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Is it Too Late to Invest in a Vacation Rental?

By William May
Published: 08/10/05 Topics: Comments: 0

Are vacation rentals the espresso stands of the future?

Over thirty years ago a couple of Seattle entrepreneurs started a little shop in Washington State to make and sell the kind of rich and potent coffee - common in Europe - that they couldn't find in their home town. More than a decade later, another young entrepreneur leveraged himself into buying the - by that time - small group of coffee stores thinking he could spread the company into a large and profitable retail chain. The rest is history. Starbucks now has over 6,000 stores worldwide, wholesale packaged goods and other operations including their own music label. (!)

While Starbucks blossomed, thousands of other entrepreneurs leaped into the coffee fray. They saw the success of Starbucks as a quick opportunity to get rich. Said an early participant, "How tough could it be? Get a little stand, buy some beans, figure everything out on my own and rake in the money."

But like most things in life, the reality of owning any business, even a small espresso stand, is not as easy as it appears. Check any business opportunity newspaper classified section today and you'll find a long list of espresso stands for sale. There are exceptions, of course, but most coffee stand operators work long hours for less pay than what they'd make working for a grocery store.


Vacation rentals have been a viable lodging alternative for a great many decades having their roots in "Holiday Lets" and similar rental arrangements in Europe and elsewhere across the globe. While individually managed homes have always been available in established resort areas, the majority of homes and condos have been handled by management firms.

But in recent years the dream of capital gains and even cash-on-cash profits have become a big attraction for individuals who would like to see owning a vacation home as a true investment. It seems that almost everyone would love to have a vacation home. And what better way to do it than to get guests to pay all the costs. Just throw up a simple website, buy a few ads on those sure-thing listing sites, answer a couple of phone calls and watch the money roll in. If the place doesn't produce a nice, early cash flow then the owner can get all their loses back plus a big profit when they eventually sell the home at a big price, right? Well, not necessarily.

Some owners find that operating a vacation rental is just as much work as owning a coffee stand, but they can lose more money and don't even get free java.


At VROA we hear from vacation rental owners all over the US, Canada and many foreign countries, and increasingly the comments are from newer owners who feel like they've been sold a bill of goods about how easy it is to buy, operate and profit from vacation home ownership. That is unfortunate. We are all for vacation rental ownership as a wonderful way of paying some of the bills. And there is nothing wrong with hoping to pay ALL the bills, but what was a possibility for owners as recently as just a few years ago is becoming increasingly less probable for several reasons.

First, the cost of buying second homes has been escalating faster than that of primary homes, which themselves have been growing at a schooner's clip. In some areas, certain resort homes have risen 200 to 300 percent in price in just three years. Prices that were once a bargain are now so high they saddle buyers with much higher mortgage costs.

Second, while rental rates grow they have been restrained because, as more owners rush their holiday homes into rentals, the inventory of available homes in many areas is growing faster than demand. Saturate the market, watch the prices go down. It's my hope that this trend will reverse as the industry continues to pull guests away from hotels/motels and into our rentals.

Third, owners are also being targeted by governments for increased lodging and property taxes. As the industry becomes more visible, politicians love to reach into landlord pockets by further increasing costs with regulations and licensing.

Last, but not least, other operating costs are also growing and often faster than rentals rates. Supplies, electricity and other utilities will do nothing but go ever upward and, yes, faster than rental rates and income.


Throughout history, real estate has pretty much always been a safe long-term investment. It's said that 80% of the wealth in the US was gained through real property. Primary homes have been a good source of security for owners with prices rising steadily, if only moderately for a great many years, with only periodic downturns and corrections. On occasion owners have had to sell personal residences at a loss but, in general, home owners could expect to recover and even profit from their homes if they just wait long enough.

Commercial real estate has been a long-term investment winner but the larger the property, the more expertise the owner or managers needs to exhibit.

Real estate prices have grown rapidly in recent years and will continue to do so, and the most savvy of investors will buy wisely, operate tightly and sell when the time is right. But not everyone can do so. The chance of easy money in vacation rental homes has gone away. Just as the chance of building an espresso stand into a huge corporate automaton are long past.


Does all of this sound like too much "The sky is falling?" Sadly, no.

There is really only one proven reason (and there has always only been one) for buying a vacation rental: to offset the costs of a property that is truly a second home. This was the goal for vacation home ownership for decades, and is still a worthy one.

If you select a home you love, in an area you want to spend time in for many years, if you invest considerable time, know how to operate a business, can afford to allow time to build up your vacation rental business and have reasonable expectations of offsetting your costs then second home ownership is a wonderful undertaking.

If you think you can beat the system by buying cheap, remodeling smartly, marketing intensely then lucking out - you may, in fact, succeed. But you may also be setting yourself up for failure. The extraordinary gains of the last few years are unlikely to continue.

Please don't fall for those folks who would sell you a seminar, book, website or other services that primarily promotes the simplicity of making money. I appreciate their enthusiasm but only ask that prospective owners take those messages with a grain of salt. I hope the new owners now rushing into the industry will use the kind of caution all those espresso stand buyers now wish they had exercised.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0065 – 08/10/05

Why and How to use Contracts

By William May
Published: 07/15/05 Topics: Comments: 0

Some days I sound like a broken record. To question after question from well-meaning members I answer simply by starting another question: "What does your contract say?"

I am still amazed at how many owners and managers will allow a complete stranger - someone they've never known - to occupy their very expensive second homes that are often hundreds or thousands of miles from their primary residence without requiring that person to sign a comprehensive and enforceable contract.

Sure, some folks send out a piece of paper as a confirmation. Smarter owners send out a piece of paper and ask the guest to sign it. Unfortunately, pieces of paper are not necessarily contracts. Unless you are a lawyer or a professional manager you may not be aware of the pitfalls that incomplete, inaccurate or illegal contracts can cause you.

I don't know which amazes me more, owners who don't use a contract or those who use a short, incomplete document. Both carry significant risks.


Did you know that should the foundation of a dispute come down to a paragraph, sentence or clause that is "ambiguous," the court will rule against the person who wrote the contract? How could they do otherwise? The person who wrote the contract had the chance to do it correctly, but if they failed to be clear and the court must reach some kind of conclusion then they need a basis on which to conclude an undecidable manner. Their decision? Judges will rule against the person who wrote the document. There is really no other way to reach a conclusion and, when you think about it, there is really no other way to complete the matter other than to use a rule most owners have never heard about.

Here is another tiny detail that could easily sink your ship. What is the difference between the legal term CANCEL and TERMINATE? Like most laymen, I used to think those were pretty much the same thing. Alas, they are not. Terminating an agreement stops the agreement at some juncture during the relationship. For example, if a guest was to stay a week and asked to leave after the fourth day (due to a family emergency, say) the guest would still be obligated to pay for the first four days - if you allowed a termination.

Cancellation, on the other hand, means to wipe-out the agreement, putting each party back to where they started before the agreement. If that same guest asked to "Cancel" the agreement after four days he is really asking to leave and get ALL his money back. You could argue the impossibility of refunding four day's worth of rent which might convince a judge. Then again, if it's not present in the contract, it might not.

Ultimately, the best route is to understand and use terminology correctly; don't agree to a cancellation if you really intended to allow a termination.


Q: A guest stayed in my house and broke a window. Can I charge them for it?

A: It depends on what your contract says. If you have a well written damage clause you can probably withhold it from the damage deposit.

Q: My last guest called frantically to apologize. (Never a good sign) They told me they backed into the garage door, denting it so severely it won't open. Is it fair to charge them?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Your paperwork should make it clear the guest is responsible for any and all damage and it must say it is your right to determine the damage and costs of repair.

Q: The guest wants me to get three bids for denting the garage door. But I need to get it fixed before the next guest. Can I do that?

A: It depends on what your contract says. The guest should have no right to dictate your behavior when it's his actions that caused the problem.

