Are you thinking about renting out your vacation house to make a little money? Or maybe you've dipped your toe in the short-term rental market and wish you could bump your property into the next price tier to make the trouble of renting more worthwhile. If so, welcome to the new wave of accidental real estate investment.
According to the National Association of Realtors, 30% of vacation homeowners intended to short-term rent their properties in 2018 -- and that number is growing. There's profit to be made, and you probably could make more if you stop thinking of your property as a second home and start thinking of it as an investment.
Here are a few fast upgrades to make your vacation rental stand out from the competition.
1. Upgrade to faster WiFi
This usually only costs another $10 to $20 a month, and it will be a key differentiator in a listing for potential guests who need a reliable connection. Whether it's for work purposes or because they have three teenagers who live on their smartphones, anyone who's had frustrating experiences in the past -- at a hotel or vacation rental -- will prioritize WiFi in future booking choices. Most people appreciate good WiFi, especially when they don't have to pay extra for it.
2. Get a streaming TV service
Along with that upgraded WiFi, offer your guests an all-access premium TV pass to Apple TV, Netflix, or Amazon Fire. Hotels mostly don't have this, so you can one-up them. It's not expensive, either. Devices cost from $29 to $200 (Apple's newest), and medium smart TVs are selling for as little as $200 to $250. The monthly subscriptions then cost $5 to $15.
You'll also need to decide whether you want to allow guests to sign in to their own account or give access to your account via a guest login during the time they're there.
3. Upgrade kitchen appliances and fixtures
According to a survey published by Home Depot and short-term rental (STR) search engine Tripping, 67% of respondents stated that the ability to make meals at home was a key factor in their choice of a vacation rental over hotel. By extension, the kitchen is more important than any other room in the house when it comes to outfitting your place to outshine hotels. Yet, most vacation rental kitchens are minimally stocked with flatware and utensils and provide little in the way of special gadgets.
If you're afraid that "items not nailed down" are at risk of being stolen, here are several improvements that will make a kitchen feel high-end and are, in fact, secure or large enough to be theft-proof:
- Built-in wine cooler.
- Kitchen island.
- Built-in coffee system.
- Trash compactor.
- New countertops.
- "Peel and stick" tile backsplash.
- New fixtures, like a faucet and cabinet hardware.
A nice outdoor grill is a huge selling point as well.
4. Offer covered, secure parking
If you live in an urban area, either figure out how to clear out of your designated spot or have a spot that you can offer to your guests for a nightly fee.
If it's a single-family home with space on the property, either build a carport (one of the pricier improvements on my list, at $4000 to $6000 on average) or provide access to a space in the garage. The garage option may not sit well with you because you may not want to loan out garage door openers. In that case, look into smart garage door openers, which are controlled by a mobile device and allow temporary guest access as well as video monitoring.
5. Provide nice bedding and towels -- and maybe robes, too
Bedding is such an important amenity at hotels that many have created a signature line that they have available for purchase. But vacation rentals often scrimp on the quality of bedding and towels, providing minimum quantity and the cheapest quality. After you've spent hundreds of thousands on a rental, plus the money to furnish it, why balk at an extra $100 for decent quality linens, plush towels, and cozy blankets? Guests definitely find luxury linens comment-worthy. If you worry about them also taking the linens home, place a visible sign letting them know they'll be charged for linens that disappear from the property -- just as hotels do.
6. Post clear, well-lit photos from every angle
You don't need an award-winning commercial photographer to shoot your property. Good photos can be taken with a basic digital camera or even a smartphone. The key is to make sure you shoot EVERYTHING that is potentially of interest to a guest. This includes the dining area, the parking situation, and the TV. When shooting the bathroom, get individual shots of the bathtub, double sinks, or anything else that's an upgrade from basic. The same goes for the kitchen.
7. Make videos of the property
Visual marketing for any lodging is a bit of a catch-22: You absolutely need good photos to sell a property online, but people have come to be skeptical of them if they look too good. This especially goes for photos shot close up of a certain detail of a property or photos that were obviously specially lit and retouched.
A few video clips of the property can provide a more trustworthy and true-to-life representation. Don't overproduce these; just get clips that show the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and outdoor area. Adequate lighting is very important, but professional editing and sound are not.
8. Create a location page
This tip is straight out of the hotel marketing playbook: Create a page on your website and on all booking platforms and property promo pages that provides the distance in miles and travel time from your property to all major attractions. Include shopping centers, the airport, and the convention center. Consider including grocery store and restaurant info as well.
Travelers typically factor in location when choosing their lodging, and they often prioritize proximity to one or two particular things. If your property offers that, you should be targeting people who need to be near one map point, while providing useful location/proximity info for all travelers.
Think like a hospitality professional
If you don't have a background in the hospitality industry, it can be a switch to think like a professional hotelier instead of a homeowner who's letting guests have temporary use of your property. But once you make the switch to paying guests, you also have to switch to that hospitality mindset. Think about when you've stayed at hotels. What made an impression on you or convinced you to choose one property over another? Then, figure out cost-effective ways to duplicate those aesthetic or experiential extras for your guests.