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Glossbrenners' VR Owner Secrets

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January. It’s the time to put away holiday decorations, make resolutions, and, if you’re a vacation-rental owner, prepare for a high volume of inquiries from travelers who likewise have turned their attention from the holidays to vacation planning. For most VR owners, the first few weeks of the New Year are indeed the “busy season.”

 

So, what can you do to make sure that you’re ready to handle those vacation-rental inquiries and potential bookings with a minimum of stress and maximum efficiency and effectiveness?

 

We have five suggestions:

 

1. Revisit and refresh your online listings. This is something you should get into the habit of doing at least once a year, and January is the perfect time for it. Think of it as a “listings audit.” Start by reviewing the photos in all your online ads. Do they accurately reflect the current state of your property? Is the thumbnail image you’re using the best it can be? Click here for a great example of how fellow VR owner Amy Greener changed the thumbnail image for her Tennessee cabin to make it stand out from the competition. For more tips on optimizing your online listings, take a look at this HomeAway slide show.

 

2. Review the amenities you offer. During our annual listing audit a couple of years ago, we discovered that our VR property was one of the few in our area that had a double bed in the master bedroom. That put us at a distinct disadvantage with travelers who are accustomed to sleeping in a queen- or king-size bed at home. So last year we upgraded to queen size: new bed, mattress, box springs, sheets, blankets, and bedspreads. It was a major expense, but one that was absolutely essential to keep our place competitive.

 

This year, we plan to add a larger flat-screen TV with a built-in DVD player, and a new CD player with an iPod dock and charger. The market is ever changing, and right now, that’s what the market demands. The lesson is that, today, you cannot fall behind when it comes to your prospective guests’ devices and technology needs. To do so in a highly competitive market is to give up your edge.

 

3. Keep your online calendars up-to-date. This will cut down dramatically on the time you have to spend sending out “sorry we’re already booked” messages. And you’ll improve your ranking in the search results on sites like HomeAway and VRBO that reward VR owners for updating their calendars on a regular basis. To make the job easier, you can use a “calendar synchronization” tool like the ones offered by VRConnection and MyVRZone to update multiple calendars (HomeAway, VRBO, FlipKey, and many others) in one fell swoop.   

 

4. Respond quickly to every inquiry. As a general rule, your goal should be to get back to prospective guests within two to three hours. Do that on a regular basis and you’ll run circles around your competitors who think that responding in 24 to 48 hours is “good enough.” Most of your inquiries will come in via email, so be prepared with “boilerplate” text that you can copy and paste into a customized message. Over the years, we’ve created boilerplate language for more than two dozen of the most frequently asked questions about our VR property, which greatly simplifies and speeds up the reply process. Remember, the early bird gets the booking! 

 

5. Make “turnaround day” less stressful. When you have back-to-back rentals—with one set of guests checking out in the morning and new arrivals checking in later the same day—one of the biggest challenges is doing the laundry. That’s why we recommend that you stock your VR with two sets of everything that needs to be laundered between guests: sheets, bedspreads, pillow shams, towels, bath mats, and so forth. On busy turnaround days, when there isn’t time to wash and dry multiple loads of laundry, your cleaning person can make up the beds and bathrooms with the second set and take the things that need to be laundered off-site for washing, drying, and folding on a more relaxed schedule.

Conclusion

Our main message is that, come “busy season,” you can’t afford to be complacent. You’ve got to step up and really manage your vacation-rental business to get the bookings you need to maximize your investment. If you follow our advice, we’re virtually certain that you’ll get more bookings, and you’ll find that managing your VR property just got a little easier.

 

Happy Renting,
Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner

 

Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner own and operate a very successful vacation-rental property in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (www.buckscountycottage.com). They are also the founders of FullyBookedRentals (www.fullybookedrentals.com), a website focused on helping new and experienced VR owners advertise, market, manage, and make money from their second homes.

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The expression “a picture is worth a thousand words” and other phrases conveying the same idea come up frequently in modern civilization. One source traces it at least as far back as 1862 in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons (no, we haven’t read it, we Googled it!), in which a character says, “The drawing shows me at one glance what might be spread over ten pages in a book.”

