As many people want to get away, but also want to stay safe and secluded, vacation property rentals are becoming increasingly popular. The proliferation of home automation technology and listing services has made it easier to show and rent these properties, but it has also created a gap between professional vacation property managers and non-professionals.
Over the past year that gap grew wider. With cleaning and sanitization becoming paramount, larger managers could invest in the products and people to provide a cleaner environment. For smaller managers, it was harder to keep up.
“A lot of the small operators clean it themselves if they’re nearby,” says Jeff Bettinson, CPM, Owner, iTrip Vacations Salt Lake City, and a member of the IREM (Institute of Real Estate Management) Utah Chapter.
Those who manage just a few properties, maybe even just one, may not be up-to-date on the latest cleaning protocols since the start of the pandemic. But large managers like iTrip Vacations hire professional cleaners and janitorial services to help ensure they’re applying current sanitation techniques and technologies.
“They clean short-term rentals,” Bettinson says. “They make sure that guests feel comfortable with the level of cleanliness and that things are being disinfected. That was the big, big concern when we didn’t know how COVID was transmitted.”
Before COVID, larger rental managers distinguished themselves through their mastery of technology and managing the various listing platforms.
With so many vacation rental listing services available, it’s essential to link everything together. Bettinson says his firm uses software that integrates with more 85 listing sites.
“The exposure is much greater,” Bettinson says. “Someone who owns just one or two rental properties might just be on Airbnb or, if they’re a little more sophisticated, they might be on Airbnb and Vrbo. But typically, a lot of them are just on one or the other.”
But listing on several different platforms is just half the battle. Managers need to control their calendars and prevent double bookings. Channel managers, which handle the integration between these sites, aren’t cheap. To justify that investment, managers typically need to have more than a couple of properties.
“If somebody books on any listing site, like Airbnb or Vrbo, our calendars are booked all across the board,” Bettinson says. “Operators who manage multiple platforms and calendars manually may run the risk of double bookings.”
Bettinson says professional managers have also found it helpful to invest in more advanced home automation systems that can monitor the number of devices connecting to the internet (which could show that more people are staying in a property than allowed), noise level, temperature, humidity and even if the garage door is open.
“If you’re vacant for a day or two or maybe it’s the offseason, you can set your temperatures,” Bettinson says. “Then, if you have a booking, it will ramp it up and get it ready for when the booking is there.”
But before you can attract guests, you need appealing photographs. “Airbnb and Vrbo actually will reward you in their algorithms for quality, high-resolution photography,” Bettinson says. “You will get bumped up in the search results.”
Then there is the people aspect. Larger managers usually have boots on the ground locally. “If someone is doing it themselves, they may not be local,” Bettinson says. “They’re relying on maybe the cleaner to act as their on-site representative or someone who can respond to emergencies. Whereas a professional company is going to have employees that can help handle that.”
When it comes to a professional vacation rental property managers, Bettinson says it’s the whole package. “They provide property owners with the benefits of marketing properties to potential renters globally, ensuring cleanliness and on-site security that may otherwise be difficult to achieve.”