Q: A guest booked last minute and after they left, their check bounced. What should I do?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Is there a provision that allows you to charge fees for NSF checks and to collect in court if necessary or to turn the matter over to a collection agency? Does you agreement allow you to check their credit?

Q: The guest was supposed to do the dishes and laundry. I know these are small things but can I charge them for extra cleaning?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Does the guest pay a set cleaning fee or a "normal and usual" fee with extra charges for not following requirements?

Q: The neighbors say my guests are too loud and have sued me for the last group. Can I recover my legal fees from the guest?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Is the Guest liable for costs they cause you to incur? They should be. You simply must require guests to be liable for costs they cause you to incur. What if those legal fees run into the thousands of dollars? What if you have to defend against a city or county citation? The person who causes the problem must pay the damages. You'll be able to shift that burden to the guest if it's in your agreement.

Q: My current guest said it was just husband, wife and two children. Now I find out they have two other couples and six more children in the house. What can I do?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Does it specify exactly how many adults and how many children?

Q: One guest had a party at my house but said they were only there for a few hours. Because they didn't spend the night he says they are not technically guests and he shouldn't have to pay extra. Is that right?

A: It depends on what your contract says. How does it define a guest? Does it say anyone who comes to the house at any time, for any length of time is an occupant? Does it say that only registered guests are allowed on the property? If you are clear, the guest is obligated to pay for extra occupants.

Q: The guests showed up two hours early just as my housekeepers were finishing. How do I stop them from doing that?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Your guests will argue the house was ready, so they should be able to move in. You shouldn't need to argue. If your contract spells out fees for early check-in or late checkout you can deduct them from the guest's deposit. It won't stop the next guest from trying the same trick, but at least you'll be compensated for the inconvenience.

Q: Recent guests left SEVEN cans of garbage behind. Can I charge them for hauling and dumping the excess?

A: It depends on what your contract says. If you defined how much garbage they can have or if you have a nice sign on the wall in the garage instructing them how to and quantity to dump and if your contract requires them to follow posted rules then you'd have every right to charge them.

Q: My rental is full of white, French provincial furniture so I worry about allowing dirty children in the home. Can I require guests be over a certain age?

A: It depends on what your contract says - at least to some extent. Most contracts require the responsible party to be a certain age. In many jurisdictions nightly rentals are specifically exempt from landlord/tenant law as that might prohibit restrictions on age. Even the appearance of a no-children clause might subject you to claims of discrimination. Ask a local attorney and then form your contract to their instructions.

Q: Hurricane Dennis is bearing down on us and a dozen guests have called to cancel. Do I have to allow that? Even those that are months in the future?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Is it cancelable - especially for natural disasters? How far in advance can they cancel? A long-term landlord wouldn't let tenants out of a lease, so why should you? You'll still have to pay the mortgage won't you?

Q: Charging guests cancellation fees sounds so scrooge-like. Can I just charge them a cancellation fee rather than the entire amount?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Do you have a cancellation policy in your paperwork? Is it clear on dates and fees? If so you'll be on firm footing.

Q: I'm selling my home and the buyer doesn't want to rent it out. I hate to inconvenience the guest but I stand to make a lot of money on the sale. Can I cancel the guest?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Without clarity the Guest could require you pay damages for his inconvenience. No owner can plan their life far into the future. But if the agreement allows you to cancel (even if the guest can not cancel) then you should have the right to cancel the agreement without penalty.

Q: The guest has been rude but didn't really do anything wrong. How can I stop that?

A: On this one, it doesn't matter what your contract says. There's really no way to charge people for being difficult. But I hope you submit their names to the VROA "Unwelcome Guest List."


By now you've probably very tired of hearing that so many problems are governed by your contract, but in this litigation-centric society, it is required. The idea of using a well-crafted guest contract is a fantastic and time, money and hassle-saving idea. In fact, it's really a requirement for any well run rental and knowledgeable owner.

But don't despair if you haven't been careful with paperwork, there are a few other routes that can offer some protection. For example, most jurisdictions have laws spelling out the rules for lodging operators and guests alike. Unlike landlord/tenant laws, a lodging law provides good support for the operators of lodging facilities. This is because an operator has obligations to parties other than himself and guests. Other guests and neighbors, for instance, must be considered when offering lodging.

Under state or local laws, guests who intentionally violate the conditions of the lodging law may be guilty of defrauding an Innkeeper (or similar specific terms depending on the jurisdiction). Guests are not allowed run out with all your towels, or fail to pay the rent or for damage they cause. Their conduct and behavior is usually subject to the standards you set especially if those are in writing and approved by both parties prior to occupancy. Any violation of the standards such as theft, noise, over occupancy etc. may allow you to immediately evict a violator.

You've probably heard the horror stories landlords have when trying to evict long-term tenants. But with short-term rentals the owner's ability to intercede and resolve problems must be swift and clear. If you see activities that are contrary to law (such as under-age drinking, violation of parking or noise rules, etc.) you have the ability to call the police and have them escort the guest off the premises immediately.


To put together a comprehensive guest agreement, you don't have to start from scratch. Members can log on to ( for sample agreements. We recommend using a "Booking Confirmation" and "Terms and Conditions" sheet. It's short and succinct and packed with the rights and privileges of both Owner and Guest alike.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0064 – 07/15/05

Search Engines Hijacked by Rental Directories

By William May
Published: 06/03/05 Topics: Comments: 0

Long time vacation rental managers and owners have watched the Internet ebb and flow.

What began as a strong new tool has recently lost its way in the ever changing commercialization of the web. What started out as a wonderful and effective service has fallen victim to the large companies who have insights and tools that allow them to hijack the search engines causing them to loose effectiveness due to the ever changing nature of the beast.

At first the web was a wonderful new tool that allowed guests, for the first time, to search out wonderfully unique lodging. Why rent a basic, bland hotel room when it was possible to inspect, price and reserve that perfect vacation spot?

Along the way, the use of handy digital cameras, 360 virtual tours, long and complete descriptions and on-line references afforded prospective visitors the confidence required to lay down big bucks on a rental hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Quickly, web based directories of homes in locations worldwide served to direct guests to those hard to find locations. Most of these sites were rudimentary in their technology and yet, they were prolific in their spider-like covering of the web.


I can't figure out why the older, less intuitive and (frankly) uglier sites still dominate the Vacation Rental Listing category. The only thing I can think of -harking back to my advertising/marketing school 30 years ago - is the fact that there is no better marketing feature than being first.

Today's business climate is often still dominated by those who came first or were, at least, the first visible.

Even Microsoft is honest enough to never flaunt itself as the best and the brightest. They let a new idea start and then they pounce on it with all their might - sometimes taking over the category entirely.

In recent years there have been failures in some areas, especially in internet searching, but what they have going for themselves - mostly - is that they were the first at being the biggest.

Before Microsoft, brand names have been dominated by those who came first, Xerox and IBM come to mind.


NOTE: My apology to members for missing a number of newsletters. We are currently redeveloping the ( website in order to activate the ( owners directory. We promise to have that done soon and to get the newsletters back on schedule. We are a volunteer organization and always welcome offers to help.


In the vacation rental search engine arena, the early entrants like (, (, ( and ( seem to own the market - not because they are offer a better product, but because they are not innovative. They stick with the tried and true rather than advance the cause of their customers with better products, design and customer service.

I particularly like the work that ( and ( are doing. Pay-Per-Click is a great tool if property owners have the time to constantly manage it.

These services have a better product. Now if the consumers will just agree by flocking to those sites then vacation rental owners, managers and yes guests will all benefit. Let's hope.

By the way if you market leaders are reading, please do your customers a favor and upgrade the look and feel of your sites. Its fine to take our money but we'd like to see continuing improvements along the way. Hey, even Detroit shines up the cars every year. I'd love nothing better than to see the industry stabilize around a few ever growing sites but that's going to require you to become the best - not just the first.


In the past its been my constant mantra to owners that every house should have its own website. Listing your home only on a few of the listing directories is simply not enough.

