A hard-earned lesson on remote property management

Have you ever heard the saying, the day you stop learning is the day you die?

That is just as true in property management as it is in the rest of life.

Last month, I started managing a new property in another state. I’ve done this before, but it’s been a while, and I think I must have gotten a bit rusty at remote property setup. It was definitely a bumpy ride.

But that’s ok.

I knew it wouldn’t all be smooth sailing. But I wanted to do it anyway because learning is the key to growth.

Now I’ve got a shiny new checklist of all the things I should do (and not do) with new remote properties. It will be a huge help the next time I sign an out-of-state client.

It’s certainly been a frustrating learning curve. But I’m also excited. I’m positioned much better now to quickly start up another out-of-state property without all of the headache I had the first time.

If you stop learning, you die.

If you’re thinking about starting to manage properties remotely, I’m going to share with you the hardest-earned lesson I learned from all of this.

Have a standard door and lock installed when you (or your contractor) arrives to set up the property.

I use a specific smart lock with all of my properties. Every other time I’ve had a new property to set up, I’ve simply gone and replaced the existing lock with the one I use. It’s a pretty simple, pain-free process; doesn’t usually take more than an hour or so.

That’s IF the lock you’re replacing is a standard lock.

When I arrived to set up this new property, I didn’t realize that the old property management company had been using the hotel-styled key card locks. Unfortunately, most of the time to install this type of lock you have to cut a giant hole out of the door where the lock goes.

There’s simply no way you can install a standard lock on a door after it’s been fitted with a key-card lock.

So I arrived, armed with all the tools of my trade….only to be stymied by the darn lock. I tried to get a locksmith to remove it for me. He couldn’t. I tried to get a door sleeve to cover the hole; no dice. It would have to be custom-ordered. It was finally decided that we’d have to replace the entire door, but by that time I had to leave.

But I figured it’s such a simple lock….surely it would be easy to have someone else install it, right?

Not so.

So the door got replaced, and the homeowner hired some random person to install the new lock.

They did it wrong.

I didn’t find that out until the housekeeper showed up and couldn’t get inside.

Then I had to hire a locksmith to open the door and retrieve the key that had been left inside. He left the key with the condo management office, and the lock install guy said he’d come back the next day to fix the lock.

By the next day, the office had lost the key. So we had to get another locksmith out there.

Then the lock was installed incorrectly again.

It really is hard to find good help! It was seriously a 2-week saga and cost several hundred dollars to get this darn lock installed!

Eventually, I actually ended up driving back down to the property to finish the installation myself – a 12 hour round trip and only about 30 minutes of actual work. Yikes!

It was such an unbelievable saga.

But I definitely learned my lesson, and won’t be making that mistake again.

So learn from my mistakes. If you’re setting up a remote property, make it a prerequisite that the homeowner has a standard door and lock installed before you arrive. This will make it easy to swap out with any lock of your choosing.

This is even more important with listings that are remotely managed. Because if someone screws up, you’re going to have a hard time going back to fix it – as I painfully learned from experience.

Locks are absolutely the most important aspect of a listing. Without them, no one else can get in or out to do all of the other things that need doing. And they’re a whole lot harder for an untrained contractor to install than simply replacing a rug or some other cosmetic change. As Marie Forleo says, everything is figureoutable….but some things are a whole lot easier to figure out than others!

NoiseAware vs. Roomonitor: which noise monitoring system is best?

If you’ve been a host for any amount of time, you know that noise can be a big issue at an Airbnb.

Especially if you’re renting an entire house.

What’s that saying…while the cat’s away the mouse will play? So true. Disrespectful guests are drawn to whole home rentals like moths to a flame. They know that it will be harder to police their actions when there isn’t a responsible party on-site.

That’s how you end up with the horror stories we’re all familiar with from the news – party house out of control, with dozens of unregistered guests and thousands of dollars in damages.

One of the best ways to prevent that from happening is to install a noise monitoring system in your properties.

