STR Automation Resources

33 Replies

Hello all,

I am currently analyzing properties for my first STR in TN. I am very interested to try and optimize as much as possible especially since I will be remote with this property. I plan to have a local property manager but will handle marketing and everything up to check in myself.

I am curious if there are good books or blogs dedicated to this practice that can be recommended. I am curious to learn as much as I can about the process such as automating emails after booking (maybe MailChimp), generating a keycode on an automated lock (something like ResortLock), communicating with cleaning staff, etc.

Thanks for the recommendations!

I use ResortLock and YourPorter for the things you describe.  YourPorter is excellent for message automation - HOWEVER I recommend you do it manually for awhile until you feel comfortable with your messages and what guests want/expect with communication.  You want to know what you're doing before you hand it off to automation - I've been doing this since 2017 and it's still disconcerting to have a lot of communication happening when I'm not consciously aware of it!

Why are you going to handle most everything but pay a PM to let renters in?

I use a lockbox so that no one had to be there to let guests in. People arrive at various different times many hours apart from the beginning of check in time.

A PM will eat into your profits heavily.

@John Underwood I want a PM there to handle anything related to maintenance or other problems that come up, especially anything off hours.

@Julie McCoy totally agree. Some of the email automation I am referring to surrounds the housekeeping. I am not sure what parts I will and will not automate but wanted to do some research. Thanks for the info!

@Michael Stokes where is “there?”

Give me a call sometime I’ll teach you how everything works. Usually takes about an hour with a pen and paper. Please check my profile for a link to my properties. Which kill it.

Hey Lucas. My wife and I are sitting in our cabin we purchased today with the Avery’s help! After months of prep and research...I finding myself sitting here thinking of a bunch of things I hadn’t thought of. I’d love to pick your brain, if you’re available to talk sometime. 

Originally posted by @Michael Stokes :

@John Underwood I want a PM there to handle anything related to maintenance or other problems that come up, especially anything off hours.

I understand your desire to have someone to "Take care of things". But are you willing to give away 30-40% of gross income for that peace of mind?  I manage two properties from 1500 miles away. Many people around here manage 5 or more.

On Monday a guest texted me and said the gas fireplace wouldn't work. (It's been getting worse for months and so this came as no surprise). I texted the maintenance guy, he swung by and looked at it and sent me pics (it's trashed -- controls and valves are melted beyond repair). Guest was pleased and impressed at the fast response. I went on the local Facebook cabin owners group and searched for "fireplace repair". Called the guy everyone raved about. Gave him a unique electronic door code, which I deleted the following day. Two days later I have a new gas fireplace that I haven't seen. With luck, I will never see it. Well, actually I watched him bring it in on my security cam but you get the idea. He emailed me the bill, which I paid through Paypal, then copied the receipt to Dropbox which I'll give it to my accountant next year.

All on my Smartphone: Three texts, a Facebook search, a door code app, security cam app, Paypal app, Dropbox app. I did it all from my desk at my day job. 

This property grossed about $110,000 the first year. Am I going to pay a PM $44,000 to do that for me?  No. Freaking. Way.

To be fair, it's sometimes a PITA. People call with stupid questions. They complain about stupid things, like leaves on the porch or how I should provide instructions for the remote controls. Sometimes you want to scream IT'S A CABIN IN THE MOUNTAINS YOU IDIOT -- LEAVES ARE PART OF THE DEAL!!  One guest complained that I didn't have an egg slicer. An egg slicer!?!?!  I had to google it to see what it was. I get about one "issue" a month. 

But for an extra $44,000 I can put up with a lot of dumb questions.

@Michael Stokes   My current model is as follows: 

1.  Evolve Vacation Rental for my listings, calendar, payments and overall booking management pre-stay (I manage everything remotely after check-in). 

2. Nexia with Schlage WiFi deadbolts

3. MailChimp campaigns for pre-stay, post check-in and post-check-out instructions and communications

4. Automate.IO with Google Calendar for automated emails to my Housekeepers and updating my MailChimp list.  

5. Trustworthy housekeepers as my 'boots on the ground' and post stay inspection. 

The only thing I pay for is the Nexia service which is $10/month and Evolve takes 13% for booking/payment processing (using Evolve is not a requirement in my model however). 

How it works: 

1. Receive automated email from Evolve for a new booking

2. Open Google Calendar and enter dates, guest name and guest email

3. Add dates and code (always last 4 digits of booking phone number) to Nexia system

Total Time per Booking:  2 minutes

I have been using this system for 4 years now pretty successfully. Obviously if a toilet breaks, a guest has a specific question, etc. there is always customer service that has to be put in.  For plumbing, heating, etc. you just want all your service providers setup in your phone to handle those situations.  From an operation model I'm really happy with that I have automated to date.     

