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What you need to do to make your STR stand out, give guests a great experience & to increase profits

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

This post may not be popular with some, but after managing vacation rentals for over 10 years and currently managing over 140 units, the proof is in the pudding.

People pay more to stay at a Hilton Hotel than a Motel 6. Period. Given the option, someone that can afford a nicer bed to sleep in, guaranteed clean accommodations and even some perks like coffee included, will likely choose this over a hotel or motel that has quality issues, poor/cheap decor, outdated items, no amenities and cleanliness issues.

The same holds true for your vacation rental space. When you go to launch your short-term rental, you have to seriously consider what type of rents and guests you hope to accommodate.

Decorate your place as cheaply as possible, use grandma's 100-count sheets, have zero amenities, use pics from your phone and you're guaranteed to get a guest with very low standards and budget (not that there is anything wrong with that, just stating the facts).

Take the time (and money) to decorate your pad (or hire someone else to if you don't have the "touch"), get quality linens/pillows/pans/quilts, add paintings to walls and throw pillows to beds and couches. Spend the money on adding an amenity-a ping pong table, game console, pool-something that makes you "stand-out" in the crowd.

Now here's the unfair fact: Guests that pay very little for low quality spaces will review you as if they paid top-dollar for luxury accommodations. We've had owners share with us that they are okay with getting less per night just so they don't have to spend the money to upgrade their home and their guests experience. The problem arises, that then they attract a guest that clearly knows they are paying a low cost, but then that guest will still expect perfection.

Case-in-point: We manage multiple properties in the surfing village of Ormond-by-the-Sea. Years ago, we had an owner that we begged to upgrade his home (mind you, he had over $200k in equity in the home). He refused, not wanting to spend any of the $$$ he earned. He desperately needed to upgrade y'all. His living room furniture was straight out of 1972 costing him (as he proudly shared) a whopping $35 for the sofa and loveseat. His sheets were covered in lint. His carpet was stained beyond help. His 30 inch deep (okay I really didn't measure it) TV sitting in the more-than-outdated entertainment center left much to be desired (you know, like the desire to watch even Netflix).

He wanted us to charge the same as we were charging for completely updated units near to his. Obviously, we would not and we did everything in our power to explain in the listing exactly what the situation was. Guests booked his place at the discounted rate, knowing full well what the description said, yet, upon arrival they would immediately become very upset about the condition of the home.

Even though our cleaners always spent more time there than anywhere else around, it was lipstick on a pig. Everything so old just made it "feel" dirty so we would charge the owner when our cleaners had to go back out to show the guests that the house was clean just all old junk inside it. And it was junk.

We fired the owner after the third guest checked-in and was upset-it wasn't worth our time but more importantly our reputation. We also had to move two of the guests and charge the owner the extra cleaner trip fees, making his profits less than any of us would want. Those two trips plus cleaning fees cost him over $5600 in lost income (and that was in a two month time span).

During the same timeframe, another property the exact same size that we managed started being rented out. The owner lives out of state and asked us to decorate it, which we did for under $20,000k all-in. I know that's not chump-change, but we're talking bedroom sets, living room, dining room, all household items/pots/dishes/linens/Keurig/silverware/pillows/art/decor...not too shabby if you ask me.

The first year we rented out the property generated over $58,000 in income. The guests loved the cute decor, the thoughtful touches, comfy beds and sheets and the ping-pong table for rainy days, kid's fun or beer-pong.

The next year the owner made even more. They spent and still spend, a few thousand dollars a year updating their linens, added new touches, getting new pillows, replacing old or worn items and improving their "fun" factor.

Our previous owner was eventually kicked off of Airbnb for low ratings. His house over the years continues to show very little care on the exterior, so I have to assume the interior remains the same.

If he had spent that extra $20k four years ago, he would have a property that likely would have generated $200k back to him. That's a hell of a return. Plus, we would have helped keep the property up as more items needed attention.

I'm writing this because it's a hard call for many-myself included at times. I'm currently under contract on a home in Montana that is gonna make an amazing log cabin getaway. I have the option to buy inexpensive, regular furniture or to go the extra mile, spend a little more on the front end to get "log-cabin" style furniture and decor. If you were going to Montana, what would you want? A fun cozy-cabin style or a rental that was a hodge-podge of old junk?

Here's the great news! You can decorate your vacation rental within a reasonable budget. I love finding cute items at Beall's/Burkes, TJMaxx HomeGoods, Amazon, OldeTime Pottery, Big Lots and At Home. Facebook Marketplace has provided me many a couches-that are in great condition! We make a lot of our decor when we have time or find local artists to support that aren't crazy expensive.

You also want to get items that are durable but realize that things can and will break-so keep that in mind when shopping. If you buy a luxury sofa and red wine gets spilled on it by a guest (that honestly just spilled it, they weren't having a party or anything), you have to get that couch replaced. That hurts a lot less if you purchased the $1200 couch at Big Lots over the $5k couch at the designer store. Consider buying darker colors for sofas and rugs as things can and do happen.

We also make sure to be realistic about the property. If it's a luxury property, we know the clientele will be holding us to a higher standard and we purchase items accordingly. But you'd be surprised how many items in even a luxury home can be found for a deal.

Another thing to note when decorating: stay true to your location and theme. I can't say this enough. Houses near the beach should look like houses near the beach. Cabins should be rustic or nature-feeling. A guest is coming for the "experience" of the vacation rental. Got a home near Disney-make it super kid friendly? Have a condo that sleeps 2? Design in with romance in mind. Buying a log cabin in Montana...make sure it's the cabin paradise you would want to stay at! Guests chose your town out of all the others in the world. Play into this and it only makes their vacation more special.

Check out the pics of an owner that chose to decorate their place super cute with quality items vs. an owner (that we chose not to manage) that did not.

Which unit would you book for your beach vacation? Keep that in mind when decorating your vacation rental.

You got this!

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