Managing short-term & resort rental properties: What you should know

Jason Van Steenwyk
| 7 min. read
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From time to time, property managers get an offer to manage a resort-type property, such as a home on the beach or near a major tourist attraction. Many management firms have been very successful at managing these properties.

However, if you’re considering taking one of these properties on, don’t get blindsided by the requirements—or the costs—of short-term or resort property management. It’s a whole different animal compared to renting apartments and residential housing on standard 12-month leases!

In most cases, you’ll want to specialize in one industry or another. It’s very difficult for property management firms to successfully and efficiently do both. They require very different staffing, technology platforms, training, and expertise.

Sales

First of all, compared to managing a conventional residential property, the sales effort involved in getting an occupant for a resort property is extreme. You have to start from scratch every week. You may have to spend a lot of time on the phone with a potential guest in order to get a sale—and they expect to get someone on the phone quickly. Remember, you’re competing with hotels that have a fully-staffed front desk and reservation line that’s available 24/7.

You’ll need to be able to devote someone knowledgeable to be on the phone on a full-time basis, including weekends and likely evenings, too. You’ll also need to be able to respond to web inquiries quickly—within a few hours, at the most.

You’ll also need to remain fully engaged with your market to ensure that your property is priced competitively—a market that changes every week with the weather, vacation schedules, and nearby events. Airbnb and VRBO are increasingly making the short-term rental environment more challenging than ever.

Marketing

If your marketing plan begins and ends with Craigslist, you’re asking for trouble. Craigslist is great for some things, but most resort owners and managers we’ve spoken to say that they haven’t seen a quality application for a higher-end resort property come from Craigslist yet. Invest in a presence on the specialty sites. Better yet, develop your own brand in the meantime, with your own social media accounts and hashtags. In addition, maintain a first-class website, work your guests for referrals and repeat business, and develop your own sources for bookings.

Operations

Managing resort properties is also much more labor-intensive than managing a standard residential unit. You’ll need to have someone in several times per month changing linens, cleaning, and inventorying the property. Properties in this market are nearly always furnished with Wi-Fi, a television, a DVD player, a cable box, and other technology. That’s that much more that can disappear with a guest, in addition to items around the house like towels.

Furthermore, your work isn’t done when you get a deposit. If you have a guest who can’t get the cable or internet working at 10pm, it’s your problem!

Smart property management professionals will build compensation for all of this extra time and effort into their contracts with the landlord. Note that nobody can provide boutique, top-class guest service collecting only 10-15% of rents as their commission. Typically, commission rates in this market can be 30% or higher.

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Setting Your Property Apart

It’s very difficult to bring in guests on price alone—especially for smaller management firms. The large resort chains will eat you alive on economies of scale. You’ve got to sell something besides price.

  • Fun
  • Privacy and solitude
  • Distinctive decor
  • Luxury
  • Private amenities like a hot tub or pool
  • Convenience to top destinations
  • Beach access
  • Peace and quiet
  • Romance
  • A more authentic, local experience
  • A fully-equipped kitchen

Furthermore, partner with local businesses to sweeten the deal. You can enhance your value proposition with discount coupons for a nearby restaurant or attraction. Hotels are routinely approached by vendors offering discounts for residents. You’ll have to be proactive in seeking them out, however.

Insurance Considerations

Standard landlord insurance does not cover short-term or resort properties. If the property is being commercially marketed to short-term rentals, the landlord will need an insurance policy that reflects that. Property managers should also discuss their short-term or resort rentals with their insurance brokers. After all, the more often you rent a property in a given year, the more opportunities there will be for guests to bring a claim against you, such as negligence or discrimination lawsuits.

Fraud Prevention

Resort property owners get stung by fraudulent credit card charges and bounced checks all the time. Identity thieves will obtain credit cards in their victims’ names and target smaller resort properties with less sophisticated operations, running up charges and disappearing by the time the victim or the card issuer catches on. When this happens, you get hit with a “chargeback.” Incur too many chargebacks, and not only will your client fire you, but your merchant services company may drop you as well—which means that you can’t take credit cards. To protect yourself, get a photo ID from the customer by the time of check-in at the very latest.

Reputation Management

In today’s economy, resort properties live and die by their online reputations. That means that the pressure to keep guests satisfied is extraordinarily high—and vigilance concerning your property’s online reputation is paramount. Do regular audits of prominent review sites like Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor (if applicable), and promptly address any negative review. Management that is proactive about addressing problems as they arise can take the sting out of an occasional negative review.

Stay on good terms with your neighbors as well. Unhappy neighbors can leave a bad Yelp review just as easily as a guest. On the other hand, they can also be a valuable set of eyes and ears. If your guests are getting rowdy, they can give you an early heads-up to take action.

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Keyless Entry

If you can’t be there to greet each guest as they arrive, invest in a keyless entry system—either a passcode that you can change remotely; a realtor’s lock box; or access cards that you can mail, activated only for the time that the property’s reserved. In the old days, resort owners would mail the keys to the next guest a week or two ahead of time. However, this causes numerous security issues—if something gets stolen, who is responsible? In addition, you may have keys out to three or four different people, any of whom could walk right in.

Keyless entry systems, on the other hand, are now inexpensive, effective, and show guests that you care about security.

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Jason Van Steenwyk

Jason is a freelance writer and editor, as well as an avid fiddler. His articles have been published in a number of real estate publications including Wealth and Retirement Planner and Bankrate.com. He lives in Fort Lauderdale, FL with his cat, Sasha, and an unknown number of musical instruments.

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