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When & How to Hire (or Fire) a Lodging Manager.

By William May
Published: 12/06/04 Topics: Comments: 0

This newsletter spends a lot of time discussing issues helpful to self-managed owners. However, the majority of vacation rental owners seek the aid of professional management firms to manage their homes. So today lets spend time explaining how to pick a good manager and, if necessary, fire a bad one.

After the thrill of managing all aspects of a vacation rental home wears off, some owners realize that renting may not be as profitable as they anticipated. Other owners, mindful of the value of their time, start with, or stay with, professional managers for the long haul. And it is the correct decision for the great majority of owners.

Managers can often advertise more efficiently and less expensively than individual owners. They have reliable on-site cleaners and maintenance people. In some circumstances an on-site front desk is provided. Venerable and experienced managers can have extensive lists of past guests to solicit to fill homes. Perhaps most importantly, managers agree to take those late night phone calls and shoulder the burden for each and every home they manage. It's a time consuming job, and it's not easy.

Not all managers are created equal. In fact, becoming a manager is far too easy; most managers don't even own real estate. Starting an agency takes less capital than buying even a single home. Some managers have humble beginnings as cleaners or handymen without training in other disciplines. Even those who are proficient at operations usually have far too little marketing experience. Granted, some can become good at it over time. And importantly, all have to become very good telephone sales clerks and great at customer service if they desire to remain in business.

When searching for a manager, it is of utmost importance to find one who will maintain and protect your home. When handing off-management, owners are trading away daily micromanagement for the elimination of headaches. After all things are considered, the primary goal of each owner is find a manager who they think will produce the HIGHEST NET INCOME for them year after year.

Unfortunately, there is no way for owner or manager to predict the income for a given home, even if it has an established and long rental history. Most managers are (or should be) reluctant to predict the future. Things change over time. The economy rises and falls. Certain areas become more or less profitable. Homes can be upgraded, or they can decline.

What is the unassuming owner to do? How should they go about picking from various managers? How are they to know which will produce the greatest financial return? How can they find a manager whom they respect and who will work closely with them? These are difficult questions and unfortunately, there is no easy answer. But we have developed a long list of questions owners can ask in an attempt to evaluate which manager will produce success. Every manager should possess these features if they purport to be able to make you money.

- Do they employ onsite supervisors to protect your property?
- Do they have their own housekeeping services to control quality?
- Do they have on-site maintenance services for quick repairs & maintenance?
- Do they have 24 hour telephone operator to handle those late night problems?
- Do they use redundant key access for easy but secure access?
- Do they have on-call plumbers, HVAC, etc.?
- Do they telephone guests upon check-in for pleasant customer service?
- Do they telephone upon checkout for instant turnaround?
- Do they post rules and notices to remind guests about compliance?
- Do they check inventory to minimize losses?
- Do they handle unit stocking if you don't want to?

- Do they employ relentless and inexorable advertising to search for leads?
- Do they use an on-line booking system for instant guest bookings?
- Do they have area websites for guests seeking specific places?
- Do they create specific, customized, property websites, complete with photos?
- Do they use a unique domain name for every unit to promote individual properties?
- Do they post individual calendars for each unit to maximize occupancy?
- Do they post floor plans for each property to fully inform guests of what they're booking?
- Do they employ unique and creative marketing techniques to find the most leads?
- Do they advertise on specialized websites to find the unusual visitor?
- Do they use feeder website listings to cast a wide net for leads?
- Do they use out-bound telemarketing to reach each and every guest repeatedly?
- Do they create a selling sheet for each property that clarifies its features and benefits?
- Do they utilize customized rates for each property to maximize income?
- Do they scan competitors pricing to remain at or above market rates?

- Do they specialize in short-term rentals - not sales? (R.E. Brokers who also do rentals get distracted.)
- Do they have a highly experienced sales team to garner more orders?
- Do they have professional sales managers pushing for maximum income?
- Do they manage rates actively? (Raise when possible, lower when necessary?)
- Do they use sales force automation software to speed communication?
- Do they use an automated booking system to reduce errors?
- Do they conduct first-day interviews to forestall complaints?
- Do they ask for after-stay evaluations to get guest feedback?
- Do they conduct constant sales training to keep all staff up to date?

- Do they accepts credit cards to get all possible bookings?
- Do they collect & remit guest taxes to save the owner time and confusion?
- Do they charge cleaning to Guests rather than Owners to improve the bottom line?
- Do they charge significant deposits to avoid cancellations and write offs?
- Do they charge reservations fees to offset credit card fees?
- Will they process and disburse operating expenses if the owner so desires?

- Do they have an efficient rental management software system to maximize unit use?
- Do they have a way to quickly retrieve guest information to assist operations?
- Do they have fully networked computers for paramount staff coordination?
- Do they have a network firewall to guarantee your information is secure?
- Do they host their own websites for safety & redundancy?
- Is their system reliably backed up to stabilize their operation?
- Do they have the ability for off-site data retrieval to assist management?

- Do they coordinate details well with owners?
- Do they give full owner accountability to get answers when needed?
- Do owners get on-line access for easy owner inquiry?
- Do they maximize gross income by increasing occupancy & rates?
- Do they provide owner housekeeping when asked?
- Do they provide thorough & detailed owner income reports for full disclosure?
- Do they issue income reports monthly rather than quarterly?
- Do they pay out owner checks monthly?
- Do they offer status reports on request?
- Do they offer hassle free ownership with no headaches for owners?
- Do they offer competitive or even below market rental fees to increases owner nets?

- Do they have centralized reservations to make it easy for guests to buy?
- Do they utilize guest qualification to weed out trouble makers?
- Do they have tight group rules to avoid group problems?
- Do they insist on strong guest contracts to charge for damages and penalize errors?
- Do they have a no-cancellation policy to cut losses?
- Do they offer a re-sale policy to assist guests without penalizing owners?
- Do they use multi-marketing initiatives?
- Do they have a 24 hour operator for guest customer service?
- Do they have on-site supervisors to watch homes like a hawk?

- Do they have many years of business experience making them stable & reliable?
- Are they experts in the extreme detail required of vacation rental management?
- Are they experts at marketing and sales to get you the most income?
- Do the firm's owners oversee each property personally?
- Do they belong to and support Vacation Rental associations to keep on top of trends?
- Do they accomplish high occupancy as one of the income tools?
- Are they fully staffed and open extended hours?
- Do they have sufficient staff redundancy to be fully staffed at all times?
- Is the staff well compensated to provide continuity and allegiance?
- Is the company reliable and dependable?
- Do they utilize an explicit and clear management agreement?
- Do they offer a full service program for owners?
- Do they also allow limited services (Reservations or Referrals) if owners want that?
- Do employees share in earnings to keep them motivated?

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

We're off to Montefioralle, Italy this issue to see Elena Bencivenni's four-home farm conclave just 25 kilometers from Florence. I think you could relax there. (Especially after a glass of Chianti or San Giovese from their private vineyards.)
If you read Italian take a look at ( To see the site in English click the small Union Jack in the bottom left corner.
(If you want your place considered for Home of the Week, please drop me an e-mail.)

Wow! Thank you so very much for your newsletters!!! You provide a wealth of information. I love to read all of them!
- Stephanie & Robert

Ah shucks. That's so nice. We have some surprises coming in upcoming newsletter. Stay tuned. I think you'll like it.
- Wm. May

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0053 – 12/06/04

How to get sued, without really trying.

By William May
Published: 10/11/04 Topics: Comments: 0

It is easy to become wildly enthusiastic about the money-making aspects of buying and renting your own vacation rental home, what with the many factors contributing to the rapid growth of private vacation rentals: internet advertising, low interest rates, an emphasis on leisure and the post-911 "Live for today" attitude.

Perhaps the biggest factor is simply that renting a large and comfortable, fully stocked home is simply a far better bargain and far more enjoyable for guests than staying in a hotel.

After new owners get past the thrill of setting up their units, running some ads, booking guests and watching the money roll in, I hope each and every one will take the time to do a "gut check" - realize that they are in a business, and like all enterprises, it carries risks and exposure.

Luckily, like the thousands of other industries in the world, the financial exposure of vacation rentals can be researched, evaluated, planned for and - with care and caution - usually avoided. But you have to know what you are doing. If you don't you'll find yourself in court answering questions, you may not be prepared to answer.

Your response may cause judge and jury to find you were prudent and reasonable and without fault. Or they can just as easily find you failed to exercise due caution, did not conform to written rules and regulations and are one sorry excuse of a landlord, from whom they will extract large sums of money.


So how do you go about making yourself open for legal and financial exposure? Here are some (tongue in cheek) suggestions:

Advertise and promise the moon. Doctor photos to remove you view of the condo dumpster. And, for goodness sake, never tell them the off-putting aspects of the house, resort or neighborhood, they'll find that out after it's too late to get their money back!

Do everything verbally. Don't bother with written leases. You are the boss and your guests will do as you say (Just like your children!)

Let anyone with the money rent your house. And let them bring as many guests as they want. Parties? No problem, as long as they have the rent. It doesn't matter if the neighbors are disturbed, you probably won't even know them anyway.

Take credit cards, even when you have time to get paid by check. The more the better. Sure the guest can create a Chargeback, but hey, the bank's on my side right?

Hire the cheapest housekeepers and maintenance people you can find. While paying good wages on time may give you reliability, guests won't know the difference if the place isn't perfectly clean and well maintained.

Don't worry about safety, fire and other regulations. If the house starts to burn, what good is a fire extinguisher anyway? Who would even notice? And how can anyone expect little old you to know about all those big bad governmental regulations?

Don't have a 24 hour, 7 day a week emergency phone number. Hey, they rented the house and they should now enough not to lock themselves out. I'm in it for the money, not the work.

Don't have a local representative to help with problems. Sure you live a scant, 4 hour plane ride away, but what could go so wrong as to require someone to visit the home on short notice?

Never use a manager. They are all thieves, actually charging you $8 to drive to a house 15 miles away to install a light bulb. Sure some owners don't have the time or experience to properly manage their homes, but who is going to pay a manager when everyone says it's so easy to do-it-yourself?

Don't join the industry association. What could hundreds of other owners who have been renting for up to 40 years and some of whom own multiple homes - know that I can't figure out myself in just a few minutes? (Sorry for the shameful VRA plug).


The silly examples above reflect the kind of thinking detected when speaking with new or inexperienced vacation home owners. I sound like a broken record (do they still make records?) when I say the following, "The only safe way to offer a vacation home for rental is to operate it like a business."

No messing around. Learn what you don't know, follow the rules and get better everyday.

Remember: "Free advice is worth what you pay for it" so be careful listening to other owners who are often less skilled and experienced than they let on. Instead, smart investors dig deeply, study thoroughly and then act in responsible and reasonable ways.

There isn't time in this edition to provide instructions as to why the examples above are nothing short of stupidity.

Some of these have been covered in prior newsletters and time will be devoted to many of them in future articles. Instead, let me just focus on one very important tactic all smart rental owners should employ.


To leave you with a taste of legal sanity, I want to give you a full and proper answer on legal entities and why you must immediately form a "Limited Liability Company" and have it (and not yourself personally) own your vacation rental home.

This is a frequent topic of discussion among owners who ask "Should I incorporate" to protect myself from the legal exposure of renting my home? When other owners answer they usually find a need to say, "I am not a lawyer, but ..."

Maybe they have learned that insufficient disclaimer by listening to lawyers who have been trained, not to give you clear and concise answers, but to be able to argue either side of any issue. That may serve the lawyers well in court, but it's a terrible disservice to clients, especially those with a risky small business like a vacation rental home.

Clients who need useable suggestions and efficient answers.

Well I'm not a lawyer either, but I may as well be after 30 years running over a dozen companies. In one firm, I had the distinct pleasure (sometimes pleasurable, but always distinct) of representing the buyers and sellers of companies as a broker or intermediary.

In those negotiations every party had a lawyer and usually an accountant, appraiser, corporate board members, company officers and others who influenced their decisions (right on down to their priest, rabbi and brother-in-law).

Well, you can imagine the cacophony of opinions that flooded the decision maker's ears. I found that the lawyers were usually the least sure of the decision maker's opinions while those with no training were usually the most sure.

After being a fly on the wall in hundreds of meetings with hundreds of attorneys, here is the only thing I know for sure: one must utilize the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the attorneys had no idea what they were talking about, couldn't explain what they did want to say, were not very persuasive and were usually terrible negotiators.

Worst of all, eighty percent simply didn't know what they were talking about. They were worse than no-nothings because they insisted they had answers when they clearly did not.


That brings us back to the question of, "Should I incorporate my vacation rental home to protect myself from the liability of owner it?" The answers is - Yes, you should form a legal entity to protect yourself. Let me repeat that - yes, you should. In fact, yes, you must.


The details of forming legal entities may come in other forms in different counties. Formation of legal companies is by statute (by law) in all jurisdictions and is not just some kind of ages old universal process that governments must accept. They all differ in terminology.

That means, if you are not in the US, be sure to find similar mechanisms in your country.

Over two decades ago I remember reading the local business paper which had the sadistic practice (like many publications) of publishing the names, addresses and information of people and companies who had gone bankrupt.

Like vultures circling a carcasses, I was struck by one particular entry. It was for a company named "Joan's Hair Cutting and Curling" who had filed for chapter 7 (permanent) bankruptcy. The company listed assets of $7,000 and Debts of $12,000 and Joan was having her debts dismissed by filing.

Unfortunately Joan's little business had never been incorporated and that meant that for a negative equity of $5,000 Joan was not only going to lose her business, but all her personal assets as well.

Maybe even her children's' college education savings and (I extrapolate here) their opportunity to go to college and make a better life for themselves.

