Last Updated: Friday, June 4nd, 2010 at 12:05PM

oil spill in gulf of mexicoHi everyone,

I just got back from meetings in Destin, Florida regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Our CEO, Brian Sharples, really wanted me to attend these meetings so I could be educated about the situation and bring first-hand information back to all of our concerned homeowners and travelers. And of course, I also have a vested interest in this topic because I personally own vacation rental homes along the Gulf Coast.

As promised, here are my meeting notes:

An estimated 500 people congregated on Tuesday, May 4th, at 1pm. In attendance were concerned citizens who had all sorts of interests in the area. Everyone including elected officials, vacation rental owners, property managers, HOA managers, business owners, waiters, real estate agents, attorneys, doctors, and many more. Basically the community came together as they were all hungry for information on the oil spill.

Here are some of the unknowns:

No one can really confirm how much oil is being spilled out each day. There have been reports all over the place from 5,000 barrels to a million gallons per day.

No one knows when the well will be completely stopped (though preliminary reports as of Friday morning May 7, 2010, suggest that the cofferdam [containment dome] is currently in the water).

Once the leaking is stopped, no one knows how long this will take to completely clean up completely.

We aren't sure if even all the beaches will be affected.

Here are some general facts about the oil spill that I learned.


As the oil leaks out, it comes in a plume and travels with the ocean currents before it surfaces. Because of this, all of the oil may not be visible from the surface immediately.

Many of the preceding oil spills the general public hears about have happened in cold climates (Alaska, Iceland, etc.) The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is in a significantly warmer climate which will change the effects and will be significantly different. Basically the warm air and warm water assist in evaporation of the benzene and other toxic components of the oil, which I understand to mean that it will break down faster.

What is being done right now.

There are various steps being taken right now on multiple levels to minimize risks.

BP is attempting to control the situation by capping and containing the oil.

The EPA is training many groups of people to be certified in safe oil clean-up. Everyone from volunteers, beach attendants, general contractors, to heavy machinery operators are lining up to be trained.

The local, state and federal governments are all working together.

There are various methods of clean up being employed. As you likely have seen and heard on the news, here are some of the measures being taken.

Booms placed in the water to keep the oil from drifting into shore;

Controlled burns;

Chemicals sprayed on the surface to absorb the oil;

Human and Pet Hair Booms
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126536482

Hay sprayed in the water
http://www.waltonso.org/

What should I tell my travelers who want to cancel?


Keep yourself informed and deal with questions on a case-by-case basis, but here's how I've been handling these questions from my renters:

“There’s no telling at this early date what will happen and whether our beaches will be affected. The tourism counsel in the area recommended that we take it day-by-day. The bulk of the tourism season doesn’t start for 4+ weeks, which is a long way away for clean-up efforts. If you don’t mind, let's just wait and see what happens and then discuss our options.”

You can also direct them to news articles such as this one: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/04/us/04enviro.html?emc=eta1

Will my homeowners insurance or traveler’s insurance cover loss of rent?

I have heard from many owners who said they have called their insurance companies. From what I am told, they will not pay on the basis that this is not considered a “natural disaster” or “act of God”. However, the best practice is to contact your own insurance carrier to learn what your options are.

Word on the street is that BP put a reserved amount of money into a trust fund for certain losses. Here’s a link where you can find the phone number to file a claim. http://www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=9033574&contentId=7061709

This information is taken verbatim from Bay County Florida’s website: Businesses should keep detailed records of any business losses resulting from the oil spill. Businesses, including hoteliers, sport fishing charters, watersports rental companies, etc., that may be negatively impacted are asked to keep detailed profit and loss records and track any cancellations, should a claim need to be presented. BP has established a claim system and toll free number: 800-440-0858. This system will allow people to be entered into a process to recover lost income or recoup damage-related expenses.

Where can you go for more information?


