Big Bear Lake Vacation Rental

9 Replies

Hello Friends!

I am very interesting in purchasing a small cabin up in Big Bear.  I would like to use it personally only a couple times a year and rent it out as a vacation rental the rest of the year.  I would like to use VRBO or AirBnB to list and a local management company to manage the property and renters.  

In my research, I have seen some community posts about Big Bear having strict rules on vacation rental owners. For those of you that have experience as an investor in this area, I would love to pick your brain!  Here are some of my questions  :)

1.  What is the best resource for me to obtain info about rules and restrictions for those that own vacation rentals in Big Bear?

2.  I would love to manage the property myself but I live in Orange County and work full-time.  Although I'm less than 2 hours away, it probably would be more efficient to hire a management company.  I have never managed a vacation rental before.  It seems a little more hands-on than a regular residential rental?  Also, I have read that local property management companies take as much as 30% commission from rental income.  This seems excessive, doesn't it?  Or is this typical?

3.  Do you prefer VRBO or AirBnB?  Or do local management companies handle the bookings for you?  

4.  Do you get year-round renters or is it typically only summer and winter seasons that your property is booked up?

Any advice or guidance you can offer is SO SO SO much appreciated!  I am so thankful to have found BP and find value in being a part of this community every day!  Thank you again!

Susana  :)

Hi @Susana L. !  While I do not have any properties in Big Bear, I do have 2 in Lake Tahoe and live 2 hours away.  I remotely manage both of them using a hybrid method of Evolve Vacation rental for my bookings, listings, payments, etc. and then I use technology to basically manage remotely after the guest checks in.  (Evolve handles everything up to check in).  Evolve charges 13% so in order to be cash flow even/positive that is the model that works best for me.  

Here is a few of my BP blogs on my experience if you want to learn more.  https://www.biggerpockets.com/blogs/10042/

Best of luck! 

Hey Susana. Nice to see you and wish you do well renting in Big Bear. 

It is a great area you are targeting to cash flow year round. The slow season is in March, April and in September, October but still profitable. Otherwise I am booked all other months with 2 day min stay and over 90% occupancy using just Airbnb (3-9% being weird one day gaps between the bookings).

At the beginning I signed up with VRBO and Flipkey but never got to list there. Bookings started coming in just from one platform and that I also found more convenient afterwards, to manage everything through one app. Doesn’t hurt to try others, but if you like to see your listing successful, I believe you should choose one. You don’t want to have split ratings and ranking otherwise you won’t make it anywhere. It is not officially disclosed by the company but no doubt Airbnb will give a priority to listings that offer all or most days on the platform. They appreciate those “super” hosts who do rentals professionally and do as much business as possible with them.

Some would say to create two listings though, one on Airbnb and one VRBO, so if one goes down you have a back up. I think if you do everything right, there is no reason why the system will decide to take yours down.

Before you start renting, make sure to create a good guide book for your guests. You should include all the nuances about the house, tips and any additional info you think will help to make guest’s stay a pleasure. Include as much details as possible, some things may be obvious to you but not to others. They are not familiar with your house at all. I also leave the manuals for appliances. 

The other day my guest contacted me about needing help with a coffee machine, said cannot find the manual for it among other manuals we have at the cabin (I need to double check that by the way when I be there). The easy solution was to send him to YouTube. Be surprised there is a video on YouTube about how your model of coffee machine works. Get help from other users who simply upload 2-3 min video showing what buttons to press, not biggie, but that requires you to be on top of your rental. At the end the guest left extremely happy and had a good cup of coffee that managed to do it himself. I am sure he did enjoy it.

So yes, you need to stand by for questions and fix issues when they come up. You are about to create an experience, not just throw them in your house and have them figure stuff out.

I believe 25-30% of the gross amount is a lot though. But this is what they charge to manage your rental from A to Z. No need to keep an eye on supplies, deal with clogged toilets, replace dirty towels and broken dishes, answer (sometimes) dumb questions, manage check-ins and arrange cleanings. What you can do though, if you don’t want to run the business yourself, is to send a request for help from other hosts in the area. Speak with a few people, see what they can offer you. By sending a request, Airbnb alerts all hosts in Big Bear who are offering managing services about your interest. I am sure you can cut your expenses that way. They should also provide you with a check-in person to comply with rules.

You may find all the rules and regulations here:

https://www.citybigbearlake.com/index.php/code-compliance

It is very hard to pick up a VR business from distance unless the house is a turn key home. Otherwise I don’t see how one would put all the pieces together. You need to be here to begin with, put management in place and then go do your other business.

If you do it on your own, you just need two key people: contractor/maintenance guy and a cleaning lady. One of them can be your check-in person when you establish good relationships with him/her.

I love hosting people and see them being happy while enjoying the home I created. Getting started in this business is a lot of fun and requires your time. It took me 6 months from closing the deal on a cabin, going through entire renovation, then furnishing the place and decorating to get the first booking. The booking came in the next day after listing the place, that’s not a problem, but getting the home from a dump to the place that people can’t wait to spend their vacation at is a task.

Once again, unless you find a turn key property which will be a unique place and have some character, otherwise you just gonna look like most of the houses that don't rent as good. No reason to invest so much money and time and not even make 5% ROI. Standout with your home - the key to success in VR industry. It can be very profitable when you do.

Seatch for articles on Google about making it right. You may also do some reading here:

http://www.destinationbigbear.com/blog/big-bear-cabin-homeowner-information/

Go over their articles under Homeowners Information. Hope this helps!

@Mark P. Mark, you gave me so much info!! Such great insight and thank you for sharing your own experience with your VR!  What is the average length of stay for your guests?  I know you wrote 2 day minimum stay, but how long do they normally stay for?  Do you ever get guests that stay for weeks or months?

