22 Replies

To all of you who have short term rentals I would appreciate your thoughts and advice on rehabbing a property for a short term rental.  I have a duplex where one half has been fixed up and is very clean and nice and I rent it through VRBO.  I started at a bad time of year but have had a few guests every month.  I started stalking the other units in my town and it appears to me that one property seems to be rented much more than any other property.  It is very nice and has a hot tub that nearly overlooks the river and really pops.  It can also house like 12 people.  I rent my property for $80 per night and $100 per night on Friday and Saturday.  The other rental goes for $300 per night.  I am now fixing up the other side of the duplex and plan to rent it for short term as well.

    Here is the question:

    1.  Should I put a lot of money into high end or unique upgrades that will make my rental stand out?

     I am thinking of doing Hickory hardwood floors and kitchen cabinets, deer and elk antler chandeliers and lots of western motif furnishings to go with the allure of being in the middle of Wyoming.

     2.  Will this this have any real impact on the number of guests I get or should I just worry about having it be neat and clean and well stocked?

     3.  Will the estimated $12K more in materials be worth it in increased volume?  The property is about a 1,000 square foot 2 bedroom one bath on each side.  

    I believe my material cost will be about $6K if I do it like a rental, but $15K to $20K if I do the really high end finishes.  Ex pay $500 for snap together flooring or put $5K into hardwood Hickory.  Pay $1.2K for cabinets or pay $3.2K for Hickory cabinets.  Buy some frosted matching overhead lights for $150 for the whole thing or pay $300 per fixture for unique lights.

Please share your thoughts and experience!

It really depends on the location. Are you waterfront, do you have views of downtown from a mountain view point, are you downtown where people can walk to restaurants and bars?

If you have these things things putting in high end feature may give you a payback.

What do other units have that are close to you and how much are they getting a night.

Before you make improvements ask yourself will X make me more money buy demanding a higher price or getting a higher occupancy rate. If yes then do it, if not think twice about which upgrades you do.

Hi @Jerry W. !  Thanks for reaching out with such great questions! 

'm going to have to agree with @John Underwood on this as I just did a quick look at your market and the property you are referring to (assuming it's the one with the hot tub overlooking the river) is simply in a prime location.  Assuming you are not 'on the river' and maybe a few blocks to 1/2 mile away is going to make all the difference in a rental market where the river drives all the tourism.  

I certainly think spending a little extra money to create a 'western vibe' will be money well spent in your market though.  Although, I don't think you need to break the bank in doing it. I think where you will want to spend good money is on your photos.  Photos make or break your listing and if you are not keeping up with your competitors, great photos and good reviews are going to be your bread and butter to increased occupancy.  If you can get the ball rolling, treat your first time guests great and garner great reviews, then the listing will start feeding on itself. 

You also mentioned VRBO, but I would say in an eclectic market like yours, I would make sure you are promoting on AirBNB as well if you are not already. 

Just my 2 cents though, I wish you the best of luck on your investments and keep us posted on how it goes!


Thank you @John Underwood and @Jon Crosby for the input.  My house is no where near the river, but is in a very nice part of town.  It is the Cozy Two Bedroom listing.  I have considered adding AIR B&B as another platform to rent from but was worried about possible double booking.  Of course when you only rent 2 to 6 days a month it is not a problem.  I am hoping that will increase a lot this summer.  I am going to have to rethink my plans on the 2nd half of the duplex.

Both @John Underwood and @Jon Crosby have given you A+ advice.  The finishings don't have to be top-notch if the location and building quality don't demand it, but some western character will probably be helpful.  Based on it being in a nice part of town, I'd suggest making attractive but inexpensive choices.  (as a friend of mine puts it, "be Target, not Walmart and not Nordstrom")

List on AirBNB!!!  It's free to list (unlike VRBO), they charge 3% of each booking you make, that's it.  You can sync your calendars up so that they "talk" to each other and prevent double-booking (unless, like just happened to me, you get one guest on each platform requesting the same dates within 15 minutes of each other before the calendars synced!  Fortunately one was nice enough to cancel his request when I asked).  

Good luck!  I'm starting to see an upswing in my bookings for the spring/summer now that the holidays are over, hopefully the same will be true for you. :) 

@Jerry W. Check out AirDNA- it’s not an end all source, but I used their market reports to build out my short term rental. I bought my zip code report and the broader market report from AirDNA. The report gives you average rates, features, amenities and all that good stuff. It also breaks down data by bedrooms too, this would let you compare yourself to other 2 bedrooms. I like basing my investment decisions on data, the reports gave me tons of data.

Also, definitely list on multiple sites. While Airbnb is the biggest, look at home away which owns vrbo and is the second biggest site, and look at TripAdvisor rentals which is gaining a lot of ground on the others. While you will get a lot of overlap, being on the these major sites should help a lot with marketing.

When in doubt.... pay extra! 

Although I must say I'd give the floors a second thought. They are still renters after all. A really nice indestructible fake floor might be better. 

@Jerry W.  There seem to be three ways to win.  

One is be the best value -- clean, good location, and great price.  You would need to lower your weekday rate to $60 (rough guess).  "Best value" property is trying to book up 75%+ of the time at any price.  A duplex lends itself to this model.

Option two - "unique experience".  This listing is like nothing else and is hard to replicate.   The location, decor are perfect.  The host makes a ton.  It's priced at a premium over hotels and may only be booked 10 nights per month to break even.