I also read about large companies that go bankrupt but it's hard to muster sympathy for them. We all make mistakes, some businesses are winners and some are losers. Sometimes it's the fault of the owners who are inexperienced or not careful, and other times because the economy has changed, competitors have prevailed or the managers made mistakes.

The last may be true for Joan, but the large company officers generally do not screw up their personal lives and lose their life savings when they lose their companies. All because they have been big enough or smart enough to set up those businesses as distinct legal entities.

So for the lack of (in those days) a small filing fee and some forms, Joan was consigned to financial hell: a terrible personal credit report for 10 years.

Luckily, you don't have to make Joan's mistake. Today, you can use online services or buy simple software and form a legal entity to own your home. Or, if you like spending money, you can hire a lawyer to do it.

I think Joan would tell you the $100 would have been money well spent. Today, you can spend about $200 to $400 to do the job, plus a small yearly renewal fee and a dozen pieces of copy paper. That's it.

Remember as well that Joan didn't take near the risk that any vacation rental home owner takes. Not only could you lose money and lose the house, you could have an accident (like a fire) that maims or kills someone and you could become personally responsible far beyond the limits of your insurance policy.

Even a stove accident, or a slip in the driveway could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.


For many years the legal form of choice was to become incorporated. Doing so was a matter of having Bylaws and Articles of incorporation written and then filed (in the US, anyway) with your state government.

Each year after that, you have to take 5 minutes to fill in a renewal form, and send them a fee (usually in the $50 price range.) Oh, and you have to have a meeting of the shareholders and Board of Directors which, will take two more pieces of paper with three more paragraphs on them.

Along the way, the federal government came up with the option of "electing" to become an "S" corporation and have the corporate profits taxed at the personal level, thereby avoiding (in most cases) a double taxation situation - certainly a desirable option.

As well as some other decisions - and hoops to jump through - that shareholders could make to remain a corporation in good standing.

If you formed a corporation, invested your capital into the corporation, had it buy your vacation rental home and followed the rules listed above, it's simple to distance your personal assets from any problem that arose in the home.

Every lawyer will tell you that the system is not perfect, and that an opposing lawyer would attempt to "Pierce the corporate veil" to get at your personal assets. But realize, lawyers are taught to always find the opposing argument. In actuality, piercing the veil is a very difficult and highly unlikely thing for a judge to grant.

So, that leaves us with this - incorporating is the best way (albeit, not the perfect way) to protect your assets.


In the last few decades, however, a new legal form has arisen and been approved in virtually all US states called the Limited Liability Company or "LLC." It is a far better vehicle for owning real estate and separating that risk from your personal life. LLCs (like corporations) are, in the eyes of the law, autonomous legal entities.

They can do everything a person can do; buy and sell things, borrow and loan money, hire and fire employees, enter into agreements, file taxes, sue and be sued. Just like a person, if they become insolvent or make mistakes, the LLC is liable for them.

After all, the word "Limited" means limited to the company and not its owners.

LLCs are usually able to decide how they want to be taxed: as a partnership or sole proprietorship. You can't avoid the taxes, but you can only get taxed once, and you decide where the money comes from: the LLC or your pocket.

In the worst case scenario, death due to fire in your home, there could be financial liability greater than your insurance or the LLC has to pay. If the LLC doesn't have enough assets, it can declare bankruptcy leaving the creditor with all the assets of the LLC.

But here is the good part - only the assets of the LLC. Your other personal assets (Cash, stock, savings, other real estate) not owned by the LLC, are outside the reach of the creditor.

What does all this mean to you? First, no one wants to have problems or become personally liable, and you certainly don't want to lose the equity you have invested in your vacation home.

However, you must also understand that nothing else can limit the exposure you have when you buy and rent out your home. An LLC won't protect your equity, but it will "Limit" your exposure to the money you've invested.


There is one significant wrinkle - your bank may be unwilling to lend money to what is a very small company (your vacation home). But in many cases they will be willing to lend the money to the LLC if someone (you) co-signs the loan.

You don't want to do that for some legal reasons, in particular, co-signing may cause an "unintentional" partnership to be formed, from which a court could construe you are liable for the debts of your partner - the LLC.

Instead, when purchasing your house, ask your bank if you can simply "Guarantee" the loan in the same way you might for a (very good) friend. If he (LLC) doesn't pay, you have to. Of course this means (sadly) that there is really no way to avoid responsibility for the mortgage on the home.

But that is not your intention anyway, and this way you'll get the loan, the bank will be secure, and you will still have your risky (vacation home) asset separate from the rest of your financial future.


Next time someone asks if they should incorporate their vacation home or any business you will know the answer: ABSOLUTELY. You must form a legal entity to own and operate your business. In most cases, an LLC is the best legal form for small businesses.

It will cost a few dollars to setup, and a few more each year to renew, but it will be the cheapest insurance you will ever buy and the most likely to protect you. Don't accept any other answer.

As they say in the game Monopoly - do not pass go, do not collect $200. But do form an LLC immediately. Or lay awake at night worrying about losing everything you own because a guest made a mistake.



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


This week's home is nestled up in the Vail mountains and comes complete with all amenities you'd ever need. 5,000 square feet of luxury for you and your family. Take a peek at (

(If you want your place considered for Home of the Week, please drop me an e-mail.)


I've found your newsletters very informative and well written. I can't be sure, but I think since your advice to call, (besides writing emails), has secured me two bookings, and maybe, before, I've lost some.

- Katerina, Greece

Glad to hear it's working. Now I just have to find a way to visit you in Greece?

- Wm. May


Read and download samples of terms and conditions, booking confirmations and so forth on the members-only Web site: (


If you like receiving these newsletters - if we've helped you even a little - please tell your friends by clicking here (it's automated and easy): (

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0052 – 10/11/04

If there are Vacation rentals in Afghanistan, They must be here for good.

By William May
Published: 09/05/04 Topics: Comments: 0

I kid you not. The LA Times is reporting that Estullah Rooz, after years of fighting Soviets, rival Mujahedee and the Taliban, the man known as the Commander Mullah is going corporate. And how you say? Well, he's building the first Swiss designed and pre-fabricated Vacation Rental homes on Lake Qargha six miles north of the Afghanistan capital of Kabul.

Rooz concocted the idea with a friend of his - Zemary Hakaim - who immigrated to Switzerland in 1972 and became a self confessed Hippie. Together they leased land at the lake and convinced local landlords to allow them to erect the Swiss Style Chalets. And for labor, Rooz and Hakaim recruited or converted experienced freedom fighters into carpenters, landscapers and service personnel at twice the pay of a soldier's salary.

Rooz expects his Vacation Rental homes to be a real money maker once erected. For now, he profits with food sales and guests can also visit the recently opened golf course complete with pro shop made out of an old, dented shipping container.


Don't you love entrepreneurs? They're the ones who find a way to bring a great idea to fruition. In a very convoluted way this is nothing more than what many resort area owners have learned to do with their vacation homes over the past few years: cater to different renters. Evolve the renting market from one of quaint cabins and rustic retreats into one of fancy homes and luxurious villas. With skyrocketing prices, enterprising individuals find a way to overcome their limitations.

As illustrated by our comrade in arms Mr. Estullah Rooz. I'm going to write him a letter and offer him an Honorary VROA membership. He certainly deserves one and I think we might just have a few tidbits that might help him along the way. I'm sure he also has tips for those of us looking to setup our own rentals in Afghanistan.

I won't be the first to rent his place but goodness knows I really wish him well.

To read more about Mr. Rooz, check out the full story on under the News section.


I've placed tens of millions of dollars in advertising media purchases for clients over the years, so you might think I'd know the whole story.

Unfortunately, advertising is a trial-and-error business. So it is with great embarrassment that I admit I have unknowingly overlooked a MAJOR advertising/public relations opportunity for Vacation Rentals.

You gotta let the Travel Guidebooks for your city, resort, state or region know your home is available for rent.

By guidebooks I mean those legitimate published books that offer listings, advice and sometimes ratings on lodging, activities and restaurants in the target area.

Unless you have multiple properties your chance of getting listed might be low - but keep this in mind - if they don't know you exist they'll never have a chance to list your home in their guidebooks.

The good news is that submitting your home to the guidebooks is cheap and easy. Here's how:

- Go to & and search by keywords to find the titles and authors of guidebooks for your area.

- Find the address, phone, email and so forth of the editor and/or author responsible for that book. You may have to call the publisher to make sure you have the correct names as editors can change even for books that come out every year or so.

- Store those names in your computer address book (or even on paper if that is all you have).

- Write a letter template that tells them why you are writing and give a little blurb about your home. Keep it short and give them your website, they'll need to know far more than you could put in the letter.

- Send that letter to every guidebook every six months. I use the same letter over and over again simply indicating that I am "reminding" them to consider me.

It will take time to get results, but if you get listed it's money in the bank.


There are a number of web directories, groups and publications where owners can learn about how to do business.

It's good to see the industry resources growing, but VROA's opinions differ on key issues.

First, VROA has no conflict of interest. Web directories sometimes promote their own agenda - fully ethical by the way - but judge the message by the sender.

Online groups are interesting and can give a sense of comradery to the user, but remember all that chat is "unvetted" data. That's a newspaper term. Most consumers don't realize (or take for granted) the fact that major media sources have go out of their way to "check facts" before they publish them. Online group users don't.

At VROA we base our information on years of staff experience and the filtered feedback we get from owners committed enough, and usually experienced enough, to understand how a professional association can serve the industry.

Lately, I've been seeing all kinds of advice in online postings that is simply wrong. For example - here is a frequent chat question - "Can I withhold the guest deposit for ... (you name the sin)."

And the answers are always "yes" or "no" - and both are wrong.

Confiscating a deposit is absolutely necessary in some cases but very dangerous if the owner doesn't understand the law, and hasn't prepared themselves with strong contracts, notices and more.

I love owning rentals. But it's not all fun and it is certainly not a game or a hobby. Owners should use great discretion when listening to advice from any person with the two minutes it takes to join a chat group.

Free advice could turn extremely costly if it leads to simple but expensive errors.



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


scarlet & Tim Deshong's luxury Hale Lele Villa located on the golden shore of Maui. Exquisitely appointed, this wonderful villa sports over 6,000 square feet of elegance.

(If you want your place considered for Home of the Week, please drop me an e-mail.)


The Blue Ribbon Inspection is much preferable to a star rating system. I own one of those quaint little cottages in the mountains that could never compare to some of your luxurious rentals. However, my occupancy rate is very high and I consistently receive rave reviews from my guests. Not all guests are looking for pricey, luxurious rentals. In fact, most families are not. They are looking for a casual environment in which they and their children can feel comfortable.

I enjoy receiving your newsletter and find it to be the only truly informative one in the industry. Not a lot of hype - just good practical advice and info I can use. I also appreciate your asking for the input of owners.

Sharon Z. Ryan, River Rose Cottage

We're working diligently on the revised Blue Ribbon Inspection program. Lots of details but we want to do it right. You raise an apt point, guests come in all shapes and sizes seeking all kinds of accommodations. We want a system that will tell them what they get and whether it is clean, comfortable and honestly represented. More on Inspections soon.

- Wm. May


Read and download samples of terms and conditions, booking confirmations and so forth on the members-only Web site:


If you like receiving these newsletters - if we've helped you even a little - please tell your friends by clicking here (it's automated and easy):

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0051 – 09/05/04

Vacation Rentals In Afghanistan

By William May
Published: 09/05/04 Topics: Comments: 0

I kid you not. The LA Times is reporting that Estullah Rooz, after years of fighting Soviets, rival Mujahedee and the Taliban, the man known as the Commander Mullah is going corporate. And how you say? Well, he's building the first Swiss designed and pre-fabricated Vacation Rental homes on Lake Qargha six miles north of the Afghanistan capital of Kabul.

Rooz concocted the idea with a friend of his - Zemary Hakaim - who immigrated to Switzerland in 1972 and became a self confessed Hippie. Together they leased land at the lake and convinced local landlords to allow them to erect the Swiss Style Chalets. And for labor, Rooz and Hakaim recruited or converted experienced freedom fighters into carpenters, landscapers and service personnel at twice the pay of a soldier's salary.

Rooz expects his Vacation Rental homes to be a real money maker once erected. For now, he profits with food sales and guests can also visit the recently opened golf course complete with pro shop made out of an old, dented shipping container.

Don't you love entrepreneurs? They're the ones who find a way to bring a great idea to fruition. In a very convoluted way this is nothing more than what many resort area owners have learned to do with their vacation homes over the past few years: cater to different renters. Evolve the renting market from one of quaint cabins and rustic retreats into one of fancy homes and luxurious villas. With skyrocketing prices, enterprising individuals find a way to overcome their limitations.

As illustrated by our comrade in arms Mr. Estullah Rooz. I'm going to write him a letter and offer him an Honorary VROA membership. He certainly deserves one and I think we might just have a few tidbits that might help him along the way. I'm sure he also has tips for those of us looking to setup our own rentals in Afghanistan.

I won't be the first to rent his place but goodness knows I really wish him well.

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Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0158 – 09/05/04

Is Yours a Quality Home?

By William May
Published: 08/02/04 Topics: Comments: 0

"Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind." To quote good old Bill Shakespeare, that long ago landlord from Stratford on Avon, in Merry old England. It's also a fine lesson for vacation home owners who want to get the best guests, highest rates, most occupancy and fewest headaches.

All of this bonked me on the head as I was sitting in a lovely outdoor theatre in the little town of Ashland, Oregon this weekend. Probably because the quote is from A Midsummer Night's Dream and this town's Shakespearean Festival is truly world famous for its quality. I'm told its the largest not-for-profit theatre in America running 8 plays simultaneously about 9 months per year in three theatres selling 400,000 tickets annually. ( Come visit sometime and you can see 8 plays in four days. Its overload but its enlightening.

