Setting up a Holiday Home or Vacation Rental Cottage

117-001Planning is essential.  Below are some general pointers and observations but it is important to make sure you get the money right.  Basic financial planning is essential including making estimates of income and costs  Most of the other pages in this Advice section are relevant to starting up a holiday home business.  This page attempts to offer some sound guidance and help newcomers to holiday letting dodge making some of  classic and, frequently, costly mistakes.  At the end there is a section on some surprising wrinkles that are worth knowing about.  See useful suppliers, national agencies & regional agencies

Photographs

People nearly always depend on pictures when renting out cottages.  This means getting the style, quality and presentation right is absolutely essential to maximise the attractiveness of your holiday home and, of course, the income you can get from renting it out.   Content is everything.

‘Red flags’

The vast majority of people choosing self-catering in the UK expect the same or better levels of comfort, quality and contents in the holiday homes they visit as they have at home.  Guests are more aware of design and style from the TV and property sections of the newspapers: they expect quality.  Fashion plays an important part.  Certainly, the vast majority treat clashing colours, out of date decoration, low quality appliances, poor quality patterned sheets and other aspects as warning signs.  These negative signs cause objections to booking.

The below suggestions and observations are to guide.  In many cases, the cost of getting 70% improvement can be quite low; do not be put off about expenditure until you have checked everything that could bring your let up to modern expectations.  As with all such things, there are exceptions, but they are here to give you a general ‘steer’ to the most effective approach.

‘Good enough for them’ TVs

Certain aspects are major turn-offs.  An old fashioned television will often be associated with charity shops and refuse tips, leading to an unconscious suspicion that the holiday let is substandard.  Perfectly good non-HD flat screen TVs are already appearing at council refuse tips, (the waste is quite upsetting).  In 2013 this problem is rare but, astonishingly, there are still a few pre-flat screen TVs to be found in holiday cottages.

Interiors, furnishings and fashions

Interiors appearing to date from the 1980s will lead many to simply dismiss the cottage without bothering to read the text.  Patterned borders on walls are a particular turn-off for many.  The fashion for varnished stripped pine, dating from that period, is not necessarily a potential problem but when any varnish has turned ginger, the impact can become quite serious.  Logical or not, this happens; you may find it necessary to redecorate a clean and excellently presented room for no other reason that people will consider it old fashioned.

198Out-of-date interiors, even if immaculately clean, of the highest quality and in perfect condition should be updated- unfashionable interiors raise intuitive suspicions of under-investment in quality, quite apart from the fact they jar the senses.  Some people, more often women than men, may enter a cottage and think, ‘what a shame, I would have painted that wall such and such a colour’.  You need to avoid this as much as possible.

Do not, at any cost, give the impression any of the contents of a holiday cottage are ‘hand me downs’ or no longer wanted items from homeowners’ houses.  Avoid dark brown furniture, except where it is high quality and fits in with the overall decoration of the house.  The modern taste is for light coloured woods.  It is true that there is a market for timeless interiors, but these must be high quality and the furniture has to be selected with great care.  Relying on the chance that that bit of furniture you have at home but no longer fits in with your new decoration will be a success in the holiday let is usually a mistake.  As your taste has moved on, it is quite likely that general taste and fashion has done the same thing.  It is a good rule to never use cast-offs; holiday guests are guests, they are not second class visitors.  Anyone who as stayed at a few cottages will be highly sensitive and fully aware of the warning signs of a homeowner with a lack of respect; if there is the slightest suspicion, these people will, simply, go elsewhere.

Remember not to over personalise the interior; people like high quality but also like to make a place their own.  If the taste of guests coincides with yours then all’s well, but there will be a good chance that this will not happen (good or bad taste).  Avoid over-dressing the interior of holiday cottages: if in doubt, avoid flowery decoration or chintz.  Decoration should, ideally, be neutral to the point of bland.  Highlights such as pictures or ‘objects’ can liven things up.  Floor coverings should be as consistent as practical with exceptions for kitchens and bathrooms.  Similar rules apply to door furniture.  This gives a feeling of flow and ties the holiday let into one area.