Obama Encourages Vacationing at Gulf Beaches This Summer

Maps of the affected areas:


http://edition.cnn.com/2010/US/04/29/interactive.spill.tracker/index.html


http://www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=9033575&contentId=7061771

http://www.deepwaterhorizon.noaa.gov/#downloads


http://www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=9033573&contentId=7061702

Updates on beach closures:

Mississippi


Harrison County: http://www.usm.edu/gcrl/msbeach/harbmon.cgi

Hancock County: http://www.usm.edu/gcrl/msbeach/hanbmon.cgi

Jackson County: http://www.usm.edu/gcrl/msbeach/jacbmon.cgi

Alabama

http://gulfshores.com/issues/

Florida

Destin: http://www.destin-fwb.com/

Beaches of South Walton: http://bswupdate.com/

Bay County: http://www.co.bay.fl.us/

Local Chambers of Commerce

MS - Ocean Springs - www.oceanspringschamber.com

MS - Hancock County Bay St. Louis - http://www.mswestcoast.org/

MS - Jackson County - http://www.jcchamber.com/visiting.asp

MS – Harrison County - http://mscoastchamber.com/

MS - Biloxi - http://www.biloxi.org/

MS - Longbeach City Page - http://www.cityoflongbeachms.com/

MS - Harrison County (Biloxi, Gulfport, Long Beach, Pass Christian) Tourism Commission http://www.gulfcoast.org/

MS – Pass Christian - http://www.passchamber.com/

MS - D'Iberville St. Martin - http://www.dsmchamber.com/

AL – Dauphin Island - http://dauphinislandcoc.com/

AL – Gulf Coast - www.alagulfcoastchamber.com

AL - Gulf Shores - http://www.gulfshores.com/

FL – Sarasota - sarasotachamber.com

FL – Treasure Island – http://www.treasureislandchamber.org/

FL – Clearwater - http://www.clearwaterflorida.org/visitor/

FL – Pinnellas Park - http://www.pinellasparkchamber.com/

FL – Tampa - www.tampabaybeaches.com

FL - Pensacola - http://www.visitpensacola.com

FL - Pensacola Bay - http://www.pensacolachamber.com/

FL – Santa Rosa County - http://www.srcchamber.com/

FL - Avalon Beach - http://www.avalonbeach.com/

FL – Gulf Breeze - http://www.gulfbreezechamber.com

FL – Navarre - www.navarrechamber.com/

FL – Pace - http://www.pacechamber.com/

FL – Niceville - www.nicevillechamber.com

FL – Destin - www.destinchamber.com

FL – Crestview - www.crestviewchamber.com

FL – Walton County - http://www.waltonareachamber.com/

FL – Panama City - http://www.panamacity.org

FL – Gulf County - http://www.gulfcountybusiness.com/

FL – Carrabelle - http://www.carrabellechamber.org/Real_Estate.aspx

FL - Franklin County - www.apalachicolabay.org


Links for up-to-date information (this is not a complete list, but please email us if you know of others we can add to this list):


http://www.visitflorida.com/florida_travel_advisory/

http://www.nwfdailynews.com

http://www.pnj.com

http://www.thedestinlog.com

http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com

http://www.baycountyfl.gov/outreach/numbers.pdf

http://www.waltonso.org/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertLAJIC

Facebook: Deepwater Horizon Response

Facebook: Florida Travel and Tourism

Information on filing a claim for losses due to the oil spill:

http://www.myfloridacfo.com

Important Phone Numbers:

Report oiled shoreline or request volunteer information:
(866)-448-5816
Submit alternative response technology, services or products:
(281) 366-5511
Submit your vessel as a vessel of opportunity skimming system:
(281) 366-5511
Submit a claim for damages:
(800) 440-0858
Report oiled wildlife:
(866) 557-1401
Deepwater Horizon Incident
Joint Information Center Phone: (985) 902-5231 or (985) 902-5240

One last bit of advice

Do your own research, stay on top of the news and I highly recommend you seek advice from your own attorney.

Here’s to hoping the only oil we see on our beaches is suntan oil.

Christine

The information in the articles, blogs or other posts by Christine Karpinski are provided to assist vacation property owners or managers generally and are based on Ms. Karpinski’s personal experiences or the information she has been able to gather. This information is meant to help the owner community; however, please note that any particular situation of any owner or manager may differ and all owners and managers are encouraged to seek professional advice to determine what course(s) of action will be most beneficial for them. Neither HomeAway, Inc. nor Christine Karpinski can provide any guarantee or warrantee that this information is complete or accurate at any point in time or that any particular outcome will result if action is taken in response to this information.

Hi everyone,

oil spill in gulf of mexicoI know a lot of our owners along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida have questions about the what ifs and effects of the recent oil spill. Right now I am in Destin, Florida attending a meeting to discuss the impact of the oil spill on tourism on the Gulf Coast. Stay tuned here for updates. 