You don't have to be a high brow to enjoy Shakespeare in this little community of 10,000 souls as long as you admire anything that is of high quality. I've been traipsing down for almost 30 years and have the dubious honor of having seen the entire collection ("Cannon") of Bill's plays - including the ones he wrote on a bad day. Plus other plays from the Shakespeare era, other classics and contemporary plays that earn the honor of getting produced here. And in all those years I've never seen a production that was anything less that high quality - that is an amazing feat in and of itself.

I also come because learning is a lifelong process - it never surprises me when something written 400 years ago is still applicable today. With the rapid growth of vacation rental availability, I am amazed at how often owners violate Shakespeare's simple reminder. Let me paraphrase. Its not what you the owner wants that makes your home desirable (your eyes) - all that counts is what the renter wants; and you have to use your brain - not your heart - to figure that out.


It is far too easy to get excited about renting out a vacation home as a way to make money or offset costs. Sounds easy right? Just throw up some ads, take a few phones calls and the money comes rolling in. Depending on your location, the existing amenities of the home and our own innate sense of what a renter might want - you might do just great.

But judging from my email, many owners - perhaps most owners - do not reach anywhere near their financial expectations. Some are even struggling, often forced to sell their dream home when it can't carry itself.

Of all the contributing factors to sub-par performance, quality is by far the most important. Instead of studying the industry to figure out what guests want (as we hope smart business people do) owners frequently buy a house that suits them but doesn't suit the guests.

Certainly quality is relative to the geographic area, competition and seasonality, however, it isn't necessary to have a million dollar villa in a rustic mountain community. It is necessary though to make sure that every home, no matter how modest, adheres to some standards that the average guest should expect. You may feel this reminder is an obvious one. But as I inspect home after home I am amazed at how frequently an owner overlooks the most basic tasks to make their home a quality place to stay.


I won't bore you with a list of unaffordable improvements or suggest that you remodel your place, the fix is much more simple. Often you can dramatically improve quality by taking a fresh look at your home. Let me give you just a few examples in hopes you will do a thorough review and find your own areas to fix:

TOWELS: Do all towels in your home match? If not, they should. We recommend white so you can add matching replacements as necessary. Are they worn in anyway? They can't be. If you don't have a replacement budget find a place for it in your plans. Retire towels before they are dingy or thinning. And yes you need to have hand towels, washcloths and bath mats as well as bath towels. Its only necessary to leave out a full set for every person of your maximum occupancy - but keep another 50 to 100% in reserve.

PAINT: Do your walls or woodwork have nicks or dings or smudges? If so, take out the paint an and cover them up. Write down your paint formulas so you always have touch up paint ready. Get it done quickly. Ask housekeepers to keep an eye on those little things.

FURNITURE: Did you skimp by converting old furniture from home to your weekend house furnishings? If so, your guests will think you are giving them left overs, not quality. Invest in solid, comfortable furniture. Your guests want to relax which is hard to do on flimsy, lumpy, old furniture. Be sure to buy enough of it too. You must have coffee tables, end tables, table lamps, night stands and dressers. You may be willing to rough it. Guests hate it.

** By the way, this is the biggest indicator of a non-quality home. I've outfitted several rentals from scratch - no furniture - and it can be painful. Furniture, fixtures and outfitting aren't cheap. But they're smart. Even the little touches can make your home top notch. When buying furniture, you can die slow (buy a little as you go) or die fast (spring for the good stuff). Kicking the bucket fast is better because your home will be seen from day one as a well designed quality place to stay.

OUTDOOR FURNITURE: Have you used that white plastic furniture on your patio or deck? I know that some brands offer a heavier quality but most of it is simply lightweight, difficult to sit or lay on and shows age quickly. We recommend good quality metal furniture, the kind you can repaint if need be. Surprisingly, if you shop around, you'll find quality metal appointments at only double or triple the price of their plastic relatives and they will last ten times longer. In fact, I have some five year old K-Mart Martha Stewart iron stuff that's still beautiful and will be here after the next ice age. Its classic.

ARTWORK: Does every wall that needs a painting or photo have one? If not, you might not care, but to your guests it looks like you are skimping along or don't have good taste. Art doesn't have to be expensive. Spend a little time shopping. Establish a theme if you like. Yes its a cliché but if you have a mountain home, people will appreciate cabin decor signs, old time photos and maybe even old skis on the wall. Put art everywhere its needed to make the home seem appreciated.

UTENSILS: My goodness, even Denny's restaurant uses heavy duty tableware and dishes. Your dishes should match and you should have twice as many place settings as your maximum occupancy. Guests don't come to wash dishes every time they eat something. Do you have a pizza pan and cutter, a carrot peeler, a wine bottle opener? If not, buy them today.

EXTRAS: Does your home have board games, a VCR or DVD and a lending library? If not, you're losing money and guest respect. Today, such extras are very cheap and easy to provide. They can make a rainy vacation day into an enjoyable stay and that makes your home desirable.

LANDSCAPING: Are the grounds around your home neat and attractive? Or does it look like an abandoned home or, worse yet, a sterile environment? Even a desert home can be landscaped with dry climate items and plants. In most homes, hanging baskets in the spring will draw attention to your home and you can even leave a note for guests to water them - and they will.

CARPET CLEANING: Sometimes spot remover works. Sometimes those home carpet cleaning machines can help. But every home deserves periodic visits from the professional carpet cleaners to keep the rugs looking new. And don't forget to do the upholstered furniture at the same time.

TELEPHONES: A single telephone line is pretty cheap in most locations and you can actually buy decent, nice looking phones for about $20 that will last 20 years. Put one in every bedroom as well as the living room or kitchen. Otherwise you look like an abandoned home instead of decent lodging. Even Motel 6 rooms have phones.

NICK NACKS: The most common reason a big segment of the traveling public avoid Bed and Breakfast operations is because they "Don't want to stay in Aunt Biddy's home." No kidding, a lot of B&B's look like Aunt Biddy never found a nick-nack, thing-a-ma-jig or wedding gift she could part with. Some small pieces can accent the home wonderfully but most don't. Keep them few in number and high in quality.


Quality is a difficult thing to judge. But crappy - the opposite of quality - is easy to see. Take some extra time to a fresh look at your home. Sometimes you need to sanitize it, make it less jumbled or personal. Other times you need to add furnishings or amenities. Always you need to freshen and straighten and tidy the place. If you don't need rentals, then treat the place anyway you like. But if you want more money, then give your guests a clean, comfortable quality lodging experience.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0050 – 08/02/04

Charging for the Extras

By William May
Published: 06/28/04 Topics: Comments: 0

There is a fine line between charging customers for the products and services you sell and nickel- and-diming them into submission. In recent e-mails, online groups and phone calls there have been a flurry of questions from owners about what they can and can not charge for. I've also noticed that a big percentage of group replies and advice is flawed and risky.

On occasion, I have been accused of being negative with certain aspects of landlording, but nothing could be further from the truth. I love hosting guests, offering them a good value for their money and - oh yes - making some money as well. But any kind of real estate management is fraught with risk, especially those with insufficient experience or those who fail to educate themselves to the cons as well as the pros of ownership. Offering strangers the use of your expensive asset is not something that should be done casually.


New owners often presume they should charge for vacation homes as much as is charged for long-term rentals: kind of a one-fee-fits-all theory. More experienced landlords sometimes become greedy and charge at each and every opportunity. New owners try to design their pricing strategy based on their experience as renters, while long-time owners have learned to approach such decisions from an investor's perspective. So I thought it was time to examine how and why rates, fees and other charges should be structured for maximum guest satisfaction as well as owner profitability.

If you've been reading VROA newsletters for a long time, you know I frequently plead with owners to set specific and personal own goals, strategy and tactics. This is because there is simply no one answer for every owner. In short, how you operate your vacation rental depends on what you want out of it.

On the other hand, there is a proven method for approaching the most intricate projects: think large and then act small. To do that, owners must decide what they want to happen, examine the options of achieving that objective, choose the best methods available and then execute them faithfully.

Sounds kind of like a management seminar, doesn't it? Sorry, but the worst thing owners can do is to ask and heed advice from others who may have little rental experience, or any kind of business for that matter. It's the blind leading the blind. Another sin is to concentrate on the joys of renting without preparing for the headaches. If you think like a Boy Scout (Be prepared!), then you'll love renting your home.


The best thing an owner can do is to take the time to study and learn their craft. You may be thinking this reminder is because VROA is developing owner certification and property inspections that will test whether owners and homes are ready to rent. On the contrary, we are providing those programs because we want owners and guests alike to find renting a valuable and worthwhile arrangement. There is nothing we offer that an owner can't develop on their own, and we have learned many owners will take the initiative to start out well prepared. And even though our membership is growing, there are still tens of thousands of owners who choose to go it alone, suffering through their problems without good guidance or support.

As an industry we often have ourselves to blame. Unlike older, more formalized industries, we have failed to set standards (even informal ones) and educate the public on what they can and can not expect from vacation rental homes. In time, as VROA grows we hope to put a dent in that large obstacle. The growth of vacation rentals makes it necessary and inescapable.


OK, with all the babble out of the way, let's examine some factors that will govern how you set pricing for your rental home.

MARKET: The rates you charge must conform to the market you compete in. If you have a rustic cabin in the mountains among other modest dwellings, your rates must be comparable. Guests will choose your competitors if you are significantly more expensive. Visitors will choose other homes even if yours has better furnishings and amenities. And if you charge much less, guests will be attracted but they will also presume something must be wrong with your place. It's a delicate balancing act.

DIFFERENTIATE: You can charge more only if you can differentiate your home from the others. Maybe you have better curb appeal (and hence Web site appeal) or have fabulous photos showing your super comfy furniture and heated pool. If so, feature it and charge for it.

SEASONALITY. Ahhh, this may be the most common mistake on owner rate cards: attempting to make prices simple and easy to comprehend. Customers like to study features, benefits and prices before buying. Grocery stores publish thousands of coupons and sales every day because consumers want to believe it is their own diligence that saves them money. In case you haven't noticed, hotels seldom have rate cards nowadays. They set rack rates and then offer discounts to online bookers, wholesalers and others as necessary to fill their inventory.

Landlords should be wise to do likewise. If your rate card says $200 per night in high season and $100 per night in the low season you are leaving money on the table. Some weeks are more valuable than others, such as school vacations, holidays and so forth. Even small differences in rates between key weeks can result in thousands of extra income per year. You have to think a little more to make a lot more.

EVENTS: Keep an eye on upcoming events in your market. We recently bought some condos in a Bavarian-themed village tucked into the Alp-like Cascade Mountains of Washington State. ( The local Chamber of Commerce does a wonderful job of holding major tourist festivals every two to three weeks year-round. My interviews with other lodging establishments quickly revealed that rates sometimes double on festival weeks. We will be smart enough to follow suit. Other factors that could affect your seasonal rates would be major golf tournaments, conventions, school vacation weeks and much more. Think like the consumers to set your rates.

WEEKLY BOOKINGS: Increasing each party's length of stay is generally a good goal. That means less empty days, happier cleaners and less paperwork. But not all markets enjoy the ability to require minimum stays. My first house was in a resort that also had timeshare condos so their owners were accustomed to buying and staying full weeks. That allowed stand-alone home owners, especially during the busy summer season, to require that rental guests book by the week and even to dictate the day on which guests must arrive and depart. Demand weekly bookings when you can but don't reject shorter stays if necessary.

LENGTH OF STAY: In our first Hawaii condo it was clear guests had to come and go every day of the week due to the availability of airline tickets. In this situation, guests were encouraged to stay longer by offering them "length of stay" discounts. A frequent mistake of some managers as well as owners is to offer guests something like 7 nights for the price of 6. A better method is to provide price breaks for staying longer. Such as:

1 to 3 days $200 per night

4 to 7 days $190 per night

8 to 12 days $180 per night

13 to 20 days $170 per night


Guests love finding this reason to stay longer and we benefit, too. Be careful, however, to double check your math so that guests can not "break the rate system" by buying enough nights to actually pay, as an example, less total for 8 nights than for 7. Think that through carefully.

WONDERFUL WEEKENDS: Like it or not, some vacation rental areas have much higher occupancy on weekends than during weekdays. This phenomenon is a difficult one to fight. In one of our locations I see dozens of owners whose rates are the same every day of the week and they can't figure out why they are booked solid on weekends and empty other times. They would be better off to overload the weekend and make weekdays affordable. As a rule of thumb, if your weekly rate is $700 you need to charge half that amount, $350, or $175 per night Friday and Saturday. Then take the other $350 plus a little more (20%) and divide by 5 for Sunday through Thursday nights.

In such circumstances you should also attempt to achieve the 2-3-4 rule. Two nights minimum, three nights on weekends and four on Holidays. You can't always get it but you must always try.

We recently started booking a home in an uncommon area using these rules. Plus we got the assignment late in the year. Even we were surprised to learn that we filled the high season (and with a good gross). It was a little more work but the income justified the methods.


This next section is in direct response from the owner who said, "Should I charge for guests who stayed late, smoked in the house and had twice as many people as contracted for?" Do they really need to ask this question? I mean if you keep a rental car a day extra do you pay for it? If you smoke in a non-smoking restaurant will you be asked to leave?

The answers are yes, yes, and yes. I won't bore frequent readers with another lecture on using very clear, hard-nosed leases, but I will list here some of the special charges you must require in your lease and must charge for without hesitation.

- Housekeeping, whether nightly or an out-cleaning charge. (Never include cleaning in the rent.)

- Housekeeping fees for ANY cleaning greater than the "usual and normal usage."

- Early check in fees (4 hours for 1/4 the daily rate. 8 hours for 1/2 the daily rate.)

- Late check out fees (Same as early check in fees.)

- Hot tub cleaning fees (Spas are a hassle, but valuable if guests pay the freight.)

- Firewood charges (I'm amazed at how much people use when it's free!)

- Resort fees (If you pay them, they must pay them.)

