives (A downloadable sample is on the website). I suspect our reasons make sense for a great many other owners. The first is simplicity. Even with the Contract Method we thought it wise to post our Terms and Conditions on our website and in every home. We anticipated including them in the new "Guest Manual" we are preparing to be left in each home. That meant writing and periodically upgrading three or more documents.

Instead, now we have switched to using a pre-printed "Terms & Conditions" document that is simply attached to each booking, published to the websites, posted as a notice in the home and included in the Guest Manual. We have been able to condense it to a readable 2 page form.

It has been our policy to only accept what in the lodging business is referred to as a "Guaranteed Reservation." This well known industry standard is used for guests who may be arriving late at night and want to make sure their hotel room will not have been sold to someone else. So they choose to "Guarantee" the reservation which means they are charged for the night even if they fail to show up entirely.

We use that policy basis for the entire reservation. Once made its non-cancelable. Doing otherwise allows guests to hold your home out of the market while they take the 5 to 15 days to really make up their minds. In some ways vacation rentals are like nightly lodging. But in other ways we are more like a traditional long term rental. We are giving guests full access to what may be a $100,000 to $1,000,000 (or more) asset and to take that asset off the market while the buyer tries to make up their mind and shop for alternatives is simply not wise. In major cities you can test drive a $250,000 Rolls Royce but if you want to put one on hold for two weeks they will politely decline.

Vacation home owners should do like wise. So our reservations are Guaranteed and Non-Cancelable. We will accept a "Request for Cancellation" and if, and only if, the dates are resold we refund the Guests payment less a rebooking fee of 15% or rent or $100 whichever is greater. My reasoning? Because you can't take possession of any other highly valuable commodity in the world and then return it without a reason simply because you've made other plans. Plus having to sell the same dates twice is too much work and unreasonable for the Guest to ask of us. We can only earn the rental once but we need to get compensated for doing double the work.

When accepting reservations on the Terms and Conditions Method we use a short "Booking Confirmation" form that is prepared and sent to them. Ours is an Excel form and may be more detailed than many owners will prefer. (A downloadable sample is on the website). It is very careful to state that the Guest has ALREADY made a GUARANTEED reservation which this document is just confirming. We do ask them to sign and return the Confirmation as an acknowledgement of receipt. And, according to our Terms and Conditions, we can cancel the booking if they fail to do so.

To the Confirmation we attach a copy of the Terms and Conditions (This is disclosed in the Confirmation) along with our "Guest Rules." These forms are easier to read than a traditional contract. The guest need only return the Confirmation by mail or fax. The Rules and Terms are very fair to both parties. We never experienced many questions when we utilized the Contract methow but the number of questions has dropped and that saves time.

I've also observed that customers are less likely to argue about what they see as unbending conditions of their purchase. We do not alter the Terms and Conditions under any circumstances and there is nothing wrong with getting that message across in this way. If you feel our policy is too strong consider this example:

Most folks are familiar with the Nordstrom Department store chain which was started here in Seattle. Everyone knows if they buy something at Nordstrom and are dissatisfied they can return it for a cheerful refund. They are renowned for their fabulous customer service. The employees are Nordstrom bend over backward for their clients. However - - if you want to see how firm Nordstrom is on their "Terms and Conditions" try this. Pick out some clothes, go the counter and present your Nordstrom Charge card. Then turn over the sales slip before signing and cross out the legal language on the reverse side. They may love you at Nordstrom's but you won't get the clothes. There are things they will do for you and things they will not. Vacation Rental Owners should be at least that careful in their legal dealings.

Lastly, let me emphasize that is very important for your Terms & Conditions to be posted on your website. Ours our linked on our footer information that appears on every page of the website. They can quickly find the Guest Rules as well as the Terms and Conditions. With so many of our leads coming from the Internet this is the perfect way to make sure Guest can not say they were unaware of our policies. And by the way, the good guests never mind and actually appreciate knowing what to expect.

You can download samples of Contracts, Booking Confirmation and a Terms and Conditions form on the website ( Before using any sample forms always have your attorney review them. We can not guarantee they are appropriate for you or your area.

Please see the website section for other ideas:
- Unwelcome Guest List
- Forms & Contracts FREE downloads

As always I seek your input. Please share you tips, techniques compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at

With winter setting in you might want to pull a chair up to the fire at the David White's Rock Creek Cabins next door to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. Great location and they're pet friendly. See

*** If you want your place considered for Home of the Week please drop me an email.

Just wanted to say how eye-opening your "test" was to me. It's obvious there's a lot of room for improvement amongst owners and property managers. I know for myself, I'm a nut about replying asap to email or phone inquiries. But even though I'm in the communications business, I would never think to pick up the phone and call people if they had emailed me first. I'd just return their email with like kind. You're right though--there's nothing like establishing a "personal" relationship with an inquiry. Thanks for the reminder. As a new member of just under a month, I've really enjoyed your site and its information. I think my vroa membership will definitely be money well spent!
- Amy, Petersburg Michigan

Thanks Amy. Kind words keep us going. One of the great benefits of working for VROA is getting to talk to nice folks like Amy from all over the world.
- Wm. May

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0035 – 11/10/03

Are You Paying Enough Tax?

By William May
Published: 11/03/03 Topics: Comments: 0

If you think the law is supposed to be based on logic and reason you may be sadly mistaken. In many jurisdictions the rules, regulations and laws affecting your right to rent out your abode are illogical, unreasonable and sometimes downright stupid. And if you don't know the ropes you could get hung. Over time we'll be digesting the various kinds of laws that affect vacation rentals. Let's start with sales tax.

Last summer a prospective guest told us he had chosen to rent from one of our competitors because they didn't charge sales tax on the rent. This is in a resort area where summer weeks go for $3,000 and up and many owners do their own renting. The tax is Eight percent. That particular owner has rented their home out for about ten years and for only about 10 weeks per year. If you do the math you can see that they have failed to pay taxes approaching $24,000.

Certain regulations governing vacation rentals are ambiguous and unclear in many countries, states, counties and cities. But there is one thing government bureaucrats are very sure about - - they want your money and they want it now. The interest and penalties on the owner's failure to file returns or pay taxes could cost him upwards of $50,000.

Maybe this owner is just ignorant of the taxing authority. Or maybe he is trying to beat the system. But in either cases he is digging a hole that may be difficult to escape. His home is worth a good half million dollars. That means the liability is a ful 10% of the value of his home and probably 20% or more of his equity.

Maybe he is thinking he'll sell one day, not tell anyone, and just sneak away into the night. That's a bad idea too. His obligation to pay the debt will stay with him until paid. And no statue of limitations will protect him when the government proves he knew he should pay, or more importantly, that he should have known. Both make him culpable for paying the debt.

And if he doesn't get caught? During the closing process, the buyer or buyer's agent or the escrow agent should be smart enough to ask whether the rental taxes have been paid. If not, closing could get delayed for a good long time or, worse yet, the deal killed. The buyer too could be held liable for the sales taxes incurred by a prior owner. When you buy a home be sure to get an affidavit from the state indicating taxes have been paid.

Not collecting and remitting sales tax to your taxing authorities is just plain stupid.

First, because you can't beat the government's system. My father used to have a saying (which he illustrated by point one arm left and the other one right) "The government goes their way," (he then pointed his right arm to the left side and said) "And I go their way." This kind of ambivalence may not be assertive if you want to speak up at public hearings or voice your dissent over, let's say, the war in Iraq. But when it comes to dollars, pesos, lyre, euros or yen there is simply no sense in fighting the current tax rate. Pay it and pay it on time. Anything else is financial suicide.

There is another reason why paying the tax is really not a big problem. Citizens the world over are desensitized to paying taxes. They are so used to being fleeced for 20% on phone services and large sums on vehicle purchases and huge taxes on real estate that they no longer believe that they have any ability to cut or eliminate taxes. In fact, people believe that taxes will rise relentlessly. I used to joke that once that taxes won't stop rising until government takes 100% of your income. But a friend reminded me that after taking all the income they can still come after your assets. Let's hope they don't.

With guests already expecting to pay taxes on everything else they certainly expect to pay them on vacation rentals as well. The story I told of the guest who went elsewhere due to the tax is our first such encounter. Smart owners pay the tax and pass it on to the guests. Collusion about rates and policies is illegal according to the US government. But there is nothing illegal about requiring every owner and property manager to collect and charge the tax. And that's another reason why guests pay it - to stay in a given resort area the tax is mandatory and there is no way to escape it - so why try. They don't.

When you buy a car, or clothes or jewelry and ask the price - the sales person never mentions the tax until they ring up the purchase. They presume any intelligent person knows there will be a tax on almost everything. But in vacation rentals we have to be more prudent. The same goes for deposits, cleaning fees, resort fees and the entire cost of renting.

Here is how we do it. Early in most inquiries the caller wants to know "What's the rate." It tempting to just blurt out the answer, but you may be doing a disservice to the guest. And if you don't remind them of tax they can later accuse you of misleading them. Instead, we answer the question this way,

"Well, there are several costs in renting. There is a refundable damage deposit, a one-time cleaning fee, a resort fee (if applicable) the rent and, OF COURSE, taxes. The rate varies by home you choose, the season and how long you stay. When do you want to come?"

Later in the conversation when the guest has chosen the unit, the dates and other details we then repeat the order in detail itemizing each item specifically including the tax. Sometimes the total is simply more than the guest can afford but this process minimize the tax objection (we can't waive it anyway) and actually makes most visitors comfortable that they know the whole price before making their purchase. And it even makes the calls go quicker. Try it.

Sales taxes come in many forms. In Washington State, where we live, the rates vary by county and city. We start with the basic amount to the state. Then we add county or city taxes and in Seattle (King County) we pay a regional transit tax. In certain tourist oriented areas visitors are slammed with an accommodation tax that fuels the local coffers. In Hawaii we pay General Excise Tax (GET) and a Transient Accommodation Tax (TAT) that add up to 11.419%. I have never asked but the TAT alone has to be a huge money maker for the state of Hawaii. They get a disproportionate number of guests to citizens in Hawaii but the state still cries budgeting woes while taxing its citizens at one of the highest rates in the nation.

If have not been paying sales taxes you are in trouble. And even if you are new to renting I recommend keeping a low profile when determining what your tax rates might be. Virtually all governments have websites that spell out what is and what is not taxable. Believe it or not, we just discovered that the cleaning fees (janitorial services in the eyes of the state of Washington) are not sales taxable. We're trying to get a definitive answer in Hawaii. Yes, we've made good assumptions in the past but now its time to get it documented. We didn't expect to save some tax but that could a pleasant surprise in your case too.

So you need to be explicit and clear in finding your tax rates. The best way is to get your Accountant to answer the question. Or, in the alternate, call your taxing authorities and asking specifically what rate each item on your invoice or lease is taxed at.

No matter who you rely on for your answer be sure to get it in writing. Your accountant can write you a letter of opinion or you can write the authorities. Again, don't simply ask if rentals are taxed - ask about each type of charge specifically. And make sure you keep the answering letter in a safe place. Should you have a tax dispute later no phone call memory or email will protect you. All that counts is what you get in writing.

Please see the website section for other ideas:

- Forms & Contracts (Download free Guest Booking Confirmation)

As always I seek your feedback. Please share you tips, techniques compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at

Emily & Alfred Glossbrenner have written a great "how-to" book about owning and operating their vacation rental. Check out their Bucks County Cottage ( Read excerpts from their book at ()( It has lots of good info.

*** If you want your place added to the list of weekly contenders just drop me an email.

Director & Editor - Wm. May

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0034 – 11/03/03

Getting Ready for Winter - Part Two

By William May
Published: 10/20/03 Topics: Comments: 0

Last week we talked about those pesky little tasks every owner needs to do to get their Vacation home ready for winter guests. This week, let's focus on the needs of vacation spots in colder climes.