As short-term rentals become more popular, these devices are becoming more mainstream. Contrary to a more traditional device, which would probably record the actual conversations being held in the unit (a no-go because of privacy concerns), these tools don’t record sound; they only track levels of noise. Once the noise level threshold you set is reach, an alert is triggered.

I have a couple of properties that really need this, so I’ve been playing around with 2 of the biggest names in the STR noise monitoring market right now – NoiseAware and Roomonitor. Here’s a brief summary of the pros and cons of both.

NoiseAware

NoiseAware is definitely the larger player in the industry right now. I was fortunate to be asked to be a part of a beta program in Atlanta, so I was given a NoiseAware device for free. However, if you were to just purchase a device from their store, an indoor device is going to set you back $200 ($100 for an outdoor device). In addition, they have a monthly subscription fee of $10 per property.

(As of this writing, Airbnb offers a 25% discount if you book through this link)

So you can see that NoiseAware can get a bit pricey. It does have an app, which is nice for managing on-the-go, but honestly the set up is not very intuitive. I’m a fairly tech-savvy person and it took me 2 phone calls to support to get everything set up.

Also, once a noise alert is triggered there is no way to get NoiseAware to tell the guest directly. It will send you a push notification, and then it’s up to you to reach out to the guest.

Roomonitor

Roomonitor is roughly the same price as NoiseAware ($165 per device and monthly subscription fee of $11). However, they are offering a bigger discount through Airbnb than NoiseAware is (As of this writing, you can get a pretty steep discount on both the device and subscription cost by booking through this link.)

Roomonitor does not have a mobile app; they say that their website is mobile-friendly, but honestly it’s not a very pleasant experience. Roomonitor is also equally as confusing to set up as NoiseAware is. Also, Roomonitor is a Spanish company, which means there may be some strong accents or language barriers if you call them in English (and you’ll have to call them, as their help knowledge base is pretty pitiful).

However, their agents are responsive and eager to help, and I was able to get my issue solved fairly quickly, despite the strong accent and over-explaining from the rep who talked to me.

The thing that, in my opinion, sets Roomonitor apart from NoiseAware is that it can call a guest directly to tell them if they’re being too loud.

If an alarm is triggered you can set it up to just text you (or someone else’s number you input), just call you, just call the guest, or contact both of you. As most noise triggers happen in the middle of the night, I find this feature very helpful – you can count on Roomonitor to call your guests for you so that you can keep sleeping through the night.

Based on that feature alone, as well as the far cheaper price you can currently get it for, I’d have to vote for Roomonitor as the tool that has the slight edge on NoiseAware. Honestly, neither tools are great and I hope that a better one enters the market soon, but for now this one will do the trick!

The days might all feel the same – but we still need to find reasons to celebrate

My neighbors are festive sorts of people. They like to use any excuse they can to celebrate. So it should have been no surprise to me when fireworks started lighting up the night sky last night in honor of Memorial Day.

Instead, I was confused.

I looked over at my husband and asked, “do you have any idea why there are so many fireworks going off?”

He thought I was joking. Sadly, I was not.

COVID-19 has put me and many others into a strange sort of time warp.

After a while, the monotony of day-in-day-out total sameness really gets to you for a while. I find myself forgetting what day it is, what holidays are coming up, even what month it is.

Every day is the same. So everything blends together. It’s hard to tell one day apart from the next.

But this is dangerous ground to be treading.

It’s important to celebrate, to remember, to commune. These are innate to our very humanity, and without them for prolonged periods of time we will lose a part of ourselves. I do believe that part of the reason there are increased rates of depression, anxiety, divorce, and more is because many of us have forgotten how to celebrate. We have forgotten how to remember and pursue good things, how to forge close relationships with other people.

I urge you, do not forget.

Make whatever effort needs to be made to help you remember.

Set alerts in your calendar to remind you about upcoming special events. Troll the internet for creative ways to celebrate. Ask your friends and family for inspiration. Set up regular video calls with your loved ones. Make silly videos for people’s birthdays. Try out a video messaging app like Marco Polo.

