I Just Stayed in a Vacation Rental: These 7 Things Would’ve Made Me Return

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I just got back from a family reunion. There are a LOT of us, and we were ecstatic to find a home that would fit us all. We rented a 15-bedroom home that sleeps 65. It’s a good thing some of us couldn’t make it!

I mention the size of the home and the size of my family for a few reasons. A smaller home won’t necessarily face these issues.

Repeat business is the Holy Grail of vacation rentals. The guests have already stayed with you, and it’s a safe bet that if they took care of it the first time, they’ll do the same the next time they stay with you.

But…

If they didn’t like the home the first time, there is a 0% chance they’ll be back. I’ve got 7 things I’d love to tell the woman who owned the house I stayed in, but I didn’t make the reservations and I don’t have her contact information. So I’ll tell you instead. If you know someone who has a ginormous rental property in a Southern state, share this with her.

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Consider Maximum Capacity

The home we rented was enormous, but had two of the tiniest refrigerators I’ve ever seen. You know, the kind that you stick in a one-bedroom rental? Sixty-five people will eat considerably more food than five people. If we hadn’t had multiple coolers, this would have been woefully inadequate. Actually, even though we HAD multiple coolers, this was woefully inadequate. If you can sleep 65, make sure you have enough of everything for 65 people.

Bedding probably doesn’t need to be more than one or two extra sets in each size, in case of small children having accidents in the middle of the night. But towels? Yes, please. There were not 65 towels in this whole house. PLUS they had a pool! I don’t mind using the same towel to dry off as my husband, but I’d like my own towel for the shower, thank you very much.

This home had a ridiculous amount of storage space. Closets everywhere, plus extra shelving units with games and books, and cabinets for storing extra pillows. We didn’t hide how many people were coming, although we didn’t have an absolutely accurate count because there are just so darn many of us. We erred on the side of caution and said 65. There should have been at LEAST 100 towels in the home for an entire weekend.

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Related: 10 Photo and Video Tips to Showcase Your Vacation Rental Property

Stock the Kitchen

This kitchen had tons of plates and bowls, but only about 20 glasses and coffee cups. Lots of silverware and serving utensils, but only two regular-sized coffee pots. We’re a coffee-drinking family. There were easily 25 of us who drank coffee each morning.

While it was nice to have ample plates and silverware, we had to go purchase plastic cups to drink out of.

There were no spices or kitchen staples, either — not even salt and pepper! Many vacation rentals will have leftover staples like oil, sugar, and somehow always pancake mix and coffee filters from past guests. This kitchen looked as if it had been stripped of these items.

Mixing bowls, a knife sharpener, and serving dishes would have made meal prep and meal time a lot easier.

Make Clean Up Easy

This giant house also had exactly one dishwasher. They had plates for 65 people, but that dishwasher ran nonstop while we were there. Another dishwasher would have been a HUGE help.

I find that most vacation renters want to leave the property clean. They want their security deposit back, but they also understand that you are probably renting it out again that night. Make it EASY for them to leave it clean. Provide paper towels and have a bottle of cleanser under the cabinet. No, they probably aren’t going to clean it like THAT, but they certainly won’t if you don’t give them the supplies.

And for the love of all that is holy in the world, give them dish soap! Dishwasher packs, liquid soap, a sponge or dishwashing implement of some type.

Consider Your Location

This home was halfway up a mountain, but near a tourist attraction. There were food stores available, but you had to drive down a treacherous, winding mountain road to get there. Ample refrigerator space would have prevented us from driving down the mountain so many times.

Inform in Advance of Any Unusual Policies

As you can probably figure out from my clues above, this property did not supply dish soap or paper towels. Guess what this property also didn’t supply? Extra toilet paper.

They provide one roll for each bathroom, and after that, you’re on your own. Do you know when they informed us of this policy? When they gave us a copy of the contract, at check-in.

Now, my beef with this policy is mostly the timing with which they informed us. This is an unusual policy. In fact, I’ve only encountered it at one other resort, where I was also uninformed until check-in. I think this is a stupid policy, as you expect things like toilet paper to be at the place you are renting. In fact, this isn’t even a question you consider asking when you make the reservation.

Related: With the First Airbnb Landlord Conviction, Should Vacation Owners Be Worried?