- Reservation fees (Especially if you accept credit cards.)

- Smoking fees (We charge $500 if we find any evidence.)

- Pet fees (Either a fee if you allow pets, or a big fine if you don't and they violate. We charge


- Extra guest fees for more than the "usual" occupancy (Doubled guests aren't disclosed in


- Eviction fees and costs (Most of you will never have one, but you need to recover your time if you


- Service order charges (Guests pay for problems they cause and emergency requests that prove not to be emergencies.)

- Sales and tourist taxes (Can you believe there are owners risking huge penalties to avoid these unavoidable taxes?)


And of course all these rental rate and service fee ideas only work if you have everything documented in your Web site, guest agreements (leases), in-home notices and guest manuals. And remember, you aren't charging these things to be greedy, you are doing so to make your home well run and a pleasure for those guests who understand and appreciate a nice place to stay.



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


I just like to say thank you. This award is meaningful and I have posted it to my web site. Awards like this help in marketing my property. Also I think you site is great for owners. Again, thank you.

- Bob Wagner, Owner of Barefoot Lagoon (and winner of a Home of the Week Award)

You are entirely welcome Bob. You have a great place.

- Wm. May


Read and download samples of terms and conditions, booking confirmations and so forth on the members-only Web site: (


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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0049 – 06/28/04

The Trouble with Suppliers

By William May
Published: 05/19/04 Topics: Comments: 0

Most owners focus 80% of their energy on creating more demand, upping rates and increasing occupancy. I can think of a hundreds Emails and phone calls where the only question is "How to I increase sales?" As all large companies know, lowering costs can be just as important to and much easier to accomplish than selling every available date at the highest possible price.

Long time readers will admit that this newsletter devotes a lot of words to sharing revenue items. Plus we've frequently included cost saving ideas from the major to the minute. But recently I as reminded that who we choose as suppliers and how we work with them can be a significant factor in keeping costs down, minimizing guest complaints and making sure we all sleep well at night.

At one of the homes we own (a four hour drive from our primary residence) we have employed a personable young gardener (lets call him "Richard") to do the and lawn mowing and gardening for the past few years. He does fairly good work and has been reasonably reliable. But there had been certain behaviors that, as an experienced (you can read that "old") business person I should have paid more attention to.

First it was the stories about his unreliable truck, then his seemingly quick marriages and divorces (yes plural). Often invoices arrived months after work was to have been done and the gardener's ledger seldom matched ours. Last summer we sat down together to compare ledgers and make sure everything had been paid. The summer before last he had assigned someone else to do work at the houses without our approval. Later we received a time sheet for 56 hours for what was to have been a two day weeding project.

I've been self employed pretty much my whole life, starting at the age of 15. Until I was in my early 20's I reacted to supplier over-billings perhaps too stringently. So in the case of the gardener I listened to the excuse, paid the bill and gave specific instructions that the other no work was to be subcontracted without our approval and all special assignments must have our prior approval.

Sometime after that we instructed Richard to trim bushes at the house to make sure we were in compliance with the Home Owners Associations Rules. This project had been ordered in previous years and the cost was in the $50 range. A nip and a tuck, so to speak.

My father used to say, fool me once - shame on you, fool me twice - shame on me. So I should not have been surprised when the invoice arrived for $500 for "tree trimming." When I questioned the gardener he said, "Well I subbed it out to someone else, and I guess I forgot to get a bid." Richard acknowledge that the sub-contractor was renowned for taking advantage of customers" and that he failed to get a bid or call for permission. "I didn't ask your permission because the work needed to be done to bring the trees into compliance."

Had I known of this excessive cost I would surely had avoided it by turning the trees into firewood with my handy chain saw and an hour of labor. And I'm always ready to make (or save) $500 per hour.

If this problem had arisen with a large company, the simple solution would have been to return the invoice with a note notifying them that the work had not been ordered and would not be paid. But the gardener is a small one person company. He frequently claims to always be dead broker due to family problems and child support. So I attempted to reason with Richard and eventually sent a payment for $250 even though the problem was totally on her end.

That action has now resulted in numerous "flame" Emails from Richard and errant letters from his bookkeeper. Most recently Richard has taken to going door to door in the community to slander us and plead his case. Luckily, we have gotten calls from those he has spoken with telling us the incidents and acknowledging their belief in how unstable Richard is.

Unfortunately there is no acceptable solution to this problem. Many of you may see it as a small issue, and I agree, but if we value our reputations and hope to conduct our affairs ethically then it is a good time to examine who to choose as vendors and how to deal with them.

These are rules I have learned the had way but unfortunately I have not always followed my own guidelines. As far as I can tell, no business school teaches these expensive lessons, there is no book specifically on the subject and even in trade associations like VROA we seldom share experiences or devote time to grasping this little rules and adapting our actions to them.

NO NUTS: Long ago I spoke with a Human Relations hiring expert. When it came to hiring employees he said he could throw out all the IQ tests, Skills tests, past employer interviews and reference checks. His number one criteria was, "Don't hire any weirdos." I think the same is true for vendors. If they have peculiarities, personal problems or can't have a nice social conversation its best to stay clear. There are usually multiple suppliers for every task you might require at a vacation rental home. Avoid the nuts.

PUT IT IN WRITING: Every lawyer every handling a case has had to repeat these words to clients (big and small), "Why the heck didn't you put it in writing?" And now with the advent of email it is easier than ever before. Every little task, every chore and every on going project must be confirmed in writing. If you don't send the supplier an email or letter, then keep notes and put them in the vendor's file.

KEEP RECORDS: If you've been in litigation you quickly learn that what you think you said is almost never what the other party heard. Sometimes they are lying and sometimes they harbor wishful memories. What counts in court is what someone, anyone, wrote down. If you have it in writing, you win. If you don't, you lose. So keep careful records. At a minimum that means a vendor file must be kept with all paid bills, notes and any other correspondence.

BE SPECIFIC: Whether for your rental or your personal affairs, when buying a product its prudent to be very specific when purchasing. Ask the price (and whether you can get it cheaper), the date it will be delivered or received, whether there is a warranty date, and how you would go about getting it repaired if need be. Don't accept platitudes from a sharp taking sales person. Get that warranty in writing. And jot down anything else that they say. Make sure you let them know you are writing it down. Always put the date on the note, where the conversation took place (even if it was on the phone), who you spoke to and what their title was.

THE BIG GUYS: When dealing with a large company be extra careful to identify who helped you. Even with phone companies, utilities and so forth early in the conversation ask person's name and their employee ID number or telephone extension number. If you place an order or a change order always ask for an order number or confirmation number. Virtually all large firms enter all customer communications in to a computer data base and those records surely will have a record ID or other unique identifier. If you fail to get the number its as if you never called.

REACT QUICKLY: If you have a problem with a supplier always contact them immediately. Spell out the problem in detail and then, very generally, ask for a resolution. Asking for something specific may not get the intended result. Often they may offer more than you require. And if they don't, move on to say "That doesn't fix it, what else could you do?" Only resort to demanding specific answers when they seem willing but unable to think of a reasonable conclusion.

Also, by demanding very specific answers or being inflexible you may cause the supplier to question your sincerely. You must appear to be, and must truly be, willing to listen to the other parties point of view, determine if they too are genuine and then attempt to find a mutually acceptable solution.

BE CORDiAL: You know what its like when a guest calls and complains unreasonably - you block them out and are far less likely to be accommodating. In reverse don't be turn into that kind of dumbbell when you are the customer. Never ever lose your temper whether you be customer or vendor. Sometimes it is necessary to be assertive. You can even let your personality out and laugh at a vendor who lacks the intellect to solve the problem. But no matter how you respond, don't resort to anger, or raised voice or threats. It simply does not work.

BE LITIGIOUS: Most folks find court a fearful exercise. Many people never set foot in a court house in their entire lives. But if the supplier is unreasonable or unreliable the only way to end the conflict may be to submit it to an independent neutral party and let them decide. And those people are called judges. Filing suit should be the last resort. But if the amount is sufficient then, before you even begin to rent you home, you must be willing to petition the court to protect your financial interests

Small amounts can be pursued in the "Small Claims" court offered in most jurisdictions, and you can prepare and plead you case yourself to save attorney fees. If you've never been to small claims there is a way to triple your chances of success. Like most skills you can learn by doing or learn by observing. Surely you don't want to "do" any more than necessary. And the way to learn by observation is simply to go to the courthouse and sit in the audience and observe at least a dozen other small claim proceedings. You might be amazed. Its nothing like Judge Judy. And it can even be boring, but you will pick up a wide-eyed understanding of how to present your grievance.

Large matters, on the other hand, require the help of a competent attorney. Be careful in picking an attorney. Buy his or services with the same rules used to hire any vendor. The attorney will want a blank check for whatever hours he dreams up at an hourly rate that even rock stars don't earn. Don't put up with it. As I said above, ask the price, get dates, set limits on costs and keep a tight control of what is to be done, when its due and what end result you can expect.

So back to the gardener. Why should you accept recommendations from a guy who didn't follow his own hard won guidelines? Unfortunately dealing with vendors is nothing more then dealing with humans in general. We're flawed and erratic organisms.


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

Maybe I like this Dominican Republic hideaway because the name sounds so Hawaiian (you know I love Hawaii). Ted Riskin's home is pleasant, sunny & bright. A fun place to play. Take a peek at ( (If you want your place considered for Home of the Week please drop me an email.)

See the nice article that mentions VROA in the Press Section of the member's only website. (

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0047 – 05/19/04

Be Selfish If You Donate Your Rental

By William May
Published: 04/19/04 Topics: Comments: 0

New owners of Vacation Rental homes quickly learn how many friends they really have. And I don't just mean cousin Jenny and her 12 screaming kids who would love to spend every week end at your lake house this summer chowing down on your hamburgers and chips.

No, I am referring to all the truly great not-for-profit groups who will think it is a nifty idea for you to donate a week at your house to their annual auction, bazaar or awards dinner give-away.

Let me say that I am the first to support every good cause I can afford. Penny and I have volunteered and worked on boards for the zoo, children's safety, theatres, dance companies and the like. If you too are a softie for these organizations, congratulations. You are doing your part to make the world a better place.

Offering your home to charities allows you to provide a unique benefit to those who need your help. But many rental owners are besieged with more requests than they can afford to donate. If you have ever donated you may not recognize the problem.

Give a single week's use to, let's say, your daughter's brownie troop auction and your name as a willing benefactor will ripple through the community. Soon, you'll be hearing from well meaning "procurement" person at every not-for-profit around.

Maybe all of this is good news for our fledgling industry. Vacation Rentals are often the highest priced item in many fund raisers. That means consumers value the opportunity to stay at a nice private vacation home.


At the same time, however, if the income from vacation rental homes is essential to the financial well being of most owners. As much as you may want to be a big donor ad supporter you also have to pay the mortgage.

Big companies have learned they are also targets of the well meaning fund raisers. You can imagine the thousands of legitimate requests that large companies receive. It may serve us well to learn from those firms about how to be concerned and involved citizens without giving away the farm.

As an example, Microsoft Corporation's primary philanthropic system (aside from its founder Bill Gates giving away billions of dollars personally) is to setup a matching system for employee donation. Staff member donations are matched by the company up to a certain amount. This serves to help charities but control the outflow.

Other large corporations set strict budgets on donations and require charities submit proposals on an annual basis. They generally don't entertain short notice pleas for help. This means only the organized and persistent causes get helped. Plus it eliminates the interruptions and soul searching that might disrupt the work of their employees.

You will notice that the largest companies often provide small item donations. Your grocery store chain, for example, might donate a bouquet of flowers or video rental. Unfortunately, the rentals we offer are comparatively expensive.

They are especially expensive in relationship to the size of our small businesses. A $750 rental donation could be five percent of your annual income whereas a $50 donation by Safeway is peanuts.


If large well organized companies see fit to control their charitable giving it is logical that we smaller vacation rental home owners do likewise. So here are some ideas on how to go about formalizing your "Donation Program."

First, stop and decide what your charitable objectives are. If you don't really need the income and you can afford to donate repeatedly then please do so. We'll all think highly of you for that.

But if you have to generate income from your home you might want to be a little strategic. For example, we have decided that donations are a great thing if and only if they provide benefit for us as well as the charity. We limit the number of gifts and we set rules for how the rental should function.

If you have ever had to make procurement calls for your favorite charity you will have heard all kinds of responses from business owners. Some will donate a small item to most everyone who asks. Others donate only to their favorite causes or groups to whom they belong.

And others are rather crass about demanding something in return for their donation such as patronage by everyone in your group. And almost all of these people will feel rather sheepish about responding. They get tired of being "hit up" but they know it is bad for business to decline.


For example, we ask for promotional value in order to accommodate requests. I think its the secret to being really good citizens. In short, we only donate to groups who will help us promote our rentals. When you think about it that helps them as well. If donating secures other paid rentals then your income grows and you can afford to donate again.

When someone calls soliciting a donation, its acceptable for you to ask some questions. (Believe me the big companies do). Here is what you want to know. Most requests now a days are for an auction or raffle so I'll preface my questions as if that is the case.


- Who will be attending the event?

- How many people will attend?

- Will your item be offered in the silent or live auction?

- Can you write the live auction description?

- Will the description be included in the auction catalog?

- Can they put photos in the catalog?

(Good for them and for you)

- Can you put up a post and display for the silent auction?

- And for the live auction?

- Can you get a complimentary ticket to the event.

(Its good to meet and great and hand out cards.)

- Will they give you names & addresses of attendees

(So you can mail to them)

- Can you put a flyer at each seat?

- Or put a flyer in each "good bag: given to attendees?

- Will they immediately provide you with the winner's name & address

- Will they disclose what the winning bid was?

