With the booming popularity of Airbnb and other online real estate rental marketplaces, it's easier than ever for anyone with a second home, or even a spare room, to make some extra cash.
The return can be pretty great. Nearly three in four owners of vacation rental properties recently told HomeAway.com that they’re able to cover most of their mortgage with the rent they collect. More than half the owners cover three-quarters or more of their mortgage.
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The share of U.S. travelers who’ve stayed in a vacation home or apartment has more than doubled in the past three years, and demand is expected to continue, according to a report released last summer by travel research firm PhocusWright. The surge in would-be landlords, however, has also made it increasingly hard to stand out among all the other offerings and secure bookings from potential guests. It’s especially tough for newbies who haven’t amassed multiple reviews yet, which is one of the most important things vacationers seek.
Follow these steps to create a killer listing and make your vacation property stand out:
1. Hire a professional photographer. It’s worth the few hundred bucks to hire someone with experience photographing homes. If you don’t know anyone, ask a local realtor for a referral. “It makes a huge difference,” says Cliff Johnson, co-founder and chief development officer of vacation rental management firm Vacasa. “You want someone that’s on top of the latest technology and lighting techniques to make your rental look its best.”
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Spend some time before the photo session prepping your home. Open all the windows, fluff the pillows and put some fresh fruit or flowers in the center of a table to give the place a more welcoming feel. Spending some time on those small details can go a long way toward making your listing work.
2. Edit your pics. Your photographer may take dozens of pictures, but limit your listing to two to three per room, since potential guests may get bored clicking through more than that. Choose the most defining feature of your home to be the thumbnail image that guests will see when scrolling through listings, and put your best photos in the front of the slideshow in case guests don’t flip through all of them.
3. Fill out the entire listing. While pictures are the most important component of your listing, be sure to fill out everything else. Write in full sentences, and avoid using all capital letters in your description. If you can, describe what the experience of staying in the house might be like along with what amenities you offer. “Instead of saying that the property is above a bakery, tell the guests to imagine waking up every morning to smell of baking bread wafting up from the street below,” says Jen O’Neal, CEO and founder of Tripping.com.
Be sure to include the price on your listing. Guests often don’t want to bother taking the extra step of emailing you for that info.
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4. Price slightly below the market (at first). Until you’ve had a few guests and gotten some reviews, you may need to price the property aggressively in order to get vacationers to take a chance on you. Check out similar listings to get a sense of prices on homes that are similar to yours, then put your property up at a discount of about 10 percent to start. “You’re trying to get someone to take a leap of faith to stay with you,” says Scott Shatford, co-founder and CEO of Airdna, which provides data and analytics to vacation rental entrepreneurs and investors. “Make it really obvious that you’re brand new and you’re really looking forward to having your first guest and that’s why you’re offering a lower price.”
Once you’ve got a half dozen reviews or so, you can start testing out higher rates.
5. Be honest. If there are any issues that may turn off some guests, be upfront about them in your description. It’s better to price the listing lower and attract guests who are comfortable with the flaws than to gloss over the details and end up with disappointed customers and negative reviews. “Nothing tanks a listing more quickly than one and two star reviews,” Johnson says.
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6. Share some personal info. Post a photo and a short bio to tell guests about yourself. That adds a personal touch to the listing and makes guest feel more comfortable staying in your property. “That’s something that’s really changed over the past couple of years,” Shatford says. “When people are booking properties, they want to potentially meet you, and feeling that they like you and can trust you is a big part of the decision process.”
7. Be kind to reviewers. If you do get a bad review, apologize for any issues that were your fault, but don’t engage with the reviewer in the comments of your listing. Doing so will just turn off other potential guests.
8. Update your calendar. Be sure to block off dates on the booking calendar if you decide to use the property yourself or have other guests staying there. Not only will that prevent would-be renters from booking at that time, but many of the listing algorithms give priority to listings that have recently been updated, so changing your calendar may give you more visibility.
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9. Get social. Once you’ve updated your listing, get the word out via social media. Write a post letting friends and family know about the property and asking them to share it with anyone who might be looking for a place to stay. Create a hashtag for your property, and ask guests who stay there and share pictures online to tag the photos with that hashtag to create some more buzz around the place.