DSCF0542Some choose to use white bed linen throughout to standardise and make things easier to service. Highlights are supplied with coloured cushions or bedspreads tied into highlights on the walls and some other items in the rooms.   Each room is often given a different highlight colour theme.   Walls are given the same neutral treatment as the linen with a tendency towards shades of white.   This creates flexibility as fashions change, simplicity and easier maintenance.   Fashions do change, cushions are ‘in’ now but could well be ‘out’ in the future.  In terms of utility, except for decoration, they are virtually useless in bedrooms.

On the matter of colour themes, even if done in a subtle way, many will notice that you have put some extra thought into the decoration and style of the rooms.   This gives confidence that you have done much the same for the cottage as a whole.  A side effect is that any objections will tend to be lessened or ignored because it is clear that the cottage owner has made more than usual efforts to make the place right.   Small but thoughtful touches can have a significant positive contribution to booking decisions.

A common error is to supply childrens toys and games on shelving in lounges.  Bright primary colours and clutter create a decorative disaster.  Toys and games are an excellent idea, in most homes they are put away in cupboards or in games rooms, do the same in your holiday let.

Do not make the mistake of trying to make a holiday let feel ‘cottagey’.  The rural ideal of ‘roses around the door’ and frilly curtains with bits and pieces of pottery around the house accompanied by corn dollies etc: has long gone.   Today, the general wish is for a pretty outside but for a high quality, modern interior.  The general health of the cottage market has been fuelled by a radical improvement in the standard of cottage accommodation.  Homeowners who do not invest and recognise this trend are paying dearly for failing to keep up-to-date.  Some still say, ‘they are only on holiday so they will not mind roughing it a little bit’; they could not be more wrong.  Very often, they back up their remarks, as if by way of excuse, by referring to kind words in the visitors’ book.

LEOMINSTER_HOUSE_extra3The days are long gone when holidays were a welcome break and the quality of the accommodation was not that important.  Quality is absolutely essential.  It is still all too common to see homeowners buying ‘new’ for themselves and palming off ‘second-best’ to the holiday let.  Some of the most successful lets are of equal or higher standard than the homes of those who own them.  People, rightly, do not like being treated as second-best or second class, and they can be surprisingly sensitive to detecting this attitude.  Old fashioned TVs, in 90% of the cases, would have been on the tip but are instead considered ‘good enough for them’.  No wonder people are deeply unimpressed when these antiquated things are pressed into service long after their ‘sell-by date’.

The theme of modernity and quality is particularly important in kitchens.  Antiquated cookers (unless AGAs or similar), mismatched dated cupboards or cupboard and drawer handles are major turn-offs.  Very often, relatively low cost improvements can have a major impact, such as replacing worn, mismatched or dated handles.  Poor or dated lighting is not expensive to alter.   Sometimes, I still come across unshaded strip lighting; this is as bad as an out-of-date television.   Modern lighting can be bought easily and at low cost.   Guests will feel there is no excuse for quasi-industrial lighting in cottage kitchens.

It is good to have matching knives, forks and spoons along with robust sensible plates, mugs cups etc:.  Similar guidance can be applied to bedroom furniture.  Beds should be easy to make, it is usually a good idea to avoid a base board as this makes bed changing more difficult and tends to reduce the feeling of space.  It can be a good idea to standardise bed linen as far as possible, individualising bedrooms with throws or cushions on the beds tied into colour schemes.  (Cushions are the current fashion).

If you provide twin beds, greater occupancy will result, if you use a Zip Link system or a less expensive alternative such as CreateaKing or MakeaDouble.  Before buying twins, make sure that they can be put together.  Sometimes, the design of the bed posts leaves too large a gap to push beds together.  The key is flexibility.  Many people used to a double bed will not book if only twins are on offer.  This opens up the couples market, as well as the family and children plus walkers markets, so catering for more than one niche.
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‘Practical’ carpets, tired sofas and bedding

Don’t fool yourself.  Guests will see straight through this ploy.  Do not install lodgers’ carpets (sometimes called pub carpets).  They may be great at hiding up stains and a multitude of domestic spills and abuse… but they look horrible, are a decorative disaster and, if not cleaned as well as less ‘practical carpets’, have been known to stink.  They shout meanness and reveal an attitude towards the guests of  ‘they can put up with it’.