Should your listing be yanked (yes this happens) or the directory change its prioritization of homes or geographic areas all your nice leads could dry up in an instant. (Yes this happens too).

Plus you gotta remember that sending guests to your page on a web directory as your primary website is helping to promote your competition.

After seeing your property they will undoubtedly find your next-door competitor. You don't see Chevy advertising Ford products do you? If your house is anything less than the nicest home at the cheapest price you are promoting the web directory and your competitors are your loss.

Plus indicating a website for your property such as ( informs guests you may not be technically competent and that might mean you are not competent in other facets of rentals as well. I know that's a stretch but web customers today expect to see good domain names and info.

The only safe way to advertise is to put up your own site with your own domain name. Today, having a custom site isn't that difficult or costly, you can buy a program like FrontPage, or use one of the automated systems (, ( and ( look good) or find a local designer to do it.

Using a designer is your best bet of getting an interesting site and prices are far less than they used to be (mostly because the designers are using programming tools to save time).

By having your own site you can utilize PPC advertising, paid print advertising and still put your information on the Web Vacation Rental Directories. All of those should allow our listing to link to your custom site. If they don't you should scream bloody murder because they are distancing you from your customers and that is never a good idea.


So now on to my biggest complaints of recent months.

First, I support PPC listings managed by (, (, ( all of which post paid listings conspicuously on their thousands of websites. They can be cost effective and, in general, usually disclose themselves as paid advertising.

But you may have noticed that the "Unsponsored" listings recently on (, (, ( and most of the other big portals have LOST their effectiveness for Vacation Rental Owners. Here is the proof:

Try typing in a keyword from your destination or any location you like to visit. In almost all cases the top dozen or more free listings will show URL's that always begin with the URL of a web directory followed by often unclear words, numbers or symbols.

Clicking on those listings will take you to the web directory and not always to a page for your state, town or even the home that was featured in the search engine listing.

This is a tragedy for the guest as well as the owner. It means the value of search to find what you want quickly and accurately has been destroyed.

It is true that some guests are looking for a long list of rentals in a given area. They are shopping for features and price. But perhaps the most physiologically interesting aspect of vacation rentals is that many, maybe most, guests are seeking something unique and unusual.

They love to stumble upon that perfect getaway or hidden home or even funky cabin. What makes a rental valuable to visitors is that it IS NOT a hotel. It is not a cookie cutter.

You may be wondering how the listing directories get such high placement in the search engines. The answer is that they spend full time trying to beat the system. It's an technical know-how game that most owners and management companies don't have the time to invest in. Worst of all, it is common in the free listings.

And while I'm at it, many members are telling me they are getting discontinued on Google, Overture Paid and other PPC sites because their click through rate is not high enough in relationship to the "impressions" (views) their keywords generate. Sometimes this is because the keyword is too generic, such as Hawaii or Florida. But if that's true how come the web directories don't get knocked off the PPC list?

Just as with the free listings, they often don't have even one home in the area for which they purchased the Keyword. That's not just dirty pool its misleading and - again - begins to destroy the value of the search to consumers.


You may have noticed a new feature on Google and a few other search engines that allow you to only search for businesses in a given area. The idea is that if you want to order a delivery pizza you don't want a list of pizza joints three states away. The idea is good but the execution is a mess.

Did you know that Google uses Yellow pages listings - of all crazy things - (and some other techniques) to try to determine what is local? That means if you aren't in the yellow pages (and most owners are not because they live far away) then their home may never show in Google Local. At the same time, Google is more than happy to post non-local Vacation Rental Directory PPC ads prominently on the local pages.

Again, the unique aspect of local merchants and rentals gets usurped by those companies sophisticated enough misuse the system.

The worst part is the fact that it is the guest who loses out on the chance to rent a unique, interesting and far more valuable home. I hope Google and others will get this kink worked out one day, but alas, technology has its limits. The way to find out if something is local is to get in the car and drive by the front door, something computers can't do and search engines can't afford.


In the end, the story of misdirection, inaccurate free and PPC listings and the decline of search engine value to vacation rentals is really a problem of too many middlemen.

If search worked correctly, why should you have to advertise on a web directory in order to be found by a guest looking for a cool cabin, condo or home in your area?

What value does the directory serve when it has to bump local vendors out of the search engines in order to send them through their sites only to find the local guy they bumped. Seems like a catch-22 doesn't it?

And currently its getting worse and not better. Everytime you buy an ad on a directory that usurps your position in the search engines you give them more power to do it.

And what can you do about it? Probably very little. But I encourage you to send letters (not email) to the president of each search engine explaining the problem.

In the end, they are the ones who set the rules that are currently a disservice to their customers. We can't be the only industry losing out due to these new methods. I know those presidents want to make a profit for their business. Our problem may seem small. But the less accurate their service the sooner customers will find new and better ways of ferreting out great vacation rental homes.


Sometimes I am thankful at how lucky the rental business has been to have the internet come along and make business better or even possible. In general the changes to the web, search engines and PCs have been positive for our industry.

But the new trend in inaccurate free and paid listings is costing many owners and rental management companies in lost revenue. If something isn't done to make search engines more accurate they will continue to be less valuable. In the end we'll be out searching for new and better ways to advertise. It will happen.



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


These beautiful homes are located on Miami Beach down in Florida. They sure look nice in the pictures. (



You do a terrific job with VORA, so I thought we could really benefit from a membership to your organization. Look forward to seeing you soon.




We're here to help. Always. I hope (and am sure) you will find your membership useful.


Wm. May

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0063 – 06/03/05

Breathtaking Photographs Are Closer Than You Think

By Jonathan McIntyre
Published: 04/19/05 Topics: Comments: 0

Nothing, and I mean nothing, can help sell your rental more quickly to a perspective tenant than a great photo.

There is little that ameliorates a poor website more than clear, representative and numerous photos highlighting the best your vacation property has to offer.

Does your home have a beautiful hand carved mantle over a fireplace? Photograph it. Can you see the Hanging gardens of Babylon out of the master bath window? Photograph it. Is your home tastefully done with pleasant furniture? Photograph it. The old adage is absolutely correct, a picture is worth a thousand words or even more.

I've had the opportunity here to be intimately involved in the marketing of vacation homes over the internet, and I must say that I have learned much about what makes a great photograph. I've seen great photos, I've seen horrible photos.

I've taken classes and seminars, I've been to a plethora of photography shows, I've done freelance photography work, but honestly, getting a breathtaking shot is not nearly as difficult as it seems (or the photographers would have you believe). All one needs is a digital camera (or even a film camera), a computer, and some time.


First things first: take your time! It's very apparent when someone spent a scant 15 minutes shooting a home. The images looked rushed: dark and crooked, I wouldn't want to stay in a slanted home with no lights. Take your time.

When I shoot a home it ends up taking me at least an hour and a half, more depending on the size. In each room you should take a moment to look around, get a feeling for the space. Try different angles, high, low, behind the bed looking out, through the shower door, on a ladder in the kitchen, it makes your photographs look unique, thereby imbuing a sense of style to your home.

Believe me; interesting photographs do wonders for your property.


Let's take a moment to discuss some of the technical aspects of shooting architecture. While it's nice to have a $2000 camera, it's by no means necessary. I would say a decent digital camera with at least 3 mega pixels should be all one needs to get a great image.

I shoot a Nikon D70 (one of those $2000 beauties) and have been extremely happy with it, but I've also done many homes with a lower-end CoolPix model.

The images are comparable (the D70 is better, but the others take stunning photographs). Most of the modern digital cameras take great images at high resolution. I suggest buying the largest memory card that is within your budget and shooting at the highest resolution your camera can do,

it leaves you with the most options when it comes to the final destination for the photos (web, pamphlets, printouts to make your friends jealous, etc.)

Regardless of your choice of digital camera, I would say the most important feature you can shop for is a wide enough field of view to be able to shoot interiors without cutting off half of the room. Go to you local camera shop (open the Yellow pages, no BestBuys or CompUSAs) and play with a model for a while, you'll be glad you did. Not only will they let you examine the cameras closely, but they will answer any and all questions you may have about them.