We must stay together, despite our distance. We must honor people’s successes, remember their sacrifices, and celebrate small victories. That is the only way we can get through this time healthy and sane.

I learned my lesson this Memorial day. I will not forget, even though the days might drag on in a never-ending monotony. Already planning something big (and responsibly socially-distanced) for the next holiday!

A precautionary tale for vacation rental operators post COVID-19

As a professional Airbnb manager, I’m a member of a lot of Facebook groups filled with other hosts and managers.

Some of them are very helpful and offer a wealth of knowledge; some of them I’m a member of more for the entertainment factor that anything else.

But I’ve been seeing a LOT of hosts lately making comments that concern me. They’re all along the same vein, but here is a paraphrased quote of one of them (I removed all the swearing and typos) :

“I didn’t pay my rent on my Airbnb unit in March, April or May. I’m not planning on paying at all until August at least. That’s the earliest the complex would be able to evict me based on current eviction bans because of the virus. Until then I’m just going to ride the gravy train. Plus the lease isn’t tied to my SSN, so I won’t even have the eviction on my record. Yay, me – I’m so smart!”

Really?

Do people really think this is ok?

There are so many things wrong with this statement. Where do I even start?

The blatant violation of a contractual agreement? The outright stealing? The bragging about said stealing? Comments like this (of which I’ve seen many the last few months) make me physically sick.

Many hosts complain that bad guests are making things difficult for them. But not many of them say anything about how other hosts are also making things difficult for them. If I was a landlord, I sure wouldn’t want to rent to someone who might sublet my place out and then plan on not paying me for 6 months or more!

Many Airbnb hosts jumped on the gravy train when bookings were easy to get, overextending themselves because it was “easy money,” and now they (and everyone they’ve rented or purchased from) are paying the price.

But it’s more than that, too. I’ve seen a consistent trend of Airbnb and other short-term rental hosts proudly exploiting loopholes in the system or even outright violating the rules so that they can operate. They seem to have no regard at all for respecting the rules of the community within which they’re trying to operate.

Thus they operate where they know they’re not allowed, lie to landlords, refuse to pay rent, and all sorts of other illegal or unethical practices.

If this is your business plan, your exit strategy, if you’re even considering doing this or anything like this, let me be clear: you’re not a business person, you’re a con man.

You’re a thief, a common criminal. And you should not be proud of this. You should be ashamed.

That woman entered into a contractual agreement that she is choosing to flagrantly ignore. It’s not even that she doesn’t have the money. She just wants to hold onto it “just in case.” She hasn’t bothered talking to her landlord and working out some sort of deferred payment plan. She’s just giving the middle finger to the person who’s enabled her primary source of income for the last several years.

People, this is not right.

If you want to start a business with Airbnb….make it a business. Make it legitimate and honorable. Do your best to pay your bills and honor your obligations. If you’re unable to do so because of unforeseen circumstances, talk to your creditors. (And yes, a global pandemic that cripples the world economy definitely counts as an unforeseen circumstance.) Be honest with them and tell them what’s going on.

More often than not they’ll be understanding and willing to work with you, as long as you’re upfront with them.

That is the only way to create a business that will survive the long run.

Now I know that if you’re in the situation right now where you have multiple properties and can’t pay the rent or mortgages on many of them, there’s not much that can be done in hindsight to change that, although I’d still recommend you talk to the landlords.

But hopefully this can serve as a precautionary tale for vacation rental operators moving forward.

I know that it can be tempting to just buy, buy, buy (or rent, rent, rent), to expand your empire as quickly as possible and bring in the moolah. But rapid growth like that isn’t healthy. We’ve seen this over and over again throughout history – it’s called an economic bubble, and it always eventually bursts.

I encourage you – I entreat you, I beg you – for your sake as well as all of ours, restrain your growth goals. Don’t gain new properties quicker than you’re able to manage them responsibly. Keep a healthy financial safety net to get you through the unexpected bad times.