WORD OF MOUTH. Auctions and similar events are valuable if they provide word of mouth advertising for your rental. To stimulate such promotion, it is wise to require a display, offer flyers or participate in the auction more than just making the donation and getting a 10 second announcement.

BE THOUGHTFUL. Never make a commitment immediately especially on the phone. Ask for all the information and then give it some thought. Think of donations as if you were giving them CASH money. In many ways you are. If you don't make the donation and sell the dates instead you are essentially giving them the cash. Think of it that way.

DON'T GIVE AWAY THE BEST. Most charities are so thankful for a donation that they are not terribly picky about dates. Its wise to give them desirable dates so they will get a significant price. But you don't need to give the your high season. Make sure the auction description clearly explains the dates and exclusions and legal requirements. Require the winner use the dates within one year of the purchase.

STRATEGIZE THE DATES. It seems easy to donate a week to a good cause but you don't have to donate that much. Consider limiting your gift to three or five days. It still shows your support. You will be surprised how many winners will ask to buy additional dates at the regular rates. Be sure to mention this possibility in the description.

WRITE A GREAT DESCRIPTION. The auction description or photos or display are your chance to sell your product. Write exciting, descriptive information. Don't be afraid to sell your product. Remember to sell the resort or area as well. Not everyone will be familiar with your destination. And include the legal stuff in the description.

WRITE DOWN THE DETAILS. If you agree to a donation make sure they provide you with a written contract explaining what you are giving and what you are getting. Most such forms are very short. Don't be afraid to attach a letter confirming the number of attendees, the live description.

GUEST PAPERWORK. Require winners to sign the same paperwork you require for paid guests. Always require a cash deposit to protect yourself from damages and overages. Make sure its clear the booking is non-cancelable and non refundable.

AN ALTERNATE. Another way to get value is to donate "designated dates". In this method you give the charity specific dates to sell such as your mid or low season. Ask them to offer these for sale exclusively to their members by instructing the member to purchase.

Then remit all the cash to the charity. You will find that they will appreciate the real money donation more than they do the equivalent value in dates.

SPLITTING INCOME. Or how about giving a charity certain low or mid season dates to sell with the agreement to split the income with them. You get at least some income for harder to sell dates and they'll promote it to far more constituents than those who actually buy. You get lots of exposure and possibly regular bookings in the future.

SAY NO. Do you find some of these suggestions demanding? Maybe, but your home is your investment. The more you get out of it the more you can support your favorite causes. Say no to those who do not provide good value so that you can say yes to more of those who do.

Set a limit on how many dates you are willing to donate. Groups who call to late to be considered can be encouraged to apply again next year.

SEEK OUT DONATIONS. Don't reward only those who solicit you. Keep your eye out for great causes with events that might promote your rental well. Give them a all to ask what they are looking for. Even though you may be soliciting them don't hesitate to ask the same questions before donating.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0046 – 04/19/04

No wonder guests prefer Vacation rentals? Oahu Pick Pockets

By William May
Published: 04/06/04 Topics: Comments: 0

Can anyone tell me why a family would stay in a Hotel for their vacation? I was reminded recently of how distressing it can be when we visited the famous Waikiki Beach area of Hawaii.

Penny and I hadn't spent much time there for 20 years but my 14 year old son decided there were things he just needed to see like the Bishop Museum, Hanama Bay and the world famous North Shore surfing sites.

So on our working trip to Kauai we stayed over on the island of Oahu and took a hotel room smack dap in the middle of the action. Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, the might Mo battleship and all the sites were worth the effort. But an effort it was.

The name of the hotel shall remain anonymous because I don't want to get sued for libel (but hey, truth is a defense). It was a 30 story high rise building across the street from the people-packed beach and had been recently decorated. It was clean and well staffed and, in general, no worse and certainly no better than other tourist havens.

But let me tell you why it wasn't a vacation and why most hotel stays don't qualify as a holiday. These slightly stressful reasons are exactly why the vacation rental industry is growing fast. If you want a vacation you need a vacation home.


- In order to check in, we stood in line with 40 other people as the clerks were working feverishly (at least those that spoke English). It sill took 20 minutes to get a key. Room cost was just $199 per night, plus, plus, plus. (More on that later).

- My son was a little slow on jumping out of the rental car which allowed the bell man to snatch the bags and rush them to bell hop prison. She he did the honors. Cost for the tip $8

- We proceeded to the room which had two double beds (no queen beds in this space conscious establishment.), adequate mattresses and the traditional black out curtains. No frills here. There was a small closet and a shower curtain that wouldn't stay up.

- Penny flung open the curtains and stepped out onto the 18" deck with a peek-a-boo view of the beach. No room for a chair out there but that was OK because the roar of the building HVAC system made it impossible to talk. Plus the stench of diesel bus fuel wafted up even to our 24th floor room.

- She quickly crammed the door shut only to discover a loud locomotive sound coming from the air as it blasted under the hallway door and whistled through the deck door that wouldn't close all the way.

- Thee was no place to lay out the suitcases so we used the floor which meant there was then no where to walk. We collapsed on the bed.

- Soon hunger called. After a long flight we dial room service to order from the gourmet menu except the entrees seemed like left over from an Antarctica research camp. (I'm thinking everything comes out of a can). An hour later and $71 and we have dinner for three.

- My soon wanted an extra coke but we didn't think we could wait another hour and pay another $5 so he finds a pop machine in the hall for the bargain price of $3.

- Then he finds the mini bar, "WAAAAAAIT yell before he grabs a snickers bar." I'm thinking $3 per candy bar is highway robbery.

- I need to logon for a few minutes but sorry no high speed internet in this aging beach beauty. I can use dialup in a pinch and find, hidden in the guest "Courtesy" manual that the cost for the data port (i.e.: phone line) is only one dollar per minute. Sorry I pass.

- And head to the street to find an internet cafe. There I find a place with high speed internet for just $6 per hour. But why do I have to march around the neighborhood to use it?

- At long last we find ourselves tuckered and trampled and snug in bed ready for a good night's sleep. No such luck. We hear Waikiki party goes stroll down our hall to their rooms every 20 minutes soused in liquor and banging the walls. It is spring break and a long night.

- Next morning we shuffle into Wolfgang Puck's express cafe for a glorified Egg McMuffin for just $9 each. I would have orange juice too but don't want to mortgage the house.

- Back to the entrance we go to request our car be brought around. It takes 20 minutes and a $3 tip every time we want the car. That, of course, on top of the $15 per day parking fee - but hey you get in and out privileges. Plus the tip each time of course. Even here in paradise if you don't tip your car might come back with dead fish in the trunk if you know what I mean.

- The next night I need to send a fax and am happily surprised that the price is only $1 per

page. Of course I know the long distance call home is now as low as 3 cents per minute but hey they have to make a profit, right?

- On the way back up to the room I discover that the elevators no longer descend to the lobby after 6pm, "To keep out the riff raff" says the clerk. So I'm forced to walk to the far end of the block long building, go up an escalator and then do elevator lottery to figure out which one goes to my floor. Geeeeesh!

- The next day I have to fax again and the clerk says "sorry you were undercharged last night the real rate is $5 for the first page and $3 each additional page. And I'm going to have to bill you for yesterday's mistake." Normally I would debate the issue but by now I'm without sleep or food or stamina.

- On the last day we go to the ice cream parlor on the beach side of the hotel and learn they have a fancy new system where they mix the cold stuff while you watch. And they sing if you give them a tip. I worry what will be hidden in the ice cream if I cough up some moolah. So the ice ream adventure is just $18 for three people. Last time someone took me for this much money the perpetrator was wearing a mask and had a gun.

- As we depart this Shangri-La we have to traverse the gauntlet of outstretched hands. $10 for the maid (is that enough?), $8 for the bellman, $4 for the car. I'm surprised the cashier didn't stick out his hand but by then maybe they realize most guests would chop it off at the wrist.

All in all we did get in some great sight seeing but I couldn't help but keep track of all the ways a hotel vacation rips dollars out of the guest's pocket. Certainly I am not a penny pincher. I even like some of those mega beach-side resorts where you can sit on your bum in the sun for a week and get everything handed to you. And for conferences and meetings, convention hotels are the only way to go.

THE MESSAGE: But now let me make my point. My fellow vacation rental owners, we need to blow the trumpet vacation homes even louder. We have a superior product. And we need to let travelers know the trouble with hotels.

NOTE: Or maybe we are just jealous of hotel owners. They have masterfully figured out how to take maximum dollars off guests while giving them the most meager of product and service.

BENEFITS OF VACATION RENTALS: Let me try to recap just a few of those services many vacation homeowners provide to their guests for free:

- Come and go when you like.

- Free parking usually

- Full kitchen, pots and pans for making macaroni and cheese when that suits you.

- Breakfast, lunch and dinner available 24 hours a day.

- No 1,000% markup on food.

- No tipping the rom service waiter.

- No tipping the doorman.

- A lot more room for a lot less money (per square foot)

- Decks you can actually sit on.

- Furniture that is actually comfortable.

- No neighbors on the other side of that flimsy wall.

- Don't have to share the bar with the Russian national drinking team.

- You can open the windows!

- You can turn the heat up or down. Or even on and of. Revolutionary.

- No daily maids to go through your underwear.

- No noisy elevators with noisy people.

- No hand in your wallet every time you turn around.



As always I seek your input. Please share your tips, techniques, 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 #: 0045 – 04/06/04

Six Tips for Creating More Cash From Your Rental

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

Sorry if that headline sounds like a get rich quick scheme. Owning a rental is too much work for that. Most weeks I cover a single topic that owners have been asking about. But today let me catch up on a number of small but equally important tips Vacation Home Owners will want to know. Its kind of a mish mash really but you are bound to find something that will make you a buck or save you two.

I was reminded recently about how important it is to have floor plans on your website. Before the Internet (Kinda prehistoric times, eh?) Guests called vacation rental manages and booked rooms or homes with very little information. They relied on the firm's integrity and the knowledge of the "minimum wage" telephone operator answering the phone.

But those days are gone forever. The web has revolutionized our small and comparatively invisible industry. Guests, especially the computer savvy, want to inspect the goods before they buy - all of which is made possible by the web. So you simply must have lots of high quality photos and a long descriptions of amenities, features and location. But I am surprised at how few home sites include a floor plan. They are easy to create and just as easy to post to your site as photos.

Floor plans allow guests to size up the home, count the beds, and get a feel for the roominess. But they also protect you legally. If you've ever had a guest show up and then want to cancel because they children's bedroom is just too far from the parents you know what I mean. (And by the way, I presume you are only taking non-cancelable reservations, aren't you?)

One source for getting floor plans done is (

They are the scourge of every kind of lodging. Those guests who, knowing checkin is at 5pm show up at noon demanding immediate access to their rental. Some owners have even experienced guests who pick the lock, or (using pre supplied codes) enter early illegally, or brow beat cleaners into allowing them entrance. These are the same folks who will want to check out at 3pm when they know its supposed to be 11am. And if you have back-to-back rentals they cause grief for later guests as well as yourself.

It doesn't matter how explicit your guest agreement is, or how often you've notified them during the phone booking, or even if you have a six foot sign on the living room wall that says CHECKOUT 11AM NO LATER. These are some of the dreaded FIVE PERCENT who are trying to get something for nothing.

So how do you handle this? First, your Guest Agreement and Terms &Conditions must be very clear. And there must be penalties. Coming early or staying late will result in a fee of a FULL DAY'S rent AND any other damages they cause. Should the following guest arrive to an already occupied house they will depart and you could lose a full week or more of income. The second guest might even sue you for wrecking their vacation. So its only fair that the first guest - who caused that problem - pay for it.

Plus you should never offer early checkins or late checkouts for free. A policy that works well is to charge 1/4 days rate for a noon checkin and 1/2 days rate for a 8am checkin. Charge 1/4 days rate for a 4pm late checkout and 1/2 day rate for a 8pm checkout. (These presume you use 11am checkouts, 5pm checkins and that you do not have back-to-back bookings before or after.) Extending the time any more that that essentially gives the guest a full days use for less than a full days rate.

In your contract, make sure you disclose that "Earlys" and "Lates" are not guaranteed to be available and that the guest must call 24 hours in advance to confirm if you can allow it. That way you can still accept other last minute bookings if the opportunity arises. Agreeing to Earlys or Lates far in advance could cause you to lose last minute guests asking for dates immediately before or after the existing booking.

Its been said, that mirrors were invented only for the beautiful and the handsome. The rest of us sneak around without looking. But you shouldn't avoid checking the reflection of your vacation home. "Mystery Shopping" is a good way to check out your vacation rental management firm. Call them on several occasions at various times of the day without identifying yourself and posing as a guest. On one call be quiet and reserved. On the next be pointed, asked very detailed maybe even rude questions. You will find out how persuasive they are, how professional and whether or not they feature your unit or hide it from the customer. Its also revealing to send inquiries by email and even by snail mail. You may be unpleasantly surprised.

Remember to write down the dates and times and discuss it with the firm's manager next time you are onsite. A letter, email or phone call will help but you are better of to sit down face to face and tell them what you learned.

If you are self managed, you can double check your telephone etiquette by asking a fried to ask a friend to call and inquire about renting your home when you least expect it. Then have them give you a brutally honest evaluation. Were you factual, easy to deal with, happy with your work, helpful and courteous? We all think we're good looking but the mirror tells the truth.

Mystery shopping may convince you that need to lose a few pounds, alter some attitudes or even find a new manager.

Many owners wonder if they should have a toll free number for prospective guests to call. Others are unsure of even how to secure such a number. In my opinion toll free numbers are a scam. Somehow tens of thousands of companies have decided its their duty to pay for every communication with consumers. For larger ticket purchases such as vacation rentals its important to ask - how qualified is the guest to pay you $1,000 or $2,000 or more in rental if they can't afford a long distance calls.

