5 Nov 2020
If you’ve been coming to the beach for years, it’s likely that at one point, you’ve thought to yourself, “Wouldn’t it be nice to own a vacation rental so I could come to the OBX any time I wanted?” We totally get that—the Outer Banks is incredibly fun and absolutely one of a kind… who wouldn’t want to have a home here? However, the realities of owning a vacation rental get a little more complicated, especially when you consider the work that goes into making sure you’re earning enough rental income to justify your purchase. Between your initial investment and the upkeep to the marketing and guest management, here’s a short overview of how much time it takes to manage a successful vacation rental.
Setting Up Your Property
Once you’ve purchased your dream vacation rental, there are many steps to take before it can be rented by visitors. The first step is to decorate! Although many homes come furnished, you should take the time to go through each room and update when necessary. Renters love a modern rental with a fresh look which is why a new sofa, a few cans of paint, a new mattress a few coastal decorations can really make all the difference. Remember some of the vacation rentals you’ve stayed in in the past—which one stood out to you? Do you still talk about a view from a cozy chair or a particular wall decoration? Make sure your visitors remember your home so they'll want to come back year after year. This process can take anywhere from a few hours to several weeks depending on how many upgrades you make.
Setting Up Your Listing
A vacation home is just a building until you secure your guests so setting up your listing is one of the most important, and time consuming, aspects of managing a successful rental. Although most of this is done up front, it also needs to be done well to make sure you are optimizing on your potential rental income. There are several items you’ll need to focus on in order to set this up including (but not limited to):
- Creating a website for your rental or setting up pages on travel agency websites. (This may require research on many aspects of managing a rental such as what % a travel agency will charge, whether or not there are listing fees, what platform the agency uses to allow homeowners to interact with guests, etc.)
- Determine rental policies such as check-in and check-out, what happens if a guest needs to cancel, and what process is taken when a guest damages property. (This step could be dependent upon the travel agency you list through!)
- Taking & editing photos (or hiring a photographer) of the interior and exterior of your home along with any community amenities, water access points, etc.
- Writing a description of your home, creating a floorplan or property layout, listing all of the amenities, drafting a local area guide and creating other useful information that can help your home get rented.
- Marketing and promoting your home to past guests and new potential guests online, through social media, by word of mouth, etc.
- Researching the local competition and setting up/managing rental rates and discounts when necessary.
Although each of these steps can be completed on your own, it will take a considerable amount of time for the initial set up. All in all, this will likely take well over 40 hours of your time just to set up the basics. Just don't forget that there are ongoing tasks from this list (like marketing!) Remember that property management companies typically have entire departments devoted to these tasks where skilled professionals devote full-time hours to creating an attractive listing and getting your home rented.
Maintaining Your Home for Guests
Maintaining your home is perhaps one of the most time consuming and difficult items on the list. If you own your own home, or even if you're a renter, you know how quickly and unexpectedly issues can arise. Owning a vacation rental is essentially acting as a short-term landlord. From fixing plumbing issues and broken AC units to cleaning in between guests and resetting keyless lock codes, you will need to be available to assist your guests or handle issues 24-7. This can seem overwhelming, especially for homeowners who have families and full-time jobs or for those who live in another city or state.
If you're already busy, a better option may be to outsource vendors to handle these matters for you but this still requires that you do your research, speak with different local businesses, and find the most reliable workers to assist with your home. Plus, if a vendor doesn’t show up, isn’t available 24-7, or doesn't offer flexible scheduling, you may need to have a back-up plan for emergencies.
Whether you are planning to manage the property yourself or you plan to hire vendors, you will need to have the following covered:
- Maintenance (handymen, plumbers, electricians, HVAC technicians, etc.)
- Lawn Care
- Pest Control
- Pool/Spa Vendors
- Security Services
- Storm Prep/Clean-Up
To upkeep the home yourself, you will need to be available any day of the week and any time of the day. Weekly tasks like cleaning and lawncare will take several hours of your time guaranteed but could easily be much greater depending on any issues that arise. If you elect to outsource your vendors, you will still spend several hours researching and hiring the vendors but may also need to work through issues and update annual contracts after each season.
Managing Your Rental Home
Much like promoting and maintaining your vacation rental, managing your rental home is an ongoing task and one that will require much attention. You can expect several emails or calls a week from guests and potential guests. In order to stay ahead of your competitors, you’ll need to stay on top of these inquiries, responding to questions right away so that your guests won't go elsewhere. You will also be tasked with booking reservations, sending rental leases or written agreements, taking and processing payments (along with paying taxes and other general bookkeeping duties), and managing your calendar.
Because these tasks can take anywhere from 5 minutes to several hours, and can happen any time of day, many homeowners choose to utilize online travel agencies. Although these travel agency platforms will handle the majority of the work online making it easier for you and your guests, you won't be completely off the hook. You will still need to be available to answer inquiries, accept the requested reservations, and deal with problems that arise such as potential cancellations or payment issues.
One a reservation is made, you will likely still hear from your guests, especially as their vacation date draws closer. You will be expected to communicate all matters related to their arrival which could include keyless entry codes, WiFi passwords, location of included amenities, the home’s location and address, nearby grocery stores and restaurants, and even traffic and travel advice. While the guest is in your home, don't expect the questions to completely stop. Although you may not hear from a guest during their stay, this is where an issue is most likely to arise that will require you to devote extra time and attention to solving the matter. It’s crucial to reply to your guests as quickly and as thoroughly as possible to ensure they enjoy their stay and give you a great rating—this is an essential part of marketing your home!
Just because a guest has checked out doesn’t mean your communication with them is over either. You may want to ask them how they enjoyed their stay and request a review. If the guest damaged something during their stay or if your home had a maintenance issue that was not resolved, you may spend several hours arranging for reimbursements or refunds.
On average, dedicating time to each guest from the booking process to the checkout process can take a couple hours or more for each reservation and if you elect for weekly rentals, that’s several hours per week of your time! Like with creating a listing and marketing your home, property management companies have entire customer service teams who work full-time to handle guest issues so expect to be doing the work of a whole department.
How To Save Time Managing Your Vacation Rental
While it may seem like a daunting task after considering all of the time and effort that goes into managing a rental, there’s no need to panic. You can easily save time managing your vacation rental by hiring a professional property management company. Local property management companies, like Seaside Vacations, have professional employees dedicated to each part of the vacation rental process. Their goal is to easily handle the steps mentioned above so you won’t feel like owning your rental property has become a full-time job.
Whether you’re just looking for someone to assist with the maintenance of your home or you need a company who can handle everything from start to finish, Seaside Vacations has several programs available and can tailor their services to your specific needs as a homeowner. The truth is that, when you have the right help, owning a vacation property can truly be a fun and rewarding experience!
If you’re a vacation rental owner or plan to become one in the near future, learn more about the benefits of partnering with Seaside Vacations!
About the Author: Jessie has been coming to the Outer Banks since she was just 5 years old. She loved it here so much that she finally relocated in 2018. Now her mission is to show the world that the Outer Banks is an incredible place that everyone should experience. When she isn't working, you can find Jessie hanging out with her friends, chilling at home with a good book, or discovering a new Outer Banks adventure.