Looking for Tech and tips to rent our cabin in Big Bear, CA

12 Replies

Hello - we are buying a cabin in Big Bear Lake, CA, and will be renting it short term to help offset some costs.  Although we are a 2+ hour drive away, its not totally convenient to zip over there easily to take care of issues.  I have friends that also own a cabin down the street, and they are setting me up with good house keeper, handy man, etc.  We are looking to automate and utilize technology wherever possible, to make things both easier and more professional, safer and seamless for tenants.  Adding a camera system (outside only), wifi touchpad lock, wifi thermostat, etc are some of the simple solutions.  I have some experience with renting our Airstream on Outdoorsy/ all 5 star reviews so far. 

What I am curious is with 3rd party booking software to integrate booking sites, interface with service providers, etc.  I have seen Lodgify, iGMS, YourPorter, Lodgale, etc, and if creating a website for your specific property is worth while ( I could do this myself).  Are there any other gizmos or features that you have found useful or adding value to guests?

Any other tips and recommendations for a newbie are welcome, especially if you have experience with Big Bear!  

Hi @Chris Kreidel , I have our Idaho lake house automated to some degree. I have a Wink 2 Z Wave hub to control everything. That includes a Emerson Sensi thermostat and Schlage Smart Connect lock.

I highly recommend a Z Wave system. It is much lower energy than WiFi and is quite reliable. I get about a year out of the batteries in the Schlage.

The Sensi is a great thermostat. Especially if you don't have a C wire and have A/C and a furnace. It uses the alternate power to work, IE: when the A/C is running, it uses the furnace power and vise versa.

I also have a few iHome monitors. They are WiFi and plug in. They provide a backup monitor for temp, humidity, sound and light in the house. I can compare the thermostat to the iHome and see if all is kosher.

You can add some WiFi or Z Wave plugs to control lights and such. I don't. I just have a LED light on inside and alternate.

Overall, you can setup the home pretty well to keep tabs on it and such. I can add codes to the lock remotely. Setup monitors for temp in case people get nutz with the A/C. The iHome shows sound so if it is quiet and the A/C is set at 60 degrees, you know it is being wasted so you can just turn it off or set it to 72 or something like that.

 I think I would be angry if I want to set the AC to make the rental unit super cold and a landlord is overriding the thermostat, remotely, like a watchdog. That is eery! I would also feel uncomfortable with cameras watching what I do outside the property. I completely understand that we are watched everywhere we go, but people go to Big Bear California and similar places to get away from all the crazies and unwind. What tenant wants to think someone is looking at them on a monitor like a watchdog.

I understand that the temperatures in Big Bear drop to zero and it is a good idea to be able to monitor the temperature and to have a regular burglar alarm system that is monitored since properties sit vacant for frequent periods.

Put the gadgets on your personal home!!! The electronic locks sound like a good idea.

Our property has a nest system which operates thermostat along with interior and exterior cameras. Our renters unplug the interior one in when they get there but we have never had a complaint with the exterior, really only shows the parking area so we know when people are arriving and leaving. We also have a touchpad lock.  Let me know if you guys are having an issue with fire insurance, ours has absolutely skyrocketed in Lake Arrowhead, was wondering if Big Bear was experiencing the same thing. Good luck!

@Account Closed , it is what it is. I am not going allow a guest to run up a huge electric bill or damage the A/C unit by freezing it up.

We don't have any cameras anywhere. I have thought about installing one but so far I haven't really seen the need.

Some tenants will not use the AC at all and you won't pay one penny for AC electric. Some will use it moderately and some will use it a little more than others. It all averages out. Rentals run from about $160 to more that $250 per day. At 7,000 feet up, the weather is already fairly cool.The cost to run the AC for 24 hours on an average day is less than $3. To make the house much cooler may cost $1 to $2 extra. As for the unit freezing up; I am a HVAC contractor and if the unit is installed with a blower size that matches the evaporator coil the unit will never freeze up. If it does freeze it will freeze whether or not it is used mildly or heavily and depending on the relative humidity. Are you really going to squabble, spy on your tenants with your cell phone, moderate and override the system over an extra $1 to $2 per day?

@Chris Kreidel

I have two rentals in Florida. I enjoy the smart tech of it and this is what I found to be useful so far.

For the thermostats I find the ecobee the best vs nest or others as it has a few features that work great for a vacation rental that others do not. You can set the temp range and the guest cannot go outside that range. You can also adjust the temp variance range so instead of the unit kicking and off every time the temp raises 0.5 degrees you can set it to kick on at 1.5 degrees which give the hvac units a lot less wear and tear and saves a huge amount on electricity. Not sure how I feel about this feature but You can also adjust it say it 1 or 2 degree cooler or warmer then it really is. It has great reports and and when you lock it so guest can access your settings it does not look like it is in lockdown mode vs how the nest looks where you know you are in lockdown mode.

Locks. I like the remote lock with edgestate app. It’s 6 dollars a month but give you great info and you can set it up to integrate with Vrbo and Airbnb to send codes that expire to your guest. For locks them self the CG from remote lock is commercial grade I use that for my beach condo. If you need a dead bolt lock I recommend the York zwave yrd216 model those were the top rated for heavy vacation rental use that I could find and if you get a Vera hub it can work with the edgestate software.