Find a camera you like and walk around the store taking photos, see how wide you can get the lens and if you can get most of the room in frame.

Another nice feature to have in a digital camera is what's called in the biz, a "Horseshoe mount". Basically it's a mount at the top of a camera where one can plug in accessories - most notably a flash - and have it draw power and sync with the camera.


This would seem like a no-brainer, but when shooting a room, don't forget to turn the lights on. Turn every light in the room on: the overhead lights, the bedside table lamp, all of them, it will add much needed light to the frame. I'll be frank: a light, airy photograph makes any room seem larger, and more pleasant than it actually is.

I don't care if you're shooting a multi-million dollar mansion or a one bedroom condo, a dark, ugly image will make your room look small and dirty. Turn the lights on and make sure the image is level.

To help the lighting situation, I would recommend purchasing a camera-mountable flash unit that plugs in to the horseshoe I mentioned earlier. A nice flash unit that you can tilt and aim can illuminate those hard to light areas at the edges of the image.

If you plan on shooting many homes you might look into buying a set of interior lights that you can move and set up in each room to provide even more light. A fine set of lights can be had for under $200 and can more than pay for themselves.


Once you have shot your pictures and unloaded them to your computer you have a plethora of options awaiting you. How to resize? How to color correct? Should I crop? Granted, many of these take some practice to do correctly, but there are many things you can do right now to make your photos better.

First, get yourself some decent software. If you've got the budget, the best is Adobe Photoshop CS - the industry standard. It will do everything you need and much, much more, but if $700 is a little bit too much for you, Adobe makes a simpler program called Photoshop Elements that can do a lot of what its bigger brother can do for a fraction of the price.

Also, a company called Jasc Software makes a program called Paint Shop Pro that is similar to Photoshop but again much cheaper.

Once you've got your software, pick out the best photographs taken that day. Look for representatives from each room, pick the one that is clearest, brightest, and generally conveys the best sense of the room and save them to a separate folder.

Once you've skimmed the best off the top you can go about manipulating them. Generally when I go about this, my process becomes fairly regimented.

Of course each photo is different, but there are generally about four or five steps to each photo I tend to go through. First I correct the brightness. In Photoshop I go to Image " Adjustments " Curves and lighten the dark areas of the photographs, generally shifting the brightness up about 3 fold or more.

Then I adjust the color. Some homes are painted excessively warm colors - browns, tans, reds - and I tend to make them a little "cooler" (shifted more toward the blue hues). This makes the images more as to what the eye actually sees when it looks at a room, as a camera tends to amplify color.

After color adjustments, I (if the image needs it) crop the image to remove excess and refine the focus. For example when I shoot an exterior I usually tend to cut out excess blue sky that lends nothing to the photograph.

When I'm happy with the way the photograph looks I go about resizing the image.

Generally for the web we keep three sizes on hand: large (600 pixels wide), medium (350 pixels wide) and small (100 pixels wide). I would definitely recommend using the three sizes because it gives you versatility later on down the road. Different listing sites require different sizes, which may not be what you use on your own site, etc. I find with the 600, 350 and 100 pixel sizes give us the most options.

There is much to say about resizing and I could go on, but I won't. Just remember to keep the file sizes down (choose medium quality when saving jpeg files), and always sharpen your image after resizing it. (When one shrinks an image it tends to become blurry, by running a sharpening filter after resizing you can combat this and leave yourself with clean, clear images.)


Shooting great images of your vacation home is not difficult. All it takes is a little patience, a decent camera and some practice at manipulation to achieve fantastic photos sure to sell your unit to the next guest. Nothing makes a home seem more livable than pleasing photos.

Just remember to take your time while shooting, (try new angles, shoot lots of photos, picking the best ones later), to turn on the lights (!), to adjust the brightness and color on the computer and then to sharpen your images after resizing them. You don't need tons of text to sell your unit, the old adage is absolutely correct; a great picture is worth more than a thousand words.

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Author: Jonathan McIntyre, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0062 – 04/19/05

Donate a Week

By Christopher S. Cain
Published: 04/12/05 Topics: Comments: 0

If you use or rent your vacation property 100 percent of the time, don't bother to read this article. If, however, you have some vacant weeks that you cannot rent, trade, or barter, here's another option: Give them away.

Donate a week to your favorite charity. Many fund raisers hold events including an auction, or silent auction, with items typically including dinners for two, spa treatments, golf greens fees, and trips. Bidders might get a great deal or the price might end up above market value, but it doesn't matter, as the proceeds all go to the charity.

Tsunami Relief

Perhaps your Chamber of Commerce is holding a silent auction to raise money for the Tsunami relief effort. You could donate a week at your vacation property to help raise money for these victims.

What's your favorite charity? Get involved. The American Cancer Society, YMCA, American Heart Association, Boys and Girls Clubs, Coalition for the Homeless, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the American Diabetes Association, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and Habitat for Humanity will all welcome your participation.

At the Florida Association of Realtors (FAR), where I worked as Director of Media Relations, I donated a week at our Kiawah Island, SC, vacation villa to a fund raising auction for the FAR scholarship fund. By donating a vacation, I turned a vacant week into funds to help a student.

Charity Begins At Home

Here's another charity consideration: they say charity begins at home, so don't forget to use your vacation property to provide some fun and excitement to those closest to you. Generosity is a good thing.

If you know that your property is vacant for a certain week, give the week to your brother or sister who needs some time away with their family. Or, block out a week during prime time to give to your sister to celebrate her 20th marriage anniversary.

A week at your vacation property might be the ideal college graduation present for your son or daughter. Or, a great wedding gift.

About the Author -- Chris Cain wrote "Maximize Your Resort Property Investment" (1984), "Road Map to Your Vacation Property Dream" (1998), and dozens of articles on vacation property. He is a nationally-known speaker on the topic and he sells vacation property in Orlando, FL. Chris bases his writings and counseling on his 16 year ownership experience of a seaside villa at Kiawah Island, SC. Contact Chris Cain at

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Author: Christopher S. Cain, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0061 – 04/12/05

Never tell Guests a Lie

By William May
Published: 03/21/05 Topics: Comments: 0

In 1989 Robert Fulghum, wrote a perfectly mundane and strangely earth shaking book. The gigantic best seller was called "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten." I'd like to suggest you read it if you haven't already. And if you have read the book, take a moment to skim it again for those little nuggets of truth Fulghum so simply spells out.

Maybe I found the "Kindergarten" book profound because my son was born just weeks before I picked it up. Over the years I have referred back to it frequently as I've watched my newborn grow into a six feet five inches tall fifteen year old man. As all parents will agree, time has passed far too quickly. I am surprised at how many times over the years Mr. Fulghum's words would pop to mind when dealing with a certain kind of people.

I won't go into all of the twenty or so rules Fulghum describes in his book. But I would like to dwell on a couple of his thoughts and, if he'll forgive me for being so commercial, apply them to our little Vacation Rental Industry.


Certainly every business owner and probably every vacation rental owner has run into customers/guests who tell outright lies. One owner told me recently he was amazed at how often people developed life threatening cancer when, many months after making a reservation, they are reminded there is a cancellation fee. "Please help me," they beg, "I'm so sick I couldn't possibly go on vacation." It is equally miraculous to see how quickly they recover when they decide to take that reservation rather than risk losing money. Maybe the cure for cancer rests in the pocket book.

Allow me to share a little horror story.

We happen to own a number of ski-resort rentals just an hour's drive from downtown Seattle. The proximity makes them a popular destination but also attracts people who want to book them for parties of one sort or another. Without exaggeration, last year we turned away 100 prom-party requests. I really don't fault the 17 year old boys and girls who try to rent a house as long as they are honest about it (We gently turn them down, of course). But I do find some parents reprehensible.

