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Concierge Services Can Save You Money

By Emily Glossbrenner
Published: 02/28/05 Topics: Comments: -

These are exciting times for anyone who owns or is considering buying a vacation rental property. After decades of somnolence - which at least one dictionary defines as "a condition of semi-consciousness approaching coma" - the vacation rental field is crackling with activity.

A lot of that activity is driven by the internet. After all, thanks to the net, it has never been easier for a vacationer to locate and book a vacation rental. And it has never been easier (or cheaper) for owners to advertise their properties. So the question arises: "If the internet can bring me together with the folks who want to rent my place, why do I need a property management company or a rental agency? Why do I have to keep paying them 15 to 50 percent of my rental income?"

The answer is: you don't. But before severing your ties, you will definitely need to replace the maintenance and repair services these companies provide. For most of us, the trick is developing a network of trusted service people you can phone from wherever you happen to be when there's a problem at your vacation property. This takes a little doing, but it is usually worth the effort when you consider how much money you can save by managing things yourself. Still, you're always the "general contractor" and manager. And that can be a hassle, particularly if you happen to be on vacation yourself - say in the south of France - when your renters have a plumbing problem.

And what if you've just purchased your second home and don't know any tradespeople in the area? What if you have no idea who you should use as a cleaning service? What if you just need someone to come in to turn the water heater down or adjust the thermostat so that you're not paying more than is necessary to heat or cool your place when it is unoccupied?

Well, have we got a solution for you! It's called a "concierge service" or an "errand company." These small, very personal firms can do everything a property management company can do on the maintenance and management front - and more - and they will do it for far less money, charging by the hour or by the service performed, not a percentage of your rental income.

An hourly rate of between $20 and $25 is typical for any job that requires a car, like a trip to the store or a trip to check on your property. For work that can be done on the phone or via e-mail, like scheduling a tradesperson, confirming a renter's reservation or responding to renter questions, you might be billed at between $10 and $15 an hour.

A concierge service can have someone greet your guests when they arrive and turn over the keys. It can check your guests out and have someone make sure the cleaning service did everything it was supposed to do, while surveying the property for guest-caused damage or missing items. It can make sure that the refrigerator and pantry are appropriately stocked before the next guest arrives. And it can arrange for necessary maintenance or repairs. In fact, reviewing the Web sites of many concierge and errand companies gives you the impression that they can do just about anything.

To locate these kinds of services in your vacation rental area, do a Google search on "errand service" followed by your vacation area ZIP code. (Be sure to put the phrase "errand service" in quotes.) This will pull up most of the services you're interested in without also presenting all the hotels that offer "concierge services." Still, doing a second search on "concierge" and your target ZIP code is probably a good idea.

The next step is to go to the Web sites of the two main concierge and errand company associations. These are (iceaweb.org)iceaweb.org and (errandservicesportal.com)errandservicesportal.com. You'll find searchable directories at both sites.

When choosing a concierge or errand service company, it is naturally a very good sign if they say they are insured and bonded. But you should probably ask to see the paperwork that backs this up. Don't be shy. You're going to be giving these folks full access to your second home. You have every right to make sure you know who you're dealing with, and no legitimate service will object.

References from satisfied customers are even more important. Ask for several, and then follow up by calling each person. You might also check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been lodged against the company you're considering.

These steps are simple prudence. But there are three other points to bear in mind. First, this is a relatively new industry. It is growing rapidly, but at this writing, you may not have a lot of firms to choose from in your area. Second, only someone who is clever, energetic, and blessed with the entrepreneurial spirit would start a concierge/errand service. The slackers and slugs of the world wouldn't last five minutes. So the chances are good that you're dealing with quality people, regardless of the firm you choose.

Finally, "it's personal." Property management companies and rental agencies represent hundreds of property owners. Their account executives and customer service people may have wonderful, caring personalities. But at the end of the day, you're just another owner who's paying out several thousand dollars or more in fees and commissions each year.

Concierge and errand service companies, in contrast, usually consist of a single person or a married couple with a lot of contacts in the area. You deal directly with the owners of the company, and much of the time, they themselves will be doing the work. So the dynamic is much different than the property management company model. It's personal, as we said. And if the person who runs the concierge company doesn't do a good job, he or she will shortly be out of business.

Economic theoreticians and academics would probably have a term for it. (The word "convergence" comes to mind.) But the facts are these: The internet wasn't created to help property owners market and book their vacation rentals. But it does a superb job of doing so.

And the concierge business wasn't created to handle the management of vacation properties. It was created to help busy men and women deal with their never-ending "to-do" lists. But it just so happens that most of these services are also ideally suited to handling the kinds of things property management companies have traditionally done. And for * a lot less money*! (We recently discovered a company in Orlando that offers customized "snowbird/vacation services" for owners of vacation rentals.)

No single path is "right" for every property owner. Thanks to the internet, concierge services, and other developments, turning your property over to a management company or rental agency and accepting their terms (and often outrageous commissions) without question is no longer the only choice. Today we have real options and whether you decide to go with it or not, the concierge service option is definitely worth exploring.

-- Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner

About the Authors -- Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner are frequent VROA newsletter contributors. "A&E," as they are known to their friends, are the authors of "How to Make Your Vacation Property Work for You!: The Quick & Easy Guide to Advertising, Renting, Managing, and Making Money from Your Second Home". For more information, please visit (fullybookedrentals.com)fullybookedrentals.com. The Glossbrenners have written over 60 other books, with combined sales of over one million copies since 1977. Their works have received enthusiastic reviews from the *New York Times*, the *Washington Post*, *Forbes*, *Inc.*, the editors of (Amazon.com)Amazon.com, the *Los Angeles Times* and hundreds of other publications worldwide.

Author: Emily Glossbrenner, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0058 – 02/28/05

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