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Increase the Odds of Getting Your Vacation Rental Property Booked

Austin, TX  — We've made it through an especially harsh winter and (hopefully) a devastating recession, and Americans everywhere are dreaming of a well-deserved summer getaway. If you're a vacation rental owner, that should be music to your ears. But don't rest on your proverbial laurels: not only are hotels marketing themselves aggressively, the vacation home next door is pulling renters in with promises of fully stocked kitchens, great ocean views, and 800-thread-count sheets.

That's right. There's a lot of competition out there, which is why vacation rental expert Christine Karpinski suggests taking a "best odds" approach to capture all the guests you can.

"Basically, you should live by the mantra 'know thy customer,'" asserts Karpinski, director of Owner Community (www.OwnerCommunity.com) for HomeAway, Inc. (www.HomeAway.com—an online vacation home rental marketplace) and author of How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner, 2nd Edition: The Complete Guide to Buy, Manage, Furnish, Rent, Maintain and Advertise Your Vacation Rental Investment (Kinney Pollack Press, 2007, ISBN: 978-0-9748249-9-4, $26.00).

"Remember, between hotels and a growing vacation home rental market, potential renters have more choices than ever," she adds. "You want to give them as many reasons as you can to choose yours. That means you must know what makes these people tick and clearly convey to them that your home can provide it better than anyone else's."

If you want to cozy up to your renters this vacation season (and increase your bookings), read on for Karpinski's expert advice:

Make sure your calendar is up to date
. If potential renters can't easily tell when your home is available and when it isn't, they'll move on to your competition.

"You have to make it easy for them," says Karpinski. "Make it clear to them that your calendar is up to date. If possible, provide a time stamp that indicates the date and time your calendar was last updated."

Always respond quickly when potential customers reach out
. Respond to inquiries within 24 hours—even if you're booked.

"If a potential renter doesn't hear from you immediately, he'll question how reliable you are," says Karpinski. "If you're booked during the dates requested, respond just as quickly. The potential renter will appreciate your quickly letting him know because he can then move on to his next option. And there is always the possibility that he may be able to adjust his vacation dates, if he finds out far enough ahead of time."

Provide happy camper reviews. What your previous renters have to say about your home is going to carry a lot more weight with new guests than what you have to say.

"Potential renters want to see property reviews," explains Karpinski. "They want to see that families who've rented your home in the past loved it and found it was even more than they expected. Make these reviews easy for them to find. If you don't have them available online, be prepared to provide references."

Allow your guests to use credit cards. Most travelers are leery of doing business with anyone who doesn't take this form of payment. To maximize profits, you must take credit cards for payment. "Thankfully, these days it's easier than ever before to set yourself up to take credit card payments," says Karpinski. "You can do so through PayPal. Or if you want to be set up with a merchant account, PPI is the preferred credit card vendor that specializes in vacation rentals."

Show them you're Mr. (or Ms.) Clean. Spic and span should be your general motto when it comes to cleaning and maintaining your vacation rental. There are just too many pristine homes out there for renters to settle for anything less than perfection.

"Show your renters you take pride in your home's cleanliness," says Karpinski. "If you use a maid service, let them know and promise them that it will be spotless when they arrive. Provide them with any emergency maintenance numbers they might need. And assure them that you do business only with maintenance folks who respond promptly and efficiently."

Tell them what's in the kitchen. A full-size kitchen is a major draw for vacation home renters. But keep in mind that a full-size kitchen with none of the appliances or other supplies they might need—a coffee maker, plates and utensils, a can opener, a wine opener, just to name a few—is no more helpful than the mini-fridge they would have had at a hotel.

"Stock your kitchen with those items a family might reasonably be expected to use on a vacation," says Karpinski. "Provide a list of these kitchen comforts to your renters. They'll be happy to know they are all there even if they never end up using them."

Give them lots of little luxuries
. Part of the fun of going on vacation is experiencing things that are just a little bit (or a lot!) better than what you have at home. Make sure they know, via promotional copy, beautifully staged photos, and phone conversations, that they'll be vacationing in the lap of luxury.

"Provide high quality towels and sheets, for example," says Karpinski. "There is something about a big plush towel or super soft sheets that is just hard to resist. Tell—and show—your potential renters that a smorgasbord of creature comforts awaits them. Then, follow through. Remember, you want them to rave about their stay—and of course, come back next summer!"

Make sure they're sitting pretty.
Vacationers want comfort and relaxation. And it's hard to relax when you are constantly twisting and turning on an uncomfortable futon or wicker chair. Renters want comfortable sitting areas in the living room. Make sure you provide them. Show them via pictures or customer reviews that you have comfortable couches, loveseats, and other chairs to keep them sitting pretty during their stay.

"Many people do a lot of lounging around when they're on vacation," notes Karpinski. "Hey, it's the one time they get to do so without guilt! So make it worth their while."

Purge excessive personal items. (You don't want them to feel like house sitters!) While it's okay for your vacation rental to be designed to suit your tastes, it shouldn't look like you just left it minutes before your renters arrived. Don't leave your clothes stuffed in drawers, toothbrushes in the toothbrush holders, or prescriptions in the medicine cabinet.

"Remember, your renters are on vacation," says Karpinski. "They want to feel like they're on vacation, not like their watching your house while you're on vacation. That means it shouldn't feel like they're staying in someone's private residence. Sure, a few family photos left at your property is fine and even encouraged, but don't overdo it."

Don't worry about having a cutesy name
. Most people can't remember the name of the hotel or vacation property that they stayed in on their last vacation. That means that it's less important to think of a cutesy name for your property and more important to make your property, itself, memorable.

"While property names can be a helpful way for repeat customers to find your home, they have a tendency to confuse first-timers," says Karpinski. "If you purchase an older home and it's already named, you should probably stick with the status quo. Otherwise—unless your name is very distinctive and creative—don't invite trouble."

Ease their anxiety every chance you get. Because they are striving for that dream vacation—especially after so many went the 'staycation' route last summer—your renters may be worried about everything that could go wrong. They don't want to make a mistake and ruin their big getaway, so it's up to you to ease their anxiety. Directly and specifically address the concerns revealed above at every possible opportunity—in your promo copy, in your email communications, and every time you speak to them on the phone. Don't make them guess about anything.

"Think of some reassuring key words and phrases and use them every chance you get," suggests Karpinski. Our kitchen is fully stocked and has everything you'll ever need—and then some!...I know you're going to love our towels and sheets—we buy fine hotel quality bath and bed linens, and our guests rave about them...Our housekeeping service is the best in the business. We've never had a complaint about cleanliness!

"When you know what your customers want, it's 100 percent easier for you to deliver," says Karpinski. "Keep the lines of communication open with your renters. Listen to their feedback and deliver by going the extra mile whenever you can. Give them an experience that your competition could never deliver, and they will keep coming back to you." 

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