For example - a woman I'll call Collen was very careful to say the June 10th Saturday single night rental was, "Really just for my husband and her kids." We weren't born yesterday and are very careful about the reservations we accept during that time of the year. We require a bigger deposit, and apply group rules and rates. Perhaps most importantly, we arrange for the caretaker to meet every family in person in May and June.

When Collen arrived the caretaker noticed something odd, she showed up on foot. Strange considering this is in a semi-remote area. As the caretaker showed her around the house he noticed several car loads of teenagers down the road a ways. They were milling about as if they waiting for something or someone. So he was careful to let her know, "I'll be working across the street at the other house, if you need anything just waive. We'll be able to see each other."

He watched in amusement as Colleen proceeded to sit in the living room for two hours, using her cell phone to talk animatedly with the kids in the cars, who were becoming increasingly impatient and loud. When it was clear the caretaker wasn't going to leave, Colleen walked back to the cars, got in one and left, never to return.

A month later she requested a chargeback on her credit card claiming the home was actually occupied by someone else. We were perplexed. The credit card honored the credit and debited our account so we filed a small claims action for the $1,000 involved (This is a very big house). Prior to the court date she contacted another tenant who had been staying across the street and asked their assistance. The other guests were from a local charity that we give free use of the residence for the disabled children they support. Their group has a van with their name and phone number on it and Collen had the gall to call them and ask, "Would you be willing to say you were actually staying in Unit #9 rather than in #12 because that's the only way I can win in court."

Thankfully the charity folks immediately sent us a letter explaining the deceit. We mailed Collen a copy and the day before trial she paid in full.

I only tell you this horror story because it was all a chain reaction of lies. First she said the rental was for her family, then she lied to the caretaker and the credit card company. If you have never experienced such a booking I hope you will take measures to protect yourself. Set up firm rules, understand the laws involved and be vigilant because you could be targeted.


It is an easy thing to blame others for being devious. But turning the mirror on ourselves can be illuminating. Recently I've read in a number of posts on owner blogs about how to handle a variety of difficult questions. I've been amazed at how disingenuous and dangerous some of the suggested answers could be.

During one particular conversation an owner asked, "I have only one week-long booking this summer and now I have someone who wants a three month stay, what do I do?" Immediately other owners suggested, "Tell the first booking you're selling the unit and cancel their stay so you can take the longer one." And, "Tell them you accidentally double booked the dates." Or that old stand by, "Tell them you're sick and wouldn't be able to clean the house for them."

You can almost always tell when someone is advising you to lie because it starts with , "tell them ...."

And this kind of owner feedback is not unusual. In another situation an owner asked, "What do I tell a caller if they don't sound old enough?" They were advised to say "Tell them I'm not sure I have the dates available can you tell me who is in your party." Qualifying guests is important but you don't need to conjure a reason for asking questions. It's your business to run as you see fit (within the boundaries of the law of course) so skip the "I'm not sure I have the dates" bit, and be straightforward about it.

The key to finding answers to difficult questions is to speak in the most "general" terms first, expanding on specific details only when necessary.

Let's take a look at the three month booking we mentioned earlier. To save it you could say to the people who booked the conflicting week, " I have a conflict with another request, would you consider coming at another time. It would really help me out." Notice I didn't say reservation because we are dealing with a new request that is not yet a reservation. The devil is in the details. And it's not necessary to explain the three month request or any other details.

Another approach might be, "Something has come up, could I move you to a bigger better unit at my cost?" In most cases, if you can reward the guest for their trouble, like offering a bigger or better unit, you will find them especially flexible. Earning a three month stay is worth giving a little incentive to the person with the one week reservation.

But whatever you do, don't resort to lies, fibs, tall-tales, untruths, falsehoods, misinformation, half-truths, shams, make-believes or deceptions to get your way. First, it simply isn't honest, second, it's hard to feel good about your self if you conscious is nagging at you constantly and third you too could be cited for fraudulent activity.


In my eyes Fulghum's most important rule is his shortest. He says we should have all learned in kindergarten how to "play fair." Universal adherence to those two short eloquent words could just change the world and certainly should control most of the actions in any industry or business. Part of playing fair of course is to "Never tell a lie" because lying is, by itself, an attempt to NOT play fair.

As an owner, you have a right to operate your business as you want and you are entitled to protect that business but you should do so honestly and fairly.

Key to leveling a fair playing field is having a guest agreement that lays out the ground rules and works on your behalf. A guest agreement should include provisions that allow you to cancel a stay for violations of occupancy, noise, smoking, pets and anything else you prohibit.

In most states and many countries, short-terms rentals of less than 30 days are governed under "Lodging Laws" and may be specifically exempt from "Landlord Tenant" laws. This gives the owner sweeping power to protect the sanctity of their Inn (As many statues call them.) And that can include termination of an agreement for violation of any local, state or federal law.

Collen's request for the other guests to lie for her is called, "fraud." A guest who plans a similar deception in order to use your home in an improper manner is likewise committing fraud. That is sufficient reason to cancel their contract and maybe without refund.

What if the guest gives you an easy out like they fail to pay their deposit by the deadline? Haphazardly adjusting your policies to be stricter simply isn't fair if you didn't disclose the changes in advance. If your contract says you can unilaterally cancel a reservation of a guest who fails to pay on time and without a grace period or notice to them, then you have the right to enforce that penalty. Don't be afraid to do so.

Returning to our example, that means if the first group is already behind on their deposit you can take the three month reservation and send the first a letter explaining the cancellation. It may seem harsh, but it 's legal and you didn't even have to tell a lie. The guest has no one to blame but themselves in that scenario.

Playing fair does not mean you have to give guests special rights or privileges, it simply means being upfront about the rules you are playing by.


Oh, by the way some of Robert Fulgham's other rules are things like "Put things back where you found them" and "Clean up your own mess" among others. Boy don't we all wish every guest would read the book and follow those examples. Our jobs and maybe just the world in general would be a lot better off if everyone had been properly trained in Kindergarten.

You can learn more about Robert Fulghan and his books at ( and, of course, you can find new and used copies on many vacation rental websites include (

About the Author -- Along with his wife Penny Taylor, Wm. bought his first rental in 1999 and many more since. His experience as an author, speaker and leader in other industries led him to founding the first trade association for vacation rental - VROA - whose sole purpose is to help owners increase revenue, decrease expenses and have more fun. As well as being VROA's director and one of the newsletter columnists he manages his family businesses which include inns, rentals, commercial real estate, internet businesses and a marketing practice. You can reach him at

