Advice on Short term Vacation rentals in Northern Wisconsin

9 Replies

I am curious about the viability of vacation rentals in northern Wisconsin, in particular Minocqua area.  Cabins vs. condos, on the lake vs off, summer vs. winter.  If you have experience please lend me your experience.  Thanks.

Jeff, Minocqua is my hometown and I have a vacation rental there.  Also sold real estate in the area for several years.  I'd be happy to share my experience and local ins and outs.  Let me know if I can help.

Im sure @Adam Reek can get in the weeds on this, I recently moved away from Rhinelander and have a regular rental portfolio in Oneida County. I can say you do well in summer, but expenses can be high for management, cleaning ect. winters many owners rent at really cheap rates just to have someone there. many of the condos have rental pool options, but the condo dues in many cases are really high, if you are trying to offset the cost of having a place it may make sense. I have a cabin in Sugar Camp on a little lake I would sell if you are interested. 

@Jeff Iverson

*Not a plug* My property management company recently chose to use VRBO as our listing service when we launch or vacation service.  Biggest reason was the layout on the listing side.  I found it much easier to navigate and make sure parameters for the property were set up properly.   However AirBNB is still the go to place to schedule a vacation rental.   When the general public think vacation rental, they think AirBNB.  

The area you are looking at is prime vacation rental spot.  Memorial Day through Labor Day it is in hot demand.  You can make a pretty penny during that time of the year. However it doesn't have a lot of year round population demands so October through April can be fairly scarce months.  Its nearest big city is Rhinelander which has less than 9K people I believe. But on the positive side Eagle River and Lake Tomahawk are both very popular vacation spots that Minocqua can feed off of, especially if your property has some sort of waterfront access.  

Be sure you check the local regulations regarding what you can rent out in what zoning for what time frames, there are restrictions in Vilas and Oneida counties and possibly others, recent state law changes have forced changes to local ordinances, but there are special requirements either in the works or already in place, for the most part in Oneida county you can not rent a property in residential zoning for less than 7 consecutive days unless you have appropriate licensing from the county. this may also be the case in Vilas, prior to state law change it was 30 days, this was to protect resort owners and near by property owners from an owner that wants to run a VRBO weekend packages and have people loud and obnoxious at their lake house all summer. Oneida county was working on a special permit even for weekly rental, that skirted the state law. so please know what is required. if you do some research you will find the people that have just done VRBO and others without proper permitting have been sued  and have paid huge fines. Be educated on this before you venture in. 

I use VRBO and Airbnb for our listing. Much prefer Airbnb! I can better screen guests, as there is an option to upload an ID to their website, which we don’t see, but is verified by Airbnb. We require it for our listing.

Typically more active communication with Airbnb and a review is almost always submitted by guests, which we want. With VRBO it’s typically less communication and often have nooo idea who our guest is. They often don’t review even it they loved your place.

Airbnb app is awesome and streamlined. VRBO lags behind with website and app.

If you want to fill less busy times you need to get creative and do some marketing and market research yourself. Would the property work for business travelers or nurses? Are there sports events, hockey, etc? Don’t depend solely on the standard platforms. Talk to bigger employers, medical centers etc and let them know about your listing for visiting staff.

One parameter we have for any STR potential listing is that it must attract other demographics besides vacationers. We don’t want to put all our eggs in that basket.

We are using AirBnb exclusively right now and have had good success.  AirBnB's fee is only 3% which is a steal in my opinion.  I expect this will go up in the near future as the company has gone public and will be pivoting into mass revenue generating mode.  We love the platform - the concept of mutually anonymous reviews is a brilliant way of policing good practice for both guests and hosts and so far we have been quite happy with the guests we've had.  They can't treat the place like a hotel room and leave it a mess without basically getting blackballed.

Zoning is important to understand for short term rentals.  Quick summary for the northwoods:

The old rules only allowed 30 days+ in Single Family zoning.  You could rent 7+ days with a permit in Multi Family and Recreational Zoning.  A provision slipped into the most recent state budget stripped the authority of counties and municipalities to enforce this - setting the new minimum at 7 days.  Long story short, everyone can now rent weekly, regardless of local zoning.

Our property is in Business Zoning - with no minimum duration.  This allows us to rent nightly just like a hotel (a huge benefit).  There are very few residential properties in business zoning in a location that would be desirable for vacation rentals.  This exclusivity is a big value to us.  All of that being said, any law is only as good as the government's ability to enforce it - the local county zoning staffs are very small - they do not have the ability to police the law very thoroughly so there are still plenty of people getting around it, until a neighbor files a complaint and they are forced to look into the matter.  If and when that happens, the hammer can come down and the party's over.  Best to stay within the law if you are expecting to run your rental as a business with predictable, repeatable revenue.

Hi Adam! I just found this forum minutes ago... We are building a home and vacation rental in Plum Lake, Vilas County, WI renting out come April. Looking at STR insurance for a guesthouse above a garage, approx. 50ft from house on 3wooded acres. We have currently Airbnb hosted outside of GreenBay for 5 years (in fact, our property is soon to be listed). Any advice greatly appreciated

@Adam Reek

Keeping in mind Oneida requires a 7 day minimum stay, I am still analyzing a property that is zoned residential. I understand the process for the tourist rooming house app, and think I’ll have my ducks in a row to get that approved. My question... If I’m going to constantly block off 7 day stretches, yet let the customer book a minimum of 2 or 3 nights, what 7 days would be best to constantly block off? The model I’m looking at will still work with low tenancy rates during the winter and I’ll make my hay during the summer.

Would Sunday through Saturday be the best bet? If I can’t have more than one tenant in the property in a 7 day stretch, I’d have to specify when the 7 day blocks are available.