There’s no question that COVID-19 threw a nasty and unexpected wrench into vacation rental operators’ plan everywhere. But there’s also no question that if they had been operating their businesses more responsibly and ethically in the first place, a lot of them would be in a much better place than they are now.

Let’s do better next time. Our guests, other hosts, and the landlords or banks who are entrusting their resources to our care deserve it.

How to survive COVID-19 as a STR host – webinar replay

Are you freaking out because of the uncertainty that COVID-19 is throwing into your life? Are you struggling to find a new equilibrium for your STR?

You’re not alone.

Across the globe, hosts everywhere are struggling with the challenges that the virus has thrown their way. Many of them are having a hard time.

That’s why at the end of April I hosted a live webinar – How To Survive COVID-19 As A STR Host – with my friend Katie Adkins.

Katie is a leadership development coach, and the founder of Adkins Talent Solutions. She excels at helping people to think creatively to maximize their full potential.

So on the webinar, we did a little coaching session with me as her subject. My hope was that the insights she pulled out of me as an STR host could help other STR hosts think creatively and get out of their ruts, as well.

It was a great hour! In fact, I had so many people follow up and ask me about it that I decided to make the recording available to everyone. Enjoy!

If you have more questions, you can always follow up with either me or Katie.

The best direct booking property management tool

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has thrown an enormous wrench into the short-term rental market. Consequently, a lot of hosts are looking for opportunities to diversify and pivot their listings.

One of the most obvious ways to pivot is to start accepting direct bookings.

These are simply reservations that are booked directly through you, rather than through a booking channel like Airbnb or VRBO.

Direct bookings hold a lot of appeal. Especially because the policies of Airbnb and other large booking sites seem to be a moving target right now. Hosts are eager to get their eggs out of the single basket that they really have no control over.

But opening yourself up to direct bookings opens the possibility for a whole new slew of problems.

One of the most obvious – and important – problems that needs to be addressed is that of guest vetting and payment management.

Normally, if a guest books through a booking channel like Airbnb, the channel has already done that work. They have their own guest vetting procedures (admittedly some more stringent than others). Things like ID and background checks can give hosts confidence that the guest is indeed who they say they are. Booking channels also generally have payment processors built in, so you don’t have to worry about failed credit card payments or chargebacks.

In exchange for these services, they of course get a cut of the booking fees, and hosts don’t have a lot of input regarding system and policy changes. But it’s a price that most are willing to pay for the ease of mind that it brings.

If you decide to start accepting direct bookings, the first thing you’re going to have to is figure out a way to handle these problems on your own.

The best tool that I’ve found to do that is Cozy.co.

Cozy is a nearly 1-stop shop for everything you need to efficiently manage your direct bookings. Here are a few of the many features it has:

  • Rental application portal that includes credit reports and background checks of potential renters.
  • A payment portal that can take rent payments, as well as other incidental charges such as security deposits, cleaning fees, etc.
  • Listing links that you can share with prospective renters, including space for both photos and a video walk-through. I’ve found this to be particularly helpful, as many people want to see more than just photos of the place before they book.
  • You can also track expenses, keep a record of maintenance requests, and store important documents like lease agreements, all directly within the app.

The only downside I’ve been able to find of Cozy is that it does not have a mobile phone app; however their website is mobile-friendly, so even that really isn’t a big deal.

If you’re looking for help collecting more direct bookings safely and securely, definitely consider checking out Cozy.co. I promise you it will save you lots of headache and stress!

What are you doing to stay mentally healthy right now?

I just started my 7th week of social distancing / home quarantine. It’s been brutal. It’s likely that you’re in a similar boat.

The last few months have been unlike anything we’ve experienced in recent memory. As the world continues to grind to a halt, many people are starting to become less concerned about physical health and more concerned about mental health.

