Hardest Lessons Learned from Short Term Rentals

50 Replies

What have been your hardest lessons learned in short term rentals? I'd be curious to hear the experiences that others have had. I'd say my hardest lesson learned is overestimating how quickly a new property will reach my revenue goals. I haven't allowed for much of a ramp up period and as a result, haven't budgeted the funds to cover the expenses in the beginning. I'm getting much smarter now though. How about you? 

The learning curve for AirBnB and VRBO and the different customers who use those sites. We initially set up our VRBO accounts to Instant Book which didn't give us the opportunity to properly vet renters. Also we found that AirBNB customers seem to always try and negotiate terms and then those are the renters who cause the most issues. Also not staying up on local regulations of STR market.

Currently my hardest lesson is not to get cute with wifi names and passwords.  :p  Routers in two of my properties have begun resetting to defaults, which disconnects my wifi locks, thermostats, smart TVs, etc.  I need to get the routers replaced (a bit difficult from my spot 2000 miles away) but when I do, I'm going to stick with the default settings, so I don't have to worry about those systems losing internet connection just because of a router reset.

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I learned Julie's lesson about WiFi passwords quickly. Stick with defaults.

HVAC systems are a pain in the ***. If it's old, replace it the day you close. 

I thought people would like my fancy touch-screen Ecobee thermostats but they have trouble with them and they're not as easy as Nest. I'll buy Nest next time. But I do like the WiFi remote-control aspect. I also have remote-control door locks, cameras, and motion sensors. I love them all.

Linens are expensive, and you need three sets

Guests are hard on linens, you'll be replacing them on a regular basis

Guests will call the "Emergency Number" a.k.a. my cell phone, for stupid stuff like "how do I use the spa?". I learned to use Do Not Disturb on my phone very quickly.

Your cleaners are your best friends. Get a good one and treat them well.

It's not "passive income" like they say. It's a hospitality business and it's a lot of work in the beginning -- like several hours every day after work for months, then it settles down then takes maybe 3-4 hours a week. But if done right, the returns are WAY more than most people make on LTR's.

Just got started a few months ago with 2 STR units. Lessons learned in that process...

1) Expect to get 3 star location ratings when guests specifically comments in their review that you have a "Great location, close to downtown!"
2) Linens, lots of linens and visits to Target

3) Random things disappear...ironing board, really??

4) Cleaning must be outsourced if you want to maintain your sanity

1.) Constantly be improving your listings, and your systems. Every time a guest has an issue, do something to improve it so that future guests don’t have that issue. Put yourself in the guests shoes. 

2.) find good cleaning people, stick with them, and constantly be training and improving them and their work environment. Work with them to make their job easier (like buy extra linens, better laundry infrastructure, ect.). 

3.) If issues with guests or the house come up, deal with it right away. Don’t let it fester. The longer you wait to deal with it, the more time and money it will take to fix. 

I like what @Tim Schroeder said, it is not a passive business. You should constantly be improving, or your business will suffer. 

Great topic @Wendy Schultz !  I intentionally waited so I could read some of the other inputs because it has been a 4-year fire-hose that appears to not have an off-valve.  @Julie McCoy I absolutely love my Google WIFI as long as it plays with your other toys.  It doesn't reset (knock on wood) and gives me remote access as I too live far away.  Just make sure what you have is compatible.  It's a bit more expensive (though I'm seeing HUGE deals for Black Friday coming up).  As @Tim Schroeder mentioned HVAC but also appliances can be a challenge - hence I when I buy a property if anything is within a few years of failing, it gets ripped out and replaced.  Carpet - TEAR IT OUT!  You'll spend 10X in keeping it clean than replacing it as guests drag their dirty suitcases all over it.  In summary, the upfront furnishing/fixing/getting it ready/constantly updating/managing for 5-star reviews is the biggest lesson and requires CASH AND TIME.  Fortunately the cash replenishes quickly but the time never seems to.

