I've been investing in Atlanta for four years, and I'm branching out into the VR business. I have my first cabin on Airbnb now, and I have a second one under contract.
I'm interested in networking with other people in Atlanta who are getting into the VR biz in the Smokies. I thought it might be helpful and fun to get together sometime and help each other out with strategies, favorite contractors, etc.
Anyone interested in meeting up sometime to talk shop?
Hey Joshua I’m also looking to buy in the Gatlinburg area for VR. would like to hear about your experience operating from a distance. What are some things you have learned managing your own VR from out of town?
Very easy to self manage in this market from anywhere in the world. As with any STR/VR.
I agree very easy to do. I feel the key is to have good relationships with your "boots on ground" building a solid team of cleaners and handyman to help you make it happen!
@Avery Carl helped me get my first cabin and knows the area extremely well!
@Avery Carl and @Lucas Carl Team is currently helping me close my first property too. They go above and beyond to make sure you get all the information to succeed.
So far, it has been fairly easy to run the VR on Airbnb. We're pretty new -- this is our fourth week. We have our 10th guest staying at the cabin right now. As with any business, it's all about the relationships! We took the most time figuring out who was going to be doing our cleaning, as they would be the ones in there every few days, and would be helping us to understand what's going on at the cabin.
We chose someone who:
-Uses an app to interface with our calendar -- so we don't have to keep communicating about the schedule
-Charges monthly instead of requiring payment after every cleaning
-Is just REALLY easy to communicate with. Very good language/social skills and answers calls/texts quickly.
We are learning that the nice thing about Gatlinburg/PF is that it is setup for vacation rental services. There are so many VRs that I can always seem to find someone who is able to help me with maintenance issues. Unlike some markets, there are plenty of cleaners, handymen/women, hot tub repair people, fireplace repair people, septic and well people, etc. And they all know how to work around guests/turnover schedules.
Like so many others, I worked with @Avery Carl to purchase my first cabin, and she is helping me with the purchase of the second one (now under contract).
Any Atlantans out there?
We are now on month 3 of renting ours (thanks @Avery Carl ), and although we are local - we wouldn't HAVE to be by any means. Your agent should provide tons of info on the 'machine' itself - ie cleaners, repairmen, service choices (ie cable, internet, pests, CLEANERS)... if they don't - why are you using them!? :)
I'm working with a few cabin owners that ARE remote, on aerial exterior and traditional interior photos for listings, and while I can definitely see the value in face to face sessions with peer owners, I'm not sure what information could be shared in person that couldn't be quickly shared/discovered remotely.
War stories and simple camaraderie, decorating / upgrade ideas, speculation on trends.. this is good stuff for a coffee/beer for sure - just don't underestimate your reach merely because you're a few hours (or days) away.
Hi, Joshua. How does the monthly cleaning fees work for you? I pay every after cleaning. 1/4 of the gross income I have goes to cleaning. Maybe the monthly cleaning fee is better?
@Joshua Feit we made our choice in cleaners for a similar reason. One option was a nice gal who'd been doing cabins a long time - but was not internet savvy. Did not have a smart phone at all, just an older flip phone etc. We would have had to call each cleaning, and pay each cleaning, and get reports manually after each turnover, etc. Add to that their rate was on the high end.
We opted for a much younger, less experienced cleaner. Lower rate, sure - but very tech savvy. Perfectly happy to work from a shared calendar, use texting/email primarily and calls as needed. They also presented themselves in communications much more professionally, with onboarding elements (for us), and suggestions on what to get and where to get it re: furnishings or supplies. Billing and payment via apps, etc. etc. the list goes on.
We did establish cleaner #1 as a backup, which I would advise anyone to set up. If your primary is unavailable it would be wise to have your backup step in and already have the arrangement ironed out.
Our cleaner's husband is a cabin contractor, handyman etc. and has been a big help in dealing with deferred maintenance items found on the inspection... and the pair of them as our boots on the ground means we can ship items larger and more complex than normal and have them placed.. think furniture, electronic equipment, etc. rather than only being able to ship cleaning supplies and linens. Bit more value as a pair than when evaluating each on their own, so that's something worth considering.
@Richard Lee -- Sounds like Amy / Bryan -- is that your team?
If so, I work with Bryan on repairs. I actually thought about having Amy help me too, for all the reasons you mentioned. But I felt a little unsure about keeping all of the work in one family team. What happens when said family is on vacation, for instance?
Regardless, backups are important. I have a spreadsheet going with 5-6 vendors in each category.
Where are your cabins? We have one in Shagbark, and the one under contract is in Wears Valley.
All the best to you in 2019!
@Joshua Feit Yes, you got it!
I haven't found any downside yet... I trust we'd set up alternatives for vacation periods - the communication and backup angles in play. That's when we rely on our spreadsheets of contacts, eh? I know Bryan has stepped in to help clean when Amy's been under the weather (though he got a B+ from her since he forgot to clean the microwave! :)
Our place is in Sky Harbor. I'd like the next one to be in Wears Valley or rather close to Dollywood.
@Richard Lee Nice! I am buying in Wears Valley because I like to think that Wears Valley renters may be slightly more mature and quiet on average than PF / Dollywood renters, and therefore a little lighter on the wear/tear. I could be wrong about that, but it's just the sense I get driving around the area and seeing the appeal of the different places.