Of course physical safety is also still important, especially for the millions of elderly and immunocompromised people out there. But we cannot focus on that and completely ignore the mental health aspect of it, which is just as important.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been feeling myself slowly going crazy. The lack of physical interactions with people, the added stress with work that COVID-19 is wreaking on my industry (as well as so many others), the pervasive sameness of every day…it’s all piling up and over time becoming more than I can take.

I know I am not alone.

Over and over again, people I speak with are mentioning similar challenges. We are simply not made to live in isolation, and months on end of pervasive, global isolation is taking its toll on all of us.

So I want to challenge you, in these difficult days, to think of what you can do to keep your spirits high. Go for walks when the weather is nice. Turn off video on your next call if you’ve got Zoom fatigue. Do a puzzle. Garden.

But you also don’t have to stay home if you’re dying to get out. Go strawberry picking. Take your hammock to a local park. Go for a drive. Do what you need to to keep yourself sane and not only physically healthy, but mentally healthy.

And if you want a bit of an extra bonus, try injecting some creativity into your activities! Over the last few weeks I’ve done things like made a pie blindfolded, recreated famous paintings with things from my house, pranked my houseguests, and more. It’s been so much fun seeing what I can come up with, and I feel so much better for it!

At the same time…if you’re feeling blue and don’t want to do anything, give yourself permission to not be productive. Feel the sadness. It’s ok to be down. Just don’t stay there.

P.S. Want some help with learning how to not only survive, but thrive in these challenging times? Sign for a FREE webinar I’m hosting this Thursday here!

When the customer is not always right

You know the old saying, the customer is always right?

I’m a firm believer that that is not always true. In fact, sometimes it’s patently false. 

Case in point. 

I had a guest check in last week. Arrived without any problems, everything seemed hunky-dory. 

Then I get a text from him asking to raise the heat. Ok, no problem, he could have done it himself, but I also have remote access, so I raise it to 76 for him. 

A few minutes later he messages again. “Can you turn it up to 85?” 

“Are you sure?” I asked him. “85 is really hot.” He insisted that he was sure. So I raised it to 85. 

About an hour later, I got another message from him. “We’re still cold,” he said. “Can you raise it to 92?”

Are you kidding me?? No one in their right minds needs the thermostat set to 92 degrees. Something about this was starting to sound really weird to me. So I politely told him that, unfortunately, we were already outside the window we normally allow guests to set the temperature, so I wouldn’t be raising the central heat any more. However, if he was still cold we had plenty of blankets and space heaters he could use. 

Then I went to sleep. Around midnight I got another text from him. “Hey it’s really hot. Could you lower the temperature?” 

Well, gee. No surprise there. What did you expect when you wanted the temperature to be in the nineties?? 

This story illustrates an important aspect of hosting in my mind. 

Customer service is, of course, a critically important aspect of this business. But good customer service doesn’t always mean kowtowing to a guest’s every whim.

Sometimes people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. And sometimes what they think they want isn’t really what they want. 

As the professional, it’s your job to draw the line on what’s acceptable and what isn’t acceptable with your guests. It’s your job to decide what requests you will accept and what you will deny. And if you decide to accept the request, it’s your job to do it with a good attitude. If you didn’t want to do it you should not have said yes. I’m so tired of hosts saying yes to a nitpicky guest’s every whim and then complaining about it online! 

Remember that you are the businessperson here. You get to decide what’s ok and what’s not ok. And once you’ve decided, stick with it. Don’t let someone bully you into doing something you don’t want to do. You may find out, in the end, it wasn’t actually what they wanted, either ;).

How to increase your Airbnb listing search rankings

If you’ve been hosting for any amount of time, you know that the only thing that really matters at the end of the day is your search ranking. 

Your search ranking is going to affect your bookings in a major way.

If you consistently show up on the first page of Airbnb search results, you’re going to be consistently booked. If you’re buried in the back, you won’t be. It’s that simple. 

There are all sorts of tips and tricks out there about how to increase your search rankings. Change your prices daily. Make 1-day price much lower than the rest. Professional photos. Bullet point descriptions in the listings. Mentioning local hot spots by name. Respond to inquiries ASAP. Get and maintain superhost status.