For cleaners I have recently discovered the TurnoverBnB app I actually posted about it the other day. I have played around some with it and I really like it and it is free for the first property if you already have your own cleaner and 6 per month for any additional property. It integrates with Vrbo and Airbnb so your cleaners can go into their app and accept a cleaning and when finished they can hit finish and you get an alert. You can also set it up to pay automatically but they charge a processing fee of 3.9 to your credit card. So far so good. My cleaner seems to really like it and she said she will try out and if it works really good for her she is going to make all her owners set up an account so everything still be in one app for her with all of her cleaning schedules vs having multiple communications with multiple owner.

Channel managers. I have looked into them but they seem to be expense and not sure what more You would need to do other then having Airbnb and Vrbo app. I have recently started using beyond pricing which it sets your pricing automatically and is dynamic. It charges 1 % of booming amount but it seems to work pretty well and it does catch Radom data that you might not account for being in high demand.

Would love to know more about big bear and how the numbers look as I would like to get a place out west at some point and most of the ski hills the ROI do not seem that great since the cost of entry is so high but from this forum there seems to be allot of good things said about big bear.

@Joey Morea  

Thank you so much for that, exactly what I was looking for. Big bear does not have a good ROI for this, as far as I can tell, for the reason you mention. But the place is booming, town renovations, new restaurants, influx of corporate capital (for better or worse).

You would probably have to be in the top percentile to cashflow well with a 20% down deal, and really work for it, make it stand out, etc.   I know one neighbor of my friends cabin that makes about 1k/month positive cashflow, but he keeps the rate lower and rents to anyone.  its a typical 3 bed 2 bath roughly 1500 sq ft unit  in a good neighborhood, walking distance to town or slopes (also where mine will be).  But he never uses that one. It is not a stand-out cabin per se, but his strategy as mentioned is low rate/rent to anyone, and is established. I think he is around 180-250/night.

My unit is almost 2k sq feet, 4 bedroom, with a great back yard/deck that has a ton of trees, and hardly any view of neighbors (rare for the area).  When you are on the rear deck in the spa, you feel like the forest is yours (which is why we went for this place). I hope to average 350-400/night (factoring peak pricing), but not rent it all the time.  Some vacation rental company's analysys says I can get 425/night average with some minor tweaks, which I take with a grain of salt.  If I could cover at least half or 3/4 of my nut and still use it fairly often, I would be happy.  There are far fewer 4 beds vs 3 beds, and my un-tested strategy is to get that extra bedroom to help rent to double-families who can split the bill. 

In Big Bear, as probably with any other mountain town, the nice stuff in good locations sell instantly. The rest sits and chases prices down. Our unit needs a lot of cosmetic work, deferred maintenance and updates. But the bones and location are great.  

If you are investing across the US, my un-experienced feeling is that there are better places to get a higher ROI than Big Bear. But its awesome for those of us that live near the ocean in So Cal, and can zip up to the cabin/snow/cool summer air in 2 hours.

@Chris Kreidel you’re spot on about the proximity of Big Bear for people here in SoCal. Closer/more convenient than Mammoth and still has that small town feel.

We have looked extensively around the Lake and into Arrowhead as well and it IS hard to make the numbers work. But by leveraging tech and being creative (duel family setup you mentioned), you could be on to something. That combined with the lifestyle play you referenced also, could be really good. 3/4 coverage on expenses and the opportunity to enjoy the mountains yourself doesn’t seem like too bad of a deal! Good luck!

I think demographics of folks heading to BigBear for weekend getaways are different than most vacation spots. For an STR investment, seems a 2-3 bedroom/2 bath is a sweet spot for BB, as acquisition prices are lower and it hits a target nightly rate for the crowd. If you go too big 4-5 bed it may appeal to a multi-family setup but those are few and far. To get ROI on something larger, you're up around 450+ per night even during non-peak. Most common couples willing to spend a lot per night seem to go to mammoth or Tahoe. I think BB is great for mid-to-lower end market, hence start with a lower entry point cabin. Make it standout as others have said and I think it's definitely doable to cover costs.

@David Frost  

Probably mostly correct. However, every time I have been to Big Bear myself, has been with a group of friends, in a large cabin. But this is my sample size of 1 (or 5, if you count my other friends). But our strategy was to get a little bit higher nightly, and rent less often, as we want to use it. Not necessarily to max ROI in this case.

Anyone going to Mammoth or Tahoe from So Cal is either flying, or driving, and doing more than a 2 night stay.  Still very easy for So Cal locals to get to Big Bear. Trust me.. I wish I was closer to Mammoth or Tahoe. When we do go, its for a longer duration, given the effort/distance to get there.

I manage some units in Mammoth and you'd be surprised how many one night stays we have. There actually are a lot of people from SoCal that will drive up in the middle of the night, ski all day, stay one night with us and then leave the next day. In the summer it's all international guests going to Yosemite and also only staying for one night.
As far as technology, I've integrated OwnerRez software into my airbnb listing and my own website and it's been really great. I highly recommend looking into it or something similar.