Let’s be honest: not every traveler in the market for a vacation rental is going to be right for your home. Sure, you want to accept bookings and fill that calendar, but you also need to look out for the signs of potential problem renters. When your gut tells you something isn’t right, it just isn’t worth the risk of being wrong.
The first step for protecting your home is to assess every inquiry you receive with a fine-toothed comb. If there are immediate signs that certain renters aren’t right for your home (too many people, filming a reality television show, etc.), you probably don’t want to pursue the booking.
If there are no red flags in your initial correspondence, the best form of screening is to speak to every potential renter over the phone before confirming a booking. You can typically glean a lot more about your guests through a phone conversation than an e-mail.
But what happens if you pick up on a red flag during your conversation after you’ve already told these potential guests that your home is available for their requested dates? Even the most seasoned vacation rental owners often ask: how can you tactfully get out of accepting a booking?
Here are some examples of “red flag” scenarios and how you might be able to quell your fears by employing some screening tactics or just getting out of the booking altogether. 1.
“I noticed that your ad says "No Smoking," but I can still smoke on the deck, right?”
Screening tactic: Be upfront with your guests about your smoking policy and any penalties for violations. If you do allow smoking outside, provide instructions for closing windows and doors, and let guests know about fines if you smell smoke in your home after their stay. Extra charges should be enough to deter guests from breaking your rules, and heavy smokers may back out simply due to the inconvenience. For added protection, place some ashtrays outside to discourage renters from throwing cigarette butts in your yard. 2.
Out: If you tell your guests that smoking isn’t allowed anywhere on your property, but you still have a bad feeling, you might want to turn down the booking. Many homeowners in Hawaii, for example, do not allow smoking anywhere on their properties because they don't have air-conditioning and their homes are open-air. Be sure to also select the “no smoking” checkbox on your vacation rental listings to avoid this type of scenario in the future.
“We're not 100% sure that we're going on a vacation this summer, but we'd like to go ahead and book a week — just in case. When is the last day we can cancel without losing our deposit?”
Screening tactic: No vacation rental owner really wants to go through the effort of accepting a booking only to have it fall through a couple of months later. Your best protections against guests withdrawing their reservations are clear cancellation policies and a deposit large enough to discourage renters from backing out. You should also strongly encourage guests to purchase a travel insurance policy so they know you are serious about your cancellation penalties. 3.
Out: If you’re really adamant about avoiding cancellations, simply require all rent upfront and make it nonrefundable. It may not be an approach for the faint of heart, but it’s the only way to completely guarantee you won’t lose out in the end.
“My twelve-week-old schnauzer puppy is pretty much housebroken, and he only chews on the furniture when we're not watching him.”
Screening tactic: Let your guests know that your home is inspected before and after every renter so you can carefully monitor any damage, and be sure to communicate the stipulations for withholding security deposits. If they trust their dog and their own supervision skills, this shouldn’t be a problem. Ideally, most owners of rambunctious puppies won’t take the risk.
Out: If you’re a pet-friendly vacation rental but don’t want to open your home to just any animal, simply add some provisions to your pet policy regarding the age, size or breed of animals accepted and restrict bookings from renters with animals that don’t meet your guidelines.
“We live in the area and would like to rent your home for one evening.”
Screening tactics: Oh boy, this is a double whammy – there is potential for violating your minimum stay and maximum occupancy policies. If you have a feeling that your guests might be renting your home to host a party, warn these potential renters that your neighbors have a tendency to report noise complaints, or that your security guards are always on watch for violations. For added protection, simply let them know that your housekeeper will be stopping by to “show them around” (A.K.A. make sure they’re not breaking the rules). 5.
Out: Stick to your guns. Tell your guests that you do not allow one-night rentals or groups larger than what is designated on your listing(s).
“I am a very responsible 19-year-old college student and would like to stay at your property with 10 of my friends for spring break. My mom will be there the whole time.”
Screening tactic: If you have a strong suspicion that the parent won’t actually be present, you’ll want to warn this “responsible” young renter about the heavy fines imposed for breach of contract. And, you can always pull out the “greeter” card, letting them know that your housekeeper or property manager will be coming by. 6.
Out: You might consider reducing your maximum occupancy for the entire spring break season to avoid inquiries from renters with large groups and enforce this policy when speaking with prospective renters.
“How often do you clean your light fixtures, dust your blinds, and clean under your refrigerator?”
Screening tactic: Although there are signs that this renter could be a pain in your you-know-what, she could also turn out to be your best guest, taking it upon herself to clean just for fun! Your best protection is honesty; let her know that although your property is cleaned and sanitized after every guest, you only perform a deep clean a few times a year. Try to find out why they’re asking these questions in the first place. Perhaps they’ve had a bad experience in the past and you can calm their fears. 7.
Out: Honesty is your best policy. If your guests have serious cleanliness concerns that you feel you can’t accommodate, you might want to tell them that your home just might not be the best suited for their needs.
“I can’t afford your deposit right now to secure my booking, but I’ll get my paycheck in two weeks. Can you hold the dates for me?”
Screening tactic: Here’s one where you shouldn’t waver: never accept a booking without money upfront. However, you might still be able to work with the guest. If your deposit is $500, perhaps ask for $250 now and collect the balance in two weeks when the guest gets paid. That way you can make sure the first payment goes through before turning down potential bookings from more reliable renters. 8.
Out: Stand firm on your payment policies and schedule and have him/her call back in two weeks when he/she is able to pay the full deposit.
“Do you have washable paint on your walls? I ask because my two-year-old is going through an artistic phase and his favorite canvas is a bedroom wall.”
Screening tactic: Once again, fines are your best friend in this situation. You can also try featuring breakables in your listing’s photos so that prospective renters with small children know that your home may not be appropriate for them. 9.
Out: You cannot discriminate against families with children – bottom line. Some exceptions might be properties designated as historical homes, senior communities, or a home with lead-based paint or other unhealthy characteristics. However, you can definitely let your prospective renter know that your home might not be suitable for them, and remind them of the fines for damage.
“We are two women traveling together and want to make sure we feel safe. I’m interested in your secluded mountain cabin in the middle of the woods, but can you ensure that we won’t be scared?”
Screening tactic: Although some are braver than others, we can all recognize the spook-factor in a remote cabin down a poorly lit dirt road surrounded by trees. Be direct with all the questions you receive, and perhaps even tell them bluntly, “Yes, you will be scared!”
Out: You simply do not want to rent your home to someone who might not be happy once she arrives. This is another example where you may need to forego the booking and let the guest know that your home is probably not the best for them.
10. “I’m looking for a stocked pantry, valet car service, pick-up and drop-off at the airport, an in-house chef, and on-site masseuse.”
Screening tactic: On the one hand, these guests might be willing to seriously pay for these extra services and boost your bottom line. On the other, where do you draw the line in accommodating a demanding guest? If you want to accept the booking but don’t want to regret going the extra mile, charge for these services.
Out: Tell this privileged renter that you do not provide these services. After all, you’re not a concierge!
The bottom line: if you sense that renters feel they are settling by booking your home, you might already have disappointed guests upon arrival. Your best protection against problem renters and potentially bad reviews is to be upfront about your expectations and policies, and be honest when answering all questions. Although you might lose out on some bookings, you’ll be better off in the long run. © Copyright HomeAway, Inc. 2008