“And do you provide toilet paper or should I bring my own?”

I have never asked that when making a reservation. Not once. So if you have an unusual policy or something that may cause even a modicum of inconvenience, spell it out in advance. And don’t trust the guest to read it. Tell them about it!

read-book

Don’t Forget About Your Youngest Guests

I am a mom and have two young children. Plastic plates and glasses would have been well received. I don’t want to break your dishes. I certainly don’t want to buy you new ones. My kids are kids, and kids drop things. It’s part of their charm (or so I keep reminding myself).

Having child-friendly dishware is only the start. Games, movies, books, toys, and even a child’s potty seat would be such a nice touch. Bed rails to keep them from falling out of the bed would be nice, but a pool noodle works pretty well, too. Tuck it under the fitted sheet to keep little ones from rolling off. Store under the bed and share the location with your guests.

Make Them Want to Come Back Again

While these tips are geared toward people with larger-capacity properties, there are plenty that can be applied to any vacation rental. Try to anticipate your guest’s needs. Mentally go through your friends and family, and see what they might need — or better yet, ask them what they want in a vacation rental. If you don’t have kids, you might not know that small plastic cups are a huge help. It may not even occur to you to have kid-friendly books and toys.

Once a guest has stayed with you, send them a thank you card, and ask about their stay. Offer a discount for a repeat stay, and ask if they have plans to come back to the area so you can check your calendar.

What do you do for your vacation rentals to anticipate guests needs or entice them to return?

Let’s chat in the comments section below.

About Author

Mindy Jensen

Mindy has flipped numerous homes in the past 10 years, one at a time and doing much of the work with her husband. She lives in Longmont, CO, and is always looking for an ugly duckling to turn into a swan.

17 Comments

  1. Matt Brookshier

    Great post Mindy. I’ve worked in the hospitality industry (acquiring and repositioning luxury resorts for a developer) and you are spot on.

    Airbnb’s and other short-term vacation rentals all are about hospitality, even if they are the only unit someone owns. To your point — know your target market and make sure everything is set-up for that audience. Large homes are likely multiple families (emphasis on families and therefore kids), or multi-generational gatherings.

    Thanks for the post. These are the little things that differentiate short term rentals from apartments. While they often don’t cost that much, they make a huge difference to your bottom line.

  2. Annabelle Dilworth on

    wow — you must have been doing not much but cleaning up after every meal; breakfast, lunch & dinner — seems like the point of diminishing social returns for a family reunion of 65+/- guests all in one house even if there are enough beds & bathrooms, etc. I once participated in a fairly sizable family reunion but each (nuclear) family rented their own vacation home (in a fairly popular tourist area) and that made life – overall – more manageable & we had planned group gatherings in places where help was available to wait on us, etc. And I wouldn’t want to be responsible for meal preparation for such a group, though I ‘m sure with some planning it could all be managed efficiently. Only thing that would appeal to me would be some really cool on the beach locations for group rental this large, but how impractical is that with all ages & dong it every year or from standpoint of being an owner who rents out such a property for short term mega family mob scenes?

    • Mindy Jensen

      Thanks for reading, Annabelle.

      We didn’t spend all of our time cleaning, but we did do a lot of dishes by hand that wouldn’t fit into the dishwasher, which ran most of the time.

      This particular home had a giant dining room right next to the kitchen, so we could chat while cooking. They did have two stove-tops, which was very helpful, and with so many mouths to feed, there was a big groups of us in the kitchen talking and cooking.

      We’ve done the separate properties route in the past, but this all-together home was a better solution for my family.

  3. Jonathan Blum

    Great post. A group of 40 of us rented a place in scenic Leavenworth, WA, for a weekend getaway. We found some of the exact same things to be true, especially about the dishwasher (which we broke running it 24/7), the fridge (which was woefully small) and the lack of glasses for the 40 of us staying there. Good thing we planned ahead to be good guests and brought loads of our own stuff.

    Good perspective! Thanks for the read!

