Dear Vacation Rental Owners,
Don’t have unrealistic expectations about your property manager!
No, I am not a property manager, but I know how hard it can be for a good property manager to satisfy all the demands that come along with the job of managing a vacation rental property.
Property managers often wear numerous hats and perform many jobs like – guest check ins and check outs, regular property maintenance, paying bills, collecting payments, refunding security deposits, cleanings, guest issues, marketing and the list goes on…
You should understand that being a good property manager is hard work and you should allow room for a little disappointment.
Something eventually will happen and problems will arise, nobody’s perfect. Properly setting your expectations will keep you from becoming disappointed and adding extra strain to your relationship with your property manager.
If they are doing a good job of taking care of your guests and your property you want to try to work out other issues that come along. Don’t sweat the small stuff but DO keep your eyes on the details of your investment property.
Think about this… Have you ever had a relationship (any relationship) that didn’t end well? Why did that happen? Could it all boil down to one simple thing?
I think you’ll agree the answer is yes.
Did you know the number one reason for relationship failure is the failure to meet expectations, according to Dr. Phil.
This is true in any relationship, not just marital ones.
I’ve seen many relationships between vacation rental owners and property managers ruined because the homeowner had unrealistic expectations about how many bookings they would receive or about the quality of the rental services that would be provided by their management company.
Have you ever had that happen to you? Have you ever had issues with your management company?
Were you promised the moon and the stars and they didn’t deliver?
Did you assume something would be handled by the management company that wasn’t?
It’s more common than you might think for a vacation rental owner to go through several property management companies during the ownership of their rental.
It’s not something that is openly discussed but I know from all of my private discussions with vacation rental owners that high turnover rates are a common problem in our industry.
What do you think are the main reasons why owners and managers have issues?
Do some property managers charge too much commissions?
Do owners get annoyed with being nickeled and dimed with fees and charges.
What are your thoughts?
Dear Vacation Rental Property Management Companies,
Avoid overselling to owners!
Plenty of property managers eagerly want the business of a new owner signing on so they try hard to get that new business and maybe in doing so, they oversell themselves a bit.
Don’t oversell not even a little. Overselling is a guaranteed way to lose a client and tarnish your online reputation.
Many newbie salespeople feel pressure to sell, they think selling is about “saying what you need to make the deal”. Don’t make this mistake.
Selling yourself is about bringing to the surface the benefits of using your service, embracing your unique selling points and being honest about everything!
Even when it’s not exactly what the other person wants to hear. When you do that, you become trustworthy in their eyes. They will realize you’re not just trying to get the deal and their money, they will see that clear as day.
They’ll appreciate it and notice that you’re trying to avoid their disappointment. They’ll also know you’re going to tell them the truth and not exaggerate.
Keep all the numbers and expectations in-line with what the client will really get. If you fulfill your end of the deal everything should go smoothly. Don’t stretch and promise more than you can deliver, it won’t end well.
If you feel you have to inflate the details even just a little to get clients to sign on, then you need to work on improving your vacation rental product.
There is nothing wrong with “selling”. In fact I believe every vacation rental manager and owner needs to learn how to sell, just don’t inflate details.
In order to prevent these sorts of issues you’ll need to recognize there may be occasions when you won’t be able to meet someone’s expectations. That is just how it is!
You really can’t please everyone and you should avoid doing business with those people.
But who are those people you won’t please? How can you know?
No matter how great you are, there are some clients that will never be satisfied,.
You need to know how to spot these people who are not a good fit for your service upfront, so you don’t have an issue at the end.
I wrote about this in an article called “Ever Had A Guest You Wish You Never Booked.” You gotta check it out.
Dear Owners AND Managers,
You need to consider your travelers!
Have you ever gone to a movie that you thought was going to be a blockbuster because someone was raving about how awesome it was but it ended up being a dud?
That feeling of disappointment sucks, doesn’t it?
The reason it was a disappointment is because it didn’t meet your high expectations and, therefore, it left you feeling unfulfilled.
This feeling of being unfulfilled is the enemy of your vacation rental business.
The psychology of disappointment
Disappointment is a form of sadness. It forces you to admit that you did not get what you wished to have, you were wrong, it feels final, and makes people feel foolish.
It is actually easier for you to protest with anger than it is to deal with your sadness about the course of events that led to your disappointment.