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0060 – 03/21/05

Privately-Owned Vacation Property Offers Outstanding Value to Renters

By Christopher S. Cain
Published: 03/08/05 Topics: Comments: 0

In November, 2004, my wife Terry and I visited Paris for seven days. We stayed in a postage stamp sized hotel room in the Latin Quarter about two blocks from Notre Dame Cathedral. We toured the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Versailles, Sainte-Chappelle, the Arc de Triomphe, the Musee d'Orsay, the Louvre (two days), and went to a show at Lido's. We discovered, or rather stumbled upon another highlight of our trip - an open air market half a block from our hotel. The market operated only three days a week and featured the freshest meats, poultry, seafood, cheeses, breads, and produce from the outlying farms and countryside. There was a black wild boar, or at least the hide, on display in the meat section. Pheasants and other game birds, feathers intact, hung from the rafters of the butcher shop. While we had many great meals including a few gourmets dining experiences in Paris, we missed the opportunity to prepare some of our own dinners. Both Terry and I love to cook and we have never seen such quality, fresh ingredients. But, we had no facilities to cook for ourselves. Nor did we have much space in our hotel room. This is one of those times when you hit yourself on the forehead with the palm of your hand. "Why didn't we rent a fully furnished apartment or condo rather than a hotel room?" This revelation has prompted me to revisit some of my own writings. Here is some of my advice from years past: Your vacation property provides value, fun, and excitement not just for you and your family, but for anyone who might rent your property. Vacationers will find a "home away from home" with all the privacy and convenience they expect. Consider the vacation options: a resort hotel room, a cramped cabin on a cruise, or a privately-owned vacation house or condo at the destination of your choice. Count the following among the many advantages a privately-owned vacation property has over a resort hotel room: 1. Savings on meals - A furnished kitchen allows vacationers to prepare many of their own meals. During a week's vacation, dining in, rather than going to restaurants for every meal translates into several hundred dollars in savings on food alone. 2. More room - A vacation home, condo, or villa usually has more space than a resort hotel room. Often, the condo or villa has a living room, dining room, kitchen, and perhaps a porch, balcony, or deck. When you're on vacation, it's nice to have some space. 3. Beautiful furnishings - Many vacation properties reflect the good taste and pride of the owners with fine furnishings and decorator touches. 4. More privacy - Often the homes, villas, and condos are more secluded, more private than a room in a hotel. In a resort hotel, you may have revelers roaming the halls at all hours. 5. Fully equipped - In addition to a furnished kitchen with microwave and refrigerator, the vacation property may have a washer and dryer. Guests can wash their golf, tennis, ski, or beachwear each day. Hidden benefit: less luggage to haul on the trip. 6. Mini bar vs. refrigerator - Take a single beer from the hotel mini-bar or take a six-pack from the refrigerator at the condo. Guess what? The cost is about the same. Mini-bars provide great profit centers for hotels. Refrigerators, microwaves, VCRs, washers and dryers provide excellent convenience and savings for vacationers. 7. Better rates - Despite these many advantages, privately-owned vacation property often costs less per week or per day than a hotel room at the same resort. We had a wonderful trip to Paris. But, when we return - and I hope it is soon - we will take the extra step of finding an apartment or condo to rent. About the Author -- Chris Cain wrote "Maximize Your Resort Property Investment" (1984), "Road Map to Your Vacation Property Dream" (1998), and dozens of articles on vacation property. He is a nationally-known speaker on the topic and he sells vacation property in Orlando, FL. Chris bases his writings and counseling on his 16 year ownership experience of a seaside villa at Kiawah Island, SC. Contact Chris Cain at

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Author: Christopher S. Cain, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0059 – 03/08/05

Concierge Services Can Save You Money

By Emily Glossbrenner
Published: 02/28/05 Topics: Comments: 0

These are exciting times for anyone who owns or is considering buying a vacation rental property. After decades of somnolence - which at least one dictionary defines as "a condition of semi-consciousness approaching coma" - the vacation rental field is crackling with activity.

A lot of that activity is driven by the internet. After all, thanks to the net, it has never been easier for a vacationer to locate and book a vacation rental. And it has never been easier (or cheaper) for owners to advertise their properties. So the question arises: "If the internet can bring me together with the folks who want to rent my place, why do I need a property management company or a rental agency? Why do I have to keep paying them 15 to 50 percent of my rental income?"

The answer is: you don't. But before severing your ties, you will definitely need to replace the maintenance and repair services these companies provide. For most of us, the trick is developing a network of trusted service people you can phone from wherever you happen to be when there's a problem at your vacation property. This takes a little doing, but it is usually worth the effort when you consider how much money you can save by managing things yourself. Still, you're always the "general contractor" and manager. And that can be a hassle, particularly if you happen to be on vacation yourself - say in the south of France - when your renters have a plumbing problem.

And what if you've just purchased your second home and don't know any tradespeople in the area? What if you have no idea who you should use as a cleaning service? What if you just need someone to come in to turn the water heater down or adjust the thermostat so that you're not paying more than is necessary to heat or cool your place when it is unoccupied?

Well, have we got a solution for you! It's called a "concierge service" or an "errand company." These small, very personal firms can do everything a property management company can do on the maintenance and management front - and more - and they will do it for far less money, charging by the hour or by the service performed, not a percentage of your rental income.

An hourly rate of between $20 and $25 is typical for any job that requires a car, like a trip to the store or a trip to check on your property. For work that can be done on the phone or via e-mail, like scheduling a tradesperson, confirming a renter's reservation or responding to renter questions, you might be billed at between $10 and $15 an hour.

A concierge service can have someone greet your guests when they arrive and turn over the keys. It can check your guests out and have someone make sure the cleaning service did everything it was supposed to do, while surveying the property for guest-caused damage or missing items. It can make sure that the refrigerator and pantry are appropriately stocked before the next guest arrives. And it can arrange for necessary maintenance or repairs. In fact, reviewing the Web sites of many concierge and errand companies gives you the impression that they can do just about anything.

To locate these kinds of services in your vacation rental area, do a Google search on "errand service" followed by your vacation area ZIP code. (Be sure to put the phrase "errand service" in quotes.) This will pull up most of the services you're interested in without also presenting all the hotels that offer "concierge services." Still, doing a second search on "concierge" and your target ZIP code is probably a good idea.

The next step is to go to the Web sites of the two main concierge and errand company associations. These are ( and ( You'll find searchable directories at both sites.

When choosing a concierge or errand service company, it is naturally a very good sign if they say they are insured and bonded. But you should probably ask to see the paperwork that backs this up. Don't be shy. You're going to be giving these folks full access to your second home. You have every right to make sure you know who you're dealing with, and no legitimate service will object.

References from satisfied customers are even more important. Ask for several, and then follow up by calling each person. You might also check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been lodged against the company you're considering.

These steps are simple prudence. But there are three other points to bear in mind. First, this is a relatively new industry. It is growing rapidly, but at this writing, you may not have a lot of firms to choose from in your area. Second, only someone who is clever, energetic, and blessed with the entrepreneurial spirit would start a concierge/errand service. The slackers and slugs of the world wouldn't last five minutes. So the chances are good that you're dealing with quality people, regardless of the firm you choose.

Finally, "it's personal." Property management companies and rental agencies represent hundreds of property owners. Their account executives and customer service people may have wonderful, caring personalities. But at the end of the day, you're just another owner who's paying out several thousand dollars or more in fees and commissions each year.

Concierge and errand service companies, in contrast, usually consist of a single person or a married couple with a lot of contacts in the area. You deal directly with the owners of the company, and much of the time, they themselves will be doing the work. So the dynamic is much different than the property management company model. It's personal, as we said. And if the person who runs the concierge company doesn't do a good job, he or she will shortly be out of business.

Economic theoreticians and academics would probably have a term for it. (The word "convergence" comes to mind.) But the facts are these: The internet wasn't created to help property owners market and book their vacation rentals. But it does a superb job of doing so.

And the concierge business wasn't created to handle the management of vacation properties. It was created to help busy men and women deal with their never-ending "to-do" lists. But it just so happens that most of these services are also ideally suited to handling the kinds of things property management companies have traditionally done. And for * a lot less money*! (We recently discovered a company in Orlando that offers customized "snowbird/vacation services" for owners of vacation rentals.)

No single path is "right" for every property owner. Thanks to the internet, concierge services, and other developments, turning your property over to a management company or rental agency and accepting their terms (and often outrageous commissions) without question is no longer the only choice. Today we have real options and whether you decide to go with it or not, the concierge service option is definitely worth exploring.

-- Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner

About the Authors -- Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner are frequent VROA newsletter contributors. "A&E," as they are known to their friends, are the authors of "How to Make Your Vacation Property Work for You!: The Quick & Easy Guide to Advertising, Renting, Managing, and Making Money from Your Second Home". For more information, please visit ( The Glossbrenners have written over 60 other books, with combined sales of over one million copies since 1977. Their works have received enthusiastic reviews from the *New York Times*, the *Washington Post*, *Forbes*, *Inc.*, the editors of (, the *Los Angeles Times* and hundreds of other publications worldwide.

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Author: Emily Glossbrenner, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0058 – 02/28/05

Information Please

By Christopher S. Cain
Published: 02/07/05 Topics: Comments: 0

If you are an owner renting your vacation condo, renters will often look to you for advice, counsel, guidance, and information. For example:

Are there many nearby golf courses?

Can you recommend some good restaurants?

Where can we get the best steak in town?

Are there any good seafood restaurants?