In other news, our first ever The specified item was not found. is just over a week away, and we could not be more excited!  We are hard at work finalizing all the last-minute details and are so excited to meet everyone when they arrive for the weekend.

We are also thrilled that our event has attracted owners with properties all over the world, including Italy, Spain, France, Costa Rica, Panama and Australia!  It will be so exciting to meet everyone next weekend.

Happy Renting,

Christine

Sorry, You Card Has Been Declined
Hi everyone.


Hope you’re all doing well. For those of you who are procrastinators like me, don’t forget to mail your taxes on Thursday!

On Sundays I always do my vacation rental business chores. Generally, I tweak my headlines, make sure all of my calendars are up-to-date, and double-check my rates on HomeAway (because once the date has passed, the rates disappear). Then I go through my current renters file. I notify my housekeepers of all the dates they have to clean, go through my billing statements to see which renters still need to fax their rental agreements back, and which renters are due to pay. (Since I take credit cards, most of the work falls on me to push the payments through.)

So, this Sunday when I went to go and charge credit cards, I was very annoyed that every card I went to charge was declined! It’s always an uncomfortable situation to have to call the guest and tell them their cards were declined. But before I contacted them, I reflected on something that happened to me recently which embarrassed me. When I rented the home for the Olympics, the first payment went through fine but the second payment got declined. And it was not due to lack of funds in my account. Nope, I had to call the bank and approve the card over the phone.

So when I contacted my guests, I handled the situation very gingerly and was very careful to not alarm them. I explained the process and, quickly enough, they were able to call the bank and approve the charges.

So bottom line: before you judge your renters’ credit worthiness when a credit card issues a decline response, consider the problem might be out of their hands. Most often it’s a security issue with their bank.

Happy renting!

Christine

 




  

Go With Your Gut

Posted by christinekarpinski Apr 6, 2010

Hi everyone!

Well, we’re just about through with the spring break season. One more week to go—so far so good for me, no underage kids snuck through my armored screening process.

This week I got an inquiry from a “Doctor in the UK.” Before I totally dismissed it, there were a few points that made me think that it could be legit. (Read why this could be a red flag here.)

  • Basic information in the inquiry was benign, raising no red flags (except for the fact he was a doctor from the UK). He stated they had visited the area before and wanted to return, their dates were somewhat flexible, etc.
  • The guest's email was not from a free email service such as Gmail or Hotmail, but rather from a company. I looked up his company’s website and he was, indeed, profiled as one of the employees (actually, he was the owner of the company).
  • The spelling and grammar were correct.
  • He referred to my cabin as a cabin (not as an apartment as so many scammers do)
  • Didn’t ask for any “pricing information”
  • Wasn’t inquiring for anyone else (i.e. his godson in a different country)
I did some internet sleuthing to ease my mind and here’s how it all went down after that:

  • Upon receiving the inquiry, I replied as I normally do with my availability and pricing, but added a clause stating, "We take payment via credit card only.” This generally wards off the scammers who want to pay via a counterfeit cashier’s check.
  • He replied and instead of the usual questions about detailed pricing, or questions about the cabin itself, he asked a few marginally odd questions such as: “Where do we collect the keys?” and “Where do we leave the keys?” While these questions aren’t odd, it’s odd to not ask any of the other questions.
  • I politely answered his questions and added the statement, “If you would like to book, please call me."
  • Low and behold, he called and wanted to book with his credit card in hand.
The reservation is for September. He paid the deposit and we’re going to take monthly payments for the remainder of the balance. I really think I am fine. (I’ll let you know in September for sure!)

I wonder how many other owners he emailed and they never replied all because he is a doctor from the UK. Poor guy! That used to be a sure sign of respect, but in today’s environment, it’s a red flag.

Bottom line: A little bit of extra effort and internet sleuthing and I landed a sweet 10-night booking for September, and we all know how September bookings can be.

Christine

Tackling Tax Time

Posted by christinekarpinski Mar 29, 2010
Hi everyone!

Hope you are doing well. Last week was a quiet week for inquiries. I think a lot of people are on spring break.