@Wendy Schultz I have been running a single room Airbnb out of my home for about a year and a half. I did some minor tweaking over the first few months and haven’t had many problems since. I have a maximum of 4 nights, this is to limit the time a guest has to move in and make a mess. I can get ino the room to clean it at least every 4 days. I don’t accept local guests, my experience shows they are more troublesome. If you provide white towels, many guests use them to remove makeup then they wrap that towel in oher towels to try to hide it which then stains the other ones and may or may not come out. So maybe provide a black makeup towel. I don’t accept guests that don’t send a message when they book. I only allow instant book for guests with ID, recognizable picture, and good reviews. If they don’t have reviews I will ask them a few extra questions like what brings them to the area and when they will be checking in. I have limited amenities- no oven/stove, no washer dryer however my prices are a little lower than my competition so my guests are still happy. If a potential guest sounds too needy or makes me uncomfortable even the slightest during the messaging I decline and/or block them. I maintain ~90% booking and cover my mortgage many months. Also I have cameras outside, motion sensors and door sensors inside, smart lights and thermostats, and locks on all rooms the guests aren’t supposed to be in when I’m not home. I can control everything from my phone so I can turn on lights leading the guests from the driveway all the way to their room wen they arrive when I’m at work. Guests love this. Also communication is key, guests want to be told everything so I have a canned welcome message and also a white board in the room with extra notes about the house, WiFi, and local restaurants.
@Wendy Schultz Overall it has been a great experience for me, I am starting year 3 with my STR. 1. Walking the fine line between being receptive to a guests needs and becoming a personal concierge. 2. Leaning that some guests feel entitled to taking random items such as rolls of paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies upon departure with the notion that the unused items are complimentary since they paid for their stay.
Great topic. I installed code door locks for front door and room door. While it’s been nice not having to chase people down who take keys with them it’s also presented new problems. Some People are really just stupid and can’t seem to lock the front door. I have written instructions and some people still can’t lock it or walk out and not bother trying to lock the door. I’ve come home to find an unlocked door. Sheesh. Frustrating. I don’t trust those remote WiFi connected locks as hackers can access those. There’s also the issue of internet problems that will render the lock inoperable.
@Gary F. I’ve had no issues with August lock. I’d say 50%+ of my guests were leaving the front door unlocked before I got it and now it auto locks after 3 minutes. From the outside you can’t tell what type of lock I have because it looks like a regular keyed deadbolt. If someone actually hacked it to open it then they would be on camera getting in. Also without the wifi lock it would probably be left unlocked anyway. Not to mention guests could go make copies of your keys for $1 so those people have a higher proability of entering your home later on than someone wanting to waste their time hacking into your front door to get a few towels and bed linens.
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@Taylor Tapp How desirable of a location do you need for a str to be desirable? In other words, are you competing via price vs hotels...getting budget minded clients...or do youhave a particularly attractive location? Are clients looking for a homier, clean but less generic experience or saving a few bucks? Asking because my son has an attic apartment in his house which is a stone’s throw from a hotel, a 3 building campus for a tech employer and they are building a mega 7-11 type store in front of the hotel...walk to all three. BUT suburb 20 min from downtown. How did you decide it was a viable location for a str? Thx.
Originally posted by @Taylor Tapp :
@Gary F. I’ve had no issues with August lock. I’d say 50%+ of my guests were leaving the front door unlocked before I got it and now it auto locks after 3 minutes. From the outside you can’t tell what type of lock I have because it looks like a regular keyed deadbolt. If someone actually hacked it to open it then they would be on camera getting in. Also without the wifi lock it would probably be left unlocked anyway. Not to mention guests could go make copies of your keys for $1 so those people have a higher proability of entering your home later on than someone wanting to waste their time hacking into your front door to get a few towels and bed linens.

