For first-time and even some long-time Outer Banks vacation rental owners, it may be tempting to try to self-manage your Hatteras Island rental property, and many take on this challenge without fully anticipating all of the needs that go into managing a rental home. Successful vacation rental management is many full-time jobs in one – that’s what keeps us property management companies busy! – so it’s important to see the complete picture of the work that goes into the care of your home and guests before making that decision. These are the 8 roles needed to successfully manage a vacation rental on Hatteras Island.
When we talk to homeowners who have tried the self-management approach and changed their mind, we find that most of them were focused almost entirely on the listing of their home on an online travel agency (OTA) site like HomeAway, VRBO, or Airbnb. It’s not wise to rely solely on these sites where you are just a face in the crowd; These sites get bigger every day and your face will only get smaller. There are several other marketing elements that will need to be considered, too: strategic yield management pricing, social media marketing, content, professional photography, SEO and SEM, data analysis, special campaigns, and more. When managing this yourself, you have to be able to juggle all of these activities adeptly while also dedicating significant time to the other roles that follow.
There is a difference between accepting bookings on an OTA and being a reservationist. In a self-managed home, you can’t simply take payment and call it a day. You’ll have to respond to inquiries quickly, provide quotes, maintain calendars, and sometimes apply sales techniques to fill your season. You’ll also have to screen guests and kindly turn away those who may not be a good fit for your home, such as a 10-person family reunion requesting to stay in a 3-bedroom home for $50/night
3. CUSTOMER SERVICE
Once you have guests booked, you then must step into a customer service role before, during and after their stay. Expect guests to send you messages during your day job’s work hours, late at night, early in the morning, and during those important occasions in your life that take priority over managing your home. They will all expect instant responses and will request things you may not be able to accommodate. During their stay, they may report issues or send complaints that you will need to address in a timely manner, such as locking themselves out at 2 a.m. and needing to be let back in. Afterward, you’ll have to manage their reviews – good or bad.
4. MAINTENANCE TECH
By nature, Outer Banks vacation rentals will take a beating from normal wear and tear to more significant damages. You’ll be expected to fix them or hire someone to do so quickly. We’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon: On vacation, guests are (or should be) on a more relaxed schedule than their normal day to day lives, but if something is wrong, they expect it to be fixed in less time than they might expect the problem to be addressed at home. This makes sense given that they only have a limited time to enjoy their vacation, so interruptions for things like broken water heaters or failing AC units impacts a disproportionately much larger span of time, causing much more frustration than it normally would. Keep this in mind and approach your role as a maintenance technician with empathy should you choose to manage your own home.
As you would probably agree with when you’re a guest of a vacation home, hotel or elsewhere, cleanliness is a non-negotiable. Guests may be able to sacrifice amenities or location to save money on their stay, but no matter what property they choose, they will expect top-notch cleanliness. At Outer Beaches, our housekeeping motto is Not a single hair left behind. Are you prepared to hold yourself to your own high standards, especially when there are only a few hours between your last guest’s checkout and your incoming guest’s check-in in the heat of peak season? What about when a guest leaves an especially atrocious mess that will affect your next guests’ stay, such as taking your bedding outside to sleep with a pony brought into the back yard? This is an actual situation that occurred recently in Dania Beach, FL.
What about more embarrassing or even dangerous concerns of items left behind by guests, such as under garments, adult toys, drugs, or guns? This occurs more often than you would believe, so you will need to carefully scour your home after every departure to make sure nothing like this is left for your next guests to be unpleasantly surprised, injured or even killed by, and have a procedure in place to communicate the lost and found items with the guest and address the dangerous items with local law enforcement.
If you boiled down vacation rental ownership to one thing, it’s almost always about the money, either to earn a profitable return on your investment or to simply help cover the carrying costs of a second/retirement home. No matter what your financial objective is, successful vacation rental management of your income, expenses, taxes, licensing fees (in some areas), budgets and cash flow can be an extremely difficult undertaking that isn’t for everyone. That’s OK! Not everyone has these skills in their tool belt, and if you know you’re one of them, you’ll need to hire a CPA to help, so plan for that in your budget.
7. LEGAL SUPPORT
While we hope you’ll never run into a legal issue, it’s always a good idea to be well aware of the laws governing vacation rentals and have a lawyer or legal resource in your address book you can consult not if but when sticky situations arise. You’ll have to be prepared for tough situations to occur around leases and contracts, payments, damages, or even injuries (or worse) on your property. While these situations are rare and you may be lucky enough to avoid them entirely, it’s critical to have a plan in place for your own financial safety and general peace of mind.
8. STORM PREPARATION & RESPONSE
On Hatteras Island, storm preparation is an added layer of responsibility many other vacation rental markets don’t have to contend with. At Outer Beaches, when we know a storm is heading our way, our whole company goes into all-hands-on-deck mode to protect your homes with a detailed checklist that includes securing outdoor items like grills and furniture, closing all blinds and doors to minimize damage in case of a window shattering, cutting power, clearing guests in the event of an evacuation, and many other must-dos. If you’re managing your own Hatteras Island home, can you be on site within 24 hours to batten down the hatches to protect your home and your guests? You will need to be prepared for this not just during hurricane season but all year long.
After a storm, anticipate everything from minor screen replacement to major flooding repairs – you will need to get repairs done as quickly as possible to minimize the loss of business while guests can’t access your home. Keep in mind that if your home needs repairs, hundreds of others probably will too, so local vendors will be over extended and bridge closures could prevent off-Island vendors from helping. For Outer Beaches, even with our in-house Maintenance Department assessing damages as soon as the storm passes and handling a large portion of repairs, reliance on third-parties to complete larger repairs holds homes off the market for weeks, sometimes months in the worst cases. Will you have enough of a safety net to handle a significant interruption like this to your vacation rental business?
As you can see, successful vacation rental management truly takes a village. Like our mothers say, you get what you pay for. Managing your home requires “payment” not just in money but in time and stress, and if you find that the true costs and investments required of having to wear all of the above hats at one time is too much for you, we’re here to help. As a 100% local, full-service professional property management provider, we shoulder these responsibilities for you so you can focus more on what matters most in your vacation home: vacationing!