Welcome to a new mini-series here on the blog, all about hosting your own vacation rental property! While I’m normally all about DIY Projects, Crafts, and Flipping Houses, today I’m kicking off a new series that goes along with my latest project outside the blog. But first, a little background information. Let me tell you a little story about how I accidentally became a landlord.
As you may know, my design partner Jana and I flip houses as a little side business. I say “little” because we’re not a big operation like the HGTV gurus who do dozens of homes a year. We don’t have a lot of time or money to spend, but we just love old houses and share a mutual passion to see each one of them turned into a home. So every now and then we’ll pick up one that needs help and throw ourselves into the project, in between soccer practice, piano lessons, and the rest of our crazy lives. (You can see part of that process here.)
Lately we’ve started thinking how fun it would be to turn a property into a vacation rental, so we could share it with more people and earn a little recurring income. We started researching how to do that, but weren’t quite sure where to start, or how to finance such a project. At the same time, we finished work on our latest flip, and put it on the market. We immediately got an offer and went under contract, but it fell through and then the house just sat. And sat. And sat. We realized that while we were under contract, the market in that part of town had screeched to a halt. Nothing was selling. Nobody was even looking. We agonized over how to get this house to sell.
And then it hit us – what if we didn’t sell it? What if we turned it into our vacation rental that we’d been talking about? Suddenly that dream became feasible, just as our dream of selling the flip house was dwindling into nail-biting wishful thinking. So we took it off the market and just like that, we became landlords.
Of course, as with any new endeavor, making the decision turned out to be the easy part. What came next involved a lot more work. Fortunately, my good friend Jen owns two vacation rental homes and she generously helped us get one the right track.
Vacation Rental Hosting for Beginners
If you’ve been thinking of starting your own VRBO or Airbnb venture, I’m going to share with you how we did it, and how you can too. In these four posts, I’ll give you everything we’ve learned since taking on this project, to hopefully save you some time and sanity along your journey. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Setting up a property to host guests (you’re here)
- Composing the perfect Airbnb listing
- How to clean your property between guests
- And finally, I’ll give you a long-term look at how it’s going and whether we feel it’s been a worthwhile endeavor
So let’s jump in with the most daunting part of the whole process, getting your vacation home ready for rental.
How to Set Up your Home as a Vacation Rental Property
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One thing I should mention before we get started: I’m assuming you’re thinking of renting out a house that you are NOT living in. You can definitely list rooms and shared places on the vacation rental sites, but that would be a bit different than what I’m describing below.
Also, to make it easier to keep track of everything you’ll need to think about, I’ve created this quick checklist. You can grab it now, or wait till you’ve read all the points below, but definitely check it out. Ok let’s get started…
Vacation Rental Basics
Rule number one to hosting a vacation rental property is start with a clean, well-functioning house. Make sure all the leaks are fixed, the appliances work, and the house has as few quirks as possible. The less you have to explain to guests how to use parts of the house, the better.
Also, I feel like this goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway… Make sure your city allows VRBOs (Vacation Rentals by Owner). Some cities have enacted ordinances and/or fees against short term rentals. Additionally, if your property is part of an HOA (Home Owner’s Association), be sure they don’t have restrictions as well.
Finally, answer these questions for yourself:
- Will I be doing all my own cleaning, or do I want to hire a crew? (You can make money on cleaning fees if you’re doing the work yourself, but you need to have a flexible schedule that allows you to do the job in between check-out and check-in.)
- Who will do the maintenance on the house? (If there’s a leak in the middle of someone’s stay, or the heater doesn’t work, who is going to go to the house to fix it?)
Once you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to move on to the fun stuff!
You want to be able to sleep as many people as is comfortable in your house. It’s not about cramming as many beds in as you can fit. It’s more about what feels natural and useful in the space you have.
Our house has four bedrooms, two with queen beds, one with bunk beds, and one with a daybed and trundle. We also put in an air mattress and a sleeper sofa, so our house sleeps 12. That makes it great for big groups, but not everyone travels that way, so don’t feel pressured to cram that many beds into your house. Just aim for about two people per bedroom, plus an extra couple on a sleeper sofa or air mattress and your house will be comfy and functional.
For each bed, you’ll need:
- Mattress pad (we like the water-proof, allergy-proof kind, but NOT the vinyl kind that crinkles and makes noises when you move around.)
- Two to three sets of sheets (this makes cleaning and resetting easier, plus it’s important to have a back-up in case guests need it during their stay.)
- Two pillows for queen and king beds and one for twins, plus extras
- Extra blanket
We also like each bedroom to have nightstands with a clock, a dresser, a chair, and a bench or low table so guests can set down their luggage. We added hangers in each closet. The master bedroom also got a TV.
Regardless of the bedroom’s size, you should think about keeping clutter to a minimum, and just having enough decor to make the room look put-together. Guests don’t need to be lighting candles, managing a lot of throw pillows, or having to move stuff out of the way so they can get cozy in their space.
Aim to have two of every type of linen for each potential guest. For our “sleeps 12” house, that means we needed 24 bath towels, hand towels, and wash cloths. I don’t think we have quite that many because it’s rare that 12 people actually sleep there. I think we have about 18 sets of towels. Just make sure you have plenty of extras.
You don’t need to use all the same color towels throughout the house, but each bathroom should be coordinated. In other words, in one bathroom you might have all grey, and in another all white. Doing the laundry in between guests will be easier if you have all one color, but I like the bathrooms to coordinate with their bedroom. It comes down to personal preference, but one thing that’s non-negotiable is that all the towels and sheets should be spotless and in good shape. (No threads coming loose or bare spots.)