But if I went for a third, I may try to get something close to Gatlinburg or Dollywood to diversify the portfolio.
Regarding cleaners, we actually stayed in a cabin that your cleaner cleaned when we were in the area a few months ago. It was clean, but it wasn't perfect. The floor in the kitchen was sticky (think spilled Sprite) and she only left one bath towel in a cabin that sleeps six. Not bad at all, and mostly very clean, but Airbnb guests are brutal about their reviews.
Last weekend, we did a drop-in on our cleaner on a turn day unannounced. It was really great to see her in action. Mostly the check-in verified that she's doing a great job. I did find a couple of things that needed improvement, and I was able to send her a follow up email (with three compliments / affirmations of specific things she's doing great, and then two constructive suggestions) to let her know what I found.
Let's stay in touch! I think we can help each other dial in this new venture. Cheers!
@Joshua Feit I am looking at buying my third in Shagbark, but am worried that it's too far out to get the occupancy I want. I have a big one right in PF and the returns have been phenomenal, plus another further east and the jury is still out on that one. How do you like Shagbark so far? I guess it's too early to know about occupancy, since we're in the low season and you just got started.
I mean my third cabin, not third in Shagbark!
Our cabin in Shagbark is a quick 15 minutes to The Island / Kroger / Etc on the PF Parkway. It doesn't feel far. Christmas was slamming -- 100% occupied in December (at a low introductory rate, mind you!) In January, we have 12 days not booked -- and they are all midweek. Hard to know how it's going to do long term, but everyone is telling me that Shagbark rentals do very well. And the signs are promising.
The one issue I have with Shagbark is that they charge $5 for guest car for entry. The gated/guarded shack is a double edged sword. On the one hand, no one is getting through if they are not on the list, so no parties etc. But, I have to manually enter each guest's car info into the system. I added an extra $5 into the cleaning fee to cover it, but some guests bring more cars. It's not insurmountable, but it's a hassle for sure.
Is that one $5 charge per stay, or every time they enter?
Why do you have to enter their information into the system? Is that a hard requirement to enter? What if I don't? The LAST thing I need is extra manual hassle for every guest!
@Tim Schroeder $5 per car per stay. It's not hard to enter. When someone books, I have a saved message that includes a general welcome and a request for the car info. They usually send it, but even if they don't, I just enter their names and dates in the system, and the guards seem to let them through so far. It's really not a big deal, but it's an extra step.
I am developing turn-day routines, checking certain things and sending certain messages at specific times of day. The car check in is part of that routine, and it only takes two minutes or less. So not a big deal really. And it is very nice to know that no one is able to throw a random party at my small cabin.
I’m not in Georgia but I’m really looking for properties in Columbus, Georgia around Fort Benning.
@Tim Schroeder (( $5 per car per stay. It's not hard to enter. When someone books, I have a saved message that includes a general welcome and a request for the car info. They usually send it, but even if they don't, I just enter their names and dates in the system, and the guards seem to let them through so far. It's really not a big deal, but it's an extra step.))
This was a surprise to me when I first bought my Shagbark cabin and was told there wasn't an HOA . It was a hard lesson but YOUR RIGHT it hasn't been a major issue. GUESTS tend to really love the grounds and during the summer when the pool is open I have had guests rave about it. THE gate manager is a super nice guy and his brother runs the association grounds. They make a great team. I do wish they would repair the sign that was knocked down from the storm with an impressive replacement.
I have had my rentals here now since NOV of last year. LOVE STR here in East TN. I have 3 in Wears Valley and 1 off the Branch between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. I am closing with my first off market deal this week. Pigeon Forge.
OFF market deals are popping up now more then ever.
Hi! Is your Shagbark rental on Airbnb? VRBO? Both? All of my bookings so far have been on Airbnb. It's on VRBO (for just a week) but so far no inquiries. I'd love to connect with you to talk about how you are setting up your listings!
My shagbark cabin is a 2 bedroom 2.5 bath suites with a sleeper sofa. It is on both Airbnb and Homeaway. I actually get most of my winter bookings from airbnb (tend to be couples) and summer bookings with larger families in the Summer. It's been interesting to watch.
The system for entering guests into a system was just started the last quarter of 2018. They were having issues with way to many random people entering into the gates so the manager developed a database and system to track. 50% of Shagbark is owners not renters so they want to keep the area safe.
I do have to say that initially the system only wanted a driver name and phone number. Then expanded to wanting car tag and NOW this year email address. I feel that is a violation of my renters so I only put in Name and Phone number then use a generate random email to pass the system.
It was super helpful this last month when the power was out for 5 hours and they texted me and the guests. They were thrilled to have the communication.
@Joshua Feit You need to get on VRBO. In this area VRBO is king and provides twice the revenue that AirBNB does. And my stats show that VRBO guests tend to stay longer, book further in advance, cause less damage, and complain less. Use OwnerRez to sync the two and consolidate messaging.
VRBO and Homeaway are the same platforms. Have ya'll seen the HOMEtoGO commercials? Can you find your cabins on their webpage. It is supposed to feed from all the sites.
I agree with @Tim Schroeder Correction to above.
(My shagbark cabin is a 2 bedroom 2.5 bath suites with a sleeper sofa. It is on both Airbnb and Homeaway. I actually get most of my winter bookings from airbnb (tend to be couples) and summer bookings (FROM HOMEAWAY) with larger families in the Summer. It's been interesting to watch.