Option three - "Balanced".  This is a good location, good price, and substantial effort on the decor/experience.  Booked at 65% occupancy.

Go for the one that makes the most sense to you for the property you have.

@Rick Baggenstoss , I had never heard it put that way, but it makes a lot of sense.  I am not going to get the guys who pay $2K to throw a bachelor party like I suspect the $300 a night one does.  The strange or nice thing about that one is that is probably booked well over 80% of the time and most of the others in town are lucky to get 30 occupancy right now.  The guy who owns it has it listed on a lot of sites including Expedia.  I also saw where he had it on facebook with a random drawing for anyone who liked his facebook page on it.  The prize was a free night in the unit.  The guy is very good at what he does.  I may have to chat with him.

Hi Jerry. I don't  have any str's (yet), but wanted to offer my take.

I don't think cabinets will matter much, but western fixtures could. I really like my snap together laminates. Costco has it on sale regularly for 1.19 a foot, pre-backed. Cool colors and 30yr lifetime.

My in-laws just started renting the main part of their house as an STR. They got a $2500 6-man hot tub (again from Costco, sorry:) and improved their deck. A deck and hot tub may get you best bang for the buck if feasible.

Best of luck with your vacation rental, bud!

Consider looking for professional management in your area. If there is a company, they will be able to maximize your profits & tell you what upgrades to spend money on. If they other listing is making that much, chances are it is professionally managed.

Consider reaching out to them through the Airbnb platform!

Facebook groups for Short-Term Rental or Airbnb Hosts could already exist as well.

Lots of ways to improve your strategy, but definitely talk to some pros before you spend another dollar!!

Thanks for the kind words @Steve Vaughan@J-Ryan Stewart , the area I live in is a bit remote. Keep in mind there are a total of 17 STRs in the entire county. I am as close to professional management as I will probably get. The guy with the nice STR is a local physical therapist. We are not a tourist destination but we get a lot of fishermen. Probably 80% of my guests have been fishermen.

@Jerry W. Love love love your question as I too have struggled with the degree of improvements question. You stated the majority of your clientele are fishermen. Fishermen are generally more focused on the quality of the fishing holes and less on the quality of the accomodations. I would focus my STR investment on amenities fishermen would pay a little extra maybe a map denoting some secret spots, or loaner fishing get the idea. Maybe discounts with a local fishing guide. Some of these things won't cost you much, but your guests will love them.

I would go conservative on interior upgrades...just make them comfortable and things that a fishing crowd might appreciate...I would not focus on the finishes per se. Stick to providing all the stuff required to stay comfortably for a weekend...well appointed kitchen, ample TV, comfortable furniture.

Best of luck!


I too love this question and agree with the great advice above. Here's viewpoint, I agree with @John Underwood , @Jon Crosby , and @Rick Baggenstoss when deciding how much to spend, aside from the money, I think it is important to consider how much value the renovations may added to a potential renter/guest. Based on the location, which based on the other comments appears to be prime, I think it is a matter of choosing what aspects of your property will appeal the most to potential renters and what may add the most value to them. 

Spend on quality and design where it will count, such as kitchens, baths, and comfort. Finishes that look clean and clean easily are worth the money every time. I recommend granite countertops or a high end composite. 
One place that I have saved money is on comfortable, functional seating that cleans up well - microfiber is a favorite - and you can replace the second it gets worn, usually about 2-3 years. 
If you're spending money on floors, make sure that it's durable and easy to keep looking clean. 
Wow your guests with a high end look that you can maintain and not have to worry about being ruined if something is dropped or spilled. Go for a clean and easy to clean design but add unique, locally themed pieces that make a wow factor. 
Local artists are awesome and usually have high quality pieces that add a special touch.  

If you spend on quality, cleanliness and a wow factor you should price accordingly but also competitively on the high end of the market if you're investing for the long term. 

I'm going to disagree with the above post.  Your renters aren't going to be that picky about floors, bathrooms, cabinets and the like.  They are on vacation to go fishing.  They need a place to sleep, cook, eat, take a bath, do laundry and have a good time drinking beer.

My renters are sort of like your renters.  They are here for a purpose (fishing or working at a refinery).  They need a place to sleep, eat, cook, shower, do laundry and relax.  They don't care about the aesthetics, they care about functionality.

I think you are overthinking it.  Your competition may be doing a better job at advertising.  I'd put a kegorator in there and offer free craft beer to paying tenants over 21 years of age.

Just my 2 cents.

@Jerry W.   The fact the house can accommodate 12 people is going to be a big factor but if you want to go this route make sure you put cameras on site.  We personally have had our place trashed from parties being thrown and when you go luxury and accommodate more people you also set yourself up for people hosting "events" which is more wear and tear.  We personally like to target business traffic, and people who are coming to area for a purpose that is related to family or work, so we make a lot of accomodations for kids e.g. putting up a tent from Ikea and colorful foam mats.  Also consider using all the sites for your short term rental not just VRBO.  Sync the calendars and then you can block off appropriately.  More exposure will help you get more guests.  Also if your place among many in that price range?  If so try to find a niche amongst the property that is not listed that overlooks.

Jerry, don't list to the above post. It sounds like a canned response. They didn't read your original post correctly and they think that you have a place that sleeps 12 people. 

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