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  • Hilary Lane

The 10 "Host Secrets" to Launching an In-Demand Short-Term Rental That Makes you Boatloads of Money

Your vacation rental does not need to be right on a major lake, or slope-side on a ski mountain in order for it to be highly in-demand… but you do need to give people a reason to choose it over all their other options. And trust me, a cheap price is not enough of a reason to get bookings. I can't tell you the number of listings that get X'd out even when they're the cheapest one by a long shot.

The key is to recognize that vacation rentals are much more than "just a place to sleep"; they're an important part of the vacation experience to most people! People want to feel like they’re on vacation, and get to enjoy special features that are different than their everyday houses back home. They don’t want to feel like they are awkwardly intruding on another family’s space. And they aren’t willing to pay hard-earned money for a place that feels more like a disappointment when they walk through the doors, than a special treat… no matter how low the price.

The exception to the rule is generally summertime in northern New England. There’s such a frenzy in the summer, that every vacation rental becomes in-demand, no matter it’s condition or amenities. Families are willing to ‘settle’ for a less-than-ideal vacation rental because they’re going to be spending all their time outside anyway, and prices get so high in the summer that they’ll take what they can get. For hosts who just want to make 'a quick buck' in the summertime, it doesn't take much skill or effort to get booked.

But the true test to whether your vacation rental is great, is whether it gets booked year-round! Because let’s face it -- northern New England has year-round “getaway” appeal, and there's no reason why your vacation home shouldn't be attracting visitors in all four New England seasons.

Here are our secrets to getting in that entrepreneurial "investment mindset", and setting your vacation rental up to be a true “destination”...

1. Comfortable bedrooms that are set-up functionally, for guests. Let's not forget that you're in the hospitality business, so don't skimp on the mattresses. Beds should be comfortable, and there should be bedside lamps and nightstands (or at least some place for them to plug in their phones and put a book). And although guests occasionally use dressers if they’re staying longer, most likely they’ll just be looking for a place to put their luggage. Having a bench at the end of the bed, or luggage racks, make it so they don’t have to keep their bags on the floor. Ideally if the bedroom is large enough, there should be a small desk that can be used for a laptop or as a vanity. Windows need to have blinds or light-blocking curtains on them. Closets aren’t important for guests; if you have an oversized closet in a guestroom, consider using the space for something else.

2. A living room and dining area with enough seating to correspond with the number of people your house sleeps. Seems obvious, but this is one of my biggest pet peeves, and it happens a lot... vacation rentals say they sleep 8, but have only 4 dining chairs and 1 sofa. Awkward.

3. The right bathroom-to-guest ratio. Be realistic about how many guests your home can comfortably handle. Don’t assume that “the more beds, the more I can charge per night”... stuffing beds into every possible space will backfire. It feels crowded, takes away from the ambiance of your home, and most importantly -- creates an awkward bathroom ratio. If you’re advertising your house as “sleeps 18” and you only have 2 bathrooms, that’s going to make for a very poor guest experience… and a rough time for your septic system and hot water heater!

4. A clean, well-stocked kitchen that doesn’t feel like a college dorm. C’mon now… people are renting a vacation home instead of motel rooms in-part so that they have a useable kitchen. Vacation homes with cluttered drawers, cheap old pots & pans, mismatched dishes, a crappy old coffee maker, and a rusty stove with missing knobs are a huge bummer. Properly outfitting a kitchen is an easy and relatively inexpensive investment that will make a huge difference in your guest’s experience! You don’t even need everything to be brand new and high-end, but don’t cheap-out here.

5. Interior spaces need to be well-decorated. I can’t stress this enough. Although not everyone is super detail-oriented and most may never directly notice the curtains you’ve hung, or the rug in the living room, or the wall-art… it impacts everyone sub-consciously.

It’s not about the individual throw pillow or picture in the hallway… it’s about the overall “vibe” of your vacation home. Homes that aren’t decorated, or are awkwardly decorated, give off a “cheaper” and less appealing vibe. They feel less cozy, and are definitely less likely to be remembered fondly and booked again next year.

If your space is sparse and “utilitarian” or is a clutter of personal knick-knacks and crap, it will certainly won’t look as appealing in photos, and will be less likely to get booked. Vacation rentals that are decorated well, especially when it’s a theme that matches the natural surroundings of the area, are exactly what people are looking to book. By investing a little in some creative decorating, you'll greatly increase your chance of having your vacation home booked for top-dollar, year-round.

6. Get your outdoor spaces working for you. Rather than a forlorn yard that won’t get used… create a fire pit area and horseshoe pit! Invest in some pretty perennials and a garden bench. Put some functional Adirondack chairs on your deck, so guests can enjoy their coffee and the views. These are the "added" touches that really help your property stand out from the rest.

7. Thoughtful touches & added amenities are highly recommended. Books, puzzles, board games, a deck of cards, candles & a lighter, a smart TV with Netflix or Hulu, and a small gesture of hospitality, like a bag of coffee or a bottle of wine, go a long way. People won’t choose your home specifically because of these small touches, but they’ll be reflected in your guests’ reviews and in their likelihood to book again in the future.

8. Create a detailed guest “welcome kit”. It should include a welcome note, home instructions, local recommendations, and emergency phone numbers. Putting it all in sheet protectors and a binder is perfect for keeping things organized, and having it last a while.

I’ve also seen hosts keep theirs in a Google doc, and just send guests the link, which works too as long as your guests are tech-savvy.

9. High-quality photography. There’s no softening it… having not enough photos, dark shadowy photos, and/or grainy photos will absolutely result in people X’ing out your online listing. Renters have to “shop” online for vacation rentals, and most of their decision will be based on the photos. They need to feel confident in what they’re getting when the book. Investing a few hundred dollars in professional photography is a non-negotiable these days if you want your home to stand out online, and get booked.

10. A well-written, accurate, detailed online listing. If you don’t have enough information about your home, people won’t feel confident booking. If you don’t accurately paint the picture for what it’ll be like visiting your area and staying on your property, people will either not book… or they may end up being confused & disappointed when they arrive. Being overly ‘fluffy’ with your description can result in people expecting something better than what you actually have. Airbnb’s ratings include “listing accuracy” so guests can knock you down in your rating if they don’t feel your listing was accurate. Both the description, and your photos, will contribute to this rating.


If you're thinking about getting started in the short-term rental business, reach out to us to chat. We can provide guidance, insights, and recommendations -- no charge.

Getaway Vacation Properties is a New Hampshire-based consulting & design studio specializing in the vacation rental industry. We provide a variety of strategic, creative services to help "real estate entrepreneurs" get their vacation rental properties set-up to stand out in the sea of other online listings, get more bookings, deliver 5-star guest experiences, and maximize year-round passive income.


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