Unfortunately Toll Free Numbers are expected by consumers. If you want to appear to be quiet, personal and unobtrusive then you shouldn't get a toll free number. (I so not pick those adjectives lightly. A lower key approach warns the guest to keep their assumptions in perspective and not to make unreasonable demands before, during or after occupancy).

On the other hand, if you want to have a more formal relationship with guests a toll free number is a good idea. And contrary to my aspersions about guests that can't afford a phone call, you will definitely lose a prospective booking every now and then if you don't have one.

An how to get a toll free phone number? That is a lot easier than you think. Simply call your long distance provider and tell them you want one. It may take a few days especially if you want to search for a number that is memorable or meaningful (that can be difficult.)

NOTE: Unless you can find one of the few remaining 800 numbers you should always include the words "Toll Free" before or after your number if it has a prefix like 888, 866 or 877. There are still many consumers who don't recognize those as toll free. And why pay for their phone call if you don't get some marketing advantage out of it.

Guests often fall in love with their vacation spots. A great way to reinforce their enjoyment and remind them to return is to offer merchandise with your name and logon on them. I have been using "logo wear" at various companies for over 30 years. But that usually required a minimum order size and some costly up front setup fees. Now, however, there is a wonderful new service called "Cafe Press" that allows you to upload logos and designs and store them on a webpage where customers can find and purchase your goods.

You can link your site to it and they take care of the rest. They print products one by one, take the customer's credit card and ship the merchandise direct. There is a wholesale price that you see but you get to set the retail price and CafePress even sends you the profit. If you want to order some for yourself or to use as gifts you get the wholesale price. You will be surprised at how affordably they can do this customer one-off printing, billing and shipping.

It is revolutionary. Click on this link to see our VROA CafePress store. ( To setup your own store please click on this long URL:

This suggestion may seem trivial. However, if you are outfitting a home, buying supplies or other goods you really should keep you eyes on the eBay Auctions. If you are still a novice to the whole auction thing you will be amazed at the millions of products, often new, that are sold there. Plus it is safe. We've made over 200 purchases without any problems due to eBay's rigorous shopper feedback system.

Buying through auctions, however, can take more time then you might like especially if there is a item you really want soon. You have to make the bid, sometimes raise it to stay ahead and wake up in the middle of the night to see if you've won.

But there is a little known techniques that makes these problems disappear. Its called "Sniping" and that is the system of using a software program to manage the bids for you. We highly recommend a software product called "Auction Tamer." It keeps you list of what you want to bid on, where you rank in the bids, which you have won and those you have paid for. But best of all, you can wait to bid and it will enter your price just a few seconds before the auction closes. Competing bidders won't know you are going to bid and they won't have time to up their bid. You win the auction and they end up scratching their heads. Its a killer tool.

To take a look at Auction Tamer click on this URL:

Did I mention you should also be SELLING your last minute availabilities on eBay? Every now and then we do. A few weeks ago we had an unsold week in one of our Kauai homes so we listed it. We set an acceptable reserve (minimum) price and let her rip. We sold that week for close to the regular rates. But more importantly we received 20 other phone inquiries and sold six other bookings - all at the regular rates. The listing fee was $12. eBay is, without a doubt, the most cost effect direct marketing we do.

More importantly, and here is the clincher, the leads we get from eBay are deadly serious about buying. Apparently eBidders only go to auctions when they are truly ready to spend money. And we, of course, are always ready to take it. So if they see your ad on eBay and call to ask about other dates you should take their inquiry very seriously.


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

The City of Victoria on Vancouver Island Canada is a slice of Merry Old England just a 60 minute float plan trip from here in Seattle. Its truly a world apart and now you can stay at Deborah Scott's rental "Leigh-on-the-Lake." Take a look at ( See ( (If you want your place considered for Home of the Week please drop me an email.)

"Kudos to you for this article...I am with you 100% on this one. I have been researching credit cards and the laws and how they effect Vacation Property owners. I am not convinced that they are the best thing for owners, but I can see the benefits."
- Christine Karpinski (Teacher, Author and Speaker Specializing in Renting Vacation Properties "By Owner"

After writing the article I rechecked the standard Visa/MasterCard Merchant Account contract. Here is what it says in a nutshell, Visa/MasterCard, "will enforce the Cardholder's right to cancel if they are unsatisfied with the accommodations." They WILL NOT up hold the booking even if you can produce the signed NON-CANCELABLE contract. There are a number of excuses deadbeat guests may try to avoid honoring a reservation. But the smart con-men guests know how to use this "Get out of jail free card." It is a "blanket" excuse that causes their payment to be automatically withdrawn from your checking account days ahead of when you get notice. Of course you can always sue them on your contract to recover but that takes time, persistence and money. So the advice for now - - take credit cards if you have to (especially for last minute bookings) sell far in advance and ask for payment by check. Be careful there are things you can and can not say about accepting cards once you've signed up for the merchant agreement. Follow the rules but do work within them to cut your fees and avoid chargebacks. More on this important subject later.
- Wm. May

Please see these websites for fun:
- Sample Booking Confirmation and
- Sample Terms &Conditions (for Early/late checkin/out suggestions)

If you like receiving these newsletters, if we've helped you even a little, please tell your friends by clicking here (Its automated & easy.) (

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0044 – 03/08/04

Taking Credit Cards Smells Good, Tastes Bad

By William May
Published: 02/23/04 Topics: Comments: 0

Taking payments by Credit Card is another way to accelerate revenue, right? If that's what you are thinking I'd like to help put the brakes on. Yes, taking credit cards will make you look big time and maybe even increase revenue but it may also subject you to guest stealing money directly out of your checking account.

Some time ago - Carole Smith at Palm Springs Connection who has a number of beautiful vacation rentals ( wrote and asked, "How do you take Credit cards? I take Pay Pal only. I don't have a way to take Credit cards myself yet." Carol's comments have been repeated by numerous VROA members so I have been studying some of the various Credit Card purveyors in hopes of recommending a few to our membership.

Personally we have been taking credit cards for some years. It has been a mixed blessing and I am not yet prepared to make a recommendation partly because every program seems to have limitations and because of the danger that credit cards present to vacation rental owners.

Forgive me if you already take cards and have a comprehensive understanding of how they work. For those who may be new to the system or haven't yet been burned by them I'd like to provide a brief introduction so everyone knows what they are getting themselves into.

For those of us of baby boomer age or younger its hard to believe that once there was a world without Visa, MasterCard, American Express and their smaller siblings. The first credit card (as we know them today) was started in 1951. Today MasterCard is owned by 22,500 members (i.e.: financial institutions), is accepted at millions of locations (so they say) and processed an annual volume of 916 Billion Dollars through September 30, 2003.

The Visa credit card brand is owned by 21,000 institutions, accepted in 150 countries and had 2.7 Trillion dollars of transactions in 2003. This card came into its own in the 1960s and 1970s and today is the largest of the companies.

Cardholders (consumers) love credit cards. Everyone agrees that they make buying goods and services across the globe or across the street easier. But they also lure consumers into spending more than they can afford and charging them interest that in former times could have gotten a merchant thrown in jail for charging usurious rates. Consumer credit, especially from credit cards, is at record levels and expected to continue to rise.

The card companies have evolved to the point where they offer other services all marketed to their huge base of card holders. They sell merchandise and financial services and are power players in the comparatively new but evolving Debit card business. These Debit cards represent a significant change in how consumers use cards and, more importantly, how the transaction is accounted for.

Recently Visa & MasterCard were hit with a settlement that will cost them three billion in refunds to merchants. This conflict came about when the Visa/MasterCard duopoly required merchants to "Honor all Cards" or risk losing their merchant status. Retailers reacted violently, filed suit and have now emerged victorious.

Most consumers are mistaken in their understanding of how cards work. They realize they are charged interest (usually at very high rates) when they charge something. But they are largely unaware that the merchant also pays a fee on the transaction. That fee may range from 1.5 to 3.0 percent and sometimes up to 7 percent of the charge amount. In short, the card associations are double dipping on the transaction and taking a significant portion of the sale.

Of course consumers could care less. A few understand they can often negotiate a better price from stores if they pay in real cash but most are just so happy to swipe the card and pretend its not money that they will never stop to question the system. Some years ago my best friend Ron wanted to buy a $80,000 motor home. As a long time musician living on the road he has always dealt in cash. Even he was surprised that the dealership accepted his offer of 47 crisp $1,000 dollar bills and didn't even ask for the tax. Amazing how cash works.

This is not to say that the card service is without value or that it should be free or cheaper. In a free market economy anyone should be able to price their services as they see fit. Because the marketplace is dominated but just a few mammoth organizations, however, the merchant is at a disadvantage and the consumer's lack of sophistication is preyed upon.

By the way, merchant agreements all make it illegal to charge a premium to guests for using their credit card fee. If all merchants did that, fewer consumers would use cards and more would pay by check or cash. Some agreements even make it improper for merchants to offer a discount for cash payments. That would make the issuers unhappy so they have wired the system to their benefit.

Now nothing prevents you from negotiating rates for your rentals and certainly you can ask a guest who they intend to pay before you quote rate. And some lodging reservations, especially central reservation services, charge a booking fee on all orders in the same way they do if they are also obligated to charge resort fees or special tourist taxes. But be reminded you simply can not tie together a lower rate with the guests agreement to avoid their credit card. Our recommendation is to quote fees based on the net income you hope to achieve after paying taxes, credit card fees and any other costs.

But the biggest problem with credit cards is the "big lie" that issuers have sold to consumers. A prominent "benefit" that they offer is to act as intermediaries between consumer and merchant in the event that the consumer is defrauded. While that sounds like a reasonable idea it has been misinterpreted by some consumers to mean that they can return any goods, at any time, in any condition, without sufficient cause and in regardless of a contract they signed - and that card company will require the merchant to refund their merchant.

Worse yet, credit cards have become so ubiquitous that the issuers know full well most merchants must accept cards just to stay in business. That, in turn, allows the issuers to play judge and jury in the event of disputes. They know full well that consumers can move from one issuer to another but that all Merchants are stuck in the system. Hence, when disputes arise the merchant often gets shafted even when the consumer is at fault. The associations utilize a system that is short on legal compliance and long on making consumers happy - even the crooked and self serving ones.

And it is this preposterous myth that vacation rental home owners must avoid or learn to control if they want to accept credit cards as payment for rentals.

In one case, a woman reserved a home for 16 days on a non-cancelable contract. The day after arriving she decided she didn't like the home and asked for a cancellation. The owner refused. The next day the woman decided the home was dirty. The owner authorized a cleaner to visit but the guest refused them entrance. On the third day she vacated and a month later the credit card company debited the owner's checking account for $3,300. This process is called a "Chargeback" and the issue will put it through the system without almost no documentation from the cardholder. They will not ask for the rental agreement.

The woman had no legal right to the refund and had conveniently forgot to tell her issuer that the owner had already refunded her $500 damage deposit by check. So now she was in possession of $3,800 of the owners money. The owner can submit a request for reversal that, with the rental agreement, may be reversed. If so, the guest can put the chargeback through repeatedly and it will be handled the same way every time. The Owner gets debited, is forced to respond again and may be reversed again. Eventually the issuer may decided on behalf of the cardholder because in most Merchant Agreements there is language that says a cardholder can get their money back if they are simply "unhappy with their lodging." And they can do this even if they stayed the entire contracted period.

As you may remember we recommend that all guest agreements be non-cancelable. It is wise for owners to offer to resell booked dates for a guest who wishes to get out of their contract. But renting your expensive home on a cancelable basis would be as risky as renting that home to along term tenant and allowing them to move out in the middle of the night without paying. Owners have the right to determine the terms and conditions on which they offer their home for short term rental. Most states and countries have statutes defining the rights and privileges of lodging operators. These have come about over many decades, and in some cases centuries, because short term tenants are prone to defrauding Inn keepers.

So if you have a non-cancelable agreement and the guest pays by credit card is the agreement still valid? Maybe. In signing up for a merchant account you the merchant area agreeing to abide by the Visa or MasterCard rules. Most merchants never read those rules and if they do they will be shocked. In short, the associations deed themselves the right to decide whether the cardholder gets their money back - regardless of the agreement the consumer signed.

And what about if the guest breaks things inadvertently or knowing damages furniture or other expensive items. Your Guest agreement may say you can take it out of their damage deposit and charge overages to their credit card. But can you? Most of us know that hotels will charge you in the blink of the eye for charges but they know what they are doing. Have you ever noticed that hotels require you to present your card at checkin so they can swipe and leave the blank but signed receipt in your file. When you charge something they then just simply put it on your card.

Are you also aware that when you check in they get an "authorization" on your card that essentially holds the money for them until you check out? Don't ever check into a hotel where you think the charges will be $500 and have only $1,000 left on your card limit. They frequently put a hold on far more than the anticipated charges knowing that you may well run up the bill.

OK, if you are new to credit cards have I instilled a little fear of them? I hope so, because they are a risky and sometimes unavoidable evil. But all is not without hope. Here are some guidelines we've developed on how and when to take charge cards. These examples presume that you taking bookings in advance and that most of your contact with the guest happens over the phone, email or with website forms.

(1) DEPOSITS. A sales is not a sale until money changes hands. Guest should be charged a "Refundable Deposit" for every booking that is on top of and NOT part of the rent or cleaning charges. Many owners demand a $500 deposit that is held until after the occupancy in case of damages or extra charges. Smaller units may be less and expensive units far more. Taking the deposit by credit card immediately on receipt of the order confirms to you and the guest that you have a deal.

Upon taking an order you should always read back all the of the details of the order and include these word, "Now I will be charging the $XXXX deposit to your credit card as soon as we hang up. Do you want to go ahead with this order?" This provides no real legal protection because, without a signature the guest will lie and the issuer will probably stab you in the back. But its good policy and an effective reminder for most guests. See ( to download sample Guest Agreements, Booking Confirms and Terms & Conditions.