This feeling of disappointment is a very strong emotion and remember that emotions make people react.
This is why people vent on social media outlets to let out their frustration and get back at the person who disappointed them with a bad review.
Have you ever had a client who was unreasonably disappointed?
How To Truly Satisfy Guests And Make Customers Happy
If you want truly satisfied customers, then you have to exceed expectations, not just meet them.
That sounds nice but how do you do that exactly?
Always under promise and over deliver!
One practice is to leave out some of the details and then point them out later, after the guest is in the property.
For example, you can send a follow-up email once the guests have arrived to tell them about something they didn’t know was included.
Then you can give a bonus gift or something extra for free. Maybe a gift basket or tickets to an attraction or event.
That’s how you can set your vacation rental business to exceed expectations and create glowing 5 star reviews.
Using these methods will help your travelers feel like they got more than what they paid for, not less than what they expected.
Now I go into movies with lowered expectations to prevent disappointment and I seem to have a better overall experience… but can you ask your guests to lower their expectations so you can exceed them?
LOL! Some of you probably said yes… the funny thing is, you wouldn’t be wrong.
You actually have to bring your client to the level of service you provide. So if their expectations are too high or unrealistic you need to set their expectations accordingly.
Give a full disclosure. If there is something less than flattering about your property or something people often complain about, you have to bring that up in the beginning, so it doesn’t bite you in the end.
If people know what they’re going to experience they can mentally prepare for it and they will not be surprised.
They will be much less likely to complain and write a bad review about your vacation rental because they knew about it and expected it. The problem is in the unmet expectations.
My last tip for you is to never leave anything for interpretation. Guests may assume something is provided, included or just different than what it is.
This will become your problem at some point when they realize it isn’t the way they thought it would be.
You have to be as clear as possible about what they will get.
Stay tuned for my next post… I’ll share with you something I created to make for happy guests and better experiences.
What do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with what was said?
Jay you’re right it is all about setting the right expectations. I wasn’t expecting to get a bill from my management company for $85 for changing a few light bulbs in the house. I was not expecting that. I should’ve known what that was going to cost before the billed me. It did upset me because I was shocked when I saw it. I wonder if anyone has had anything like that happen. Is it common?
Great post as always.
How about billing the owner when it is the renter that could not find a pitcher in the cupboard (that was there), or renter says they don’t have enough cookie baking sheets (there are enough to start a small bakery), so PM sends someone to buy cookie sheet, deliver it to the property and charge the owner – for something that is already available, with plenty of spares?
I would add we need to be careful with setting our expectations with our listing descriptions.
Owners use adjectives very loosely when describing their vacation rentals. They’ll use words like luxury when what their renting is not luxurious at all. Its an area I think creates problems with the expectations. Jay very solid post, thank you for taking the time to share.
I would also add…
When a problem occurs in our rental business with an employee, vendor, traveler or customer it will often come back to the expectations of what they thought would happen or receive and what actually happened.
When we understand this, it allows us to take on more accountability for our businesses and not just label people who complain as being a pain in the ass.
As the owners of our vacation rental business the responsibility of having happy guests rests on us and when it doesn’t happen, we’ve gotta take the blame for it because in most cases there is something we could’ve done to prevent that from happening like properly setting their expectations.
The big reason owners and PMs do not get along is because there is an inherent conflict of interest. Actually, many conflicts of interest.
1. Unless PM manages only one owner A’s properties and has only owner A as client, there PM can shift booking to owner B, C, D. etc. They don’t care as long as they get commission.
2. If PM lists the properties with OTAs, PM is more inclined to “play by OTA’s rules” than owner would. After all, neither PM nor OTA has any monetary investment in Owner’s property (skin in the game). Both PM and PM is making money selling use of someone else’s asset. But they do not share is expenses and liabilities.
3. PM vs renter vs Owner. Most PMs I know of would rather be kneecapped than charge damages cause by the renter to the renter. After all, they really don’t care if damage is done to Owner A’s property and owner A has to pay. They can keep the renter pleased in hopes that renter will rent Owner B’s property next time, and PM gets their commission.
4. PM would rent to anyone with a pulse and credit card in hand. Vetting is minimal and symbolic. As long as they get their commission, they care little if renter is under age, over occupancy limit, and holds a house party.