WATER PIPES: There are just two ways to manage water pipes in cold climates. If your homes is frequently vacant and for extended periods (a week or more) it makes more sense to shut off both the water and the heat when not in residence.

Frankly this method scares me a bit because everything must be done just right. First turn off the main water vale. Second, drain the excess water out of the pipes (hopefully you have a valve in the basement that allows you to do so easily.) And then, upon returning open the main valve, and open each sink to refill the pipes leading to them. Certainly this is the most sensible approach for homes that are vacant all winter.

But this approach has problems if you rent. Management companies, caretakers and certainly guests are not perfect. Failure to follow the process could cost you dearly.

HEATING THE HOME: The second method to manage water pipes is to keep the home slightly heated during the winter months. Naturally this adds energy expense but it insures your pipes will not freeze. That is, of course, as long as the power doesn't fail. So this method is not without its risks also.

PIPE HEATERS. It doesn't happen quickly but insulation around pipes can fail too. In the coldest of areas owner use electrified tape around all pipes, especially those anywhere near an exterior wall. This heats the pipe ever so slightly and prevents freezing. Autumn is the time to inspect all the pipe insulation and electrical connections to make sure they're going to protect your home for another winter. When in doubt replace the insulation or tape. Don't take chances.

MONITORS: No matter how good your management company or caretaker, do you worry that the heat could fail in your home and you could face huge repair bills? Let me warn you with a story. Some years ago a lake home directly across from one of ours suffered a water pipe break in an especially cold spell. With no one in the home (The owner did not want to rent in the winter) the water eventually became over three fee deep in the basement. This was a new $500,000 home and yet the water in the basement froze and, as we all known from high school, expanded as ice and eventually broke the concrete foundation. The damages $80,000.

This problem could have been prevented through the use of a protection device? Numerous manufacturers offer temperature alarms that, if the temperature in your home falls below a level that you set, will phone you and warn of the problem?

All of them monitor temperatures and other things such as power failure or the presence of water and will call you on up to three different phone numbers. Some can even receive phone calls allowing you to adjust your furnace or hot tub temperature before your arrive. You can look these manufacturer's m up on ( Supplier list under "gadgets." Or check them out at:

( 800-838-8860

( 888-534-2315

( 800-947-9098

KEEP IT OCCUPIED: There is a lot to be said for renting your home in the off season. Naturally we think its great to rent to short term guests even if you get lower rates.

If you don't use or rent your place short term, having a human in the house who keeps an eye on pipes, furnaces and so forth is a big plus. Look for a local responsible person to rent the home during the winter. If necessary offer them a cheaper rate and use a long-term contract that gives you a good deal of control over occupancy, cleanliness and so forth. Be sure to have a firm end date so the home will be available for more profitable guests when the high season arrives. If you didn't get the past letter that dealt with the problems of Long Term Tenants you can find it one the ( website.

CHIMNEY SWEEPS: The folks we use still wear the stove pipe hats, mostly for fun I think, but soot build up in your stove pipes is a very dangerous thing. In colder areas and especially with second home guests using your place you may not keep track of how much wood is going up the stack. But with every piece creosote build up occurs in the pipe.

Have you noticed the TV commercials for "Chimney Sweep Logs?" These are saw dust logs impregnated with certain chemicals. These products are not new and even Sweeps use something like them when the Creosote is so hardened as to make mechanical sweeping difficult. After which the softened material can be removed with conventional sweeping.

But most experts agree that these products are not sufficient to protect owners from the threat of chimney fires. The Chimney Safety Institute of America ( recommends having your chimney inspected annual and cleaned as need be. Of course the frequency of cleaning is dependent on how much wood you've sent up the flue. Vacation homes may get less use but don't presume that smaller amounts spread over a number of years makes you less vulnerable.

Also, if you fireplace has bad breath (gives out a smell) cleaning will nip that halitosis in the bud. Another reason for inspections and cleaning. Guests loves cabins and lodges but they don't want that damp creepy smoke smell to infiltrate their clothes.

FIREWOOD: Yep, its time to haul in the firewood. Its actually smarter to order wood in the spring when the prices are usually lower but if you are not sure you have enough better place that order now. Remember to use a reputable dealer and double check that the wood is nice and dry. Using unseasoned wood greatly increases the odds of a chimney fire due to build up.

STORM WINDOWS: Do you use storm windows in the winter? If so, these too are not ageless. The seals can harden and crack causing the window to lose its protection. Be sure to inspect storm windows and doors every fall.

SNOW BLOWERS: A mechanical snow blower or snow plow is indispensable in many winter areas. Your Guests expect to have reasonable access to your property so you'll have to break out the blower when the white stuff piles up. But will it start when you need it? Just like Boats in the Spring, Snow blowers need to be serviced regular and Autumn is the time. The relatively minor cost and inconvenience of toting to the repair shop will be greatly offset by possible loss of income when guests can't access your home.

SNOW SHOVELS AND DE-ICERS: I hope you have lots of snow shovels and a good supply of deicers on hand. In our neck of the woods we're told its going to be a cold winter and keeping the walk ways free of snow is an on going challenge. Watch for salt and other deicers to show up in your home center and grab a bunch to get you through the cold hard winter.

Oh, and by the way, if you missed last week's reminder check list about winter tasks for all homes, regardless of location, here is a reminder:

SMOKE DETECTORS. Make sure you have them in all necessary locations and replace all the batteries.

CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS: If you don't have them get them. They are another wonderful safety devices.

FIRE EXTINGUISHERS: Fire extinguishers need to be recharged or replaced periodically. Check the tag on yours to see if they are still good.

WINDOW AND DOOR SEALS: Things break. Make sure your window and door seals are in good condition.

EMERGENCY SHUTOFFS: Make sure guests know how to shut off your electricity and water in an emergency by creating signs and posting them in a handy location like by the kitchen sink.

SUNDRIES: Now is the time stock up on paper towels, toilet paper and coffee filters.

DEEP CLEANING: You will want to get this out of the way. Make sure windows, carpets and the whole house are neat and tidy.

Please see the website section for other ideas:

- Tip and Techniques

- Forms & Contracts (Download free Property Checklist)

- Suppliers List under "Gadgets"

As always I seek your feedback. Please share you tips, techniques compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at


Palm Springs Magazine has Carole Smith's English Garden Cottage. The site has flash presentations and virtual tours. Click here to see this beauty: (

*** If you want your place added to the list of weekly contenders just drop me an email.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0033 – 10/20/03

Getting Ready for Winter - Part One

By William May
Published: 10/13/03 Topics: Comments: 0

I am sorry to be the one to tell you, but it is now time to get your vacation rental home spruced up for Winter visitors. Those of you in the tropics are saying, "Hey" nothing changes here in winter. But if you look at my little checklist you'll find some things every vacation homeowner will want to think about.

Plus I'll provide a second list of fall reminders next week for those of you in colder climes. In the meantime, let's get started:

SMOKE DETECTORS. I'm surprised at how many people still don't have smoke detectors in their full time residences let alone in their vacation spots. Then I challenged myself and checked each of our houses. Sure enough, there was a brand new one with no detectors and some older homes that needed a few more.

So, take a moment to make sure you have detectors in your house in every necessary location. There are two types of detectors, those than run on batteries and those than are hard wired into an alarm system. Both are fine but if you need to install new units you probably already know they are very inexpensive and available at every hardware store and home center. Buy enough. Don't scrimp.

If your interested you can learn more about Smoke Detectors are ( See: (

CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS: Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless and toxic gas. Any fuel burning appliance, vehicle, tool or other device has the potential to produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide gas. It can leak out of fuel fired furnaces (non-electric), gas water heaters, fireplaces, woodstoves, gas stoves charcoal grills and more.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that approximately 200 people per year are killed by accidental CO poisoning with an additional 5000 people injured. Carbon Monoxide Detectors are less common than Smoke Detectors but perhaps even more important. Like smoke detectors, these items also come in battery or plug in models. We prefer the later because they plug into an electrical outlet, use very little electricity and do not need new battery every now and then.

CHANGE BATTERIES: You've probably heard the old adage for daylight saving time, "Spring forward. Fall Back" as it relates to the resetting of your clocks. Many authorities also think this is the perfect time to replace the batteries in your smoke detector. You should test the batteries every month (by pushing on that pesky little button until it blares) but you should replace the batteries twice a year and now is a good time. Don"t wait until the battery fails and you hear the little chirping late one night when you really don"t want to get up and change the battery.

HINT: If you hesitate to buy detectors or change the batteries religiously, just think about the time and money you could expend having to pay damages or defend against a lawsuit for failing to take "reasonable" precautions for your guests.

FIRE EXTINGUISHERS: Did you know that Fire Extinguishers wear out and lose their charges? Most folks don't. By law extinguishers are required to carry a label or tag indicating when they were last charged and how long they are good for. If you bought cheapies at the hardware store you may have to buy new ones every so often. If you bought professional models there are companies that will come to the house and charge them on the spot. Or you can walk the canisters into a re-charging company.

WINDOW AND DOOR SEALS: As we have acquired more rentals I have had to embrace a simple and obvious fact - things break. And wear out. And even disappear. Window and Door seals save you money and make your home comfortable. Take the time now to inspect them and, if necessary, make repairs. Its better than getting a phone call from a guest who has your furnace blazing on high and is still "freezing." By the way, this hint is just as important for Air Conditioning so if you're in the tropics don't skip this reminder.

EMERGENCY SHUTOFFS: I'll bet you know where your water and electrical shutoff controls are. But I'll also bet your guests do not. Its bad news to have a pipe break but it is far worse if no one can turn off the water for a few minutes, a few hours or a few days. Yikes.

To minimize problems be sure to put up "notices" telling guests where the shutoffs are. We print our notices on a color printer, have them laminated at a copy center (A dollar or two each), Stuff them into nice 5" by 7" pictures frames and mount them right by the kitchen sink. It's the one place you can be sure your guests will be staring at.

If your water shut requires a "Key" (a long tool that reaches deep in the ground to reach the valve that is often below the frost line) make sure it is in a handy location and indicated on the Notice.

SUNDRIES: If you buy your own sundries, such as paper towels, toilet paper and coffee filters now is a good time to stock up. Its no fun carting boxes around in the dead of winter or up the snowy slope to your front door. And, as always, we recommend you buy in bulk at one of the outlet or wholesale stores.

DEEP CLEANING: I reminded everyone of the need for Deep Cleaning in a recent newsletter but this is a reminder to do it now (if you haven't already). Its tough to clean windows, carpets and do other big jobs in winter. Autumn is a perfect time.

Please see the website section for other ideas:

- Tip and Techniques
- Forms & Contracts (Download free Property Checklist)

As always I seek your feedback. Please share you tips, techniques compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at


Palm Springs Magazine has featured Carole Smith?s English Garden Cottage. The site has flash presentations and virtual tours. Click here to see this beautiful vacation rental home: (

*** If you want your place added to the list of weekly contenders just drop me an email. I'm looking for the unusual and whimsical as well as the big and bold.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0032 – 10/13/03

The Joy & Sorrow of Housekeeping

By William May
Published: 10/06/03 Topics: Comments: 0

Whether you own a villa on the Mediterranean, a hut in Phuket Thailand or something in between; whether you have fabulous amenities or the bare necessities, guests will judge your rental home primarily by its cleanliness. Surprising but true.

OK as a man I admit I don't get excited about housekeeping. So it is with a bit of trepidation that I write on the subject. Except to say that the results of a survey I once read where astonishing to me.

