Need advice on a vacation rental website

17 Replies

We are going to roll out a powerful vacation rental website in about 2 months. It has HUGE seo potential and will be a viable alternative for homeowners who want a great place to list. 

Having said that, there are things that I am running into a brick wall on and I could really use some advice here.

To start - another group I am a member of is adamantly opposed to letting property managers list on the site. IOW, telling me that they will not list with me if I allow PMs to list. Some have been more conciliatory and said they will still list, but the PMs have to pay to list each of their properties just like the individual homeowner does. How in the world could I enforce something like this?

#2. Verification - while the homes that we have been testing are all verified, what am I going to do for future listings? I need something more than scout's honor when dealing with something this large. If you say utility bill - easy to photoshop. Send a postcard that has to be returned - that would also be easy to set up a false listing and a PO box. If you say check county court records, it still does not stop the elaborate thief from using a public record. We want to ensure that all listings are vetted and above board.

#3. Following up on #2, do you think we should also vet travelers? Currently, the people that I have polled have went 80 20 against saying they will vet their own clients and that it would drive away more potential customers than bring them in. Again, I want to protect the homeowners as well without being a nanny state.

I would really appreciate some feedback on this.

Hi Michael,

Good luck with the venture!  I'm always interested in new places to list my VRs.

#1 - How are you structuring your fees, if not per property?  Whether it's a flat fee up-front like VRBO, or a percentage of bookings like AirBNB?  (personally, I encourage the AirBNB model, I loathe VRBO's fee structure)  This seems to be the easiest thing to enforce from my POV, unless your model is people pay for their individual membership and are permitted to list as many VRs as they like.  

I'm curious about the vehement opposition to PMs listing - sure, I'd RATHER not have all that competition, but certainly many of us are scaling our portfolios to have many doors, so it becomes semantics after a certain point, IMO.  Unless they're suggesting that anyone who lists must be the actual owner of the property?  I believe that will limit your pool dramatically, as there are many VR owners who don't want the hassle of personally managing their property.

#2 - You're never going to filter out every scam artist in the world, if they're really determined.  How do the major players vet their listings?  Don't reinvent the wheel here.  Re: postcard method, it's not foolproof but it's pretty good... I have an awful time with it b/c I bill all my utilities to my residence, and there's no mailbox at my VR, so theoretically no way to verify my totally legitimate house.  (I've gotten around it by setting up mail forwarding from that address, which has so far successfully caught one out of three postcards)

#3 - Once again, how do the major players do it?  It's been awhile since I signed up with AirBNB, but I believe they make you submit government ID and a selfie (that you take that moment) so they can match it up.  I don't want to vet all that crap.  I want to know the person requesting a booking is who they say they are, and then I decide if I want to rent to them or not based on the merits of their request and their past booking history.

My overall recommendation is to rethink your approach to these problems a little bit - first, look to the established, successful companies and model yourself after their methods.  If you think there's a flaw in their method, examine what could be done to fix it.  But I think you're causing yourself unnecessary stress by looking at these (admittedly complex) issues as things you have to solve from the ground up.  Companies have already spent millions of dollars figuring out what's going to work - take advantage of that and just see what you can do to improve it!  :) 

Hi Julie

( I had to laugh - my wife's best best Bessssst friend in the world is also a JMC and she is definitely not a BP poster, so it caught me off guard)

Okay, we will be 100% membership based. That is an absolute slam dunk and we have zero interest into doing a commission structure such as the big 3 are doing. We will be peer to peer and leave the rest to the homeowners. It is our job to bring them together and stay out of their money.

I too like the postcard and thought it was a great solution, but there are a lot of people telling me the same thing. I don't live there - I get my mail forwarded - anyone could do it. But, you and I think alike on this and I really believe this is going to be the solution in the end.

The opposition boils down to this - the old bait and switch. The PM list one unit on a VR site and when that books they just keep taking the inquiries without paying anything more than the person who has a single listing. I do believe I have a solid solution for it, but... the best laid plans.... 

The photo ID at the time of registering is still pretty light as it can be anyone for anything, but I can't see a method short of biometrics scanning that will cover all the bases.

We are looking into all of this in advance. That is why I come here to BP :D The best advice is from here.

Have a good one, Mike

Andrew - we will be a nationwide listing service. We are already working on ways to differentiate our site from the others. More to come.

Julius The owner/property manager will be the ultimate vetter if you will, but we would like to assist them in this process to let them know that we at least made an effort to get responsible renters to them.

We will be nothing like AirBNB. Now, you might say that AirBNB was a copycatter of VRBO and the case could be made. Or that VRBO was a copycatter of Craigslist and that case could be made. Or that Craiglist was a copycatter of the Wooden Nickeal and make that case.

We will not charge commissions to the traveler or the owner. That alone makes us wildly different. 

Issue with PM - If you list more than one property you get PM or special designation on the site so people know they are dealing with a "professional"

issue with vetting owners - We use Task Rabbit for properties that are far away to take pictures of the property and to gather personal information and paperwork. I can get a tasker for $20 to do what your looking for.

Issue with vetting renters - Make the renters who received an invitation from an existing member renter get a discount on the vetting process. I would hope you do some sort of background check besides a valid credit card. Can you ask for their Uber rating?

Vacation Soup is a new alternative listing site that is membership based. They do this by forcing members to use their own vr website. Wordpress in this case and they give you free Wordpress site to create your own but you can used your website host and join them with it.

BTW - I think we have worked through the "Pro" part. The customers don't necessarily mind if there is a PM or not. It is the owners who are in flames over us allowing PMs to list. Like I said though, I think we have it resolved.

But, here is the thing Julius. I see it from their (the individual homeowners) side as well.

If I am paying a membership to list a home - how is it fair for a PM to list one and then use that same listing to fill dozens - possibly 100s of units off of one single listing. This is the exact reason AirBNB, VRBO, FlipKey and others do their listings like they do. 

They control the listing, the client, the money and the calendar. If you want to fill more homes you have to sign up and pay for more. There is no way to do it otherwise. Watermark your images to call for more information - they suspend you.

@Michael Kugler In regards to your PM concern, you're saying the owners are upset not because they will have more competition, but because they think it is "unfair" that someone will pay the same price but have multiple listings? Why don't you just charge per listing then... seems pretty straight forward. Have a one time fee that everyone pays and a much smaller per listing fee to add a property. Problem solved! :)

Also, my background is in working with a furnished rental platform that I helped build from the ground up. However, we had 30 day minimums and did lease agreements, as well as guaranteed tenants so it was a much different model. We ran into many of the same issues you are discussing though:

2. Verification: We had scammers on our platform. When you run something 100% virtually it is bound to happen. I found that the best way to avoid this is to withhold payment until after the guest has checked in (this is Airbnb's model). If you are just connecting the guest and the landlord though, then there is literally no way for you to really vet and guarantee anything. I think you'll need to decide whether or not you will be involved with the vetting/payments. I think it only really works if you are all in with the involvement/responsibility or completely out.

3. See point #2. You either need to just be a platform allowing them to find one another (Craigslist model) or you need to be ready and able to take full responsibility for vetting travelers (Airbnb model). I'd think it would make the most sense just to connect them and have the owner do the vetting (CHBO's model)

Thank you Ariel - we are going to be the Craigslist model - through and through. 

We are going to do the per listing with the PMs and have discounted pricing. Now, whether or not anyone/everyone abides by it is another story. ;)

Love Burlingame - lived in the area for 7 years. Great homes and neighbors.