Does your area have any festivals and cultural events?

Do you have any shopping centers and outlet malls in your resort area?

What are the major attractions?

Do you have any museums and historical sites?

We would like to prepare a seafood dinner at our condo. Can you recommend a market where we can buy fresh seafood?

By providing this information, you can help your renters to a better vacation since they can enjoy the activities they want.

Get a supply of entertainment guides to your resort area and keep them available in your vacation property.

If prospective renters call you for information, you could send them an entertainment guide so they could begin planning their vacation.

Also, you could put together a list of golf courses with a brief description, directions, prices, and phone numbers. Do the same with restaurants, museums, festivals, shopping malls, etc.

Your newspaper, city magazines, the internet, yellow pages, and "book of lists" will provide sources for your lists. Keep a file for newspaper and magazine clips to update your lists.

Think how impressed a prospective renter will be when they ask for information on fine dining, area golf courses, and historical sites and you email them all the information 10 minutes later. You will help them to a more exciting vacation and you might help yourself to a rental.

About the Author -- Chris Cain wrote "Maximize Your Resort Property Investment" (1984), "Road Map to Your Vacation Property Dream" (1998), and dozens of articles on vacation property. He is a nationally-known speaker on the topic and he sells vacation property in Orlando, FL. Chris bases his writings and counseling on his 16 year ownership experience of a seaside villa at Kiawah Island, SC. "Road Map to Your Vacation Property Dream," is available for $9.95 plus $4 S&H when ordered direct by calling toll-free 1-888-822-6657. Contact Chris Cain at

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Author: Christopher S. Cain, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0850 – 02/07/05

10 Words or Less - The Art of Writing a Great Listing Title

By Amy Greener
Published: 01/31/05 Topics: Comments: 0

You can have a fantastic vacation rental property. You can offer a tremendous value in the off season. You can have a super web page, with outstanding photographs and copy. You can also be sitting next to the phone or computer, waiting for someone to inquire about your rental. That's not a good feeling, especially when you know you've poured your heart and soul--and wallet--into your advertising efforts.

In my consultation work with clients, I notice they invariably ask for help with photos and web page copy. And yes, content is very important. Easy to read, well-written copy and photos that makes one wish they were already there is what it's all about. But you've got to get those vacation rental web site visitors to click on your listing first. If you don't catch their interest, they'll just continue scanning and scrolling down, down, down.

Ask yourself when was the last time you changed or updated your listing's title...the same title competing with all the other rentals on that gigantic website? I certainly don't have any research to back it up, but I would guess that half of owners don't update their listing titles even twice a year. That's a shame because these owners don't realize the opportunity they've missed to attract more visitors to their web page. And more visitors, mean more chances to book someone.

I can't emphasize enough that if your property is located in a very dense market with pages upon pages of vacation home listings, you need to stand out from the crowd. Though I don't own any property in Florida, I am dumbfounded at the sheer numbers there! Can you imagine being on the other side of the fence, as someone trying to locate a nice rental? That's why you want to make their search as easy as possible; by making your listing's title a real standout.

Though I don't have space in this newsletter format to completely explain the mechanics of writing a great listing title, here are some tips to get you started. Just remember that your property is unique and there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach.

1. Know what renters want

2. Promote your property's best attributes

3. Avoid sentences; use short phrases or feature lists

4. Make it exciting; use descriptive, enticing words

5. Economize word length

6. Be creative

Anyone who has posted their property to a vacation rental web site knows there are only so many characters allowed for your listing title. Frustrating isn't it? Trying over and over to fit everything you want to say into that little box? That's why every word, every letter, every space has to count. Look at these possible listings and see how we've taken the same amount of characters, but made them pack a whole lot more punch:

Before: Clover Mountain Resort 2 bed/2 bath/sleeps 6--Nice!

After: Big Views! Ski in-Ski out/Fireplace/Jacuzzi/Loaded

The before version is a typical listing. It tells you where the property is, how many beds, baths, guest accommodations and that it's nice. Guess what...every single word except for 'nice' is a waste of space. Remember that most vacation property sites already have that information posted right next to the title. So it's totally redundant. And unless the property location is truly spectacular or paramount, you can save that for the web page itself. We're trying to get them to click onto your page, so you've got to use every trick in the book. The location or property name is nice but if you can replace it with something more enticing, do it.

The after version takes a completely different approach: we're promoting the very best attributes of this condominium. What do you get for your vacation dollar at this condo? Well, a great view, the convenience of skiing right onto the slopes, a fireplace and Jacuzzi to enjoy after skiing, and even more since it's described as being "loaded". This listing is oriented to features and benefits, which is what most people are looking for when they hunt for the ideal rental. You're making their job easier when you present it right up front in the listing title.

Now, which listing would you be more likely to click on?

Like most things in life, there is no single answer as to what is the best approach for your vacation property's listing. My personal philosophy is that of informed trial and error: I take into consideration my knowledge of the market, my property and my target renters, then test different listing titles to see what seems to work best. Once you've found a winner you'll know, because the hit counter, emails and phone calls will reflect it. So be creative and have fun with "10 words or less."


The Author - Amy Ashcroft Greener and her husband own and self-manage two vacation rental properties near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. She is a contributing writer to How to Rent by Owner: The Complete Guide to Buy, Manage, Furnish, Rent, Maintain and Advertise Your Vacation Rental by Christine Karpinksi (2004). Amy and Christine are currently collaborating on a second book for vacation rental owners. A mother of three, Amy's primary profession is that of voiceover talent. If you have Onstar service, you now know who to be mad at when the system voice says "I'm sorry, I didn't get that. Please try again."

She can be reached at ( or write

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Author: Amy Greener, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0056 – 01/31/05

Use Your Vacation Property to Barter for Goods and Services

By Christopher S. Cain
Published: 01/17/05 Topics: Comments: 0

Bartering began more than 10,000 years ago and precedes monetary systems and currency. This concept of exchanging goods and services to the benefit of both parties thrives today. As a vacation property owner, you have a valuable commodity to trade - vacation property accommodations.

Get more value, fun and excitement from your investment by bartering weeks at your property for goods and services you want.

Let's say for example your management company gets you 30 weekly rentals. You and your family use the property for three weeks during the year. That leaves 19 weeks.

You can let those 19 weeks sit idle, or, you can do some work to rent or trade them. In my two books, I have outlined many tips and tactics for owners to self-generate more rentals - above and beyond what your rental manager gets for you. Trading for goods and services is another outstanding strategy to maximize your property investment.

A few bartering ideas and let's focus first on services:

1. Dance Lessons - You and your partner would like to learn some new dance moves. Find an instructor to give you a series of private lessons. Rather than pay for the lessons, you trade a vacation week at your resort.

2. Horse Back Riding or Riding Lessons - Head up, heels down! Find a horse owner willing to trade you a series of trail riding sessions or horse back lessons for a week at your vacation property.

3. Massage Therapy - Find a massage therapist willing to trade a series of relaxing and invigorating massages for a week at your property

4. Legal Services - An attorney might trade his or her services to draft or revise your will in exchange for vacation accommodations.

5. Golf Lessons - Find a golf professional willing to trade for a series of lessons.

6. A Dining Credit at Your Favorite Restaurant - Running a restaurant is a tough business. The owner might welcome some time away at your property in exchange for a credit for fine dining at his or her establishment.

7. Personal Trainer - Need to shed a few pounds and get into better shape? Find a personal trainer to help achieve your fitness goals.

8. Website - You need a website to showcase your new vacation property and to help generate rentals. Find a website designer willing to develop your site in exchange for a weeks vacation.

9. Accounting Services - Pay your accountant for advice, counsel, and your annual tax return preparation with a vacation at your property.

10. Lawn Service - The owner of a lawn service may edge and mow your lawn for four months in exchange for a week.

The key is to exchange services in the amount that equals the value of your weekly rental. If a private dance lesson has a value of $100 for one hour, then you want to trade a series of 15 lessons for your $1500 weekly rental.