I happened upon the results of research in a Hawaiian business publication. It had two main sections. In the first, thousands of visitors were asked to rate which amenities, features and experiences made their Hawaiian stay "wonderful." The weather drew something like 15% of the respondents. Warm ocean came in at something like 12% (I'm doing these numbers from memory). Restaurants, accommodations, residents and sports all came in with 5, 6 or 7%.

Next guests were asked what attributes would make their stay "terrible". Weather, prices, transportation, delays and so forth again received a 5 to 8% nod. But on the "Room not clean enough" line OVER FIFTY percent of the guests indicated that would make their trip a disaster.

I've often told friends that I must have been mistakenly born an English/German couple in Washington State because I am pretty sure I was meant to be born in Hawaii. Recently I decided that Kauai is now my home town - because it seems to me that a person's home town should be where they feel most at home. For me that is Hawaii. I love the weather and beaches of course, but there is a certain demeanor about the people, the music and the entire Ohana (family) culture.

I am convinced that is why millions of visitors venture there very year. But even in paradise guests have made it clear that an improperly cleaned room will destroy their entire vacation. And that should be wake up call to all Vacation Rental Owners.

If you rent your home through a management firm you may find that some do a superb job, usually if they are larger and have sufficient staff. Others do an adequate job with which guests find little fault. If you self manage or use a small firm you may have bumped into what makes housekeeping a chore. Let's examine why.

First, Housekeeping simply isn't a high paying job. Some workers are well educated and conscientious. Others are not. And even the good ones are not necessarily in it for the long term, as they wait for a better paying and less strenuous occupation. Second, in the majority of destination resorts the need for housekeeping goes up and down with the season. Employees seek stability in jobs and being too busy in summer and not receiving enough income at other times is tough on their budgets.

Another problem is that there are few training programs for cleaners. You may ask yourself, "How tough can it be to learn how to clean." Yes some of us had it drilled into us by our parents. But not everyone lives in a clean home. What is acceptable to them probably isn't to your guests. Plus some small housekeeping firms don't include enough supervision in the bids they give you to clean your house.

And lastly, its not enough to only clean your home after each guest. Houses (including yours at home - I dare say) require periodic deep cleaning procedures. Its very easy to not wash the windows, carpets and walls frequently enough. Today, many owners charge guests for the "out-clean" in hopes it covers what they are charged. But it seldom is enough to also pay for the deep cleaning. So those costs come right out of owners pockets, providing they don't try to skimp to save a few dollars.

So is housekeeping just a gigantic headache that must be constantly endured. The answer is - it doesn't have to be. Here are some tips on how to make housekeeping a joy - and one that will gain you return guests and extra bookings.

PAY ATTENTION: Whether self managed or through a manager, owners must demand that their home be meticulously cleaned after every guest. The only way to make sure its getting done is to inspect it yourself, and to do so in an unexpected way. If you live close enough simply stop by on the date and time after cleaners finish and before guests arrive. You may be surprised by what you find. If your home is far away, book your next stay using a friends name, then show up yourself to see how the cleaning looks. Does the manager clean as well for guests as they do for you?

EVALUATION SHEET: Make sure Guests are left or are mailed an evaluation sheet after EVERY stay. (It should allow them to be anonymous) With luck you'll get wonderful comments and thank-you's. But jump on any that indicate a lack of cleanliness. Ask your manager to retain the evaluations received about your unit and then check them every time your in town. If you self manage, copy every evaluation to the housekeeper - good or bad. That way they can enjoy the compliments or increase their quality.

HIRE THE BEST: Particularly if you self manage, take the time to locate ALL cleaning firms in your area. Ask to see homes they've cleaned. Do it on the spot without allowing them to primp for you. Ask for a list of owner references. Quiz the owners carefully. Ask them if they know of other owners the cleaners no longer handle. Then call those. With enough input the quality and reliability of the housekeepers will be obvious.

TRAINING: Be sure that your housekeepers are well trained by their firm or management company. Go over your expectations with them and ask how they do their cleaning. If they can't explain it they may not be doing a full job. Some management firms participate in the Vacation REntal Housekeepers Association which even has certification for cleaning pros. You can learn more about them at (

DEEP CLEAN: Remember to undertake regular and thorough deep cleaning of carpets, walls, windows, drawers, cabinets and so forth. Don't put off the windows because they look clean enough. Setup a schedule and stick to it. Pay the cleaners well for these laborious tasks. In the long run it saves you the expense of emergency cleans or, worse yet, guests who move out and demand a refund.

MANAGE THE CLEANERS: Like most other employees, housekeepers, housekeeping firms and property managers need to be managed. Its not enough to presume they are all doing their job and doing it well. Take the time to compliment them when they are doing a good job. That provides you the right to reprimand them (nicely please) when the cleaning isn't up to par. Keep in regular contact. Be easy to reach if they need to contact you. Return their phone calls quickly.

MYSTERIOUS BEHAVIOR: It is a strange phenomenon but numerous owners report it. Sometimes long tenured quality cleaners sometimes become unreliable and inadequate for no apparent reason. Maybe they burn out, or are distracted by personal events or spread themselves thin. Whatever the reason, be aware that the person who has done the job so well for you for years but one day simply fails to show up, or may begin missing important cleaning out of their routine. If the oversights are minor you must call and instruct them to overcome the problem. But if the problems are larger it is best to simply find another cleaner.

HAVE BACKUPS: No matter how happy you are with your current cleaning firm, take the time to interview others, get bids and maintain contact with them. When you cleaner stops performing well (And I'm almost convinced they all do so eventually) you will be ready to jump to the new firm. Failure to have backups could cost you numerous bookings and thousands of dollars. Not to mention embarrassment and angry phone calls.

GUEST AGREEMENT: We have homes in some remote locations and some high in the mountains are often hit with huge snowfalls. That caused us to insert a clause in our Guest Agreement that warns them about possible but infrequent cleaning challenges. In short, it says if due to conditions, illness or other unavoidable problems a cleaner is unable to get to a home before their arrival they are welcome to do their own cleaning and be reimbursed for it. This has never happened to us but its not a bad idea to cover yourself legally.

NO ONE IS PERFECT: Lastly, allow that no one is perfect. It is a lot of work to clean homes, especially in back-to-back bookings. Most cleaners really have to hustle to get the job done right. Even the best may miss something. Don't switch cleaners for that reason. And don't expect cleaners to get every chair back in its exact location. Allow them to be imperfect but expect them to do a good over all job.

DISREGARD THE NUTS: In recent weeks we have received glowing reports from guests. One said, "This was the cleanest home I have ever stayed in, including my own." She plans to stay with us again soon. But another guest called mid-week complaining that "there is dust on a window sill." We offered to call in the housekeeper but the guest refused saying, "Why should I be bothered."

The home in question is fairly easy to clean and the housekeeper had been doing it for two years without problem. Rather than confront the cleaner we choose to put the visitor on the "Unwelcome Guest" list. Not all guest complaints should be forwarded to the housekeeper. Part of your job is also to isolate housekeepers from unreasonable expectations.

Please see the website section for other ideas:
- Tip and Techniques
- Supplier directory of Web Listing Sites
- See the Section Outside Resources

As always I seek your feedback. Please share you thoughts, stories, compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at

Here is one of the most creative websites ever. Lucia and Marcia Villela, two sisters from Rio de Janeiro Brazil who own and operate four wonderful homes near Disney World in Florida. Check it out at ( The homes and site have disney themes, music and Mickey Mouse. How can you go wrong.

*** If you want your place added to the list of weekly contenders just drop me an email.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0031 – 10/06/03

Self Management - the Pros and Cons

By William May
Published: 09/22/03 Topics: Comments: 0

The Internet has made it possible for more owners to manage their own vacation rental home, bypassing the traditional property management and booking companies. Is this a good idea for you? Maybe and maybe not. The decision is not as cut and dried as you might think.

Last week Amy - a member from Michigan wrote asked about the ins and outs of managing her own vacation home. She has gotten some great advice from Christine Karpinski a consultant in Florida who offers Seminar and advice on "how to" manage your own unit You can find Christine's contact information in both the Member and Supplier sections of the Members Only VROA pages.

Because Amy is so enthused about managing her own property and because she's been wise to do her homework I think she'll have great success with her home. And that is one of the hallmarks of owners who seem to be doing well with their homes - they have to enjoy it.

So how do you know if self-management is for you? Let me say first of all that VROA doesn't take sides on this issue. The association has much to offer owners who use managers and those who do not. Our mission is to help both know the issues and find that path that suits them best.Clearly self management can be advantageous to certain owners. But there are distinct benefits that management firms offer. Let's look at a few of the issues owner's should consider before making a decision about self management.

MONEY: Perhaps the best and worst reason to manage your own unit is for money. Yes you can escape the manager's fee by managing the home yourself. But you can not escape the management duties. Someone has to answer the phone, arrange for cleaning and maintenance and be available 24 hours per day. Is that what you want? Plus you have determine if you will generate more income - or less. And whether you can cut costs or not.

YOUR TIME: What is your time worth? In truth, you are not escaping the expense. You are simply paying yourself to do what the manager does. If you enjoy the work then self management will be rewarding. If not it will be a pain. If you can invest your unused time you can earn a nice income. If it takes away from your profession or family then you may lose more money than you save.

YOUR SKILLS: The next question is how good are you at the job of managing. You'll need to have good bookkeeping, be able to invoice clients, should consider getting a merchant account so you can take credit cards, have to pay cleaners and maintenance firms (sometimes in advance) and never make a mistake on scheduling. You have to know how to contract with vendors without getting skewered and how to follow up to make sure work is done and done correctly. With a single home these things are not difficult but they need to be precise. If that's not your modus operandi you may make mistakes.

YOUR MARKETING: The next question to test yourself is - how good a marketer and salesman are you? Even though the Internet has drastically changed how guests search for and purchase vacation rental reservations it is not a magic wand. It will not make you successful just because you can put up a website. Plus the internet is changing. Getting listed high in search engines is complicated and can be expensive. The VROA supplier directory currently lists a couple of hundred vacation rental websites (with more appearing every week). No one listing will secure you sufficient bookings - not even close. Are you prepared to advance the money to list on the top 10 or more sites?

SELLING: Are you a sales person? It is not enough to simply answer the phone. You have to put up with lots of questions, dispel lots of fears and determine if your place is right for each guests. If so, then you have to convince them to book. Its not easy. You'll spend many hours talking with folks who never rent. The only way to be good at selling is to enjoy it. Do you like people and small talk? If so, this is for you.

FORTITUDE: Like most jobs self-management is often based more on sticking to the task at hand than on some great unusual skills or knowledge. The only thing you now about each reservation is that it must be followed by another. Even if you book strictly by the week that means you need to try to get 52 bookings per year. That will take many out bound phone calls. Many calls to the cleaners. Regular trips to inspect the property and to be available 24 hours per day for issues. If the property is distance soon the joy of staying in your own home can be dashed by the requirement to sometimes drop everything and make the trip.

ATTITUDE: Perhaps the most telling of all owner attributes is attitude. Have you ever gone to a store where the clerk as bored or tired or indifferent? You can bet they weren't highly compensated or might soon be without a job. In managing your own home you can not afford to have a bad attitude. Every day you have to approach the task at had as an important one. You have to teach yourself to love it. And over time you have to pump up your attitude to make sure guests are enthused about staying in your home. Not everyone can do this.

HANDS ON: A common question among owners is how will I arrange cleaning and maintenance. The answer depends on the location of your home. In many destination resorts there are numerous cleaning and maintenance firms happy to work with owners directly with owners. This is a growing industry. We have had good luck with such firms and find them a great help. In smaller or remote communities you may have to hire individuals to do the work. This can be problematic. Even a highly reliable and skilled cleaning person will one day move on to greener pastures. If you can keep someone a year or two consider yourself lucky. Plus you have to worry that a "one person" crew may one day simply not show up or suddenly fail to clean adequately. That means you have to find a replacement - and pronto.