4. In my area PMs charge 40%. 40% of 60K a year is a LOT of money. For that, my expectations were that at least the property will be properly cleaned and I would not have to reclean it during my vacations (cleaning fee charged to renters – not part of 40% commission), that they at least report the breakage in timely manner and the repairs charged to me are not done by using duck tape (real case), and the stupid callouts like “renter cannot figure out how remote works” are not charged to me at a rate of $30/hr. After paying 24K a year for them basically to answer phones and schedule cleaning (check in and check out done electronically, so not like they are meeting and greeting renters), I kind of have an expectation that my property won’t be treated like a “rental car” – but it was.
Thank you for presenting your thoughts and experience as an owner. I would be interested to hear how a property manger would respond to these points. Very insightful, and some food for thought here. There does seem to be several areas that cause conflict in the relationship The property manager has to get the owners place booked and if they dont then the owner isnt happy and gets frustrated with the manger. So they use these sources to book the owner’s property (which is somewhat effective) but there are other issues just like the ones you mentioned. Seems like a catch22 for the manager? Or is it?
I think I can make a prediction how they will respond: “not all PMs are like that”; “we do XYZ to keep our owners happy”; “we do not charge for X or Y”. Regardless of the response, the inherent conflicts of interest will remain, just a better PM can make them less obvious to the owner. They cannot eliminate them. The only alternative for Owner to avoid this conflict of interest is to handle the marketing, screening and booking. And hire “all in one” caretaker/maintenance/cleaning who gets paid to clean and maintain given Owner’s property and not involved in marketing, renting out other Owners’ properties, or collecting the rents.
Hi Jay. Great post! To respond from a PM standpoint (we manage over a hundred properties in the mountains of NC): I would say that it sounds like BML has had some bad experiences. I think this lines up exactly with your article and that the expectation of BML did not match the PM’s ability or service level.
As a PM we take our portion of the rental income for the services we render, which includes marketing, screening, guest services, payment processing, accounting, guest satisfaction resolutions, damage protection (including ins claims and deposits), all aspects of housekeeping, all aspects of maintenance (including yard-work and inspections), after hours on-call services (including site-visits), etc. For a property owner who can do all of this themselves, they certainly don’t need our services. For an owner who does not want to do all of the work involved in running their (rental) business, we will happily provide our services for the fees discussed at signing the agreement.
I’ll respond to BML’s comments in order:
1. Our company runs both general advertisements (to come to our website and search for a rental) as well as individual property advertisements (i.e. FlipKey, Homeaway). If an inquiry comes in for a property on their specific channel, that property is always represented first. If the guest decides it doesn’t match their needs, then yes, we will offer other options (instead of sending them to a competitor). Additionally, we regularly run reports looking for under-performing properties which then get systematic reviews of rates, photographs, offerings, etc. When issues are detected at the home that are preventing it from renting more often, we reach out to the home owner to suggest improvements. I think BML misses the point that if property “A” in their analogy sits empty, both the PM and the owner lose money. Our goal is to keep every property as booked as possible, as that’s how we earn our income.
2. I feel this is misguided at best. I’m not sure what “playing by the OTA rules” is meant to imply. The statement that we’re “making money selling someone else’s assets” is false, as we are working very hard and expending our labor and marketing costs to bring renters to a property. In this instance, the owner doesn’t share the liability of payroll, workers comp, or business overhead costs that the PM has. It could be argued from the PM perspective that the owner sits back and collects a check while the PM does all of the work. In reality, we view our relationship as a partnership, and we require our owners to meet our standards. If not, we end our relationship with them. We either succeed together or we part ways. I will agree that the OTA has no skin here, though. Which is fine as they are just a listing site. I don’t expect Craigslist to have skin in the game when I sell my stereo through their service, either.
3. Another item that sounds like mismatched expectations from BML and their prior PM’s. Our company uses both damage insurance or damage deposits. Both pay out in case of damages. If any owner uses a PM who doesn’t collect some sort of deposit or insurance, then that’s on the property owner for failing to do due diligence when selecting a business partner. We regularly hold the guests accountable. However, we also have some owners who have unrealistic expectations… for example, a small stain in the basement entitles them to the entire home being re-carpeted. We seek fair resolutions to all parties.
