Is Yours a Quality Home?
By William May
Published: 08/02/04 Topics: Comments:
"Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind." To quote good old Bill Shakespeare, that long ago landlord from Stratford on Avon, in Merry old England. It's also a fine lesson for vacation home owners who want to get the best guests, highest rates, most occupancy and fewest headaches.
All of this bonked me on the head as I was sitting in a lovely outdoor theatre in the little town of Ashland, Oregon this weekend. Probably because the quote is from A Midsummer Night's Dream and this town's Shakespearean Festival is truly world famous for its quality. I'm told its the largest not-for-profit theatre in America running 8 plays simultaneously about 9 months per year in three theatres selling 400,000 tickets annually. (osfashland.org)osfashland.org Come visit sometime and you can see 8 plays in four days. Its overload but its enlightening.
You don't have to be a high brow to enjoy Shakespeare in this little community of 10,000 souls as long as you admire anything that is of high quality. I've been traipsing down for almost 30 years and have the dubious honor of having seen the entire collection ("Cannon") of Bill's plays - including the ones he wrote on a bad day. Plus other plays from the Shakespeare era, other classics and contemporary plays that earn the honor of getting produced here. And in all those years I've never seen a production that was anything less that high quality - that is an amazing feat in and of itself.
I also come because learning is a lifelong process - it never surprises me when something written 400 years ago is still applicable today. With the rapid growth of vacation rental availability, I am amazed at how often owners violate Shakespere's simple reminder. Let me paraphrase. Its not what you the owner wants that makes your home desirable (your eyes) - all that counts is what the renter wants; and you have to use your brain - not your heart - to figure that out.
QUALITY IS ELUSIVE:
It is far too easy to get excited about renting out a vacation home as a way to make money or offset costs. Sounds easy right? Just throw up some ads, take a few phones calls and the money comes rolling in. Depending on your location, the existing amenities of the home and our own innate sense of what a renter might want - you might do just great.
But judging from my email, many owners - perhaps most owners - do not reach anywhere near their financial expectations. Some are even struggling, often forced to sell their dream home when it can't carry itself.
Of all the contributing factors to sub-par performance, quality is by far the most important. Instead of studying the industry to figure out what guests want (as we hope smart business people do) owners frequently buy a house that suits them but doesn't suit the guests.
Certainly quality is relative to the geographic area, competition and seasonality, however, it isn't necessary to have a million dollar villa in a rustic mountain community. It is necessary though to make sure that every home, no matter how modest, adheres to some standards that the average guest should expect. You may feel this reminder is an obvious one. But as I inspect home after home I am amazed at how frequently an owner overlooks the most basic tasks to make their home a quality place to stay.
I won't bore you with a list of unaffordable improvements or suggest that you remodel your place, the fix is much more simple. Often you can dramatically improve quality by taking a fresh look at your home. Let me give you just a few examples in hopes you will do a thorough review and find your own areas to fix:
TOWELS: Do all towels in your home match? If not, they should. We recommend white so you can add matching replacements as necessary. Are they worn in anyway? They can't be. If you don't have a replacement budget find a place for it in your plans. Retire towels before they are dingy or thinning. And yes you need to have hand towels, washcloths and bath mats as well as bath towels. Its only necessary to leave out a full set for every person of your maximum occupancy - but keep another 50 to 100% in reserve.
PAINT: Do your walls or woodwork have nicks or dings or smudges? If so, take out the paint an and cover them up. Write down your paint formulas so you always have touch up paint ready. Get it done quickly. Ask housekeepers to keep an eye on those little things.
FURNITURE: Did you skimp by converting old furniture from home to your weekend house furnishings? If so, your guests will think you are giving them left overs, not quality. Invest in solid, comfortable furniture. Your guests want to relax which is hard to do on flimsy, lumpy, old furniture. Be sure to buy enough of it too. You must have coffee tables, end tables, table lamps, night stands and dressers. You may be willing to rough it. Guests hate it.
** By the way, this is the biggest indicator of a non-quality home. I've outfitted several rentals from scratch - no furniture - and it can be painful. Furniture, fixtures and outfitting aren't cheap. But they're smart. Even the little touches can make your home top notch. When buying furniture, you can die slow (buy a little as you go) or die fast (spring for the good stuff). Kicking the bucket fast is better because your home will be seen from day one as a well designed quality place to stay.
OUTDOOR FURNITURE: Have you used that white plastic furniture on your patio or deck? I know that some brands offer a heavier quality but most of it is simply lightweight, difficult to sit or lay on and shows age quickly. We recommend good quality metal furniture, the kind you can repaint if need be. Surprisingly, if you shop around, you'll find quality metal apointments at only double or triple the price of their plastic relatives and they will last ten times longer. In fact, I have some five year old K-Mart Martha Stewart iron stuff that's still beautiful and will be here after the next ice age. Its classic.
ARTWORK: Does every wall that needs a painting or photo have one? If not, you might not care, but to your guests it looks like you are skimping along or don't have good taste. Art doesn't have to be expensive. Spend a little time shopping. Establish a theme if you like. Yes its a cliche but if you have a mountain home, people will appreciate cabin decor signs, old time photos and maybe even old skis on the wall. Put art everywhere its needed to make the home seem appreciated.
UTENSILS: My goodness, even Denny's restaurant uses heavy duty tableware and dishes. Your dishes should match and you should have twice as many place settings as your maximum occupancy. Guests don't come to wash dishes every time they eat something. Do you have a pizza pan and cutter, a carrot peeler, a wine bottle opener? If not, buy them today.
EXTRAS: Does your home have board games, a VCR or DVD and a lending library? If not, you're losing money and guest respect. Today, such extras are very cheap and easy to provide. They can make a rainy vacation day into an enjoyable stay and that makes your home desirable.
LANDSCAPING: Are the grounds around your home neat and attractive? Or does it look like an abandoned home or, worse yet, a sterile environment? Even a desert home can be landscaped with dry climate items and plants. In most homes, hanging baskets in the spring will draw attention to your home and you can even leave a note for guests to water them - and they will.
CARPET CLEANING: Sometimes spot remover works. Sometimes those home carpet cleaning machines can help. But every home deserves periodic visits from the professional carpet cleaners to keep the rugs looking new. And don't forget to do the upholstered furniture at the same time.
TELEPHONES: A single telephone line is pretty cheap in most locations and you can actually buy decent, nice looking phones for about $20 that will last 20 years. Put one in every bedroom as well as the living room or kitchen. Otherwise you look like an abandoned home instead of decent lodging. Even Motel 6 rooms have phones.
NICK NACKS: The most common reason a big segment of the traveling public avoid Bed and Breakfast operations is because they "Don't want to stay in Aunt Biddy's home." No kidding, a lot of B&B's look like Aunt Biddy never found a nick-nack, thing-a-ma-jig or wedding gift she could part with. Some small pieces can accent the home wonderfully but most don't. Keep them few in number and high in quality.
KNOW IT WHEN YOU SEE IT:
Quality is a difficult thing to judge. But crappy - the opposite of quality - is easy to see. Take some extra time to a fresh look at your home. Sometimes you need to sanitize it, make it less jumbled or personal. Other times you need to add furnishings or amenities. Always you need to freshen and straighten and tidy the place. If you don't need rentals, then treat the place anyway you like. But if you want more money, then give your guests a clean, comfortable quality lodging experience.
Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0050 – 08/02/04
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