Managers can also suffer such problems but usually have a larger crew and sufficient backups. Good managers have well documented quality control. On the other hand, they can be inflexible as to how they clean and when they clean. In short, however, self-managers should understand they are taking on the duty of operations but gaining some degree of control and cost savings.

MAINTENANCE: A word about maintenance is in order. I have heard frequent complaints from owners who believe that managers are charging them way too much for maintenance. While some managers make significant income by providing building maintenance over the long haul you will learn that rental homes require sufficient and regular maintenance. You will be hard pressed to find independent maintenance firms who charge less than a manager. You may be able to defer some maintenance for a while but in the end you'll have to spend money to keep your place rentable. Yes, you can do some of the maintenance yourself but you can do that with a manager too.

MONEY: And now we return to the money issue. I would urge owners not to abandon managers but also remember that not all managers are created equal. They may have skills you do ot have. The dedication and capabilities they show will differ dramatically. In fact, most are not even comparable in the services they offer or the ways in which they operate. Some are merely cleaning and maintenance firms who answer the phone to take reservations. Others have honed their marketing, sales and business skills and offer a true and valuable service. Your decision about self managing may hinge on whether a good manager is available. If not, then you may have no choice but to undertake the chore yourself.

So now that we've covered some of the tests for self-management let me end by simply saying that the decision to manage your own unit can be a wise one. But it can also be a costly mistake. To make a good decision spend time evaluating your available time, your skills and then make reasonable goals for the home. Those goals should be the same whether you manage it or hire a manager. Before you jump into the self-management business be sure to interview all the managers in your area. Review what they do and what they charge. Insist on checking references. And then compare those managers to what you can do yourself.

The and only then you'll know the pros and cons of managing your own unit. Good luck in that decision.

Please see the website section for other ideas:

- Tip and Techniques

- Supplier directory of Web Listing Sites

- Supplier directory of management firms

As always I seek your feedback. Please share you thoughts, stories, compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at

This week we travel to the Cypress House on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. This is a luxurious 2 Bedroom villa on a warm Caribbean Island. Take a peek at ( And check out the virtual tour.

*** If you want your place added to the list of weekly contenders just drop me an email.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0030 – 09/22/03

How to use the world's best sales tool

By William May
Published: 09/15/03 Topics: Comments: 0

The fear strikes everyone - owner and property manager alike. No one wants to pick up the telephone to sell people things. If that's how you feel, I'd like to give you some tips that will not only make it easier, but will actually make it fun. Pure enjoyment, really.

Last week's newsletter harped on the absolute necessity to answer all email and phone inquiries promptly. I heard from a number of members, and most appreciated the reminder. A few questioned whether it was really necessary to call people back repeatedly. One said, "Doesn't that make people mad if you bug them?" Another member said, "I just don't have the time because I have another job," but then added she could quit that job if her home just rented fully in the high season. A third member volunteered, "Frankly I'm just too scared to call people back."

If you reacted to last week's article in this way you are not alone. In even the most sophisticated sales organizations there are very good representatives who succumb to "Phone Fear." In working in a number of industries I've had top producers confide in me that "Some mornings I just can't put my hand on the phone." From childhood we've all been subjected to the irrational paradigm that asking other people for something is somehow improper. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let's face it, without assertive behavior (asking for something) no one would get married or, dare I say this, have any children. You have to ask don't you? And let's think about other petitioners we meet along the way. Your minister or rabbi sermonize asking parishioners to live a good life don't they? Teacher and parents plead with children to do their homework and get good grades. A president of the United States once implored us, "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country."

All of these people did so with good intent; to help you do what you probably should be doing. Was it wrong that they also had selfish reasons for asking? The President wanted to get reelected, the teacher wants to be an effective instructor and the minister wants to do a good job for the church.

So why is it that when you need to call a prospective guest and offer them the chance to stay at your wonderful getaway, to sit back and rest, to have the time of their lives, to spend time with their families, to leave their humdrum lives behind for a week or weekend - when you ask them to really enjoy themselves - why is it that any of us should ever feel reluctant?

The answer is that to sell any product, especially one that produces so much joy for customers, you have to understand that you are truly doing them a favor. I am not suggesting you need to "talk yourself" into any such thinking. I ask you to examine what it is you offer and come to the inescapable conclusion that you are selling a product that guests find highly desirable.

So if that is true, why do you have to call them back at all? Or call them back repeatedly? Here is the answer.

Long ago I attended a seminar on how to sell. It wasn't my first such class and I had been exposed to similar material from other books and courses. It was wonderful to hear folks get up and explain how learning to sell had improved their lives. I don't mean just at their job or earning money to support their families. I mean learning to communicate (to sell) helped improve many other areas of their lives. It taught them how to get their kids to study and their husbands to vote. Little victories perhaps but nonetheless ones that someone needed to sell.

By the way, the seminar was taught by Tom Hopkins. You can buy his training and learn more at his website ( I heartily recommend his services.

I will never forget one exchange at the seminar. When Tom asked the audience of some 800 people, "When you call someone and they don't call you back, what does it mean?" he got back many answers. "It means they don't want your product," said an experienced looking man. "It means they don't like to be called," said a woman. "No it means they don't like sales people," said another.

So "How do you know that?" asked Tom and the audience grew strangely quiet. Then one attendee rose and said, "I guess we really don't know, do we?"

"And that, is exactly the correct answer,." concluded Tom. "When someone doesn't call you back, it only means one thing - they didn't call you back. Period. Nothing more. Every other conclusion you make can be wrong."

He pointed out that, like everyone, customers are busy people. They have children and school and jobs and maybe even sick relatives. Sure they want to go on vacation - maybe desperately - but life gets in the way of making reservations. That is why they need your help. They need reminding in the same way you have to remind your kids to do their homework and your spouse to take out the garbage. And that is why you have to call them, and call repeatedly.

Now that you've accepted the fact that you must call folks back, here are some tips on how to make it easier to do:

FIRST THING: Make telephoning your highest priority. Remember phoning is what makes the money come in. Don't distract yourself with bookkeeping, administrative chores or anything else. Do those latter. Pick up the phone and start dialing for dollars. Don't stop until you've reached everyone who has inquired. Do it everyday. Soon, the list will be smaller and it will take less time.

LEAVE MESSAGES: If you get voice mail or an answering machine ALWAYS leave a message. Start with your name and the Magic Phrase mentioned below, then your phone number and then a VERY short message such as, "Please call me back at 800-XXX-XXXX about the dates we discussed." Ending like this with an open-ended question is best. It causes them to wonder. It may even cause them to worry about whether the dates have been sold to someone else. NEVER threaten or leave an ultimatum such as "Call me back by Friday or I will sell your dates to someone else." That makes folks mad or they'll presume they lost the dates and won't bother to call to buy the dates you'd love to give them.

EMAILS: You heard me say responding to emails (and quickly) is important too. But many folks "Hide behind" emails. It easier to email because you don't have to speak with the person. You don't have to react immediately. You don't have to answer new questions. If a prospective guest provides a phone number ALWAYS call it first. Don't be fooled by the latest of communications methods - email. It is a good tool but the phone is far better.

BE FRIENDLY: Just because you fear phoning don't let it change your personality. Talk on the phone just like you would to your best friend. Say "Hello, how are you" like you really mean it. Learn to keep notes about the names and ages of family members who will be accompanying them on the vacation. Remember who is coming and from where, what dates they considered and what they hope to enjoy on their trip. Simply give them the same friendly courtesy you would give any of your friends. And guess what, they will become friends perhaps returning year after year to your getaway home. Speak with them about their dream vacation not your needs or requirements.

THE MAGIC PHRASE: Some years ago I picked up a phrase from one of our consulting clients. He called me almost everyday and always started the phoned call with, "Hi this is John. Just wanted to Check In With You." This is a brilliant phrase. By calling regularly he was assured that I hadn't forgotten his project or put it off for someone else's project. But he really didn't want to bug me. "Checking In" implies that he just wants to let me know he is there. It implies its OK for me not to have anything new to report. It makes it easy for him to call. And me to respond.

Try it when you are calling someone back for the second or third time. Trust me - they know why you're calling and yet this gives them chance to say they haven't made a decision. You will be absolutely amazed at how frequently they say things like, "Oh, I'm glad you called." or "I've been meaning to call you back but have been tied up."

I have another friend who runs a very successful sports camp for kids. Not only does he teach sports he changes lives of young people by also teaching them about commitment and dedication and courage. He has become a hero of mine in the last few years because of his dedication to children. He has hundreds of coaches and thousands of kids but every now and then I get a phone call or voicemail from him. His method of "Checking In" goes like this, "Bill this is Fred. Just wanted to let you know I was thinking of you. Thanks for your help. We'll talk soon." I don't know how he finds the time but I do know it makes my day. You have the same ability to make the day of folks who are dying to stay at your vacation home.

STAND OUT: You will not anger customers by calling them. But you will impress them. And they will appreciate your call. In fact, if you make phone calls everyday you will bowled over with the universal appreciation you receive for providing great Customer Service. That will take you right to the top of the class. If you simply call people on the phone you are doing what 19 out of 20 homeowners and property management firms FAIL to do.

ITS YOUR JOB: If you enjoy renting out your home or run a property management business then I ask you to admit that doing the telephoning is your job. No one else is going to do it for you. And the sooner you get it done the sooner you can go back to the bookkeeping, administration or other tasks that are also important. Plus all of that is a whole lot more fun if your home is fully booked and making you money.

Please see the website section for other ideas:
- Tips of the Week

As always I seek your feedback. Please share you thoughts, stories, compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at

If you want to see the Leaves change color in Maine this autumn call Harp-Hawkins Vacation Rental Homes. They offer six unique seasonal vacation rental homes nestled along the shore of Frenchman's Bay on Mount Desert Island, Maine. Just minutes away from Acadia National Park. See (

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0029 – 09/15/03

Building rents is as easy as answering the phone

By William May
Published: 09/08/03 Topics: Comments: 0

Would you like your revenue to go up 10 to 50% overnight? And do that with no increase in costs? No - this is not an ad for some get rich quick scheme. But let me tell you about an informal survey we just completed and how the results reveal exactly how you can bank rental increases like the one I'm promising.

Two weeks ago, as a test, I submitted inquiries to 60 vacation rental home owners and about 10 property management firms. Some of these I found on vacation rental "Listing" websites. Others I located their individual websites through Search Engines. To justify my intrusion these inquiries were to certain destination area that my family and I hope to visit next summer. I was not very familiar with the area and didn't bring any knowledge or prejudices to the area, neighborhoods or properties so this was a legitimate inquiry. I used an alias so as not to draw attention but gave accurate address, phone and email data. I gave them specific dates I needed next summer, asked them to mail me a brochure or other printed information and asked they send me the Owner's contact information. Oh, and by the way, none of the owners were VRA members.

The owners with individual websites were the easiest to select because I could see the property, terms and details of the exact unit I wanted to rent. Some of the sites were very well done and others were amateurish. Strangely, the property management firms' websites were, in general, not as polished as the individual homeowner sites and provided less specifics. For example, most didn't provide maps showing where the destination area was in the state or where their properties were. They usually included a few grainy photos, seldom a long detailed list of amenities, almost never a copy of their "Terms and Conditions", sometimes prices but only very generally in a range. In short, it would be impossible to make a buying decision based solely on the property manager websites.

The Owner websites were, as a group, better. I didn't find any that would win a VRA "Bob" award (Best of the Best - see ( for details) but I was enthused by those that had quality photos, shots that gave many perspectives of the home, provided specific rental information. Even if the design was boring, good information could still allow me to determine if the home met my criteria.

