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Coming to Skippy's Class ill Prepared

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

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

Virginian Clarke Younger
Virginian Clarke Younger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I came to Virginian Younger’s class ill prepared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael was awarded his PHD.

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

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

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

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

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

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Author: William May – Ever a Student
Blog #: 0329 – 12/11/13

Sad Story for Non Renting Vacation Home Owner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How clean is clean enough?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vacation Rental Housekeeper Spills the Beans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - - - - - - - - -

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

VRA: So how long have you been doing housekeeping?

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

VRA: What is life like for you?

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

VRA: Are they always a mess?

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

VRA: Which guests are the best?

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

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

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

VRA: Do you have that problem with property managers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VRA: But they save money right?

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

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

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

VRA: What is your relationship with owners and managers?

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

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

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

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

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

VRA: Do you do that?

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

VRA: Why are you willing to tell your story?

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

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

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

VRA: Why not?

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

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

The Vacation Rental Dollar Store

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I might just go back for the customer service.

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

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