I took advantage of the lull to finish my income taxes. Well to be fair, I don’t do my taxes myself. I actually have an accountant. But my job is to gather all of the income and expenses and send it all off to my accountant, which is arguably the most difficult part of tax preparation. I am confident with my income reporting because I have very good records of all rental income. Expenses, however, can get to be quite unwieldy.

I don’t know why but I seem to have a mental block on the credit card merchant account fees (transaction fees and discount rate). Inevitably I forget to tally them and send them to my accountant. But this year, I remembered them! But I have to confess, it was an afterthought. Just as I was about to send everything off to the accountant I remembered!

Have a nice Easter and Passover!

Christine 
Hi everyone!

Hope your spring break rentals are going well.

As for my rental life, things are going well. I’ve had a steady flow of bookings coming in. At this time of the year last year, I was in a bit of a panic because I still had summer weeks open. But this year I am not as worried because I have found that many travelers are booking closer to their rental dates than they did in the past.

I confidently raised my rates in a lot of my properties. A few weeks back, I said to my husband if we weren’t more booked up by the end of March I would run some specials. Thankfully in the past few weeks, the rentals have steadily come in and it looks as though my rental rates will stand firm.

I had a bit of a snafu while I was on the road giving seminars. I had a renter who emailed me, we went back and forth with the usual, “yes it’s available…this is how much it is…here are the answers to more of your questions….” and so on. Then she emailed me and said she did indeed want to book it. She was in the Eastern Time zone and I was traveling in California, so I was 3 hours behind her. I tried to call her a few times but we couldn’t seem to connect via phone. I told her I’d hold the week for her until we connected. Once I got home, I called her and emailed her to no avail. Finally 6 days later she emailed me and said she had changed her mind. And of course, in the mean time, I had turned away many other renters. When I emailed them back, they had already found another place. I’m sure the week will book, but no more holding weeks. If you can’t find time to call me and give me a deposit, too bad!

Lesson learned…again!

Christine

Making the Cut

Posted by christinekarpinski Mar 8, 2010

Making the CutMarch is here and for me that always means the pressure is on to begin preparing for that dreaded time of year—income taxes!

Last week an article came out in BankRate.com which outlined tax deductions for mortgage interest.

But, when I read this line, “Be careful. If you don't vacation at least 14 days at your second property or more than 10 percent of the number of days that you do rent it out (whichever is longer), the IRS could consider the place a residential rental property and ax your interest deduction,” it caused me to stop and think. Is this correct?

I had always interpreted whether or not mortgage interest was deductible based on personal use. According to IRS pub 527, “If you use the dwelling unit as a home and you rent it fewer than 15 days during the year, that period is not treated as rental activity. Do not deduct any of the rental expenses.”

Now, BankRate.com is a very credible source—they have a stringent journalistic process for gathering information and fact-checking articles. So, because I have personal contacts at BankRate.com, I called them.

What I found out was this article was written strictly from the mortgage-interest side of things, based off of IRS pub 936, which is significantly different from the income aspect of rental properties. So in the end, their article was correct (further proving their credibility to me). And, I was correct, too: we were just talking apples and oranges.

So bottom line, income taxes for vacation rental owners are very complex. If you own a vacation home, you may very well want to seek the help of a tax professional when preparing your income tax returns.

Christine

Back in Action

Posted by christinekarpinski Mar 3, 2010

Hi Everyone!
 
I’m back from my trip to the Vancouver Olympics!  I have to say, this was one of the best vacations.

First and foremost, the vacation rental I stayed in was PERFECT!  The location could not have been better; it was within walking distance to the main train station, ferry terminal, BC Place and the Ice Hockey Arena.

Here are the events we were fortunate enough to see:

Men’s Curling, Ice Dance Finals, Ski Cross, Women’s Figure Skating and we saw 2 quarter final Ice Hockey Games.

The highlights of my trip were witnessing the first ever ski-cross gold medal, the emotional standing ovation when Joannie Rochette skated, and seeing the USA men’s hockey team beat Switzerland. 

I am already looking to go to the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia!

Thanks Vancouver, for your hospitality and hosting the Olympics!

 

And while I was away, the Owner Community was hard at work implementing our newest feature- internal Google search! You'll see a search box at the top right of every page, and it's going to make your life so much easier. Remember that great housekeeping article you read a while back, but just can't remember where to find it? Just search "housekeeping" and it gives you all the Owner Community articles on that subject. Try it out! 