As should be expected, the Vacation Rental Listing Websites (I visited 10 of them randomly) were much more intuitive to use than the property manager sites. But some of those were even lacking. In displaying a list of homes in the indicated area I was disappointed in those sites that still do not provide a "front" shot of the house. Every real estate agent knows that "Curb Appeal" is just about the most important factor in drawing a prospective buyer into a home. No one buys a home without going inside it so getting them in is crucial. Without front shots it took extra time to open each listing that fit my criteria (2 Bedrooms) only to find that 3 out of 4 were clearly not of interest. I was also surprised to see that there are still home owners who submit their homes to Listing Sites but don't use all the features of those sites often failing to post enough photos or providing only 1 or 2 sentence descriptions when long and vivid descriptions are what buyers need to make informed decisions.

Today's newsletter is not going to focus on website design. We'll leave that for a future issue. But let me remind you that your website (or your listing on a Vacation Rental Website) should contain as much information as you can think to provide. Use high-resolution photos shot on sunny days in various seasons. Always post a floor plan. Describe everything in the house - everything. How big are the rooms, what is the view (don't exaggerate), is it really fully furnished? (How many place settings does it have?). And make sure it has multiple ways to contact you.

I like the "get info" forms many Vacation Rental Websites provide but am annoyed that they usually then "Hide" your other contact methods from the Guests. If you want your inquiries to go up ask your website to make your FULL NAME, address, phone, fax and email prominent on your page. If they won't do it then put that information in the description section. Some sites will ask you to stop doing it and you can't blame them. They want to force inquiries through the "inquiry form" so that they can prove the great response they are getting you. But let me use a proven sales and marketing adage to prove them wrong - anything that gets between you and your customer DECREASES your chance of getting the order.

Now that I've railed about some of the things that were frustrating in locating and evaluating the homes online let me tell you the startling results so far. In about two weeks. And as a reminder I asked for specific dates, a brochure by mail and provided them all my contact data. Here are the dismal results.

- I received auto-responder emails from most of the inquiries sent through Vacation Rental websites

- NONE of those responses gave me any new information not already on the website.

- Only a few provided more contact information and only ONE gave me all the contact information I requested.

- I received eight emails personalized in some ways. NONE were from property management firms.

- Of the responses four said they had my dates available.

- None offered any other details about their home or the destination area.

- ONLY one person telephoned and left a voice mail.

- NO ONE called twice.

- NO ONE mailed me the info I requested.

Do you find these results appalling? I do. Often, I hear homeowners complain that they've listed on several Listing Sites but they don't get enough response or enough bookings. The ( website has a list of all known industry Suppliers including Listing websites. We ask owners to logon and write reviews of those sites so other owners will know how effective each one is. But in the long run, my recent survey of homes for rent implies that the problems are not with the websites. "We have seen the enemy and he is us." Owners and managers need to rethink how they respond to inquiries and how committed they are in maximizing occupancy.

In my other life I have spent years helping businesses with, among other things, their advertising and marketing. While these are bigger enterprises, I see some otherwise good sales people make the same mistakes repeatedly. If it makes the offending vacation rental owners feel any better let me tell you that even some sophisticated firms do no better. So - to help homeowners and managers rent more days I'd like to give you a short list of things you can do to make your revenue go up immediately. They are free and they are easy.

CONTACT DATA: Include all your contact data on your website. Personal name (full name), company name (if any), address, telephone, fax, toll free number, email and (yes) the website address again. Include the address of the home as well. Hey maybe they'll drive by or find it on Mapquest. Preferably this information should be on your home page and probably on every page of your website. This same information should be conspicuously posted on all your sales materials too.

CREATE MATERIALS: Create written documents that completely describe your property and your terms and conditions. Include photos, floor plans, list of amenities and so forth. While a professional brochure is great it is not essential. The information can be a simple typed document. But include everything - the good and the bad. If you don't allow pets, smoking or parties say so up front. It avoids problems later AND is a selling point for guests who don't want those things. You can never include too much information. It's impossible.

ANSWER INQUIRES: Is this brain surgery? Answer every phone call and email, duh. Especially if the inquiry is specific. Probably a canned response is OK for visitors who say, "I may want to go to Hawaii someday." But if they ask about dates, number of bedrooms, type of dinnerware or any other picky questions it means they are trying to buy a vacation from someone. How about you?

TELEPHONE: No matter how the inquiry comes in ALWAYS try to phone the person. If they ask only to be contacted by email you should honor that. But if they email, or fill out an online form and include their phone number it means they are willing to be called. So call them. Make friends. Invite them to be your guests. You don't have to be a "closer" or arm twister. Simply call them back and use the most persuasive words in the sales lexicon, "May I help you?" You'll be surprised as how easy it is.

KEEP RECORDS: The great majority of Guests do not rent after a single email or phone call. They have a general interest, they look around over time, they talk with people, they get side tracked considering other locations and then, maybe they decide to go to your area. It might be a day or a week, a month or years. Wise sales people keep a long list of everyone who has ever inquired. These are your leads and they are money in the bank.

COMMUNICATE: To convert those lists of inquiries into money all you have to do is communicate with them. From our unscientific observation we think the average booking is preceded by an average of 5 contacts. And of course, there are a great many contacts who never book. Until about six years ago the only ways to communicate regularly with prospective guests was to mail or phone them. But that is too expensive. Today, you simply must keep all your contacts in some kind of "contact Management' system and then you must send them a reminder every now and then. Surprisingly our "remove" rate is less than 1/10th of one percent. It's because if they inquired it means they are interested in your area. Not only do they not mind receiving reminders, but I believe they actually enjoy getting a note from their friend in Vail or Hawaii or Cancun or Italy.

FOLLOW UP: I've saved the most important recommendation for last. Call them back. Simple. CALL THEM BACK. Don't give up. My father used to say, "All things being equal, people buy from people they know." And then he added, "All things being not equal, they still buy from people they know." The only way they can get to know you is for you to call them.

If they don't know you they can't possibly buy from you. If they can't find you they can't buy from you. If you make it hard to buy they won't buy from you. So - if you want your rentals to go up 10 to 50% all you have to do is answer all inquiries, give them multiple ways to respond, call them on the phone and follow up. Do this again and again until your unit is full.

Please see the website sections:
- Suppliers List
- Group Discounts and Offers

P.S. We just added great new section called "Industry News" to the ( members only website that we update daily with stories from all over concerning vacation rentals, legal regulations and so forth. Be sure to take a look.

As always I seek your feedback. Please share you thoughts, stories, compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at

Now this is a real getaway. The "Yukon Mountain Retreat" just outside Whitehorse, Yukon Territory Canada. Jesse Duke & Karen Pelletier are your hosts and they'd love to show you some Canadian hospitality. (

If you want your place added to the list of weekly contenders just drop me an email.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0028 – 09/08/03

Beware of Jealous Neighbors

By William May
Published: 09/01/03 Topics: Comments: 0

If you own a vacation home and primary residence you are no longer one of the privileged few. Second home ownership is growing by leaps and bounds in most geographic regions. Home values are rising much faster than inflation. Owners and Guests are anxious to escape the city, kick back and relax in the country. But not everyone likes the idea of you having a getaway home. And the opposition may not always come from the opponents you would expect.

I was chagrined to receive the following email from a Vacation Home Owner who had just read about the beautiful new Priest Lake Idaho vacation home in our last newsletter.

"As an environmentalist, I wonder why someone needs to build a house of this proportion in middle of the forest. Frankly, I'm totally turned off by what I read. Where is the owner/builder environmental consciousness? How many trees were cut down to build this home? Eventually there will be no forest left, only a sea of vacation homes." - Melinda

It seems Melinda lives in California but owns a rental house in the San Juan Islands of Washington State (Up in our neck of the woods). I took a moment to look at her rental home website and was surprised to find that what she preaches conflicts with what she practices.

For example, she must use a Washington State Ferry to access her island. Everyone knows that large fast boats routinely kill porpoises and dolphins but apparently she is an environmentalist who doesn't care about that. Her site shows a beautiful green lawn - but she doesn't seem concerned that by being so close to the waterfront, she subjects the pristine San Juan Island waters to fertilizer run off and fish poisoning. In fact, her house is located within the setbacks now required for waterfront homes in our state - but, as you might imagine, she probably isn't going to relocate the house, is she. She also boasts a Barbecue but in her home state of California they've threatened to outlaw charcoal barbecues because the fumes cause too much pollution. She says she's an environmentalist but what she really is is selfish.

Are Melissa's thoughts hypocritical? Yes, but they are really nothing new. Selfishness is as old as human kind. Her message is an age old one. She is saying, "Yes I want something (in this case a vacation rental) want I don't want you to have one. She wants to close the door after herself to prohibit others from coming in who might, in some undefined way, diminish what she receives from her place.

Melissa is entitled to selfish and even hypocritical. But other owners, on the other hand, should recognize this kind of thinking as a wake up call. Even owners of homes in remote and desirable resort locations must be on the look out for those who would steal their rights if they were allowed to proceed unopposed. So who are those people?

You don't need to run scared from self-righteous neighbors. But it’s a good policy to understand that keeping them happy is as important as keep your family and your guests happy. The notion that, "A man's home is his castle" has been seriously eroded over the past decades. And the biggest contributors to that problem have been what we might call "nosey neighbors." Luckily, there are several effective strategies you can use to prepare for possible confrontations:

- You must BECOME FRIENDS with your neighbors. This is harder than it might seem in some vacation communities because owners are not continually present. Residents come and go on different schedules so go out of your way to meet and greet everyone. Offer to keep an eye on their place when they're gone. Invite them to call you immediately if there is anything they want to report about yours. Make sure they have your emergency phone number. Respond quickly.

- Treat neighbors with EXTREME RESPECT. If they have minor concerns try to cater to them. Solve small issues in hopes they will allow you consideration on larger matters. They will find it harder to treat your rudely if you always treat them kindly.

- Requires guests to BEHAVE. Nothing makes a neighbor angrier than a guest who acts like he owns the place. Use a strong contract with tenants, screen them carefully, post notices and provide a "Guest Manual" making sure they now all the rules, and then immediately evict Guests who break rules. In many jurisdictions no warning is required. Be harsh on guests because you can be indifferent to neighbors.

Following these simple rules will do much to forestall potential conflicts with neighbors whether they involve rentals, property lines or any other matter. If they don't then you may reach a point where you have to decide how important it is for you to prevail in the dispute. When it comes to rentals, of course, you are talking about the potential loss of significant income. I have seen a number of owners voluntarily stop renting when a neighbor had the slights of complaint (often unwarranted). If retreating fits your temperament and your pocketbook than you may want to do the same.

On the other hand, if you feel compelled to retain your property rights as well as your income then you may have to resort to dealing with politics or even litigation to do so.

HOME OWNER ASSOCIATIONS: By politics I mean it is essential to attend Home Owner Association Member meetings. Personally I've never longed to be in politics but I try to attend the Board meetings of all groups I am involved with. This includes Home Owner Boards and even organization such as my son's school board. Unfortunately this is the only way to truly comprehend what actions are being taken and who really runs any organization. For example, in one association it's the President's husband, a non-practicing attorney whose entire career consists of running some broken down hamburger stands that he inherited. You can probably imagine the pent up frustration uses to impose his views on others. He seldom gets his misguided way but he has made life miserable for a number of organizations besides the homeowners. Most associations are organized under specific homeowner or not-for-profit association statutes that usually mandate all members (owners) can request and be invited to Board meetings. Usually your role will be limited to observation but officials will sometimes include observers in conversations as a matter of courtesy.

