Everyone who manages or owns vacation rental property has had the following nightmare.
Your phone rings at 3am and the call display tells you it’s Joe, the slightly eccentric person who lives next door to your vacation home and has annoyingly achieved “early retirement” despite possessing the same marketable skill set as an untrained possum. After listening to Joe for a few minutes you understand that the nice couple who rented your vacation home was actually in town for the heavy metal pyrotechnics conference and invited everyone back to the pool for some “drinkie-poos” to keep the party going. One thing led to another and it dawns on you what the sirens you’ve been hearing in the background behind Joe are all about.
Mango Vacation Rentals recently waved goodbye to our 1000th group of guests and, we are happy to say, we’ve never received that 3am call from Joe. Of course we’ve had guests that broke the rules, showed up with too many people, or an un-announced pet. We’ve had guests bring their own karaoke equipment and keep it hidden in the car until after check-in. We’ve had drunk guests, loud guests, sneaky guests, dirty guests and guests that for some reason confused the toilet tank with the waste paper basket…repeatedly. However, we’ve never had a raging party, or a stolen TV, or a fire, or seen any of our properties show up as a set in an adult movie. Yes, we’ve had to solve some problems but nothing like the horror stories that haunt the intertubes.
This blog post is about all the most important things we do at Mango Vacation Rentals to minimize the risk of being woken up at 3am by a call from Joe.
Take Advantage of your Listing Settings
Listing channels like VRBO, Airbnb, Booking.com and TripAdvisor all come with built-in settings you can use to set expectations with potential guests. One of our favourites is the minimum age requirement.
Did you know that the minimum age to create a user account on VRBO and many of the other sites is 18? Unless you set your own minimum age requirement this means you could conceivably end up with twelve 18 year olds rocking out in your 3 bedroom bungalow by the beach. Most listing sites provide you the option of setting the minimum age of your primary renter. While we acknowledge that we were all 18 once, when I was 18 I tended to travel in a herd and was much less likely to comply with requests to keep the noise down after 11pm. Furthermore, I probably wouldn’t have had the means to fix whatever got broken if the party (I definitely didn’t throw) had gotten out of hand (which it definitely didn’t). The age you choose is up to you but we recommend setting a minimum age for the primary renter somewhere between 21 and 25 years old.
One notable exception to this is Airbnb who does not offer the option of setting a minimum age for your property. According to Airbnb’s policies, you can add this information to the description or rules sections of your listings but be aware that Airbnb’s Nondiscrimination Policy forbids you from doing so where prohibited by law. While we’re on the subject, there are places where laws do not allow you to set age requirements for rentals. It is always a good idea to check the rules in your part of the world before setting a minimum age requirement.
Most listing sites also have a section where you can set your house rules like quiet hours and whether or not events (a.k.a. parties) are allowed. The good thing here is that all potential guests have to agree to your rules as part of the booking process. The bad news is that almost nobody reads your rules before agreeing to them. For this reason, if it is very important that a rule is followed, we make sure to also put it somewhere in the description of the property and send it out again as part of the initial contact email.
The no pets policy at one of the houses we manage is a good example. The owner has severe allergies so we make sure guests never show up without confirming they are aware that we don’t accept pets. It takes a little more effort to do it this way but it’s the best system that we are aware of to ensure your rules have been acknowledged before your guests arrive.
Leverage Your Relationships
People are less likely to lie, cheat and steal when renting from a friend than they are from a complete stranger. It’s not the only reason we try to cultivate relationships with our guests but a little extra effort goes a long way towards minimizing the risk of a call from Joe.
Our relationships with our guests start as soon as we receive that first email, inquiry or booking notification. Everyone has questions at this stage and we do our best to answer all of them as if we were their best friends who have invited them to come for a visit. We advise them on what to expect and how to get around and offer to help with the organizational details. We book taxis and shuttles and send them links to all the fun stuff to do when they get here.
We then follow up with an in-person check-in where we show them around the property and get them oriented to their surroundings. We also take this opportunity to review the house rules. In our experience, once a person has looked you in the eye, it becomes much harder for them to turn around and invite everyone from the “Flamethrowers – Love ‘em or Leave ‘em?” workshop back for a round of Flaming Dr. Peppers.
The final step in the relationship is our in-person check-out. As the name implies, we return to see all of our guests off but not before we check the house for damages. Normally, we don’t find anything seriously wrong but these in-person check-outs serve a more valuable purpose. Nobody likes to be called out for breaking the rules. Knowing that they aren’t going to be able to sneak away without seeing us again tends to keep people on their best behaviour.
Keep Eyes on Your Property
Despite the title of this section, we’re actually not big fans of security cameras or unannounced visits. I don’t like to being surveilled 24/7 when I check in to a vacation rental property and neither does anyone else. That said, there a couple of unobtrusive strategies that we use to keep an eye on things even when we’re not around.
The first thing we do is empower staff members at all the properties we manage to call us if they see something that shouldn’t be happening. In order to make this system work, your staff has to know what to look for so we make sure everyone understands the house rules including maximum occupancy and how much noise is too much. It’s not their responsibility to confront our guests but everyone knows to contact us if something is going on.
We offer free mid-stay cleaning for guests staying 7 nights or more at properties that don’t have regular staff onsite. Your guests will love the fresh linens and towels and you get a chance to get eyes on the property every 3 or 4 days. Again, this is not the only reason we offer mid-stay cleanings but it does allow us to spot any potential problems before they get out of hand.
Let the Small Infractions Slide
Despite your best efforts, there are going to be times when your guests arrive with one extra person or a dog or a karaoke machine. The important thing to remember is that none of these things, in and of themselves, constitute a problem. An extra child crashing with their parents isn’t really causing a problem. Ten extra people having cannonball contests off the roof is a problem. Allergies aside, a well behaved pooch sleeping at the foot of the bed isn’t a problem. A 6 week old puppy playing “chew toy” with the table legs is a problem. Tastefully performed karaoke between the hours of 7pm and 9pm at a respectable volume isn’t a problem…but I’ll be DAMNED IF I’M GOING TO LISTEN TO A COUPLE OF CATERWAULING HACKS GIVING “YOU’RE THE ONE THAT I WANT” THE STRANGLED FELINE TREATMENT WHILE I’M TAKING MY 3AM CALL FROM JOE!
Right…where was I? Oh yeah, leveraging small problems to avoid the big ones. When confronted with a minor infraction of the rules like an extra person in the group or a family pet that they failed to mention we immediately run a threat assessment on the situation. What’s the worst thing that can happen and how big a threat is it to the property if it actually happens? If the answers are “not much” and “very little” then we are more likely to opt for a more strategic approach to solving the problem.
In exchange for allowing a minor infraction of the rules, we can often leverage this concession for something bigger. By allowing a well behaved dog we get assurances to keep things quiet after 10pm. In exchange for accepting the excuse that your guests didn’t think nannies counted against the maximum occupancy we procure a promise to clean their feet before getting in the pool. You get the picture. You have to use your judgement and every situation is different but a little strategic bartering can be a great way to enforce the rules while maintaining a positive relationship with your guests.
The reality is, if you rent properties for long enough you are probably going to have some problematic guests. I am well aware that writing this post has all but ensured that the vacation rental gods have penciled us in for later this week. However, if you follow the guidelines above, hopefully you’ll be able to get many thousands of bookings under your belt before Joe’s name shows up on your call display at 3am.