Tired sofas are a major deterrent to booking.  Most see a quality sofa as absolutely essential.

Likewise, if you cannot bring yourself to go for Egyptian / Turkish Cotton because the ironing is such a battle, do not then choose chocolate coloured nylon bedding.  Yes, I have seen this in what was otherwise a four star let near Hay on Wye.  ‘Practical’ need not be bad, but do not let it justify lower quality.  Some booking agents prefer not to feature holiday lets with ‘Lodgers’ carpets’ or chocolate coloured nylon bedding because they can be some of the worst ‘red flags’ of all.  Even if the linen were cotton, chocolate would be a significant booking barrier.

Certain things are not optional, if you get them wrong, you will pay a heavy price in lost bookings, regardless of the other features of your holiday let.

Letting out your private holiday cottage / house for the first time

A growing number of private holiday homes are now being used for holiday lets to earn some money in these difficult times.   If you are doing this, it is absolutely essential to invest in quality.   What you may find homely and quite acceptable may appear out-of-date and poor quality on the open market.  This can be a tough as financial pressures may have contributed to trying to earn something from your holiday home, so spending more at this stage can be a tall order.  However, if you do not ensure the right standard and quality, you will find yourself competing in what is considered the moderate quality market which is facing growing over-supply with existing lets and many new lets, just like you, joining in.

Demand and rates for quality holiday cottage remains sound, but rates and occupancy for lower quality cottages are under growing and severe pressure. (August 2013).

OTHER EXTRAS

It is important to keep up-to-date. Seeking excuses not to do things is normally the cause of poor quality.

Wi Fi

Excuses range from: ‘people will abuse it and I could lose my Internet’, ‘it will be costly’ or ‘I cannot afford another telephone line’;  ‘people come here to get away, they do not want the internet’ etc:.  Most of these can be overcome. WiFi will give you the edge over all those who do recognise the selling advantage it provides.

DSCF5358A repeater can solve some of the problems.  Another variant is to use your mains electrical system to carry WiFi signals from one router to another plugged into the wall at the holiday home let.   The cost of these items is quite low.   You can set up the wireless system so there is ‘guest’ as well as your own computer access.   The ‘guest’ access will have different name and password.  This will identify abuse.   People staying will note the ‘guest’ aspect.   People booking using credit cards can nearly always be traced and held responsible.

Parental controls can lend added control over inappropriate downloading.  There is a marginal element of risk that a guest will abuse the WiFi but the benefit of the draw it offers should be noted.  Bookings will be lost without WiFi; it will soon be come as essential to quality as providing a television.  It could be an idea to include in your terms that you cannot guarantee WiFi service in the case of ‘outages’ outside of your control or unforeseen circumstances.

A great advantage of wifi or an internet connection is that it is possible to install a WiFi thermostat.  Heating can be a major issue for holiday lets and it is not unknown for some guests to leave windows open with the heating on full.  Of course heating should be appropriate but it can be a good idea to set the controls to reasonable levels with the option for guests to contact you if the weather turns very cold so the heating can be adjusted accordingly.  Control of heating is absolutely essential.  Although the vast majority of guests will be careful and respect the need for you to control costs to a reasonable level some my, either unintentionally or through lack of regard, end up creating huge and unnecessary heating bills.  One supplier of this sort of control is Hive Heating and the cost is not as much as you might think it could be.

Wii  XBox  Playstation Etc:

The negative image of out of date technology such as old televisions has been covered under Red Flags .  For larger lets, there is a growing demand for a second flat screen television so the children can use their Wii, Xbox, Playstation etc:.  This may soon have the same draw as WiFi has for families and shared holidays.

A good test for quality is that if you rent a holiday cottage and hit a week of really bad weather, to consider two contrasting possibilities.  DSCF5323The cottage was high quality, so you went home disappointed but rested, and, the cottage was not pleasant and was out-of-date.   In the latter case, you spend a week inside looking at things which do not give a good feel, but jar and make you feel worse, rather than better.  Consequently, you go home not only disappointed with the weather but feeling unrested and short changed by the whole experience.