  4. Annabelle Dilworth on

    What about doing all the washing & drying of towels & bed sheets for that huge crowd to replace all dirtied linens & towels with clean ones before leaving the vacation rental? And you mention that that evening there’s probably another (extended) family coming into the rental? Also there’s probably only one standard sized washer & dryer?….sounds like a potential 2 day clean up job? Also who’s going to check that everything’s being left clean & shipshape between mega family rentals? and count all he linens & towels, etc & check for broken items, etc? And 65 wash clothes, too? — and 130 separate towels & half of the towels being beach size (?) for all the pool swimmers (for pool included in this rental)? Not to mention pool maintenance. Is something like hotel or motel service being provided? Or are we on the renters’ honor system here? 130 towels gives each person 2 towels which was suggested by the writer. I hope there’s a commercial laundry near this rental. Or time and cleaning/maid service is provided between family’s renting & renters are charged for those services as part of the rent & services are insured & bonded — or owner is rotating 2 sets of linens so clean replacements are always available immediately upon one family’s leaving the rental and the arrival of the next family? and towel & linen service is guaranteed — This would be a real perk for large family groups renting; that they are not responsible for doing all that laundry (washing & drying of towels & bedsheets) before they leave — this might be very valuable service to be “taken care of” by the owner? Especially if owner is charging for a clean up service (which would provide a “check up” on the renters leaving). Also there’s the water bill to be considered for such large crowds & laundry & some renters use a lot of water doing their personal laundry, not to mention dish washer usage for such large crowds, in addition to leaving clean towels & bedsheets for next renters. New efficient clothes & dishwashers would make sense to save on water charges.

    • Mindy Jensen

      We were instructed to leave all the bedding on the beds – probably to easily account for all the sheets. The towels were to be left by the washer. I don’t know how they account for them all.

      I don’t think it is asking too much for two towels per person – one for the pool and one for the shower.

  5. Annabelle Dilworth on

    PS — Or, I guess the owner/landlord or vacation management must retain many security deposits or large portion of security deposits once a through check out of property is conducted & everything itemized and “after” photos taken (also assuming “before” photos have been taken) & inventories checked. How is all this accomplished if nit enough time provided between renters? And only tenant honor system relied upon. In my over 50 years of property management & rental property ownership I’ve seen some pretty deplorable renter/tenant damage & heard some pretty farfetched explanations & excuses as to how it happened.

  6. Annabelle Dilworth on

    PS — just reading over this again and writer mentions children having bedwetting accidents so there should be extra bedsheets for renters — from owner’s point of view then most beds would need rubberized mattress coverings/protection so mattresses are not ruined — seems to me that renters are expecting a lot, like almost specific “hotel” or “motel” services. We rented a large house & did all our food & housekeeping shopping on the way there so we did pick up minimal practical items like paper towels, toilet paper, etc because for the week long stay we knew we’d use them & we didn’t know what would or would not be in the house once we arrived & spices don’t last forever — if spices are sitting for a long time they really do lose their flavor & pungency & also some of what’s been left by others gets pretty darn grungy over time & how many years has that stuff been sitting around? In some typical vacation rentals so if you know you need specific (important to you) items, just bring them along yourself & don’t expect everything to be magically provided and all your wishes automatically provided for. anyway that’s my opinion — both as potential renter & owner & if tenant clean up honor system is being used you have no idea how renter immediately before you is leaving property & what they may be leaving in food cupboard…or if tops of items have been tightly closed?

  7. Deanna Opgenort

    I’m pretty sure renting a 15 bedroom house doesn’t come cheap. One owner option is to request that guests provide their own towels (but not linens), or state that house comes with X towels (ie 15), but that guests should bring their own (thus no one up a creek if Grandma or Uncle John forgets their towel).
    The TP thing is just silly — 42 rolls at Costco=$16. 12 rolls of Paper towels = $15. Giant container of dish soap $7, Large container of laundry soap $15. Seriously, Vacation Home owners shouldn’t be stingy. Ditto salt & pepper shakers.

    • Mindy Jensen

      Thanks for reading, Deanna.

      This property was quite pricey. And I would guess that most people drive rather than fly to get here, so packing up X towels for the pool would be easy to do before you left home.

      And yes, toilet paper isn’t expensive. Yes, you’ll need more than you would in a 3-bedroom house, but you’re also charging a lot more than a 3-bedroom house.

      I get the comment above about spices going south, but salt and pepper should be the bare minimum.