These are all good and important things to maintaining your listing in good standing. But if you’ve already dropped lower than you want to be, they’re not going to pull you back up to the top of the listings. 

There is, however, something I’ve found that consistently does do that. 

Paid advertising. 

Doesn’t have to be a lot of money. In fact, it really shouldn’t be too much money – just a dollar or two a day. Any more than that and you’ll screw up the algorithms. But it’s really incredible how just a few dollars every month can help improve your listing ranking. 

Now, of course, there’s a bit of science to this. You can’t just throw money at it and hope it’ll stick. You need to either figure out how to do it properly or hire someone who already knows. (And let’s be real, we both know you don’t have the time to figure it out yourself). 

That’s where my friend Renee comes in. 

Renee is the founder of Bnb The Smart Way, a company that specializes in marketing Airbnbs and increasing search ranking results for existing listings. They are incredible at what they do, and truly care about their clients and their success. 

I suppose at this point I should clarify. This is not just my old college buddy’s business I’m trying to get you to buy into. Nothing like that. I was Renee’s client before I was her friend. I hired her to boost some of my listings, and she’s done such a good job that we’ve also become friends over time. 

Anyway, I digress. 

I asked Renee for a discount code for my students and readers, and she happily obliged. 

So head on over to https://www.bnbthesmartway.com/adevaluation to schedule your free evaluation. And use the promo code bnbmadesimple for 10% off her setup costs!

How to grow stronger in the midst of COVID-19

If you’re like most of the globe right now, your world has probably shifted for the most part to online video calls from inside the safety of your home. As we all battle the infamous COVID-19, more and more countries and states are issuing stricter and stricter lockdown measures to try to combat the spread of the virus.

I and my family are no different. Everything we do regularly has either been cancelled or gone virtual. This includes my ESL (English as a Second Language) class, which I now meet with twice a week from the comfort of my own living room.

Every time we have met for the past 2 weeks, I’ve made a point to ask a simple question: what’s something good that’s happened to you since we saw each other last?

At first many of them said that nothing good had happened to them. They were stuck inside, with nothing to do, sometimes without a job, etc. I don’t need to elaborate anymore. We all know the havoc this virus has wrecked on everyone’s lives.

But I continued asking the question, and will continue to do so until we meet again in person. There are only 2 rules: everyone has to answer, and no one can say “nothing.”

Why am I doing this?

Simple. Right now the world looks bleak. It’s easy to focus on the negative, even if you’re a naturally positive person.

But there are still good things happening in the world. There are still good things happening to you.

Some of the answers that have come up on my calls with my students have been things like:

  • Helped my uncle pick out furniture for his phone
  • Baked bread today for the first time
  • Cut my husband’s hair (badly)
  • Worked on a home improvement project
  • My son got accepted into a good daycare
  • Played yard games in the backyard
  • Went for a walk
  • Finished a puzzle
  • Got my first sprouts in my new vegetable garden

Most of these things are small, insignificant things. But they are important to name because they help us to focus on the right things.

If we only focus on the bad we’re all going to go crazy before this thing is over. We’ve got to be intentional, now more than ever, about intentionally seeking out good.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not minimizing the horror of the corona virus. I know things look awful. I can personally attest to this.

I’ve lost thousands of dollars of business within just a few days. I have family members who are completely out of work. I lost a family member and was unable to hold a funeral for him. Trust me, I really do get it.

But there are also bright spots. If nothing else, you are still alive, which thousands of people no longer are because of COVID-19.

So I challenge you this week, to do one of the hardest things you might have had to do in a long time: be happy. Be positive and persistent. Be optimistic and creative. I promise you…this too will pass. And I hope on the other side, you will be stronger than ever. But that strength starts now.

Looking for more things to do while under lockdown? Check out this list that USA Today has put together of 100 activities to keep you occupied while you’re stuck inside!