Christine


 

Hi everyone!

Hope you all had a good week. I took a lot of booking this past weekend between watching the Olympic events. (I’m getting so excited for my trip to Olympics! I leave next weekend.)

Yesterday I called my designer in Florida because I’m in desperate need of some redecorating in one of my condos. (It’s been nearly 4 years since I replaced my sofas.) So how do I decorate from a distance? I gave my designer my VRBO listing number and told him that I wanted to stay with the same color themes and not have to replace drapery, artwork, or coffee table, end tables, etc. Simply put, I needed new sofas, an accent chair and an ottoman. So here’s the room I needed to change:

Decorating From Afar

Within a few minutes, my designer emailed me some photos and this is the new sofa and chair I ultimately chose:

Decorating From Afar


The chair is made with micro-fiber and the sofa is made of the new Sunbrella fabric, both of which work really well for rentals. I was so happy to have found something so quickly.

So my next step was to call my guests who are in that condo and ask them if it would be okay if I had a delivery of new furniture while they are there. They were more than happy and quite delighted to be the recipients of the new furniture. Yes! Everything worked out very smoothly.

As luck would have it, nothing is ever that easy! I got a call from the furniture store (my designer had already gone for the day) and they regretted to inform me that the sofa I ordered was already sold out. And yes, even the floor model was sold! So they said not to worry— they have a few other styles I that would work. Here’s what they sent me:


Decorating From Afar Decorating From Afar Decorating From Afar

My response to these 3 other choices was No, No and No! The first one is a bit too wild and crazy for my taste. The 2nd one is too retro 1980’s and the 3rd one is far too white to have in a rental unit. I was so disappointed! In the end, I simply reverted back to my first choice and decided to order it even though it will take 4-6 weeks for delivery. Not such a bad option expect... my poor renters are going to be so disappointed when I call them and tell them the new furniture will not arrive this week.

Happy Renting!

Christine

PS. I will not be blogging next week because I’ll be at the Olympics!

 

Hi Everyone!

Success in the Super Bowl for Vacation Rentals EverywhereWow, what a Super Bowl! The game was pretty close, and the Saints were able to pull it off in the end. But who am I kidding? I didn’t really give a hoot about the game; I was only watching the commercials.

Did you check out the commercial by HomeAway? I loved it, but you know I am biased.

From my perspective, the commercial was a hit—we achieved our goal of exposing the vacation rental industry to a broad new audience. This year’s Super Bowl became the most watched program in television history, with over 106 million viewers! It even surpassed the previous record holder, the 1983 finale of “M*A*S*H”.

The commercial also got great mentions in media. Here are just a few highlights:  As with any advertising campaign, it’s all about reach and frequency. Clearly we nailed the “reach” during the game, but now we’re gearing up for the frequency part. You’ll be seeing HomeAway ads on HGTV, The Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, and The Food Network, just to name a few.

And what about traffic to the site? Yes! We surpassed our expectations for both traffic to the website and inquiries to properties.

Here’s to big success from our first Super Bowl commercial!

Christine
Hi everyone,

HomeAway is bringing back the Griswolds in a national ad campaignTo start, let me thank Christine for allowing me to take over her blog this week. I thought it would be a great place to get all of you as excited as we are for our first ever national marketing campaign, which will kick off with a commercial during the Super Bowl in just a few days!

Traditionally, HomeAway has relied on online marketing to spread the word about our product – your homes – to travelers all over the world. But with the company’s 5th birthday just around the corner, we thought it was high time to cast a wider net to expand the pool of potential vacation home renters and bring more bookings to our owners.

One of the challenges of embarking on a television ad campaign, though, is that we are a web-based company. We have to get people to go from their television to our website to really consider our efforts a success. With this in mind, we’ve made the site an integral part of our campaign to encourage travelers not to settle for a hotel room when they can rent an entire home.

And who better to prove the value of vacation rentals over hotels than America’s most iconic traveling family, the Griswolds! We are thrilled to bring the Griswolds back to the screen for the start of our ad campaign – a 30-second “mock trailer” enticing viewers to visit HomeAway.com to view a short film based on the original National Lampoon’s movies. (Take a look at a sneak peek to our behind-the-scenes footage of the shoot!)