The choice is between, ‘the weather was bad, but the cottage was marvellous’ or ‘we had a bad holiday at that cottage’.  There’s a strong tendency to blame lower quality holiday cottages for everything else that goes wrong, including the weather.  This tendency is usually eliminated when the cottage quality is modern and ‘up to scratch’.

The point

To get the most from your cottage, you must give the market what it wants; this is about cottage quality.  Take steps to find out what you need to do and, where funds permit, do it.  Do not let emotion get in the way and never search for excuses not to improve.   New cottages now coming on the market make many older ones look out-of-date, tired and sub-standard.  There is no substitute for quality; the main cause of failure is an ‘its good enough for them’ attitude.  Cottage owners who do not treat guests as guests are in the wrong business.  The right attitude is  key to setting up a holiday home or vacation rental cottage.

 

Some Wrinkles

Guest behaviour tends to vary depending on the numbers you plan to cater for.  Sleep 2 holiday lets tend not to exhibit rowdy behaviour often associated with sleep 8 or above.  Terms and conditions should be varied accordingly.

Particularly for sleep 6 and above it is worth including a clause excluding use for video, filming or any commercial activity without the express agreement of the owners

Some owners prefer to be consulted if a party has a high ratio of children to adults as supervision becomes more difficult the higher the ratio.  A good rule of thumb is to require guests to get explicit agreement if the ratio is to be higher than 1 adult to two children.

Always check remote control batteries and check, of course, that the remotes have not been lost.  Some children have been known to resort to swapping batteries to keep their electronic toys, phones etc: working.

When refunding any credit card payment remember check the security ratings on the original transaction.  Remember that stolen cards can permit the card company to claw back payments for several weeks after any transaction.  If you refund a payment to someone who has used a stolen card by bank transfer,  you have little or no recourse to recovering your lost money except in the unlikely case that you track down the miscreant and extract from the money that they had defrauded from you.  When making refunds take all practical steps to ensure the identity of the person concerned and do your best to avoid refunding any sums except back to the card which was used to make the original payment.

If you are tempted to take a company or commercial let, ensure you take a larger than usual security deposit and take a little time to check the credentials of the company.  Company lets, particularly involving sales people, are often best avoided unless you take significant extra precautions.

Avoid, unless you have good reason to do otherwise, lets to people who have sold their homes and are waiting to complete on the purchase of their next home.  In this situation their primary residence becomes the holiday let itself.  In the UK, this changes the rules so the guest has automatic rights to Assured Short Term Tenancy.  If they choose to exercise their rights this can cause very serious damage to a holiday let business. A holiday let is not usually a holiday let if the guest has nowhere else to go during the period of their stay.

Seek feedback in a visitors book and in e-mail after a stay.  Some of the most upsetting feedback can be as valuable as some of the most positive and appreciative feedback.  The former so you can improve the operation and the latter so that you can add it to your marketing drive and benefit from the encouragement.

 

Dealing with complaints or concerns needs a cool head.  The pace of the engagement should be dictated by what is appropriate to come to the right outcome.  Neither party should control the timetable.   There are several stages:

1. Listen to the concern and set a schedule for reporting progress back to the guest.  Do not take any decisions immediately.  Do not be rushed by demands to be agreed to on the spot.  Do not discuss any rights or wrongs at this stage however mistaken you may feel some statements are. Just listen and, if need be depending on the situation, note down all concerns.

2. Gather more information.  If need be, report back to the guests with progress

3. Consider the facts and reasonable solutions or, if the problem is not immediately solvable, reasonable remedies

4. Return to the guests to discuss the matter, ask for further information and ideas from them and, where appropriate, suggest a remedy

5. Record your actions and outcomes.

 

Reasonable and fair solutions or remedies to upsets should never be rushed.  Holidays are important but, equally, it is important to take the time, effort and due consideration to come to a just and fair result.  Give due respect for upset but equal or greater respect for a fair and thought out approach.  This is not always easy.  In rare cases, guests may arrive and demand a full refund on the spot but the basic rules should still apply.  If they choose to drive away, this does not prevent a full refund being provided with the benefit of fair and reasonable consideration but it could prevent a full refund where there was no reasonable grounds for such an action.