Bathrooms should also each contain: a washable bath mat that matches the towels, hand soap, tissues, extra toilet paper, shampoo/conditioner, and bath soap or body wash. We also put a small container of Q-tips and cotton balls, as well as a hair dryer, in each of the master baths.
One of the main reasons people book homes rather than hotels is to be able to cook during their stay, so guests should be able to find all the basics that they’ll need for cooking in your kitchen. You’ll want to have dishes, drinkware, silverware, and all the pots and pans and cooking utensils necessary for a few basic meals. Here’s a list of what we provided in our kitchen.
- Dinnerware – plates, bowls, mugs
- Water glasses
- Wine glasses
- Serving bowls for salads etc.
- Stock pot
- Frying pan
- Sauce pan
- Baking pans and cookie sheets
- Cooking spoon, spatula, whisk
- Basic set of knives
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Ziploc baggies
- Plastic wrap
- Grill utensils
- Pot Holders
- Kitchen towels
- Dish Soap and hand soap
- Dish drying rack and sponge
- Trash can and liners
- Coffee maker
- Can opener
In addition, you may want to stock the kitchen with a few basic provisions, such as salt and pepper, olive oil, sugar, coffee, and tea. Basic condiments such as butter, ketchup, and mustard go a long way toward making guests’ experience even easier. Just make sure you check expiration dates periodically to keep things fresh and healthy.
When you’re putting together your living spaces, think about how your guests will be using the space. You’ll need comfy chairs and couches, and tables to set drinks and books on. Every seat should have access to some sort of coffee table or side table. With our house being big enough to sleep 12 people, we assume that there may be times when all of those people want to be in the same room together, so we try to have enough seating for all of them, even if it means adding floor cushions and pulling up nearby chairs.
You might want to provide a TV in a living space as well, unless you specifically market your place as “getting away from it all.” We chose a Roku TV so that guests could use their own streaming service, rather than us having to pay for cable that may not get used very often.
If your house has an outdoor patio, courtyard, or balcony, you can use that space to maximize its appeal, especially if you’re in an area with great weather like us here in Albuquerque. We have found that our guests really love sitting outside and often use the grill while they’re staying at the house. Consider providing a propane grill, outdoor seating, and a table. Just be sure to include these items in your list of things to clean and check between guests.
Not all homes will have a garage and laundry room, but if yours does, make sure it’s usable for your guests. In our laundry room we provide a washer and dryer, detergent, stain lifter, and dryer sheets. We also keep a small ironing board and iron in the laundry room, as well as a laundry basket that helps us when we’re cleaning.
If your guests will be allowed to use the garage, make sure it’s clean, well-lit, and not scary. We leave a garage door opener at the house for guests to use while they’re staying. We just remind them in the check-out instructions to leave the garage door opener behind when they check out.
Amenities & Extras
Wi-Fi: The first amenity that’s almost not optional anymore is wireless internet service. This is especially important for business travelers, but I have a feeling that most people will want to know if you have wi-fi in the house, and how to use it. (If you use a smart TV, you’ll need wi-fi as well to run the apps on the TV.) Be sure you get set up with a reputable provider and post the network and password in your welcome information for guests.
Pool: We do not have a pool at our house, but if you have a pool or hot tub, that will be a big selling point for your listing. You’ll want extra towels, and maybe even separate beach towels. You’ll also want to leave clear instructions on how to use any systems that operate the pool or hot tub.
Baby gear: We decided to include a high chair and pack-n-play in our home, since we are marketing it as a family friendly place to gather together. Depending on your location and marketing plan, you may or may not want to include baby gear.
Fireplace: If you have a fireplace, be sure to let your guests know how to use it safely and correctly and include the necessary tools for making a fire, as well as firewood if it’s a wood-burning fireplace. Keep in mind you’ll need to clean it out if guests use it during their stay.
The final piece of the puzzle to creating a comfortable stay for your guests is to make it easy for them to check into the house and find what they need. We make check-in easy with this keyless lock that operates on a smart home hub. We can give each guest a separate entry code, and then delete the code when their stay is complete, all from our phones. We can also check the status of the lock remotely to make sure the door has been locked when guests check out. This is the one piece of equipment that has been absolutely essential to our managing the property without losing our minds!
We simply email the guest a few days before their arrival with the key code, as well as instructions on how to use it, and they can let themselves in the house at any time after we activate the code.
We also direct the guest in this email to check out the Welcome Notebook that will greet them with all the pertinent information about the house. We use a three ring binder with clear page inserts so that we can easily change information as needed. The notebook includes:
- Welcome Page with wi-fi info and our phone numbers
- House Rules
- Check-out Instructions
- Things to See in Albuquerque – this is a list of restaurants, entertainment, and places that guests may need to know about while they’re here
Finally, we also keep a small journal as a guest book next to our welcome book, so that guests can leave their comments about the house or memories about Albuquerque. We love hearing how we’ve helped them enjoy their stay!
Now Your Vacation Rental is Ready for Guests
Whew that was a lot of information! No wonder it was such a whirlwind getting our house ready for guests! I hope this has helped you think through the process and figure out what you’ll need to get started hosting your own vacation rental. Be sure to download my handy checklist of what you’ll need to prepare for guests. And if I’ve missed anything, let me know in the comments and I’ll update this post to include it.
Now that you’re on your way to getting your house ready, next time we’ll talk about how to create the perfect listing to get guests to come stay at your vacation rental. Until then, happy shopping and cleaning!