Hope that helps provide some more context for you to ponder!  :)

Cheers!

Originally posted by @Jon Crosby :

@Michael Stokes   My current model is as follows: 

1.  Evolve Vacation Rental for my listings, calendar, payments and overall booking management pre-stay (I manage everything remotely after check-in).  

   Don't see why you need Evolve - my listings are on AirBNB and VRBO and I stay full. Payments are through them. For booking    management and guest communications I use OwnerRez for $20/mo

3. MailChimp campaigns for pre-stay, post check-in and post-check-out instructions and communications

   OwnerRez does this

4. Automate.IO with Google Calendar for automated emails to my Housekeepers and updating my MailChimp list.  

   Sounds interesting -- I'd love to hear more about what this does for you

I use turnoverbnb for my cleaning crew, it's free to use if you have your own cleaners and there is an app they can use to complete their tasks.  I know a number of hosts that use more than one OTA are using OwnerRez for automated communication and they have a number of other features as well.  I have yet to convert to WiFi locks, I use Schlage dead bolts and send each guest one of 16 unique codes I have programmed.  It's also nice as my cleaners and any handy-people that need to enter can use as well.  To avoid after hour calls, rip and replace any old appliances and even A/C & Furnaces.  In the long run you'll save over dishing out a large % to a PM.  Knock on wood, it's been a long time since I've had an after hours incident.

Great feedback everyone, thanks!  Just to clear up the PM issue, my real estate agent mentioned a few local companies that will act as the PM for a flat fee per month per property, but they do not handle booking, check-in or anything related, they just provide support during the stay.  It sounded like this cost was far reduced from the typical support and % model, since they were only called if needed.

Are any of you familiar with that model?  I do not have any plans to sign up with a PM to take 30% based on what I am looking to have done day to day -- completely agree with everyone on that point.

Originally posted by @Michael Stokes :

Great feedback everyone, thanks!  Just to clear up the PM issue, my real estate agent mentioned a few local companies that will act as the PM for a flat fee per month per property, but they do not handle booking, check-in or anything related, they just provide support during the stay.  It sounded like this cost was far reduced from the typical support and % model, since they were only called if needed.

Are any of you familiar with that model?  I do not have any plans to sign up with a PM to take 30% based on what I am looking to have done day to day -- completely agree with everyone on that point.

Well then that sounds like a great compromise, especially in the beginning when you're getting your feet wet. Do it for a while then wean yourself off and go solo and raise your profit. OwnerRez is worth the $20 even for one property. The email automation alone is well worth it.

@Michael Stokes great post and resources here. Just starting out with STR, and narrowing areas. what sites or tools are working well for evaluating STR demand? Thanks again

Lots of great info being posted here from the pros! @Michael Stokes if you are looking for more advice, check out the podcast/website Get Paid For Your Pad. I have built a life changing career based on the information I learned for free from Jasper Ribbers on that show. Also, get involved in some of the Airbnb groups on Facebook. There is always a lot of great information being shared in Airbnb profit Club, STRU, the Hosting journey, Ect. 

@Michael Stokes For automated communication we started using AirGMS, but only after messaging ourselves first for a year or so, like @Julie McCoy recommended. Our three STR properties are unique and I have several templates for each property that are unique too.

What is the flat fee you were quoted? Building your network is highly recommended even if you were to rely on a PM. Just because you’re paying  a PM doesn’t mean you’ll always get the service you’d like to be known for.

@Tim Schroeder I'm interested in hearing more about your experience with OwnerRez.  I like the features they offer, but I found their interface to be very unintuitive (and I'm a tech-savvy person!).  I was experimenting with it during a time when I was very busy and wasn't able to focus on anything complicated, so maybe that's where I went wrong, but I got really frustrated trying to figure out how to make it do all the things it was supposed to do.  The support/dev team is great, though.

For the benefit of the thread, YourPorter is a simple app that handles message automation beautifully (natively through AirBNB as well as via email for VRBO/other platforms), and has some  other features I don't use as heavily.  OwnerRez is much more robust but I find the interface far more complicated.

Originally posted by @Julie McCoy :

@Tim Schroeder I'm interested in hearing more about your experience with OwnerRez.  I like the features they offer, but I found their interface to be very unintuitive (and I'm a tech-savvy person!).  I was experimenting with it during a time when I was very busy and wasn't able to focus on anything complicated, so maybe that's where I went wrong, but I got really frustrated trying to figure out how to make it do all the things it was supposed to do.  The support/dev team is great, though.

For the benefit of the thread, YourPorter is a simple app that handles message automation beautifully (natively through AirBNB as well as via email for VRBO/other platforms), and has some  other features I don't use as heavily.  OwnerRez is much more robust but I find the interface far more complicated.