 

Not to put too fine a point on it, this is just common sense. There isn’t a vacation-rental owner on the planet who wouldn’t agree. So why do so many VR owners, especially new ones, fail to heed its obvious accuracy and wisdom? Our guess is that they’ve simply got their hands full with so many other issues and concerns that they just don’t pay attention to what is arguably the most potent sales tool in their online ads. Two mistakes loom particularly large.

Mistake #1

First, a surprising number of VR owners at every level of experience fail to take full advantage of the number of photos they may upload as part of the fee they pay to online advertising sites. You can now post 16 photos on VRBO.com, even if you sign up for the least expensive listing option. HomeAway lets you post 24 photos, and FlipKey offers unlimited photos. 

 

Now, we know what you’re thinking: How can I come up with 16 to 24 pictures and keep each one interesting and informative? The answer is to broaden your scope a bit and think of your property as the setting for a truly memorable vacation. You absolutely must include pictures of the rooms and amenities your place offers: the main living area, the master bedroom, other bedrooms, the kitchen, outdoor decks and terraces, the pool or hot tub if you have one, and so on.

 

But then consider branching out to pictures that convey those one thousand words about what your location offers. Perhaps a picture of a particularly fun local bar or restaurant, with a caption indicating why you included it and how close it is to your property. If a nearby resort is a major attraction, consider getting permission to use one of their photos, which will almost certainly have been taken by a professional photographer. Think about using your collection of photos to present a highly specific travel brochure.

Mistake #2

The second major mistake that many VR owners make is in taking the actual photos. The technology and techniques of photography have changed dramatically since the introduction of digital cameras. For one thing, there are no film costs or developing and printing costs—which means you can take as many shots as you want without worrying about the expense.

For another, today’s digital cameras do most of the work for you. When we bought a Pentax Spotmatic 35mm SLR camera many years ago, we had to think about shutter speed, lens aperture, focus, light, depth-of-field, and so on. Today, the camera’s built-in computer chip handles everything—unless you want to assume control. All of which means that it’s nearly impossible to take a bad picture. 

 

“Bad,” technically, that is. Perfect lighting, focus, and color, etc. But this misses an important point: subject matter. In our many years in this industry, we’ve seen some absolutely appalling pictures: beach homes photographed under gray skies, bathroom shots with the toilet seat up, kitchens with the trash can front and center, outdoor seating areas with a lonely umbrella table and the chairs stacked up nearby. The list goes on. Our consistent reaction is “What in the world were these owners thinking? If only there were a good book or guide of some sort that we could recommend.”

New Guides to Help You Rent More Weeks

Fortunately, we recently discovered one: A new series of beautifully illustrated ebooks on how to photograph vacation rentals by professional photographer Alan Egan. He calls them his “Rent More Weeks Guides,” and you can preview them and buy copies for download at www.rentmoreweeks.com (Alan’s a Brit, married to a Dane, and they live and work on a yacht that cruises the world, so packaging his guides as ebooks makes perfect sense).    

 

Alan said in a recent article that the first thing he (and most travelers) do when planning a vacation is dream—about “things we like to do and things we don’t have too much time for in our normal day-to-day lives, with lots of relaxation, fun, and some good weather thrown in.” If you want more bookings,” he goes on to say, “it’s very important that you show photos that depict dreams instead of photos that only show your property.”

 

Among other things, Alan will tell you how to capture a perfect blue sky by adjusting your camera’s settings. He also presents dozens of great suggestions for “dressing the set”—adding flowers, a colorful beach towel, glasses of wine and other simple props that add interest and help prospective renters more easily visualize their “dream.”

 

What’s really cool about Alan’s “Rent More Weeks Guides” are all the before-and-after pictures, each one of which is definitely worth a thousand words. Whether your vacation rental is a modest little cottage in the woods or a luxurious oceanfront beach house, you’re sure to find ideas that will help you take better photos and boost your bookings. 

 

Happy Renting!
Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner

 

Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner are the founders of FullyBookedRentals (www.fullybookedrentals.com), a website focused on helping new and experienced VR owners advertise, market, manage, and make money from their second homes. They also own and operate a very successful vacation-rental property in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (www.buckscountycottage.com).