LOCAL POLITICS. You should also consider keeping your eye on local and state actions that might curtail your rentals. We'll talk more about homeowner associations and local governments in another newsletter. But suffice it to say, at this time, that rentals are sometimes and issue and you need to be involved BEFORE that happens. So the only way to be careful is to stay in involved and up to date.

LITIGATION: At best going to court is a time consuming and expensive proposition. Its a good idea to locate and have a qualified Real Estate attorney to check home owner association covenants and rules, local statutes, and court precedence to determine if you are within your rights to rent your home. This should be done before you buy the home. If you didn't think to do that don't feel alone. Probably because vacation homes are frequently in remote or isolated communities many buyers presume that regulation will be less than in a big city. You might expect folks in remote areas often have a more open-minded and property rights oriented view of things.

But remember there are plenty of Melinda's everywhere. They are selfish, misguided and anxious to give others problems. You can run and hide or you can be prepared to deal with these troublemakers when they slink out of the shadows. Start by heeding the neighbor rules suggested here. In future newsletter I'll provide more thoughts on Associations, politics and litigation.

To read more 0n these subjects logon to ( and click on
- Books & Tools
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As always I seek your feedback. Please share you thoughts, stories, compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at

This week, how about checking out my Vacation Rental of the week. Its Villa CastellaMonte - a big and beautiful home in the Dominican Republic that rents for the tidy sum of $11,000 per week. More if you want the personal staff. Read all about it at ( If you want your place added to the list of weekly contenders just drop me an email.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0027 – 09/01/03

The Joy of Vacation Rental-ing

By William May
Published: 08/25/03 Topics: Comments: 0

If you think the newsletter is late this week -you are right. Because this week I sampled the joys of staying in someone else's vacation rental home. I'm actually supposed to still be on vacation but just had to drop a line to all the nice VROA folks I'm hearing from.

So I'm sitting right now on the porch of a stunning 3,000 square foot mountain lodge on picture perfect Priest Lake in the extreme North of Idaho's Panhandle. This area of the world has lots of major mountain lakes. If you're not from these parts you must find some time one day to visit Lake Coeur d'Alene, Lake Pend Oreille, Priest Lake and the dozens of smaller and out of the way water meccas.

While they are popular areas some of them still have picturesque acreage available and lots of peace and quiet. Pend Oreille is also just down the hill form Schweitzer Basin ski area a very up and coming place. Good bargains there too. Coeur d'Alene is well know and home of the ultra fancy Coeur d'Alene Resort ( If you're a golfer you've seen it featured in Golf publications as the one with the floating 18th hole.

These lakes are clear and clean. The climate is bracing in winter and warm to hot in summer. You can pretty much always count on good weather. Big time boating in summer and winter outdoor sports when it is cold. The terrain varies but you can count on some easy access locations and others where the granite peaks shoot strait up out of the water. I picked up one of the local fishing guide pamphlets that claimed the dozen 15 pounders were "an average days catch."

We took several tours of the lake by boat and I was struck by how large it was and how few the homes. While there are still plenty of residents I learned later that a good portion of the lake is surrounded by nation and state forest lands that will remain forever unused. The lack of growth encourages me, but I have to admit that I couldn't help but imagine building a modern interior - rustic exterior lodge at some locations where the navy blue water lapped at dazzling white sand beaches.

So back to the home I'm sitting in.

The owner is a long time friend and partner - Jerry Rose. Last year he and his wife Terri recently escaped from a hubbub of California, relocating his business practice to Spokane Washington. In just a 90-minute drive he finds himself in the middle of the forest on the spot he and his wife have built their dream cabin. Although its tough to call this place a cabin because it has four big bedrooms, 3 baths, designer kitchen, extra high ceilings, giant stone fireplace. Its stick built but with massive log supports and decoration.

The exteriors are wide cedar siding stained perfectly and complimented by giant green framed metal windows that open and swing out wide. The lot is mostly level and the giant deck sits on the second level providing clear vistas across the 28 mile long and 4 mile wide body of water. Although the home was not yet really complete Jerry was besieged with folks wanting to rent this summer, so he rented some weeks (at a discount) explaining the counters still had plywood on them and still the guests were delighted with the place.

Jerry and Terri are smart. They put slate hard surfaces in much of the home - virtually indestructible for guests. Slate floors. Granite counter tops. Light pine sided rooms and ceilings. In the winter a few throw rugs make it warm on the feet and still easy to clean. He's picked tight weave Berber carpet with a bit of a pattern for the bedrooms. Again to make them hard to stain and easy to clean.

The kitchen has a huge refrigerator - something guests’ love especially in remote areas like this where they have to bring in a lot of food. There is an over sized family dining table in the great room adjacent to the kitchen island. We group gathered frequently around it for gossip, laughs and silliness.

Now I must tell you that Jerry is a very detailed person. In fact, its one of his best attributes. I have to admit he has me beat on thinking things through - especially as a rental. He has a well-constructed dock that can actually be disengaged and pull to shore in winter to keep the sometimes ice clogged lake from damaging it. His beautiful 20-foot run about sits on a custom aluminum contraption that lifts it out of the water with a twirl of a large wheel. (It looks like it could have come from the steering end of a racing yacht.)

The heat, along with the kitchen stove and a few other appliances, are propane powered. Outside there is an oversize electrical generator to use if the electricity is cut. Doesn't happen often but when you're 60 miles from the nearest major town you'd hate to have guests cancel in the middle of a stay for lack of power - and lose that income. The generator will essentially pay for itself.

The living room features a set of Elk antler's the owners have been storing for years in anticipation of building a perfect place for them. They've also been promised a moose head for the soaring stairs area but it might actually be too big. If you're getting an impressions from this description I hope its one of a home that is perfected suited for its location. I am sometimes disappointed in homes that, while beautiful, are simply constructed in the wrong location? For example, this wonderful house would look downright silly in the tropics somewhere and probably wouldn't rent either.

My son was disappointed that there is no high speed internet access because he's currently addicted to the Star Wars on-line video game but found time to vegetate in front of the big screen TV and Satellite service (new to him). In fact, I found myself vegetating a few times with my arms around the boy. Not sure how much longer he'll let me get away with that but I figured I'd better take the opportunity while I could.

At 13 he's already 6 foot 1 inches tall. I remember that age well and let him sloth around a plenty. Frequently he slept until noon even though there were plenty of lake things to do. As we left I asked him what he liked most and he said, "Sleeping 12 hours non-stop." That's a good thing, isn't it.

My wife, on the other hand, took many hours to sit on the deck with her feet up reading novel after novel. She did a trip in the boat and a run to town but other than that her idea of nirvana is to get a minute, an hour, a day or more to do nothing at all. Vacation rentals are good for activities but they may be at their finest when they convince occupants to spend time moving back to a slower pace.

It strikes me that sometimes taking our time is what Vacation Rentals are mostly about? While hotels have expansive lobbies, frenetic activity decks and room service maybe guests are turning to vacation rentals because of something simple that resorts can never offer. The chance to get just a little tighter with our families. Maybe it even FORCES us to be with our families. To eliminate those nuisance cell phones and email and other modern day marvels that clutter our life and strangely enough cause us to become even more distant from those we love.

Yes, I do what most of you do when promoting our homes. I feature all the great amenities of each house. All the fun things to do in the area. Where to buy the priciest meal and even where to spend your money. It is my observation that first time vacation rental users usually do not understand why they're drawn to the idea of a rental home. But they go home satisfied in a way that they may not even be able to put into words. They had fun by being together, by spending some time on something for themselves and by finding another place to call home.

Some of our newsletters concentrate on the work and occasionally distressing part of being a property owner. But I'd like to remind us all of why we own and operate vacation rentals. Please drop me a note about your special place in the woods, on the beach or anywhere else. I'll even include some links for the best of them in future newsletters.

This week, how about checking out my Vacation Rental of the week. Its one of our own, but next week I'd love to feature yours. Just drop me an email.

As always I seek your feedback. Please share you thoughts, stories, compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0026 – 08/25/03

Those Guests from Hell - Part 2

By William May
Published: 08/18/03 Topics: Comments: 0

Last issue you were introduced to some of those "Guests from Hell." You know, the ones who pay too little and ask too much and then decide to fight it out with you over the most trivial of situations that are none of your making.

I won't bore you again this week with the reasons that cause such situations. But thought I'd share some of the horror stories I've heard:

- How about the guy in Hawaii who complained because it was too hot there. (And thought he should get a credit because of that)

- Or the family who didn't enjoy their winter ski trip because there was too much snow. (And wanted a credit)

- Or the woman who called every day crying hysterically during her stay because the closet in the 4th bedroom wasn't big enough. (This in a $600,000 drop dead gorgeous lakeside home).

- How about the guest who damaged a unit and then said, "What's the problem I paid a deposit so I could do that."

THE PUBLIC: If you've worked in any industry that deals with the public you already know there are some really crazy folks our there. While it is an accepted cliché that the customer is always right - in fact, the customers who complain the loudest are seldom right.

Unfortunately there is little we can do to avoid the undesirables because they seldom reveal their emotional instability until we already have a relationship (contract) with them. By then we have no choice.

Rather than blame the small minority of customers who make life difficult, let's talk about the two points that we can do something about:

- FIRST, guests' don't know what to expect from our new and informal industry.

- SECOND, as an industry we've not set standards nor educated the media or public what to expect.

(Yes this is a thinly veiled plug for the VROA property rating system. In fact, we intend to issue detailed standards for the industry and publish to the website and promote them in the media. Its a long and winding road, but one day we can help the public know what to expect and also limit any unrealistic expectations they have.)

In the meantime, here are some other suggestions about how to deal with Guests from Hell:

HINT #1: Start by learning from other industries who deal with the "real public." And that is to simply ACCEPT THE FACT that there are some real nut cakes out there. And then spend our time over serving the good customers and dealing efficiently with those who may have legitimate questions.

HINT #2: The second suggestion is to use accurate terminology. For example - never refer to Guest questions, comments or complaints as "complaints". That implies that that whatever they've dreamed up is indeed a legitimate complaint. Because we own a number of homes we have a little perspective on the subject. When we receive a call about anything even the most minor request for assistance (maybe they simply want to know where to find the light switch - and yes they do ask) we pop out a "Guest Issues" Form and write it down. We then record what action we took. If that solves the problem great, if not we keep the form open until the situation is resolved. Putting a copy of the form in their file will remind you later if anything they reported was legitimate. And it will help you remember and defend your actions.

HINT #3: Another reminder is to make sure you have a very thorough Guest Agreement. Mount Baker Lodging up in our neck of the woods calls it their "Guest Responsibility Agreement" and it spells out just what it says. I'll bet it doesn't resolve every situation but it really puts the guest on notice. You can take a look at their paperwork on line at ( by clicking on the "GRA" link. Never use any one else's agreement. Make sure you have an attorney and that they review your agreement.

NOTE: If you have prospective visitors who question your Guest Agreement or nit pick the language I have a word of advice that will make your life easier - walk away from them. Even if it is the slow season, even if you need the rent, even if the nit-picks aren't really a big deal. Walk away - it?s your property. You need to set the rules and not deviate. Worst of all - if you do deviate - you may not remember what special considerations you gave them. The chances of a nit-picker giving you grief later is much higher than with a guest who understands you set the rules and won't alter them.

Here is a comparison, if you have a good relationship with your bank, if you know them personally and they take good care of you. Just try to go in one way, sign a new checking account agreement (as an example) and tell them you are going to scratch out some of the language. They may have loved you before but they won't anymore. You'll have to take your business elsewhere. Guests need to be treated with the same uniformity.

HINT #4: The next suggestion is to answer "Issues" very quickly. Experience indicates that the longer a complaint goes unanswered the more likely that the guest will blow it out of proportion and the more justified they feel in demanding an unearned credit. They will be happy to demand a $100 credit for every penny of inconvenience they think they've suffered. Don't let things sit.