Yeah the interface is not the best and it's not intuitive but it works well and the support is great. They just added price push capability for AirBNB and VRBO which I haven't tried but am excited about!  I like to tweak prices a lot based on demand, and doing it in multiple places for each property was just unscalable. Now you can set pricing on OR then push to ABB/VRBO (plus a bunch more that I don't currently use). OR also synchronizes all iCal calendars & even pulls the ABB/VRBO reviews for cross-posting on your own site. They also do payment processing for the standard 3% fee. So I set up a website for direct bookings (www.lazybearcabins.biz) using Wix which uses a widget from OR for payments. Direct bookings avoid the guest and host fees but are still processed by OR, and these direct bookings update the master OR calendar, which is exported to AirBNB and VRBO. Actually, any website can use OR for payments.

Other nice things... the shared ribbon calendar is really nice. All your properties and all listing sites on a single configurable calendar, plus occupancy tax reports, automated rental agreement creation/mailing/archiving, travel and damage insurance for guests, quickbooks integration, door lock integration (not mine, unfortunately), email autoresponders, and more. Most of this for $20 bucks. Some things cost an extra $10 like the QB integration. Cheap for what you get.

@Tim Schroeder I definitely want to start direct booking, but it's one of the (many) things I can't do until I finish this all-consuming job I'm on at the moment (just a month left to go!!!).  I'll probably take another look at OR once I get to that point, because they seem to have all the features I want (ESPECIALLY the ability to integrate direct bookings) if I can only figure out how to use it :p :) 

I'd love to hear more about your mailchimp setup, jon!

Originally posted by @Jon Crosby :

@Michael Stokes   My current model is as follows: 

1.  Evolve Vacation Rental for my listings, calendar, payments and overall booking management pre-stay (I manage everything remotely after check-in). 

2. Nexia with Schlage WiFi deadbolts

3. MailChimp campaigns for pre-stay, post check-in and post-check-out instructions and communications

4. Automate.IO with Google Calendar for automated emails to my Housekeepers and updating my MailChimp list.  

5. Trustworthy housekeepers as my 'boots on the ground' and post stay inspection. 

The only thing I pay for is the Nexia service which is $10/month and Evolve takes 13% for booking/payment processing (using Evolve is not a requirement in my model however). 

How it works: 

1. Receive automated email from Evolve for a new booking

2. Open Google Calendar and enter dates, guest name and guest email

3. Add dates and code (always last 4 digits of booking phone number) to Nexia system

Total Time per Booking:  2 minutes

I have been using this system for 4 years now pretty successfully. Obviously if a toilet breaks, a guest has a specific question, etc. there is always customer service that has to be put in.  For plumbing, heating, etc. you just want all your service providers setup in your phone to handle those situations.  From an operation model I'm really happy with that I have automated to date.     

Hope that helps provide some more context for you to ponder!  :)

Cheers!

@Michael Stokes

Jason Hartman has one of his many podcasts dedicated to STR, David Leroux who also wrote a book about it has a podcast about Airbnb.

@Michael Stokes

Good evening! 

There are plenty of great tools to use to minimize the need for a property manager. Honestly, in the end, all you need management wise is a handyman you trust to call for issues. Here are a few things I have set up.

I use AirBnB & VRBO for all of my bookings. Yes, there is money to be made doing direct booking and cutting out the middleman but you are lookings for less work, not more.

TurnoverBnB is a free app to use to automated scheduling cleaners. You can simply sync up your AirBnB & VRBO calendars and it will set up, alter, or cancel cleanings as needed. Also, one key thing to make life easier is making sure your cleaners stock your paper goods at a minimum. They should be the ones responsible for keeping the place full of paper towels and toilet paper. In fact, here in Galveston, I tell me cleaners that anything that needs to be replaced for under $100 does it! They make the trip to the store to get new sheets and even bedspreads. No sense me picking these up to bring to them when they can do it.

BeyondPricing - Great dynamic pricing tool to use to make sure you maximize your income. Cost 1% but greatly makes up for that in additional income.

AirGMS - I typically don't use management software but this software is free for your first 4 units and $20/unit when you have over 5. I used to use it for automating messages to guests.

GET A SMART LOCK! It doesn't need to be anything fancy. I use the base Schlage deadbolt keypads. I have a handful of entry codes programmed in that I will juggle between. Some people make the case of people having the code from before but the same could be said about physical keys. 

For 1% of your bookings, you have regularly scheduled cleaners, adjusted prices, easy access, and automatic messages. 

I have plenty of other little things that I do that I'd be happy to share if you have any questions! Best of luck!!

@Michael Stokes your real estate agent should be able to teach you all of the things that are mentioned on this thread. Most of these folks are in the same market that you’re looking to get in to and they all used the same agent because she is THE best. She also has the same last name as me. (Insert @Paul Sandhu joke here).

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