** In a future issue we will be discussing "Damage Deposit Waivers" in the future as a way to avoid taking and refunding deposits while actually increasing your income.

(2) AVOID PAYMENTS: No rental should be taken without a valid signed guest rental agreement. Usually those are mailed to the guest who is then obligated to return them to you within a short number of days along with all, half or part of the payment. Our policy is that half of the rent (and other fees such as cleaning) is due with the return of the agreement and to be paid by check. The other half is due by check 90 days in advance of occupancy.

Whats the justification for this policy? You are free to set whatever terms and conditions you wish in your contract. Is it reasonable for you to hold your place off the market for months during which the guest can change their mind and fail to pay you? Of course not. As a comparison, if you were to rent a home long-term from someone else beginning six months from today they will, without a doubt, require you to pay the first and last months rent and the damage deposit before they will accept the lease. You should accept no less for your vacation home.

(3) GETTING SIGNATURES: The guest signature on your agreement is not sufficient. Along with sending that document you should also send a credit card receipt seeking their signature as well. Issuers are accustomed cardholders making fraudulent claims about restaurant and store charges. When the merchant has signatures on file their chances of beating the claim are greatly increased. Some restaurants say that as many as 10% of bar tabs are challenged especially on high flying holidays and party nights. Drunk people seem to forget what they buy. By getting the guest's signature for rentals you too have taken steps to avoid being ripped off.

(3) REFUNDS BY CREDIT CARD. No matter how well you protect yourself from guest damages or other charges they sometimes arise. It is best to tell guests, and include in your contract, that damage deposits are refunded 45 days after departure. That sounds like a long time but will allow you to receive all possible bills, such as long distance, garbage, utilities and other things to be sure they have not incurred costs that you must pay.

(By the way - have you disabled 900 and other pesky billing options from you phone? One home recently incurred over $500 in 900 toll calls from one guest.)

Then when refunding always return the deposit by submitting a credit to the guests credit card.

(4) IMMEDIATE REFUNDS. If you have any indication that the guest will attempt a chargeback or was difficult in any way AND you are relatively sure that there are no overages then we recommend you do the refund early - as soon as possible. This forestalls the conflict.

If a chargeback arrives later all you will have to show is that the refund equals the deposit and the issuer no longer has any jurisdiction on the matter.

(5) DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. A letter should always be sent to the guest with a final accounting showing all charges, payments and a zero balance regardless of their method of payment. This is especially important in the case of difficult guests or those who have paid by credit card.

There is an additional benefit in accepting cards on a limited basis. The fewer bookings you take by credit card the lower your merchant fees will be. And that, alone is reason enough to avoid credit cards where possible. But if you have to take cards in order to secure extra bookings keep it in mind that credit card payments are really not solid cash in the bank and that you are taking some extra risk everytime you accept such a payment.


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

I love creativity. Jimmy & Joanne Dunaway have a home at Paw Paw's Landing and their website says "snorin and explorin at the Ultimate Cabin Getaway." (Great name. Great slogan). See ( (If you want your place considered for Home of the Week please drop me an email.)

Nice newsletter! regards - the team at (

Short and sweet. But I appreciate all feedback especially from everyone in the industry working hard to make it more fun and more profitable.
- Wm. May

Please see these websites for fun:
- Sample Guest Booking Agreement
- Sample Booking Confirmation
- Sample Terms & Conditions

If you like receiving these newsletters, if we've helped you even a little, please tell your friends by clicking here (Its automated & easy.) (

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0043 – 02/23/04

Using Guest Checklists

By William May
Published: 02/09/04 Topics: Comments: 0

Promises, promises, promises. I wanted to get back to the website strategy topic I promised a couple of weeks ago but another Owner question has come up and I wanted to pass on some suggestions on that. We'll get Part two of web strategies published in a future issue. (Hey, I'm a volunteer!)

Many private vacation homes are located in distant or remote areas. Frequently they are in areas and even climates that guests may not be familiar with. Owners are offering their expensive homes to guests that may not know how to operate them. We want them to have fun but we also want to avoid problems.

We've found the best way to do that is to provide and require all guests use a Guest Checklist when they arrive and when they depart - which they must return to us in order to receive their deposit refund.

Members can download a sample Guest Checklist by logging on to ( You'll find it under "Forms and Contracts."

As you've probably learned by now our family lives in Seattle Washington - - known for its rain and year round moderate climate. Yes we sometimes get snow in the winter for short periods and we get a few days of 100 degree weather in the summer. But all-in-all its an easy climate to live in. Almost no one has air conditioning and the entire city of 3 million people has only 10 snow plow trucks. So clearly we are not prepared for much difficulty.

Some of our rental homes are located in the Cascade Mountains just an hour away from metropolitan Seattle. Others are located in Eastern Washington on Lake Chelan - a popular resort area that is a four hour drive away. Both climates are challenging. At mid February we already have over ten feet of packed snow on the ground in the mountains (no exaggeration) and by July the temperatures will be over 100 in Eastern Washington.

Naturally, we have air conditioning (Heat pumps) in all the Chelan houses. And rip roaring fireplaces and hot tubs in the mountains. (Hot tubs are a nuisance in any climate but necessary for maximum income in the mountains. Operating them safely is a complicated subject so I'll examine that in a later newsletter.)

Some of you from similar climates may find this surprising, but as we began operating these houses we were surprised at little folks from moderate Western Washington knew about operating air conditioning. And how irresponsible a few guests can be about operating even simple systems such as furnaces and fireplaces.

Plus we've learned that some guests will complain about everything (such as "its too cold" in the mountains or "too hot" in Hawaii). Others will put up with burned out light bulbs, missing silverware and just about anything else. Neither situation is desirable. Houses are big machines that get lots of use from guests. And, just like your primary home, things will break or wear out or go missing. Luckily most owners have realized that the actual costs of such situations are small and simply a cost of doing business that we accept.

But if owners are not alerted to items that need attention then those same items could become problems to future guests. For maximum guest satisfaction maintenance issues need to be handled swiftly.

Owners seem to notify their guests about how to operate their homes in a number of ways. Some produce a "Guest Manual" (often a three ring binder, from the simple to the elaborate) that remains in the house and alerts Guests to the attractions in the area as well as to the Do's and Don'ts of operating the home. Some owners posts printed "Wall Notices" with details about the thermostat, garbage disposal and so forth. Some owners also provide written information in the letter they send guests before their occupancy begins.

Personally we do all three although that may be over kill in locations that have a front desk or where Guests check in personally with the owner or their representative. I've just posted some "Sample Notices" to the ( website and members are welcome to download, alter and use them as they see fit.

On top of all that preparation we have taken to using a "Guest Checklist" in hopes that Guests will operate equipment properly and keep us posted of any problems. Our checklist is organized in two columns. The left hand side lists things the Guest should check when they arrive. These include things like checking the thermostat settings, opening the blinds and so forth. And asking if the home was ready for their arrival - were the beds all made, towels on racks and so forth.

You might think this is rather obvious but even housekeepers can miss something on occasion and what better way to get feedback on your cleaning firm than to ask guests what they see when they arrive.

And this gives the Guest the opportunity to report anything not to their liking. It is better to hear about a issue immediately when someone can be sent to review the situation than to have a guest demand large (and often unreasonable) credits at a later date. Plus it puts them on notice that the time to report concerns is when they arrive and not days or weeks later.

The Right hand column of the form has pretty much the same checklist of questions. Did they close the blinds, set the thermostat to the assigned setting, turn faucets off, start the dishwasher? It is reasonable to ask them to undertake these tasks especially if they are reminded with the checklist. (Although I am still amazed by those few guests who simply ignore their guest contract and all the written reminders.)

Usually we receive back the Guest Checklist with no reported problems and often with nice compliments. Most of us are confident we are running our homes professionally but good feedback reinforces all the effort we take to be responsible operators.

The form is also helpful in receiving the kind of news we don't really want to hear - but must hear - if we want the future Guests to have a pleasant stay. No matter how careful guests may try to be, they can inadvertently cause problems for others if they break or damage something. And homes also malfunction through no fault of the Guest. TVs, Stereos and even furniture do not last forever. Silverware disappears (thankfully very slowly) and light bulbs burn out.

Guests will report bad news to you willingly (perhaps too willingly!) but that will give you you time to attend to repairs or replacements. Yes it can be bad news but any business is better off to know of short comings and fix them than to allow them to arise repeatedly.

Your Guest Checklist can also serve other functions. It can include reminders to guests about checkin and checkout times, ask them to turn down the heat at night to save energy and, in short, is a great way for Guests to know what is expected of them. I believe most people will follow rules if they know them. Private Vacation Rentals are not hotels. In some ways we are better. In other ways, due to distance, off site staffing and so forth we need to find ways to maintain control and oversight on our homes.

One last thought for you. Even if you already have a guest checklist please visit the website ( download the sample we have on file there. Be sure to include anything and everything your Guest needs to know and that you expect of them in operating your home. Our sample form provides ideas you may not have thought of.

So you may be asking yourself, how do I get Guests to utilize the checklist? Upon arrival Guests are required to call our toll free number to "Checkin" and report what they find especially if there are issues. We get very good compliance on this and it is a way of making sure that Guests take responsibility for problems that develop while they are in residence. If they don't report it when they arrive we must assume they caused the problem.

Then, when guests prepare to depart they are to complete the worksheet and phone to Checkout. We also have a fax/printer in most homes and they can fax in the sheet if they prefer.

Lastly, Guests are told that we do not process their deposit refund until the checklist is received. Infrequently guests call a few days after departure demanding the immediate return of their deposit. But the Guest Agreement Contract allows up to 45 days for refund after they return the Checkout list (and keys if any). A few guests will forget what they've agreed to and we pleasantly remind them to return the sheet so we can begin the refund procedure.

Do you think this system is too harsh? Or too much work for the Guests? We have only Hotels to blame for our predicament. Even four star establishments frequently will rent a room to anyone who shows up at the front desk with a credit card or cash. But remember they have on-site staff to "inspect" the guest before accepting them and have on-site staff to police the building and to respond to guest issues or complaints.

Private Rentals on the other hand have no such safe guards. Perhaps we can look to Rental Car Companies for a better example. Most companies require a credit card and some rather elaborate paperwork before accepting a renter. They have significant legal and financial exposure and are not about to give you a $10,000 to $40,000 vehicle without setting firm and inflexible rules.

Don't you think we should do the same when we are allowing someone to utilize homes that are 10 to 20 times more expensive?


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

Ed Reece has a charming get away home up in our neck of the woods - on Washington State's Puget Sound. I've never asked him why its called Harper House but check out his website at ( Instead of the usual he has an online video you might like. (If you want your place considered for Home of the Week please drop me an email.)

It all sounds great, William. I would very much be interested in working with you in transforming this "new" activity into a more respectable "industry." One of my main concerns right now is that someone out there counterfeits a whole bunch of properties for rent. It would do so much harm to the reputation our business! That's why I believe in the credentials aspect of your offering.
- Walid, Paris

Thanks for the reminder. As I mentioned in January, we are revamping the inspection program to make it more functional. I hope to have that documented and underway by the end of the month. (For those of you on the inspection list, we will be contacting you directly)
- Wm. May

Please see these websites for fun:
- Guest Checklist Form
- Sample Notices

If you like receiving these newsletters, if we've helped you even a little, please tell your friends by clicking here (Its automated & easy.) (

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0042 – 02/09/04

Website Strategy, Part One

By William May
Published: 01/19/04 Topics: Comments: 0

Whether you are self managed or use a property management firm you gotta have a website if you want to maximize income. In recent weeks I've been getting lots of questions about website strategy. For Example: David White from Rock Creek Cabins ( asked,

"Sometime in the near future I would like to see some discussion on posting rates on web sites. Also, the pros/cons of giving customers the ability to book reservations thru web sites."

And what gives me the right to speak to that subject? Well because those decisions go to the core marketing decisions that I've been studying for 30 years of doing print, broadcast and other kinds of advertising and marketing. I may not know it all but I do grab on to ideas I stumble upon. If I have a core conclusion about business (having rooted around inside hundreds of them) it is simply this, "Well run businesses do everything on purpose." There are no silver bullets, no perfect solutions. Every industry, every company is different. But if they think strategically, if they do things on purpose, they usually succeed.

To design a website "Doing things on purpose" means going back to the basics. Before you start (or redesign) your site ask this question, what am I trying to accomplish? For most of us the answer is we are trying to attract renters. Pretty simple. But you may have other goals.

For example: Do you want guests to telephone inquiries or to email them? (Remembering that they may call in the middle of the night) If so, then you may need to install a second phone number that you can turn off after "Business Hours." In that case it would be smart to post your hours on your website.

Are you willing to return phone calls? (You would be amazed at the huge percentage of businesses who fail to do that). If so you'll need to have voicemail or an answering machine with a short but informative business like message on it.

Do you like speaking with "prospects" personally or would you prefer to handle email correspondence only. Not everyone is cut out to be a telephone salesperson. In this case you may want to omit your phone number from your website. (Even if you ask to only be contacted by email, believe me, they will call at all hours.)

Naturally the answer to these questions differ if you are not self managed. In that case you'll have to designate the manager to be contacted on your website so learn their preferences about phone calls or emails. Ask them and design your site appropriately. By the way, if your manager restricts access to his staff in anyway, you probably need to find a new firm because one of the reasons you use a manage is to take the sales burden off your shoulders.

You may be finding my advice so far requires you to think through each aspect of your website, and I hope you will do that for your site. But to make the process speedy I'll now outline some of the tactics you may want to employ in your website. Tactics hat are bound to produce results.