HINT #5: Whether a guest issue is legitimate or not it is important to "be prepared to act." In future issues we'll spend time exploring about how to resolve legitimate issues such as broken equipment, insufficient cleaning and so forth. Right now let's focus on making sure you are ready to handle IMPROPER complaints by making sure you know the laws that govern your rental. Most states or jurisdictions have laws and homeowner associations have rules about what is and is not permitted. You must be intimately familiar with those requirements and be ready to enforce them. Your contract must give you the right to immediately evict problem guests.

NOTE: If you haven't done so already, it would be wise to join your local or state Lodging Association. While much of what they focus differs from private vacation homes they are, none-the-less, a good source of data. They have lots of information, resources and are a handy way to learn more about the lodging industry. Membership fees are usually modest.

HINT #6: Please do your fellow VRA members a favor - put the names of problem makers on the VRA Unwelcome list. All members have access to this handy list of guests who have made life hell for other owners. Its wise to check for the names of your prospective guests against the list.

You may know that firms who manage long-term rentals consider it essential to check the credit and criminal records of prospective tenants. To do so they secure the prospects permission to do so in their lease application. It is not usually practical to do that in advance for short-term rentals - but we can keep track of troublemakers after the fact and warn other owners of troublemakers.

NOTE: We recommend including language in your Guest Agreement that authorizes you to check and report the guest's behavior to credit reporting agencies as well as to the Vacation Rental Association "Unwelcome list." With just a clause or two you secure your right to avoid troublemakers.

Well - so far so good about Guests from Hell. They can be prepared for, managed and their problems lessened if we work together to educate the public and work together to formalize and improve our industry. Please help us do that by using the Unwelcome Guest List, by inviting other owners to join VRA and by sending me your thoughts on the issue.

***** As always I seek your feedback. Please share you thoughts, stories, compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0025 – 08/18/03

Those Guests from Hell - Part 1

By William May
Published: 08/11/03 Topics: Comments: 0

Most owners and managers work hard to make their vacation rental homes great places to stay. But it seems no matter how perfect your place there will always be a small percentage of guests who find fault with it. Sometimes those complaints are legitimate and usually of a minor nature.

In many cases, however, guests seem to expect accommodations, services and other perks that simply were never offered. There are even some visitors who will waste their time and yours running you through the mill in an attempt to steal a few nights bookings.

Carole from Palm Springs writes, "The Family from Hell !!!!! Mr. O Calls and Mrs. O yells in the background the whole time, screech, Yak, Yell. 10 Days they stay. Apart from the Initial I can't find this, I can't find that call - all is well for about 5 days. Then they have trouble with the Jacuzzi heat - we walk them thru - They can't get it!! We talk them thru -They don't get it. We explain and explain - Nope they don't get it (they say they do) When they leave they leave a Broken Thermostat, Yanked off Pool handle and inside a lot more Minor but annoying stuff. But a very Broken Spa (luckily under Warranty..)"

Carole says she returned their deposit less the damages and then she gets a complaint for things they found wrong with the home, "After their Vacation was over !!!! 2 months later !!!"

Here is a Sample.

- The Yard was overgrown. (Its an English Country Garden)

- The Bed smelled of Cheap Perfume. (We spray our pillows with Lavender for Guests)

- The shower Curtain was torn (Yes when they left)

- The Carpets were not cleaned (Its 90% Tile Floors)

- It hadn't been cleaned. (They arrived early and the maid service was still there)

Carole adds, "And it hurts because you know its fabricated and they can cause you grief. We need a "Bad Guest" List" - we need to all stick together" on such guests.

(Good news - we do have an "Unwelcome Guest" list on the ( website)

Well don't feel bad Carole. Anyone who deals with the public will think vacation rental owners are getting off easy.

I had a secretary some years ago who had managed a video store and you can imagine some of the deadbeats who walk in there. Especially the ones who frequent that little room in back with the curtain that says, "No minors allowed." Her favorite story was the fellow who rented five adult videos and didn't return them for a full year. When he came back he said, "I didn't really enjoy them, so I don't want to pay a late fee and I want my fee back too because they didn't have the desired effect." She didn't ask him what effect that was.

So why do we have these (thankfully infrequent) guests from hell? There are two main reasons:

First, we're in a somewhat new and informal industry. Most guests understand the rules in other industries like Hotels (even though hotel operators have stories that make ours seem tame by comparison). But even folks who really enjoy their stays don't always know what they should expect from a rental home and what they should not. For example, most owners don't offer 24 hour a day phone support, immediate handyman services or refunds because there were mosquitoes at the lake, or not enough snow at the mountains or not enough sunshine in the Caribbean that week. (And yep we've heard all those from owners)."

The second problem is that we as an industry have not set standards and haven't of course adhered to any. Worse - we haven't publicized those expectations (good and bad) to the general public. So guests simply don't know what they're getting. Some are delighted with anything that's clean, comfortable and pleasant. Others expect a million dollar suite for a dollar a day rental rate.

In some ways you can't blame the guests for thinking they're getting one thing and are then disappointed when it proves to be something else. The Vacation Rental home business is growing especially fast right now. And for good reason. Owning your dream spot in the mountains, at the lake or beach is something many folks long for. And renting it out to help pay the bills is logical way to attain that dream.

But it is not always an easy way to bring in rent. Like all enterprises there are details to master, contingencies to lay and preparation for the best and the worst to come.

I think its high time Vacation Rental Owners work together to set the rules, insure that our members are doing good work and then demanding that guests also behave and limit their "Issues" to those they bargained for.


After all this complaining you're probably hankering for some meat and potatoes. So in the next newsletter I'll give you a list of hints about what seems to work for other owners. Lots of good, easy and cheap methods and procedures that will save you grief and time and money. I hope this newsletter has given you a taste of what to expect.

In the meantime, send me your war stories about your Guests from hell. At the least it should be therapeutic to get those beasts off your back.

***** As always I seek your feedback. Please share you thoughts, stories, compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0024 – 08/11/03

Little ways to cut rental expenses

By William May
Published: 08/04/03 Topics: Comments: 0

Vacation home owners have a number of pretty big concerns. But there are few nagging little ideas I hear from owners about saving money that might be worth sharing in case you're not already on top of them. Here they are:

- SIMPLE THERMOSTATS: I mentioned these a month ago and had lots of feedback. Set-back thermostats are great at your full time home but most guests operate them incorrectly often running up the heat in winter and the AC in summer. They can really jack up your bills. A simple (and often cheaper) setback thermostat will save you money. You know - they kind that you turn up and then turn down. Really simple. Its more likely that a guest will turn it up and down when they leave the premise than that they'll leave a complicated one alone. And when they mess with your fancy thermostat it will cost you money.

- ONE DAY'S SUNDRIES: We want guests to feel like family in our homes. So naturally its necessary to provide those little sundries for guests such as toilet paper, paper towels, bath and hand soap, laundry and dishwasher detergent and so forth. We certainly don't want them to check in late one night and not have TP. But I am continually amazed at how much tissue folks can run through. Now I REALLY don't want to know where it all goes. But its clear all the guests in the world have formed a conspiracy to use up all the sundries in the unit even if you have boxes of the stuff..

So - the solution is simple. Remembering that we are somewhat of a cross between a hotel and a long term rental home - many owners are limiting the sundries they provide to guests to "one days worth" with it written into leases and pre-occupancy letters that guests have to bring more for their own use. They do, after all, remember to bring food on their own don't they? They can buy additional sundries as well.

(The only exception to this would be if you are located way out in the wilderness. I don't think I'd want to fly into a lake home in Alaska only to realize its 100 miles by foot to the nearest store)

- FOOD STUFFS: Some owners also provide limited food stuffs to guests such as restaurant on-serving size mustard, catchup and so forth. Certainly its no big deal to leave a good supply of salt and pepper. Its cheap and not something they can really scarf down in unlimited quantities. We also leave a big supply of coffee filters because they are so cheap. But here again one days supplies is more than enough. Guest's simply do not expect more than that.

- REPLACEMENTS: You also have a number of replacement type items to keep in stock. Things like light bulbs, extra batteries for the smoke alarms and so forth. You can expect these things to wear out during a guest's stay so it is necessary to leave out a few of each in a good location in case they are needed. If you have a laundry room that's the place. But the majority of your inventory of replacements goods should also be locked up or they'll disappear. Can you imagine how many batteries a bunch of kids can go through in a Nintendo game? You don't want to know but I'm guessing its far less if Mom and Dad have to shell out for the batteries. Don't donate yours.

NOTE: Will you get complaints? The answer - not even one. Providing, of course, that you'll told the guests the rules and made it very clear what you provide and what you do not. Hey, even McDonald's hoards the catchup don't they?

- BUY GENERIC BRANDS: You don't want to buy cheap paper goods. Have you ever been to a mid price hotel with TP you could see through? Yuck! And (not to be too graphic here) but guests will just use more of the thin stuff. On the other hand, buying the expensive "quilty" brands really won't win you any points either. So, shop around. Every retailer has Generic House branded sundries. Those are the ones to buy and usually come in large sizes as well. You'll save money.

- OWNER LOCK OFF: It is not sufficient to put out one days sundries and put the rest in a cupboard. Even well meaning guests will find anything and everything you have in the house and consume it without regard to your purpose. They are voracious. You could put a label on the extra sundries asking them not to use them - but they will of course. So the only way to protect your investment of a million rolls of TP from Costco is to put them in a secure lock off area such as a closet or cupboard.

HINT: And by secure - I mean secure. Even a well door well labeled "keep out" won't stop some folks. Simple thumb locks may not either. We recommend finding a way to secure your lock off with a combination lock - either the built in kind or even a modest sized hanging one. Yes I know it can be ugly but it really does tell visitors they are not welcome inside.

HINT: And why a combination you say? Well, first with a combination its impossible to lose the key and you all know that eventually you will lose the key. If you have a bad memory then write the code somewhere it won't be found such as on the top of a door (not the door jam, but the door itself.) You'll have to get on a chair to find it but I have one that's been easy for me to find and impossible for anyone else for 15 years. (and yep I do forget the combination!)

Another reason for using a combination lock is because in a true emergency you can give out the code to guests. If there is a storm, or other catastrophe (even those made by guests themselves) you always have the option of giving them the code over the phone. Just when you think this won't happen we all have to remember September 11th. Someday if you have a guest unable to find a plane home and the shipment of even the simplest supplies slowed and difficult to find you'll be glad you have a big stock of the little things locked in a room somewhere.

- BEST BUYS: And where to buy those sundries and supplies? Well if you're lucky enough to have a Food Purveyor who serves hotels and restaurants delivering to your area you can order everything you need from them. They will usually have a minimum order but if you buy up big quantities it will be worth the convenience. For most folks the best way to buy is form a big box retailer like Costco or Walmart. It may feel kind of funny the first time, but buying 200 paper towel rolls at one of those places can really save you some money. When you start buying the really huge sizes you'll be amazed at how cheap each piece is.

Hey, I'm not a big spender (and you may have guessed from the newsletter, far from it) you can even raise a few eyebrows at Walmart when you take 6 carts through the checkout aisle.

***** As always I seek your feedback. Please share you thoughts, stories, compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0023 – 08/04/03

Buy two lockboxes for your Rental Home

By William May
Published: 07/28/03 Topics: Comments: 0

So there I am flying on a nice Boeing 737 the other day and the captain came on and said he had good news and bad news.

He said, "First the bad news - one of our engines is no longer working. The good news is - we have a second motor its working great and we'll be landing soon."

