Most homes in the hamptons are booked early. Booking four to six months in advance is the norm. If we refunded guests their deposits, then our window of getting another rental is slim.
That is not to say that I don't deviate from our policy. One refund went to a family where the father passed unexpectedly, he was the main monetary provider for the family. Another instance of a refund was sent to a young couple who worked for the same company and they lost their jobs due to company going out of business. Sometimes, the deposit is refunded depending on circumstances. But this is a rare occasion.
I have a simular problem. My current renter just inquired about renting again the same time next year. I just booked another person who inquired for the same time. The current renter is upset and is under the impression I should have asked them first if they wanted the rental again for next year. What should I do, email all my past renters first to ask them if they want the rental next year?
Some places do have a tradition that the current guests get first dibs on "their" week(s) for the following year, but there is usually a time limit. For example, at Harborfields (a seasonal business), we hold people's summer weeks for them until January 1st or so (and it's been like this for decades), after that it is first come, first served. We send out a newsletter every November or December to remind the previous year's guests to get their reservations in. But then we do have a lot of repeats, guests who come year after year (some for decades).
In your case, I think it would be a courtesy to ask your current guests whether they might want to return the following year at the same time before booking somebody else in that slot, especially since you seem to be taking the next year's bookings while the current guests are in residence. In any case, you might make it part of your check-out process to inquire whether the guests want to come back next year while also also asking them to leave reviews, etc..
Thanks for your response. This is my first year renting and there is a lot to learn! I feel bad about my current renters missing out but I can't go back and tell the renters I accepted to bail out. Now I will inform each one when they come in to let me know if they would be interested next year at the same time to avoid this situation.
I would definitely send out newslettes at the conclusion of a season and ask tenants if then would like the same time slot again for the following year. This way you would not run into a problem should they wish to return.
Also better to welcome a returning guest than a new one as you will know the caliber of tenant that you are getting.
This just happened to me recently. I'm actually a bit frustrated about it. I rented to a nice couple last year for a one month stay during our peak season and towards the end of their stay, they rented again during peak season for this year. I gave them a discount because I was new and trying to enourage repeat stays.
So around October of last year, I had another group that looked at my property who wanted it for 5 months - 3 of those months are during peak season. (I'm in AZ - our peak season is Jan-March)
So my past renter comes to stay this February and then emails me one day upset that he just realized the property was already rented for the following year and why didn't I ask him first? He's a very nice gentleman and they take good care of my property, so I would love to have him back, but I don't think I had any obligation to ask him - especially when the other group rented for a longer period of time and they paid full price. Also, how was I to know way back in October that he would want to rent for the for the following year?
I do have a second property and it still had availability. He decided he wanted to rent that property and then proceeded to haggle with me over the price. This is for a peak season when I will not have any trouble getting the property rented, so I have stopped offering discounts for those months. I ended up extending him a discount anyways (not as big as he wanted.) Then he didn't actually book the property right away (said he would do it when he got home) and I started to get other inquiries from people who of course would pay full price. I emailed him and let him know that I would not hold the property for him and there was a chance that someone else could book it before he does.
He ended up booking it literally minutes in front of someone else. Had I not emailed him, someone else would have booked it and he would have been out of the running. I use an online reservation system and require the renters to book through that system. The system will block out dates from anyone else once a reservation is made. So really whoever gets there first, wins.
I just found this to be an uncomfortable situation and I know he will expect some discount plus my "asking" him first next year. But I have other renters who would like to rent again as well. Who gets priority? In fact the woman staying at the second property ALSO wanted to rent for next year but because my previous renter booked it, she isn't able to book it for next year.
I certainly want repeat business, but my peak season carries my weak season and I can't afford to give discounts when there is such a high demand for those months. I also don't think I can "hold" anything for anyone - past guest or not without it being unfair to someone else. I don't want to upset anyone, but I would like to find a diplomatic way to let past renters know that if they are interested in renting again that they should book as soon as possible because I can't guarantee that the property will still be available.
With regards to the original question, about what to do when one person inquiries and you says it's available, and then someone else calls and books it right away, and then then the first person calls and is upset that you've already accepted another booking ...