Although the 15-minute movie will only be accessible on HomeAway.com, this campaign is really meant to bring awareness to our entire industry. Last year, about 10% of travelers chose to book a vacation rental for their accommodations. While this figure has already grown over the years, we still feel there is a huge opportunity to expand your market of potential guests. By giving national attention to our special niche, we are proving to travelers just how easy it is to book a vacation rental for their next trip.

Here’s the thing, though — we know the reactions may not all be positive, and maybe some of you think we could have used this money for something else. Let me assure you that our investment in a Super Bowl commercial will have no effect on our plans to continue improving our websites. We still strive to be a valued partner in your vacation rental businesses and hope to further delight you, our customers, with enhancements to our family of websites in the coming year.

That being said, nothing great ever happens in business without some risk, and we feel that this is just the risk we needed to take to change the travel industry forever. We believe in the value of vacation rentals and are looking forward to the growth of our marketplace. Since the announcement of our purchase of a commercial airing during the Super Bowl, HomeAway has appeared in 825 articles throughout the U.S. relating to the Super Bowl. I look forward to the continued growth and awareness of our industry and this great alternative to hotels.

To prepare for all the traffic that the commercial will hopefully bring, we’re locking down all changes to HomeAway.com from February 4th through February 8th. What does this mean for you? You can still make changes to your listings (updating your calendar, rates, etc.), but these changes will not show up on the website until Tuesday, February 9th. We appreciate your patience as we prepare for an influx of travelers!

I hope that I’ve answered some of your questions about the upcoming ad campaign, but feel free to contact us to express your opinions or ask any questions in the coming weeks.

Here’s to a spike in inquiries and bookings after February 7!

Brian Sharples
CEO HomeAway, Inc.

 
   

deep cleanHi Everyone!

Hope all's well with you and your rentals. It’s been a good month so far with a steady flow of inquiries coming in.

This week I had openings in two of my cabins. So to take advantage of the downtime and keep my housekeeper gainfully employed, I scheduled some deep-cleaning tasks.

Here are some of the things I specifically asked her to take care of:

Deep clean and sanitize all the nook-and-cranny surfaces around the cabins
Take off all the bedding, including mattress pads, pillow protectors, blankets and quilts and wash them all
Have the carpets steam cleaned
Wash all throw rugs or throw them away (if they are getting bad) and replace them
Wash all the windows and window sills, and clean the blinds
Wash the curtains
Take all the sofa cushions off the sofas and thoroughly vacuum the sofas
Take all the light fixtures down and clean the globes
Take an inventory of all the china, silverware and cookware.
Replace any missing items (I have tons of extras in my owner’s closets)
Replace all the shower curtains
Sweep and hose down the decks

So now my cabins will be sparkling clean and my housekeeper is very pleased to have the extra money during this otherwise slow season.

Happy Renting!
Christine
   

trading accommodations for servicesHi Everyone!

Hope you had a good first week of the year. For me I really just played a lot of catch-up. I like to call it penance for taking off time during the holidays!

Last week was a pretty strong week for inquiries, but I really didn’t take too many bookings as of yet. I think a lot of my inquiries were from looky-loos, who have just started shopping around. A lot of them were just asking for prices and availability.

I did, however, take an interesting booking. It came from a professional photographer who has been hired by the Chamber of Commerce to shoot photos of the local area. I worked out a sweet deal where she’ll be taking some new photos of my cabins as well in exchange for some free accommodations.   I'm going to contact my accountant to see how this might impact my personal use days, but it's worth it to me!  I’ll share the photos once I get them. It should be interesting to see what a professional photographer can do that I can’t.

Also this week I spent some time on the “other side” as a traveler looking for places to stay for my trip to the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. Oh what fun it was for Last-Minute Lizzy to find accommodations! But I’m so happy I scored and was able to find a vacation rental that was newly added to HomeAway.com

Christine

compare your vacation home to competitors in the areaHappy New Year!  I hope you had a wonderful holiday season.

We went to visit my husband’s family in upstate New York for Christmas, and we had a really nice time. I was very disappointed because I could not find a vacation rental to stay in, so we had to stay in a hotel.  (We gave up staying with family many years ago—not that they wouldn’t love us to, but it’s just easier for us to have some of our own space.)