Now, that we have touched on services, let's noodle some ideas for trading for goods. For trading ideas, check out the classified ads in your newspaper.

11. A New Pet - Fido, your family dog, unexpectedly departed this earth for the great fire hydrant in the sky. Your family needs a new pet. In today's classified section, an owner is selling Chinese Sharpies for $1500. Call and suggest you take the pick of the litter in exchange for a week at your vacation property.

12. Another New Pet - This is an actual classified ad. MACAW - Blue & gold, 4 year old, named "Yogie". Hand tamed, multiple vocabulary, including Cage $1500. Perhaps the owner will trade his bird for a week's vacation.

13. Tractor - John Deere L110 Riding Lawn Mower Under Warranty Less Than 2 Years. Old -- $1500. You ride the mower and the former owner can ride to your vacation property.

14. Pool Table - Gorgeous 8' carved legs, Italian 1" slate. New, still in crate. Sell $1500.

15. Golf Cart - EZ-Go, 6 new batteries, new windshield, new canvas enclosure, new charger, $1500.

Arranging a trade is a Win! Win! situation for you and for the recipient of a wonderful vacation at your property.

About the Author -- Chris Cain writes the VROA newsletter on the 2nd Monday of each Month. He is the author of "Maximize Your Resort Property Investment" (1984), "Road Map to Your Vacation Property Dream" (1998), and dozens of articles on vacation property. He is a nationally-known speaker on the topic and he sells vacation property in Orlando, FL. Chris bases his writings and counseling on his 16 year ownership experience of a seaside villa at Kiawah Island, SC. "Road Map to Your Vacation Property Dream," is available for $9.95 plus $4 S&H when ordered direct by calling toll-free 1-888-822-6657. Contact Chris Cain at Or visit his website at (

He can also be reached through his VROA email



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 we're visiting Lake Superior and Jess & Pam Miller's "Guest House", "Chalet" and "Hide-Away". These houses are located beachfront on Lake Superior and are fully and beautifully furnished. See more of their homes at their website: (


Thanks for the "Art of Getting your email read" news letter. We have a cute little beach house in Hawaii (Hanalei Bay) we rent exclusively over the internet. I currently use most of the suggestions in your letter. I get a lot of bookings from the emails I send. I had not thought of putting the person's name in the email subject line. If you learn only one useful thing from what you read it was worth your time. Your letters are worth my time.

Mahalo (thank you),

- Suzanne Kobayashi


Even I have to remind myself everyday to use the email tips. But they do work. Hey, we own some homes on the Sunny south side of Kauai. I'll zoom up to the Northshore sometime and take a peek at your place. The photos are wonderful. There may not be any place as nice as Hanalei. I guess Puff the Magic Dragon was on to something!

- 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): (



Director & Editor - Wm. May Director@VROA.orgMay

Columnists - Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner

Columnist - Christopher S. Cain

Columnist - Amy Greener

Membership - Penny Taylor

PO Box 21305 Seattle, WA 98111-3305

Voice: 206-343-7777 Fax: 206-628-0839


Web: ( (for Members)

Web: ( (for Guests - coming soon)

Copyright 2005 - Vacation Rental Owners Association

Read this and all prior newsletters at (


Read more

Author: Christopher S. Cain, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0055 – 01/17/05

At Last - Property Insurance Designed for Vacation Rental Homes

By William May
Published: 01/10/05 Topics: Comments: 0

Like it or not, offering a home for short-term rental means you are in business, offering a very expensive asset to guests and their families. While your rentals may be booming, your rental income may be disproportionately low compared to the value of the real estate you allow guests to use.

So, you may be surprised to learn that the kind of every-day "Property & Casualty" insurance on your primary insurance is not designed for rentals and is usually not adequate to protect you and your property. Many owners who presume they are covered may, in fact, be taking a very unpredictable risk with their insurance.

What this implies is "claims" filed by guests or incidents caused by guests may be disallowed by your current insurance carrier. They may cancel your coverage with little warning if they learn you accept guests, or if there is ever a claim. This could leave you holding the bag for thousands maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars.


After hearing horror stories from owners all around the U.S. in particular, VROA staff began an exhaustive search for more specific property insurance that would meet all the insurance needs vacation home owners require. Insurance industry experts, specialized agents and coverage consults were sought out, with the ultimate goal of finding a carrier who would understand and appreciate this unique market; someone who would be anxious to work with conscientious and diligent rental owners.

It is with great pleasure that VROA introduces a first for the industry - the VROA VACATION PROPERTY INSURANCE - a comprehensive property & liability insurance program just for homes that are used as short-term vacation rentals. It's new, it's specific and it's what every homeowner should want to protect their valuable vacation rental home and shield themselves from liability.

The new program can be used by those who book their homes year round or those who only book a few days or weeks per year. And best of all, the premium cost is only slightly higher than for that non-rental property insurance that isn't sufficient for rental homes. Owners get great coverage, a reasonable price and peace of mind knowing they are properly covered.


The VROA Insurance program is administered by Cascade Risk Placement - One of the most experienced, fastest growing brokers and providers of risk management services in the insurance industry. Cascade risk offers these services through carriers they know and trust, and was established to focus on the insurance and risk management challenges facing the real estate industry. It is their goal is to bring real world solutions to property owners.

Although we spoke to insurance experts all over the country, we were lucky to find Cascade Risk, right in our own backyard. We have been working closely with them to define and arrange this important insurance coverage. Together we focused in our industry and are now ready to give vacation rental owners the coverage they have been missing.


Securing this extra special insurance coverage for your vacation rental home is an easy process for VROA members. All you have to do is click here ( to read about the program. You can even download the application by clicking on the link on that page. Or, you can call Cindy Weber at Cascade at 425-452-1115 extension 12 and ask for the VROA insurance program. Or click here to visit their website. (

P.S. Even if you think you are now properly covered, you are urged to take a second look. Many - maybe even most - vacation home owners are simply not covered properly for the risks that renting presents. No one should take a risk that could cause them to lose their home or impact their personal finances. All owners are urged to call Cascade Risk today.


Because the Insurance Program is new we seek feedback from owners who purchase the plan. VROA does not provide coverage and can not guarantee the sufficiency of coverage from any carrier. Instead, VROA recommends Cascade Risk to owners of private vacation rental homes. Please let us know your experiences impressions of the carrier, agent and coverage.

The VROA Insurance Program is just one of the many projects Association leaders are undertaking for the benefit of Vacation Rental Owners everywhere. Please join and support the industry.



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


After spending time last summer in North California's Trinity Alps region I was delighted when Dennis Artus joined VROA. His Artus Ranch home is just 10 miles from Weaverville, a fascinating and authentic mining town and has bicycling, walking and even a barn for your horses. ( Take a look.

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


In a recent newsletter you mentioned calling everyone that includes a phone number with their inquiry. Talk about great advice! For everyone out there that has not been doing this... DO IT. Each time a potential guest includes their number we call and it's amazing how often this will translate into a new reservation.

- David White, Rock Creek Cabins. (

Wish I could take credit for that advice. It was actually something I begged, borrowed or stole from some mentor long ago. The phone is still and by far the most powerful sales tool every invented. Cheapest too!

- Wm. May


Read and download the VROA Property Insurance Application please visit this page and look for the link to the download.


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):



Director & Editor - Wm. May

Columnists - Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner

Columnist - Christopher S. Cain

Membership - Penny Taylor

PO Box 21305 Seattle, WA 98111-3305

Voice: 206-343-7777 Fax: 206-628-0839


Web: ( (for Members)

Web: ( (for Guests - coming soon)

Copyright 2005 - Vacation Rental Owners Association

Read this and all prior newsletters at


Read more

Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0054 – 01/10/05

DETAILS: We work to keep this information up to date, but details do change from time to time based on circumstances, often on short notice, and sometimes beyond our control. To verify any answer or other information you may need, please call or email us anytime. Allow a reasonable amount of time for response. Only legitimate inquiries will be answered.