We started by talking to other owners in the area, looking for owners whose homes looked like what we were hoping our VR would eventually look like (this was prior to closing on the home, which took forever thanks to a slow bank process). We then asked about their managers and management experiences and got some names. Then we interviewed each to find the one that could and would consistently provide the experience we wanted for our guests.
Six years in, it turned out ok... and our guests tell us that their experience renting from us is much better than the experience they have gotten from other owners in the same resort.
We were very fortunate in finding a local couple who were willing to take on the interior (wife) and exterior (husband) maintenance of the property. They were insured and bonded, and provided house cleaning and yard services to a few other older homeowners in the area, but we were their first vacation rental. They spent several days with us going over what our expectations were (I cleaned the house top to bottom with the wife) and how they would be paid. We initially paid on a monthly basis to ensure a certain amount of income, and then, when we were getting a lot more rentals, they were paid on a per rental basis, which resulted in greater income. They took 'ownership' of the presentation of the property, and 12 years in, I would not give them up for any other couple or cleaning service. The local PM has even tried to poach them!
I'm in a condo building, so my experience will differ from those with a separate residence. There really wasn't anyone else in my resort using VRBO at the time, so I was plowing new ground. I paid cash for the place and closed in 2 weeks, then promptly yanked the unit off the onsite rental program, thoroughly alienating an already hostile bunch. They treated me terribly because they wanted me to fail and have to come crawling back.
Since there was no one to ask (about anything really), I checked CL and even posted an ad myself looking for maintenance and housekeeping. It's a tourist town, so I thought I'd be bombarded with replies. Not so much, even though I was at the top of the pay scale. I weeded through the applicants and initially hired a cleaning / linen service. He seemed to have a good-enough reputation and he practically begged for the job (red flag). I had the condo ready to go and I was booked solid Sat to Sat from March though October. The first few cleanings went well, but when the season started to gear up, it was obvious that he was having trouble with staffing. I had guests checking in at 4-5 pm and the condo hadn't been touched (with an 11 am check-out). Things continued going downhill and I was refunding $350 or more each time to my guests for the inconvenience. I never got those guests back. I also lost some of my expensive brand new linens when I severed ties with the cleaning service. I ended up going to SC for an extended stay during the peak summer season, cleaned the condo myself, and hired new help.
I was more careful interviewing that time and I diligently checked references. I was looking for someone who was committed to doing a good job with the cleaning, but who would be dependable, and who absolutely had a back-up. I found a single mom who fit the bill, and I had her help me clean the unit so there would be no questions about what my expectations were.
I also hired a maintenance man, but never heard back from him on the very first service call I had. Scrambling, I recalled meeting a very friendly engineering tech who worked at my resort... I mentioned to him that I needed someone for maintenance. He offered his services and I was thrilled because he knew the building and he was onsite. He turned out to be a treasure and has been working for me since 2012 (he's a retired firefighter). The following year he hired housekeepers and took over the cleanings too. He is dedicated to providing a clean, safe and welcoming environment for our guests - and yes, he does think of them as his guests too.
- If I were doing this all over again, I'd first talk to staff at the resort, or community, or in the area where your rental is located. You'd be surprised how many people are looking for extra work. Most of the jobs in touristy areas don't pay enough, and you'll find a lot of people are working 2 and 3 jobs. Talk to everyone everywhere. I learned that the bartender at my resort has a vacation rental cleaning business.
- Be clear about what your expectations are when it comes to cleaning. Ask your guests for feedback on how the rental looks when they check in.
- Check references and verify that the person or service you hire will have a back-up available in case something comes up and they can't make it.
- Pay slightly above the going rate so you don't lose your staff to someone willing to pay more.
- Give your housekeeper a free night or two in your property. I don't have a lot of unrented nights, but when I have an occasional opening, I offer it to the housekeeper. Her children enjoy the pools and the beach and she notices little things that she wouldn't normally pay attention to (a lower shelf that needs to be wiped, dust in an obscure spot, etc). It builds loyality and it's a win-win for both us.
- Offer incentive bonuses. I give a $25 bonus every time a guest mentions "clean" in a review (and I email the review so they can read it).
- I placed my maintenance man on a monthly retainer. My properties are rented year-round, so this gives him a steady income. He checks the condos after each departure and proactively keeps up with maintenance issues (checking light bulbs, batteries, sink and tub drains, furnace filters, etc). He's essentially on-call for me all the time. He checks in on my monthly snowbirds too, along with coordinating their cleanings. He doesn't mind including a brief service call or two, but I pay him extra for big jobs (replacing appliances, etc). He also gets a complimentary stay for out-of-town family during one of our rowdier bikefests when I don't want paying guests subjected to the commotion.
This is the single hardest part, and IMO the reason the PM business model is pretty much impossible to scale at high quality.
Our experience in every market we've operated in: it takes at least a couple years to build the right team. At the start, the really good folks - which is what you need - generally already have all the business they can handle and maintain good work standards. Plus they don't know you, and you look like a risk to them. So you have to build a track record, and meet people. In the meantime you can start with "outsourcing" - hiring businesses who have established teams and processes. Likely they will need to recruit to support your business and you are relying on their ability to hire - so do they seem good at that, and what is their reputation as an employer. If you are local and can train directly, you can instead look for people who demonstrate positive character - honest, willing to work, reliable, can communicate, attentive to details, and willing and able to follow directions.
I Put an ad in Craiglist for cleaning help and got literally hundreds of people respond. As it turns out a neighbor/friend said that she would like to provide that service for me and what a blessing that was....someone I totally trusted. But another neighbor is a back up for me. GREAT neighbors!
I Would also say that the Realtor that I use has a list of handymen for a huge number of things that they have to do for repairs on inspections on houses for sale and they share that with me and so that would be a great place to find reputable names of companies.