That's our philosophy. We use a smart lock too. It locks itself after only 20 seconds though but we'd prefer it to be longer. If the wifi goes down, the codes that are already stored in the lock still work.  

Originally posted by @Marian Smith :
@Taylor Tapp How desirable of a location do you need for a str to be desirable? In other words, are you competing via price vs hotels...getting budget minded clients...or do youhave a particularly attractive location? Are clients looking for a homier, clean but less generic experience or saving a few bucks? Asking because my son has an attic apartment in his house which is a stone’s throw from a hotel, a 3 building campus for a tech employer and they are building a mega 7-11 type store in front of the hotel...walk to all three. BUT suburb 20 min from downtown. How did you decide it was a viable location for a str? Thx.

My best suggestion is to look at Airbnb comps to see if there is demand in the area your son's house is in. I only do STR for the entire space rather than a room in a home but there is a market for everything. I find that hotel people book hotels and vacation rental people book vacation rentals. They are entirely different experiences and my guests are not comparing us to hotels for pricing. Also, be sure to check the regulations in your state/municipality regarding short term/transient lodging. There are a lot of states addressing this with legislation.

Originally posted by @Jim Arnold :
@Wendy Schultz Overall it has been a great experience for me, I am starting year 3 with my STR.

1. Walking the fine line between being receptive to a guests needs and becoming a personal concierge.

2. Leaning that some guests feel entitled to taking random items such as rolls of paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies upon departure with the notion that the unused items are complimentary since they paid for their stay.

Yes! Those are good ones for the list! 

Originally posted by @Julie McCoy :

Currently my hardest lesson is not to get cute with wifi names and passwords.  :p  Routers in two of my properties have begun resetting to defaults, which disconnects my wifi locks, thermostats, smart TVs, etc.  I need to get the routers replaced (a bit difficult from my spot 2000 miles away) but when I do, I'm going to stick with the default settings, so I don't have to worry about those systems losing internet connection just because of a router reset.

I've not experienced this issue yet. Thank you for saving me future pain!  

Originally posted by @Joe Garvin :

The learning curve for AirBnB and VRBO and the different customers who use those sites. We initially set up our VRBO accounts to Instant Book which didn't give us the opportunity to properly vet renters. Also we found that AirBNB customers seem to always try and negotiate terms and then those are the renters who cause the most issues. Also not staying up on local regulations of STR market.

What process are you using for vetting renters?  How often are you turning away potential renters through that process?

Originally posted by @Tim Schroeder :

I learned Julie's lesson about WiFi passwords quickly. Stick with defaults.

HVAC systems are a pain in the ***. If it's old, replace it the day you close. 

I thought people would like my fancy touch-screen Ecobee thermostats but they have trouble with them and they're not as easy as Nest. I'll buy Nest next time. But I do like the WiFi remote-control aspect. I also have remote-control door locks, cameras, and motion sensors. I love them all.

Linens are expensive, and you need three sets

Guests are hard on linens, you'll be replacing them on a regular basis

Guests will call the "Emergency Number" a.k.a. my cell phone, for stupid stuff like "how do I use the spa?". I learned to use Do Not Disturb on my phone very quickly.

Your cleaners are your best friends. Get a good one and treat them well.

It's not "passive income" like they say. It's a hospitality business and it's a lot of work in the beginning -- like several hours every day after work for months, then it settles down then takes maybe 3-4 hours a week. But if done right, the returns are WAY more than most people make on LTR's.

 Lots of truth to this!

Instructions must be written for everything. We have (very nice) cabins in the mountains. We get lots of city folk who do not know how to manage (or respect) the heat, fireplaces, firepits, cell phones not working, departure times, etc.  

For the most part it's been a GREAT experience, and profitable. We have had a guest burn down a sauna and shed, forget to leave on the day of departure (twice, both resulting in forest ranger searches, ugh). They move furniture around and the housekeeper can't move it back by herself. So we have a really lenghty arrival instruction sheet.