In aviation the addition of sometimes unneeded duplicate parts, equipment and systems is called "redundancy." I'll bet you already knew that and are pretty happy that the engineers at Boeing think that's a good thing. We live in Seattle home of Boeing and sometimes the "Lazy B" gets a lot of bad lip about being too big and not nimble but I, for one, am very happy they can keep those tons of flying metal in the air.

So why am I talking about redundancy? Well because you might want to consider some redundancy for your vacation rental home.

Depending on your location, resort and on-site management there are a lot of ways to handle access to your property. Some owners mail keys to their guests. And there are some nice electronic systems out there that allow you to give each guest a unique code to enter your home. But if you're like most folks you probably use a cast-iron coded lock box to give visitors access to keys and the home.

After several years of using such boxes we eventually switched all of our homes to an electronic consumer type coded lock. We found these to be very handy for guests and fairly reliable. But in some locations such as mountain resorts we have had a tiny number of malfunctions. Some of these homes are remote and time consuming for maintenance folks to get to. Naturally that added unwanted expense. In the worst of cases, a guest could arrive at your distant rental home, be unable to gain access and then legitimately request a full refund of his rental fees.

So recently we've been switching back to the tried and true lock boxes. But lock boxes can have problems too. For example, what do you do if the Guest loses the key? Or locks themselves out? Or the lock box malfunctions (I've never heard of that but its bound to happen one day.) So finally we decided to go redundant.

SOLUTION: We now install TWO LOCK BOXES on every house. The first box goes by the front door and with the "secret code" allows the owner to get the key and enter the unit. These boxes are very strong, simple to operate and, again, I've never heard of one breaking. The second box goes by the back door. We use a pre-determined combination for it. Then if a guest should call with any kind of lock or key problem we can simply give them the key to the backdoor lock box and they can gain easy entry.

NOTE: Another idea. For our homes the front and back door keys are always the same key. That means booth keys will open either door and that the keys in the backdoor lock box are the same as in the front door lock box.

Why put the box by the backdoor? Because if you put two boxes by the front door the guest will be confused as to which one to use. Why not have the same combination on each box? Because a guest could then open both, use both keys and lose them both. Don't you know that would eventually happen? And then you'd be back in the same boat assisting a guest from far away with no easy or free solution?

HINT: By "pre-determined" code for the back door - I mean that we have a scheme that determines the back door code based on the front-door lock box. In that way we always know what the back lock box code is. For example: If the front door lock combination is 0529 then you could have the back door combination be 9250 (The front door, backwards). Or you can exchange the first digit with the first digit of the home's address. There are a lot of ways to do this. Naturally you don't tell the guest the system and I'm not going to tell you ours for security reasons but figure out your own system and you'll be ready to go.

HINT: Changing the code on lock boxes is easy but most owner's do not change them with every guest. Its wise to do that periodically and certainly after any guest who was in any way unreliable or you worry could be a later problem. Although you might think it necessary to change the code every time remember that owners who mail keys don't do that and seldom report problems with duplication or theft. Resorts and hotels that still use physical keys do not change them everytime and they don't seem to have problems.

HINT: There are several kinds of lock boxes out there. To be specific I highly recommend the basic unit that can be mounted to any wall surface us a number of long wood screws. I don't recommend using the "over the door knob" type because they are clumsy and more prone to being removed and possibly broken into. There are even some units that have a kind of "Bicycle type" chain or cable on them. I wouldn't recommend these either unless you are in a condo building or large resort where there is no convenient or obvious place to install a wall mount lock box. You should be able to find these lock boxes at Home Depot, Lowes or any local hardware store, or lock smith shop.

COST: So you may be saying to yourself that this isn't a bad idea but it does add some cost. Yep, it does. But here is how I see it. Cast iron lock boxes are about $40 a piece and look like they'd last until the next century. If you have had a box break please drop me an email I'd like to hear about it. You can easily install the box yourself. And that $40 cost will be offset but just one extra trip to the home or call to the lock smith. And think of how much it could save you if you had to refund a weeks rental.

***** As always I seek your feedback. Please share you thoughts, stories, compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0022 – 07/28/03

Don't Burn Down Your Vacation Home

By William May
Published: 07/21/03 Topics: Comments: 0

Vacation homes are somewhat more susceptible to fire than full time residences for several easy to avoid reasons.

FIRST, they sit vacant much of the time. You might think that the more any home is used the greater the chance it will be misused - that occupants may leave a fire burning in the fireplace or a stove burner turned up. While those things are relevant it is the unoccupied home that is most at risk.

SECOND, part time occupants (including the owners themselves) sometimes treat their second homes with less care than their first. And if they make a mistake like failing to turn off a burner they'll probably be back in the house within short period and catch the problem before it becomes catastrophic.

THIRD, make sure you have your vacation home furnace serviced as frequently as you do your primary residence. If the heating or air conditioning unit runs while you are gone its easy to forget that it will wear at a full time rate. Its important to change filters and have the unit serviced by a qualified technician regularly.

FOURTH, remember to regulate how guests use your place. I recommend the use of small unobtrusive "Notices" through out the home explaining the rules. If you put up instructions by the fireplace its unlikely someone will start a fire with the damper closed. If there is a notice educating them on how to operate the furnace you've increased the chances that they'll do so correctly. Plus you can usually save some on your energy bills to boot.

POINT: I'm not really sure why folks love candles so much. I can understand wanting the scent but you can do that without a flame. We recommend NOT allowing candles in vacation homes even for your own use. And if you insist on having them for decoration than grab a pair of pliers and remove the wicks. Otherwise guests will light them and you'll be taking a big gamble.

HINT: Notices can be printed with your computer in nice fonts and colors and then mounted in inexpensive picture frames. Five inches by seven inches is usually big enough. We like the oak variety you can buy at Walmart or Kmart for 2 for $5. Some should be wall mounted and some can setup on table top, night stands or bookcases. Outdoor notices can be laminated for long life and you can get those done at most quick print or Kinko's type shops for a modest price. (We put them by hot tubs)

Empty houses are kind of like untended gardens. Things can grow and become problems before you are aware of them. Owners, their families and friends present more of a problem than Guests. Last winter at a Ski Resort Chalet an owner came up to the mountains for the weekend. Sunday afternoon before driving home he was very careful to remove the still smoldering coals from the fireplace, put them in a heavy duty metal bucket, and take it out to the deck. He probably would have taken it out to the yard but it was unfortunately under 10 feet of snow. Later that night after the owner was at home far away and snuggled in his bed, the coals burned through the bottom of the metal pail, into the deck wood and ran to the house.

The neighboring vacation homes and were unoccupied at the time. It took local fire fighters an hour just to find the hydrant in the deep snow and run the hoses. By then the house had burned to the ground.

Luckily no one was inside. But had the place been occupied its possible the smoke detectors would have gone off alerting the occupants. Had guests been in surrounding homes its likely someone would have seen it. In either case the fire might have been stopped before it devoured the entire building. This may be supposition but occupied houses are susceptible to burning down in ways that those occupied full time are not.

POINT: Problems relating to unoccupied homes are just another in the many good reasons why resort communities should encourage short term rentals rather than curtail them. We don't argue that short term guests are without problems but it must be pointed out that the very infrequent issues they present are far less than the trauma of losing ones property to a raging fire. The benefit to your neighbor who doesn't rent is that having the eyes of your guests on his house protects him from fire, theft and so forth.

HINT: And while we're at it just a reminder to make sure that you have smoke and CO2 detectors installed in your homes. And that you check and replace the batteries regularly. This is by far the cheapest insurance you can buy and allows you to sleep easy at night knowing your visitors as well as your family are safe and sound in your building.

WARNING: A recent television show about detectors revealed a surprising problem with them. Even though the alarms may seem loud and piercing when you test them a surprising number of people - especially children - are able to sleep through the racket without awaking. The solution - be sure to mount extra detectors every where you can think of and especially very close to where people sleep. Or better yet install the permanent type that can be wired into an alarm system that automatically notifies a dispatch center.

SUMMARY: So here is what you can do to avoid burning your house to the ground. Be especially careful when leaving the building to go home. Drown all ashes like Smokey says. Have your furnace checked regularly and change those filters every month. (Yes I know they say every quarter - but hey they're on a few bucks). And make sure guests are well aware of the operating procedures for fireplaces, stoves and furnaces.

And let me say this one more time - no candles please. I don't want to write a story about how your home burned down because you made this mistake.

REQUEST: As always I seek your feedback. Please share you thoughts, stories, compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0021 – 07/21/03

Avoiding the Long-Term Renter Blues

By William May
Published: 07/14/03 Topics: Comments: 0

Getting visitors who stay long term and still pay higher short-term rates sounds great. But such guests can lead to unexpected problems - and the problem is legal.

Many states differentiate between short term "Guests" and long term "Tenants." Frequently the difference is whether they stay for over or under 30 days. Anything under 30 days and the visitor's stay is governed under "Lodging" statues. 30 days or over and they may be governed under "Landlord Tenant" statues.

What's the difference? Basically long term Tenants have far more rights. They can withhold rent if a landlord doesn't fix repair problems. Landlords are prohibited from entering a rented home without reasonable advance notice to the Tenant (except in emergencies or when the Tenant can not be reached) Even if a tenant doesn't pay, or abuses the property or neighbors it can take owners months to evict them. And there are great many other restrictions on how you can manage a long-term rental.

On the other hand short term Guests have far fewer rights. Because such visitors are provided more services in traditional lodging (such as linens, room service, etc) and because they often share closer-quarters landlords are given more discretion in setting guest rules and managing guest behavior. Laws vary but usually you can immediately evict a guest for not following your written lease or rules. You can set limits on how many people are in the unit, how they are and can require every guest to register by name and address. To manage a unit to what would be the satisfaction of most guests owners can enter a unit simply by knocking on the door and, if the unit is unoccupied can enter and car for the place.

Maybe that's another reason why many owners prefer short-term guests.

As you will hear us say repeatedly its important to have a good written guest agreement - one that should reiterate your short-term owner rights. Be sure to ask your attorney to make sure it specifies that guest tenancy is governed under your states "Lodging" laws and not under the Landlord Tenant laws.

TIP: Avoid accepting long term (30 days and over). Even if your guest agreement says its a "Vacation Rental" or a "Short Term" rental a judge might decide that anything 30 days or over is really a long-term lease. The solution - when someone says they want a 30 days lease ask them which dates they want and then try to sell them something even a day short of 30 day. I know that can be money out of your pocket but getting hit with a landlord tenant lawsuit will cost you lots more.

TIP: Requires all guests, even those 30, 60, 90 or more days long to pay in advance. This is the only correct policy for short-term rentals by the way and not waiting for payment will eliminate most heartaches.

TIP: For long stays - say 90 days, have the guest sign three different leases, each for 29 days. With payment due weeks in advance of each new lease. That way you'll know early if they don't pay and you can exercise your right to cancel for failure to pay. (You do have that in the Guest Agreement anyway, don't you?

TIP: Be sure to download the sample Guest Agreements from the VRA forms and contracts page.

TIP: If you do have to sign a long term "Lease" be sure to require and check each Tenant's credit and references prior to occupancy.

TIP: Require Tenants to pay like they do for true long-term leases. First month, last month and a damage deposit of at least one month's rent. All paid in advance.

TIP: Require weekly, bi-weekly or monthly cleaning and charge them for it. Not only does that keep the place up but allows you an opportunity to do an informal inspection. Keep your eye on them.

TIP: Consider joining your state's Hotel and Lodging Association (Most have one). They'll usually have legal information, sample contracts or an attorney on retainer to help you understand the law.

TIP: Don't expect your attorney to have all the answers. He'll know how to draft an agreement but won't necessarily understand the nuances of the problems you face. Do your own homework, get your attorney's help and then work diligently to avoid those long-term tenants from hell.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0018 – 07/14/03

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