But before I go through the laundry list let me explain a strange idea that has come about because of the web and that may have changed the face of marketing forever. It is this:

"The web allows us to provide more information than ever before. It allows us to organize it dynamically meaning viewers can pick and choose which information they look at by following links. Plus it allows customers to dig into that data at any place and time and often without our knowledge. In some ways that is scary because, unlike in-person sales, people we don't get to pick, choose what they see. Really for the first time, they choose how they want to be sold."

All of that means we have an opportunity, perhaps the requirement, to sell differently than ever before. To accomplish that I have taken to applying my strange idea, a kind of test really. It is based on the premise (which may not be true for all of you) that each of us can all get sufficient leads But it asks if can we get the best ones and, more importantly, how can we secure bookings while cutting the time we waste on prospects who will never buy?

The solution is to follow a "Tell Them Everything" Theory:


Sounds crazy doesn't it? But fully informing the customer before they phone or write will save you a great deal of time.

As an example: If you accept pets feature that fact prominently on your site.

The "I gotta bring my well-behaved, well-mannered, quite, small (you fill in the adjective) pooch" people will flock to your rental. But the "I fear they'll be a faint tale tell smell of man's best friend" guest won't waste time to call.

And if the negative side of the Tell Them Everything works, it will work in the positive. Give viewers a wealth of information and then, if they call to book, you know they are a well informed and appreciative guest.

In short, provide all the information you can so that customers can "self quality" themselves before calling.

FABULOUS PHOTOS: Vacation Rental Websites have improved markedly since the inception of the web. Originally home owners were delighted to snap a digital photo and throw it on the web. But now viewers expect high quality high-resolution photos, with proper lighting. Owners should use software to light balance the photo for a great effect. I'm not suggesting you make your place look better or different than it is. But even sophisticated digital camera photos need manipulation to make the photo look like what a visitor's eye will perceive when they arrive.

LOTS OF PHOTOS: No home is perfect, but don't hide anything. Take shots of every major room, and from various angles. ALWAYS include exterior shots and photos of your resort or community. If a feature (like oceanfront or water skiing) is far from the home include it but explain where its located. Do not mislead. Be careful not to slow down your websites photo loading time. Instead, use thumbnail photos that link to larger photos at the option of the viewer.

### So where do you get fabulous photos? If you are highly schooled maybe you can shoot them yourself. But its probably faster, better and cheaper in the long run to use one of the many real estate photographers (even national firms) who have sprung up to service the Real Estate Sales Industry. They are affordable and competent. Call your local real estate agent to get a list of names in your area.

360 PHOTOS: Virtual tours (where the viewer can turn the photo to see a 360 degree view of a given room) are all the rage, and rightfully so. Guest's are becoming very web savvy. They want to know as much as possible before they chunk down thousands of dollars in rent. You can buy this service affordably from most still photographers.

FLOOR PLANS: Probably less than Five Percent of the Vacation Rental websites I view have floor plans. One vacation rental directory website even prohibits them. What a terrible shame. A skilled artistic rendition of the floor plans is wonderful, but even a simply close to scale drawing is acceptable. Your guests will love them. And its particularly helpful for a home where the interior is superior to its "Curb Appeal."

I've reviewed over 300 vacation rental directory websites (including the clunkers) and thousands of individual home websites. Few, if any, have sufficient text description. Scanning down the list in some directories makes you believe all the homes are exactly the same. "Lovely/beautiful/wonderful 2BR/2BA cabin/condo/home/chalet/villa." Looks like the drones simply copied each other's ads and it makes it impossible to select which home to click on.

Sure some of the directories have very short "first page" description areas but you can break the mold if you try. And many directories tell me that even in their "inside property"page fields most owners use only 10 to 20% of the space provided to describe (sell) their homes.

And almost no directory listings and few websites have any personality. You and your family may have loved Grandpa's cabin for many decades but if you don't tell them why you are just another face in the crowd. That is double frustrating for guests who may be looking for just that kind of experience for their family.

So the rule is, "Describe, Describe, Describe" and "Personalize, Personalize, Personalize."

Instead of this:

"2BR/2BA condo at Whistler. Very nice. In village, close to lifts"

How about something like this:

"My son learned to ski here. We're so close he'd get up alone, even at age eight, walk to the lifts and have 10,000 feet of vertical in before I rousted myself out of bed. He's 15 now and has been selected for the Canadian Ski team. You won't find a 2BR/2BA condo closer location to the Whistler Gondola."

You've heard me harp on this before - - make sure you include all the basics on your website, preferably on the header or footer. Yesterday I stumbled upon a website for vacation rental homes on Whidbey and Camano Islands here in Washington State. Its unusual domain name " (" caught my eye, as it would for any overworked up all night writer. It is nicely designed even though the home listings suffer from the boring description syndrome.

But I was astonished when I couldn't figure out who really owns or supports the site. No "Contact us", "About Us" or even a phone number. That tells me they don't want to be contacted or they are hiding something. Maybe its really just a front for a website designer? Or some kind of scam? Certainly it is not, but they are missing a big opportunity by leaving out their address, phone or email.

Here are the basics (include as many as you have available) :

- Unit name (pick a catchy one)
- Unit address
- References
- Maps
- Directions
- Links
- Webcams

- Your Name
- Phone
- Email Address
- Mailing Address
- Domain name (so they'll remember it)
- About Us
- Contact Us
- How to Book
- Things to Do

So we've started to discuss website strategy. Next week we'll get into the meat and potatoes, the quiche and salad. Things like:

- Buying a Domain Name
- Online Booking
- Showing Rates
- Showing your Calendar
- Requiring Guests to identify themselves
- Guest Rules
- Terms & Conditions

These are not simple questions. There is no obvious yes or no, should or shouldn't. So I'll be discussing the pros and cons and will talk about how to do them if they are right for you.

If you're not a member signup today at ( so you don't miss next week's in-depth and valuable issue.


If you like receiving these newsletters, if we've helped you even a little, please tell your friends by clicking here (Its automated & easy.)

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

How about Mexico this week. Dominick Mullaney lives in New Jersey but loves to spend time at his Casa Mullaney in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Who can blame him. Take a look at ( .(If you want your place considered for Home of the Week please drop me an email.)

I have been getting your newsletters for a few months and love them. They are giving me info on subjects that I didn't think of before. Like the term and condition sheet.
- Debra, Green Bay WI USA

We try to have fun with the Vacation Rental business - hey its fun owning a rental. But sometimes we have to cover tough subjects like legalities. Glad you found it helpful.
- Wm. May

Please see these websites for fun:

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0041 – 01/19/04

dis n dat for 2004

By William May
Published: 01/12/04 Topics: Comments: 0

I just can't help myself from breaking into 'pigeon" after a month in Hawaii. But now we're back to the grind stone and hard at it. Actually we put the nose to that grind stone while in Hawaii but it always seems easier there.

As we begin the new year I thought I'd give you a run down on some of the plans for the new year. And ask your input on some of these projects. Its our goal to help you increase revenue, decrease expenses ad have more fun so I want to know what you need the most so I can prioritize.

At the top of the list in the next month or two will be to complete our study of Property Insurance plans for Vacation Rental Home Owners. Some of you have told me your insurance is being cancelled because some carrier no longer want to insure such real estate. Others, especially in resort areas, are telling me keeping insurance is no problem but escalating rates are.

We have already begun a survey of carrier's to find those who have specific insurance products tailored to short-term rental homes. Those who offer coverage nationally have been the focus. So its our goal to find coverage that is tailored to vacation rentals and not just vacation (non-rental) homes.

Please drop me a line if you have any specific knowledge on this subject or if you have a carrier or agent who you think is especially knowledgeable or helpful.

After feedback from a good number of owners we are considering a change in our inspection process. Some of you feel that the one to five star rating system may be more complicated than necessary. Most of us feel we have very nice vacation homes. But, unlike lodges, inns, motels or hotels, homes can differ dramatically. What constitutes a villa in one location may be considered pedestrian in another. Plus the look and feel of homes changes based on location. As an example: In mountain resorts, many guests prefer a quaint log cabin over a prestigious large home.

In addition, I've heard some owners say they wouldn't want to receive a two or three star rating even though they admit their homes are not a $10,000 per week mansions. It is their thinking that anything less than five stars might turn guests away. This is unfortunate because, even in hotels, a two or three star facility, can still be a wonderful place to stay. I would guests would learn to understand the system and use it buy just want they want.

Originally we had built into the system variances for location, type of resort and so forth. Certainly the five stars were to be reserved for the very highest and most elite homes. My wife and I have some great rentals in the $500,000 price range. But even those would garner a two or three rating.

Based on the feedback I've received so far, we are considering limiting the inspection process to only the "Blue Ribbon" designation - which is essentially a pass or fail review. The process would remain much the same. VROA has set a reasonable standard for location, cleanliness, service and accurate advertising. Each property is to be personally inspected by an unbiased "approved" inspector. Homes that qualify are awarded the Blue Ribbon Designation. Those that do not, are given a list of changes necessary to qualify. Once they do so they receive the Blue Ribbon.

Even with the simplified inspection without a stars rating, there is a degree of objectivity but it is more subjective than issuing stars. A beautiful small cottage in the woods could certainly earn a Blue Ribbon. And a mansion with malfunctioning bathrooms might not.

Its our current thinking that the Blue Ribbon is sufficient indication to guests that a home is up to snuff and verified to conform to what they were offered and reserved. Managing such a designation is a major improvement in our industry. Most owners and property management firms are reputable and reliable. But there are those who promise more than they deliver, or who exaggerate their properties resorts of communities do us all a disfavor. Only when Guests feel comfortable with renting private homes will we all achieve greater occupancy and rates.

Limiting the service to inspection also has some other advantages. It would easier and quicker to arrange the inspections, inspector reports and issuing of certificates. The process would be timely and predictable. And all of that means we might b able to cut the inspection cost some.

So what do you think of offering only the Blue Ribbon Inspection service? I would appreciate you thoughts on this because we plan to finalize that decision within a week or two. Those of you who have signed up for the inspections are affected the most, so please let me know.

We're not ego maniacs (I hope) but we have begun to disseminate information to newspapers and other media in an effort to promote the vacation rental industry. We have been getting phones calls from journalists looking for industry-wide information or discussion. Some of those articles are already appearing and I will be posting them to the news page of within the week.

If you have a publication that might be interested in writing about the industry please have them call, email or write me. Or, let me know and I'll send them a VROA press kit full of news and information. Also, don't forget to send a letter to your hometown paper announcing that you are now a member of VROA, and again later when you win your Blue Ribbon. They'll often run such stories, it helps the industry and just might bring you some new guests as well.

We continue to work on the ( website designed for Guest use. It will be a place consumers can go to find the property they want to rent - but at the same time - verify that the property has been inspected and that the owners are participating in the industry to improve and increase service.

We don't want to compete directly with all the commercial vacation rental sites out there. In fact, our system will dovetail with theirs and other sties will be encouraged to utilize inspection designations and other supplier services.

On the other hand, making the consumer site intuitive and easy to use is one of our prime goals. It may look different from any of the other sites out there. Look for this to be completed very shortly.

Lastly, I would like to tell you about another possible service that some owners have suggested. While we all do our best to satisfy guests, sometimes it just isn't possible. Either because things can indeed go wrong or, more likely, because there are always five percent of consumers who want more than they paid for and will never be satisfied.

Currently unhappy Guests have a number of ways they can disrupt your business. They can start a "Chargeback" against your credit card company. They can file complaints with governmental authorities (such as your state attorney general) or they can do so with the Better Business Bureau. If the consumer has a valid complaint it is, of course, best to solve the problem and sometimes offer a discount or make-good. For those difficult clients however, this means you must respond to the authorities and waste time and effort disputing the charge. Its a headache and its distasteful.

As an alternate to those methods, VROA is considering formation of a Arbitration (binding) or Mediation (non-binding) resolution system. It could be managed on-line and would be conducted with utmost fairness. Members could then require, in their guest agreements, that Guests resolve complaints only through the VROA dispute resolution system. There would have to be a charge, of course, but the cost would be low compared to the time and money owners can expend dealing with unreasonable guests.

If this program sounds overly ambitious, please understand that many professional services (Ssch as architects) and other industries employ them. It would not tilt the table in an owner's favor but it would speed up and make resolution more efficient.

We will be studying the feasibility of offering dispute resolution later in the year but please let me know what you think, especially if you have experience in this area perhaps in some other ndustry.

And speaking of misunderstandings, its my thought that some guest complaints are really not complaints at all. By not promoting the industry - what we do and do not offer - we are allowing consumers to "imagine" standards for us. Are we a hotel with 24 hour a day customer service? Or are we offering private rentals where guests are on their own if the toaster doesn't work? Do you know? I certainly don't because as a group we simply haven't set even minimum standards.

Everyone agrees we'd be better off if guests knew what to expect (and what not to). Certainly getting our information out into the press will begin to educate consumers. But this year we also plan to write and design a couple of "guest education" pamphlet that owners can include with contracts.

These graphically pleasing printed pieces will be small non-threatening (and not legal) documents. The first, will be an explanation of what the Blue Ribbon Inspection means to Guests. And the second, will be a kind of "All about Vacation Rentals" piece used to convince guests as to what are reasonable expectations. Of course, you could do some pamphlets yourself but by having them branded as VROA information they should be widely accepted by guests as gospel. And, we should be able to produce these for a nominal price. Use, of course, will be strictly optional.

So 2004 looks to be a good year for owners and the association. We are working to improve the industry and to serve owners and suppliers.


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

I've just got to go to Tennessee. Cheryl Gilliam's Heavenly Cabins look like a very restful place to spend a week or longer. Check them out at (
(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 Vacation Rental owners.
Mary & Duane, Black, Missouri

Hey, you found us. And we're here to help the industry and individual owners anyway we can. Please tell you neighbors who rent their places too!
- Wm. May

Please see these websites for fun:
- Blue Ribbon Inspection
- VROA News

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0040 – 01/12/04

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