Although very difficult, the more an owner cares, step back and take a deep breath before deciding or doing anything.  It may be scant comfort for those new to the business, but with experience, although concerns and complaints do not change in significance, the emotional impact can reduce so making solving these problems less fraught and, often, more efficient and effective.  At the beginning, it can feel like one upset cancels out ten good reports; as you go along, it will reduce to one to one and, on successful clearing up and sorting out problems, you might even arrive at a situation where the good always outweighs any not so good experiences: a problem solved in an equitable, speedy and kindly manner is the mark of a professional.

One useful tip is to be always absolutely clear what is in your advertising and any other statements about what you offer.  If you change your advertising always take records of previous advertising using, if need be, screenshots of any previous internet versions.

Be prepared for the challenges.

 

A SKELETON CHECK LIST FOR HOLIDAY COTTAGE LET CONTENTS

Non specific room items.

Welcome pack and info.  Guests’ feedback book, Smoke detection system

Fire resistant rubbish baskets for every room

TV, DVD, Radio, CD and iPod doc,. Replacement lights and fuses stored in a safe place

If no dryer or washer dryer, a washing line including pegs

Torch, Vases and at least one long mirror

Hair dryer, carry cot, stair gates and garden table and chairs.

Iron and ironing board

 

For each bed

A good quality mattress.  (This can do wonders for repeat visits).

Summer and Winter duvets or extra blankets to be used with high quality linen

A couple of pillows per person, Pillow and mattress protectors, Bedspreads and, yes, cushions.

 

Bath / shower room(s)

Bath and lavatory mat, Brush and holder, Waste bin with top

Sink mirror, Soap, Glasses

Lavatory paper, Preferably not a shower curtain but something more substantial

 

Eating and other items multiplied by the maximum number to stay

Large and small knives forks and spoons.  It is worth supplying double the number of small spoons.

Carving knives, Large serving spoons, Large and small flat plates, ditto pudding bowls

Cups and saucers.   Mugs.  One teapot + cozy and one coffee pot / cafetiere.

Water glasses.  It is worth having several extra, Some long glasses.  Wine glasses per number of guests,

Egg cups, One water and one milk jug.  Sugar bowl.  Butter dish.

Large meat platter, Gravy jug, Vegetable dishes, Salt and pepper,  Place mats for the number of guests

Other serving dishes

 

In the kitchen

Microwave, robust toaster, bread bin, sharp knifes & holder,

drawer tray to hold set of good quality knives and forks and spoons, sharpener,

bread knife, large and medium sized ladles, washing up liquid, dishwasher tablets,

dish cloths, chopping board, scrubbing sponge for sink,

2 large sauce pans, two medium and two small plus lids, frying pans medium and large (non stick),

casseroles (ideally one glass plus two or three others.. and with lids), baking (non stick) and roasting tins,

pie dish,  trays (suitable for eating in the lounge if needed, mixing bowls one large, one medium, measuring jug, large cooking spoons (metal and wood),

wooden spatula, masher, scissors, weigh scales, oven gloves (keep spares as these usually suffer a bit),

Sieve, can opener, bottle opener, peeler, garlic press, grater, strainer for tea,

electric kettle, list of local shops to buy food including farm shops,

plastic sink bowl, sponge and pot scourer   Fire extinguisher and fire blanket.

 

Cleaning and changeover items

Soft and hard brushes. Dust pan and brush.

Vacuum cleaner (good quality and able to deal with pet hairs, where necessary).

External dust bin or waste disposal container catering for any local recycling requirements.

Mop with large head and robust bucket.  Floor cleaner. Wood burner glass cleaner (crystals or foam),

Lavatory cleaner, dusters, furniture polish,  good quality scrubbing brushes,

 

This information is provided by way of contrast and to prompt further investigation before acting.  As ever, seek relevant professional or competent people to check before taking any decisions.  Where applicable, all contents of this website are copyright Country Holiday Lets Ltd.  See useful suppliers, national agencies & regional agencies