I will definitely look into finding a handyman and cleaning person.  I didn't even know that we could use the Airbnb host community to help each other.  Amazing!  

Which areas do you think do the best, I mean, other than the obvious of those rentals near the village?  And are there areas I should avoid?

Thank you again for your advice.  I am so motivated to get started!!!

Hi Susana! It will be different for everyone to decide the minimum stay. My cabins are oriented for couples so I choose two day minimum. I am looking for those who come to enjoy their time, who come up to explore Big Bear and have a mini vacation. I don’t want anybody to visit me for one day, have sex, abuse the cabin and leave the next day. I am trying to avoid this motel-like situations and careless behavior when they think “hey, we don’t care about the place, we are leaving tomorrow anyway”.

Most of my bookings are 2 day vacations. 3 day stays are about 20%, 4 day - 10% and yes, we do have reservations for a week which is about 3%. I don’t get 5-6 day stays may be because when people look to hang out for a while, they rather choose one week because if they book for 7 days then they save 15%. Airbnb has a feature allowing you to provide additional discounts for extended reservations. So when my guests book a 7 day getaway they receive 1 day back in savings.

I am sure you will also have 2 day stays most of the times. Even though my cabins are fully equipped for long term, I’ve never gotten a month long stays and although this is not impossible, I personally would never spend $3-4K (considering 1 bedroom hiuse) on a vacation in Big Bear :) not that I don’t like the lake so much, but for the money I rather travel to South America and explore mountains and have new experiences in Chili.

Quick tip to get your calendar solid and the cabin more profitable: when you have those weird one day gaps between bookings, offer those to your existing reservations. 3 out of 10 people will stay longer so I just send them a money request and they pay for one more night at 40% off. They just leave early in the morning and still make it to their jobs. You may ask them about it a few days prior to arrival and a night before checkout. 

To make your guest comfortable I would suggest not to host them in Sugarloaf, Big Bear City and Fawnskin. The first two are not very safe and Fawnskin is kinda too far. I know people have rentals in Big Bear City and probably do OK but I would prefer Big Bear Lake and nothing else if you are expecting good cash flow and not just want to park your money. Most of the houses are sold in Moonridge, and I like the area, but no cellphone connection and at times very steep winding roads don’t make me feel good when thinking I have to put my people through it. A lot of folks don’t even know how to drive on snow, can’t imagine how they will do it on icy slopes. 

The bottom line is if you can manage to get a rental closer to The Village - the more bookings you will have. Most of the times your guests won’t cook at home, so the closer to the restaurants they are located, the more happier they are. On the other hand if you create an excellent vacation home in Moonridge, you could probably compensate for driving to The Village. Moonridge is also close to the ski resorts. So I consider that as a second best area.

Overall, I think you should concentrate on your cabin more. The more attractive you make it, the more people will be staying with you. Even if it is a remote cabin, but it is nice, surrounded with woods and feels private - that will be a win for your business. Your guests will love it and you will enjoy it a few of times a year too.

Hi @Susana L.

As a Superhost as well, I agree a LOT with what @Mark P. has put here. He has put a lot of good information in that post. 

I am from the Murrieta area and I manage Airbnb's out of state, it's really not that hard after you get it up and running-- it just takes time to scope out your area, find a good cleaner and set up the systems. I mean it still takes time, but I would manage it over giving over to Evolve. A couple of reasons why

1. I care deeply about 5-Star Reviews and I don't think you will get the same kind of service with Evolve or a bigger company.

2. They tend to devalue your property and not charge as much to keep it "booked" when you could be making more profits. It takes a little bit of tweaking, but beyond pricing is fantastic and it does all of that for you for 1%-->Well worth the price.

Long story short, either manage it yourself or have a Superhost do it. My wife and I have stayed with regular guests and Superhosts and there is a significant difference between the two.  And just like Mark said, make sure to have your property "pop" you have to make it nice but you will stand out from the rest of the Airbnb community.

@Susana L. I think that the best part of Big Bear is the whole deal is already done as far as the rules, regs, parking etc...They were actually done a couple decades ago I think with getting at all that stuff mostly hammered out. So now it becomes just the marketing game generally although there is a ton of competition so there is that too. 

Good luck ! 

I believe something didn’t go right with the service and now Airbnb is not offering help in connecting hosts and co-hosts. This is the email I received earlier today:

“Since you are a member of the co-hosting community, we wanted to let you know that we’ve decided to remove the marketplace feature that helps connect local hosts and co-hosts. As of June 27th, 2018 you will no longer be able to post to or receive notifications from the marketplace.


We are continuing to refine the co-hosting program, but this particular feature was not effective at connecting enough hosts with co-hosts. Moving forward, we’ll focus on developing better ways to support the co-hosting program.

You’ll remain as a co-host on any listings you’ve already been added to. And any host can still add you as a co-host directly to their listing on the co-host tab.

Thanks for being a part of the Airbnb co-hosting program,
The Airbnb team”

Even though this update will require extra moves now but the feature is still there.

@Mark P.   Hmm... I wonder how I would find a superhost /co-host to help with my property when I get one.  Or I can go with your advice about finding a reliable cleaning person to double as the greeter.  I'm still trying to figure out how I am going to self-manage my vacation rental.  Thanks for the update on the Airbnb, by the way!

@Travis Rasmussen is absolutely right. Self management is a must in this business. That’s why I stopped at 5 properties and moved back to more LTRs.
My VRs are in Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg which I think many will agree is the most lucrative VR area with only a 2 month slow season and it isn’t that slow if you self manage. It also seems to be the easiest to manage remotely. Big Bear is generally second in line in this conversation.
You’re doing the right things! Asking the right people the right questions!