Many of the vacation rentals in the area are closed down for the winter because, quite frankly, it’s not necessarily a winter destination (it’s bitter cold and snowy!). I did find a couple of homes that were open for the winter but they were pretty far off the beaten path, and the owners were charging their regular summer season rates. I’m sorry, but as a vacation rental owner myself, even I expect off-season rates during the off-season.

The hotels, however, were running great deals—we ended up staying at the nicest hotel in the area (where the rooms are generally $300-$400 per night) for $60 per night! So we splurged and got two connecting rooms so we could sleep in a king bed, and our son could have his own room. While I wasn’t expecting a vacation rental to be priced that low, I was not willing to pay summer season rates either.

But this all brings me to a point with vacation rentals—while admittedly vacation rentals offer so much more than a hotel room, our main competitors are the hotels. So this got me thinking—what are the hotel rates in the areas where I own? I got on the Internet and checked on some hotels in the areas where I own properties. Tennessee hotels seem to run the rock-bottom sale prices for rooms, but when you calculate two hotel rooms, my cabins are still a better value for the traveler. It was a good exercise to go through just to get a pulse on the market.

Now about my rental life—things are very good! So far in 2010, I have been getting a steady flow of inquiries and have even taken some spring and summer bookings. I just ran my end-of-year numbers last night, and I’m happy to report that overall 2009 was my best year on record! Whoda thunk? Especially since last year many of you blasted me when I said my The specified item was not found..

I’m happy to report that all but one of my properties had positive year-over-year (YOY) revenue growth. My largest gain was 21% YOY, and my biggest loser was -10% YOY. Overall, with all properties combined, I finished the year with +10% YOY total gross revenue. Admittedly, it was a lot more work this year to nab the bookings, but in the end it all worked out.

Happy Renting in 2010!
Christine

 
This past week I was faced with a vacation rental booking dilemma that was tough to deal with.

The History. I received an inquiry about a month ago from a woman looking to rent my cabin in January. She had specific dates in mind. I spoke with her and she seemed genuinely interested but had to check with the others in her party before booking it. But she never called back. This is pretty common, so I thought nothing of it.

A couple of days ago I heard from her again, she told me that she had ended up in the hospital. Now, thankfully fully recovered, she said that she needed a vacation more than ever. She still needed to finalize everything with the other members of her party. She then called back two more times asking various questions but still had not committed. Having spoken with her many times, I gave her an option that I don't usually give: I explained that I could give her “first right of refusal” if any one else inquired about those dates, but am unable to “hold” dates until I have full confirmation of the booking. Seemed fair.

Lo and behold the next day I get a phone call and an email from a different renter looking for which dates? Of course the same exact dates as the lady that I have had numerous conversations with. She wanted to book and pay in full on the spot.

The Dilemma. Do I allow the “new” renter to book on the spot? Or do I tell her that I have someone else who wants those dates and have her wait? Do I go with “courteous business” practices and call the first renter to give her “first right of refusal” which may or may not result in a booking? Or do I just book the sure thing? What if I give the first renter the “first right of refusal” and she does not book and the second renter then finds another property to book and then neither of them books it?

The Solution. Since I told the first renter that I would give her “first right of refusal,” I felt obligated to at least call and give her the chance to book or refuse. I explained this to the second caller (renter) and she said that she absolutely understood. But she did laugh and say, “It just reassures me that you are the person who I would like to rent from—makes me respect you more.” So I asked her what time is appropriate to call back, and she said she would wait up all night for a call from me. Out of the hundreds of cabins she looked at, mine was her number one choice. I thanked her for being so understanding and told her if I had not heard from the other renter within 3-4 hrs I would call her back.

So I called the first renter and of course could not get ahold of her. I left her a message on her answering machine. In the meantime I looked up to see what if any other cabins still had availability. Many of the cabins I looked at were booked. This made me feel much worse about having to “decide” between renters. But I did finally find one cabin that had those dates open. I double checked with the other owner to be certain her on-line calendar was correct. She assured me it was.

So in the end I called back the second renter and took her reservation. I still have not heard back from the first renter but if she does contact me, at least I have another cabin that I can refer her to if she does indeed make the decision to rent. While some owners might think this is a bit excessive, out-of-my-way to assist, I feel it's very important for the vacation rental industry in general. While our main motivation is always to rent “my home” first, I am more than willing to go that extra mile to assist whenever I can.

Happy Renting By Owner!

Christine

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