  8. Neil Schoepp

    Mindy, I enjoyed reading this post. I also agree with the theme of thinking about your renter and trying to put yourself in their shoes, what would make it just a tad bit better. I do not have vacation rentals, but I do try and think of my tenants and how hectic their first few moving days can be. I supply them with take out menus for local restaurants, a sleeve of plastic cups and some cold beverages in the fridge that fit their personalities.

  9. Betty West

    Just returned from our 27th annual reunion. We are about half the size of your group, but these reunions have made the relationships of multiple generations so much better than they would be without the get togethers. We do return to the same rentals year after year, but a few have been one year only.
    Here is what we bring: Costco size tp, paper towels, paper plates, plastic ware and plastic glasses. Just makes life easier. We have learned a lot about these reunions over the years. Hope you keep up yours.

  10. Timothy Gleason

    I’ll post a contrarian viewpoint as an owner/manager of my own VRs.

    All points about capacity are valid – down to the number of coffee cups. What you tend to see in the VR market is the concept of “Head in Beds = $$$.” Many owner/managers advertise a higher capacity than the home can truly handle. Honestly – in your case, 4.3ppl per bedroom seems a bit excessive. The owner should have turned you away.

    I tend to disagree on the pool towel issue, but my home is coastal and the water feature is the Gulf of Mexico. We don’t provide beach towels, but inform guests that they must bring their own. If the water feature was a pool, I could see where there might be an expectation of more towels.

    The consumables you expect on site is where I definitely disagree. As a VR owner, I am usually SHOCKED by the things that walk off the property. Lamps, towels, coolers, etc. People must assume the “Rich owners” can afford the losses. We used to stock tons of detergent, plastic plates, coffee supplies, and other items you mentioned. They would be gone in a week. After a few iterations of this, it became clear that we were just throwing money away. We now stick to the 1-roll/bathroom, 1 sponge, 1 mini-dish soap concept. As an aside, this could be area-influenced. The hundred’s of professionally managed VRs in my market do the same thing. I’ve never had a complaint about it, so I assume that’s what guests have been trained to expect. Bottom line – we can all thank our peers for the low trust environment we now live in.

    Lastly, I am also amazed at the things that my guests comment on. We all have our ‘ticks’. One guest will tell me the couch is too firm, the next says it’s too soft, etc. I’ll never meet everyone’s expectation, but I’m a very active manager and am able to ‘catch’ and remedy most of the types of issues you describe. I think if you were able to get some sort of mid-stay improvement through active management you might have had a different post-assessment. I think that’s the key – staying in touch and making guests feel like they are your whole world.

    BTW, the comment above about “Vacation Home owners shouldn’t be stingy” reeks of ignorance. VRs have a sizably larger expense ratio than a standard rental. While they may gross more, they don’t necessarily return more. This is a business just like any rental. The equivalent of ‘over-rehabbing’ a standard rental in the VR market is ‘over-supplying’ a VR. The market will dictate what needs to be in the house.

    Just my $.02.

    -Tim

    • Mindy Jensen

      Tim, thank you for sharing your point of view. I really do appreciate it.

      Regarding the home, it was ENORMOUS. The 15 bedrooms was only the start. They also had bunk beds in the game room and 5 pullout couches in various other rooms. The sleeps 65 was pretty accurate, with two king or queen beds in most of those 15 bedrooms. There were definitely enough beds for our heads.

      As an honest person, it would never occur to me to take any of the consumables on site. I don’t want the towels, sheets, or lamps – really???

      The toilet paper was a weird thing, 65 people will use more than 12 rolls of TP. I think advance notice of anything like this is key. Let people know of any unusual policies in your home. Like you do with the beach towels. I may or may not expect beach towels in a beach rental, but knowing in advance makes it better.

      Thank you for providing the rebuttal.

  11. Aaron Brown

    The extra Things like condiments, coffee, and lots of spices (even if some are leftover from previous renters) is super nice and convenient and does set the rental apart. I stayed in two separate VRs while on my honeymoon recently and the little things are definitely what makes a return customer in my opinion!

    Also, please include adequate kitchen/cooking knives and a sharpener…. one rental had horribly cheap silverware and no knives for flood prep. That’s the biggest thing I’ll remember about that rental: inadequate kitchen utensils.

    All the VRs I’ve stayed at had extra TP stocked. If I had to make a run to the store because only one roll of TP was there, especially if I was in dire need and ran out, I would NOT be very happy…

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