If I have time, I send out e-mail's and make phone calls to our local vacation home owners network, and I try to find them a suitable comparable accommation. This helps to soften the blow, I think, when you let them know that although your place is no longer available, you are putting out feelers to other property owners and are actively trying to find them another good place.
Granted, during the summer when things are really crazy busy, I do not have time to put that much energy (it usually takes me 2 or 3 hours to make phone calls and play phone tag and e-mail's etc with prospective owners) for every guest that misses their window of opportunity. But ... if I have time, especially for guests who seem like they would be really good guests or maybe even repeat visitors, it seems the guests appreciate these extra efforts.
"Now I will inform each one when they come in to let me know if they would be interested next year at the same time to avoid this situation."
Not a good idea. You may not want them back. Better to do this AFTER they've stayed and you know in what condition the house was left. We've had a few who did no damage but left the house dirty. We're not interested in their business in the future.
Yes, I definitely feel for you. We have been fortunate enough that many of our guests from previous years have wanted to stay with us again. The problem is, sometimes we have the time available, but ... our current policy (since mid-summer last year) is to give priority to people staying at least one month. We are only considering reservations of less than 1 month if it's about 2 weeks prior to an empty one-month-plus space, or if there is a less-than-one month gap between two other longer bookings.
This is what works best for us. So! Although I have hated to do it, we have turned away some wonderful guests who have requested 1 or 2-week bookings, even though we had the space available on the calendar. When they inquire, we just let them know of our new policy.
As for guests who act like you should inquire with them first ... honestly I think it's a bit ridiculous. Dozens of different groups come to stay at your place, how can you possibly keep track of them all? You are not their mother. If they want that space to be available in the future, they should reserve it. If they didn't take the responsibiilty to reserve the space, how can they blame you if someone else booked it already?
Also, I definitely think you should NOT be giving substantial discounts to past guests if you've got people lined up (who seem like equally wonderful guests) who want to pay full price. A small discount is fine, as a token of your appreciation for their repeat business, but you shouldn't be disrupting your business model and unfairly losing money, just because some guest thinks that he or she owns you.
I think we as vacation home owners should feel empowered to take charge of our enterprise and not be bossed around by guests or potential guests!
With that being said, regarding being diplomatic to your guests, which is very important, especially when you have to turn them away .... I love the ideas of Marilyn and Harborfields. A newsletter sent out once or twice per year, to all previous guests, thanking them for their business, and reminding them of whatever your policy is, regarding coming back for a repeat visit ... sounds like A GREAT IDEA. In fact, if I can get organized enough, I would like to do that, too!
Our rental season is typically May thru September. October 1st after our season I send out emails thanking our guests for staying with us and advising them that we are considering a raise in rates for the following year. I also tell them that October is a fab month in the Hamptons and that none of the restaurants are busy, great food and great service. The beaches are beautiful and empty. They might consider a fall rental in the future. None have done to date.
On November 1st I send out another email wishing my guests an early Thanksgiving and that it is not to late to start thinking about the summer. It's always great to think of hot months as the cold one start.
On December 1st I send out another email wishing my guests an early holiday season. I tell them how wonderful the winter has been and that we all can't wait for the spring. I remind them again that we are considering a price increase for the following season and that if they book for the following summer during December, they can still maintain the current prices.
We never have more than 20% take us up on our offer.
Comes January and February our renting season starts with a flurry. We have prior guests who are locked out as new ones rent dates they wish. Right now we have a guest who booked in 2011 and now wants to change her dates, we are challeneged, dates not available that she needs.
Once a guest says they want to rent, we allow them 48 hours to get their deposit to us. After that the house is taken off hold and can be rented on a first come basis.
My system is the first person that makes a commitment to rent has a week to return lease and deposit. I let the prospective tenant know I don't mark calendar as rented until lease and deposit received but all other interested guests for the dame time period are wait listed. So far, no problems.
A bit of topic but when I get an inquiry for time that's noted as rented, part of my response is to let people know my reservation season for the following year. Anyone inquiring can be put on my wait list. Current tenants have first option to rent but new inquiries know they can be wait listed before rentals open to the general public. This always results in at least one or two weekly rentlas for the following year.