4. Another misunderstanding. We screen as best as we are able to *legally.* We are under Fair Housing laws, and we will not risk our licenses or our business by screening to an owners’ whims. We’ve had owners ask us if we could keep “certain types” of people out of their homes. Sorry, we are proudly equal opportunity. However, we do screen against groups that want to host parties, and we’ve even purchased and installed noise-monitoring equipment at some of our homes that are prone to party-seekers. We’ve worked with major universities in the southeast to prevent fraternities from using our properties. We avoid parties and bad guests like the plague, because guess who has to clean the entire mess up (including collecting any excess damage fees)? We do. If a party does slip through, we evict them on the spot. These are very tough situations that we handle, because we are the PM and that’s our job.
4 (number two). To satisfy BML’s prediction: “Not all property management companies are the same.” Since this cites many very specific examples of their past experiences, it can’t be related to everyone. However, I will say that we do bill for trips to the home for repairs or guest assistance. We do our very best to handle it over the phone, and if the guest just doesn’t “get it” (even for a dimmer switch), we’ll come help them out. That’s the standard of customer service we promise our guests, and we make this very clear to new owners at on-boarding. I understand the feeling that the commission amount should cover those trips. I think there’s room for owners and PM’s to discuss this. If the commission amount is too low to cover site-visits, then perhaps it should be raised to a level that works for everyone. However, we also get calls from owners who want 10% commission rates, with no fees, and their property to be the first one we reserve in all cases. Naturally, that doesn’t work either. Again, this is where the point of matching expectations comes into play. There should be a conversation between the PM and the Owner to find a number that works for everyone.
To BML’s final point, I disagree that it is a conflict of interests as long as every party at the table has a clear understanding of the partnership and arrangement. Any home sitting empty is lost money for both the homeowner and the property manager, which is why the commission model is so prevalent. It requires performance for pay.
Now, a brief view into the life of a professional PM. Our owners run the gamut. Some are investors who purchase the unfurnished home and pay us to furnish and rent it, strictly for a positive ROI. They look at the business as a whole, and as long as it’s successful they’re happy. Any maintenance costs are rolled into the “cost of doing business” and at the end of the year high earnings (even after all of the deductions) is the only standard. Plus, they built equity in their home through the entire process. On the other end of the spectrum, we have property owners to whom their home is cherished, including every trinket and stitch inside the home. They inspect the home regularly and demand answers for anything that is not absolutely perfect. We have over 100 unique property owners, with over 100 unique personalities. We take it all in stride. We work very hard to make sure that every owner and every guest is happy with the arrangement, and in some cases, we can’t please everyone. We’ve found that certain property owners just aren’t happy with our arrangement, and we say goodbye and wish them well.
However, at the end of the day, it’s our job to balance everyone’s expectations with results. The guests expect a fully functioning home with all amenities promised and a hassle-free stay. The owner expects their home is being cared for, protected, and earning the highest income for the lowest cost possible. Our employees expect fair compensation for their work (we pay living wage), and a reasonable work-life balance.
If any of these expectations or results get out of skew, the process breaks down… And that’s not fun for anyone.
Just as I predicted. the long post can be summed up in “this owner had bad experiences”; “we are not like that”; “some owners are just too picky”. I won’t even go into Fair Housing Act – in no place I implied that I intended illegally discriminate, however, I did have experience when PM let in apparent spring breakers who 1) dragged 200lb log futon from loft upstairs to downstairs, deeply gouging the wood stair treads (Would you not agree that is way beyond a small stain in the basement??) 2) plastered tin foil (yes tin foil) all over the 2nd row of fixed skylight-type windows (cannot even reach them without the ladder; in fact, the shreds of tin foil were hanging from the windows for a month – apparently PM did not have anyone with ladder long enough to remove that for a month) ; 3) badly scratched the smooth glass stove cook top which PM’s “inspection” somehow did not notice – and then there was prolonged, shall we say, struggle, to get it replaced. Instead of calling professional appliance repair PM sent their handyman and repair looks like it was done by amateur.
This is just ONE example of one poorly screened stay that went awry. I have dozen at least , photo documented. And yes, I would not expect much for 10%. But paying 40% of 60K+ a year is a LOT of money and I expect better than that. And yes, I do believe PM do not have skin in the game. They do not pay mortgage, utilities, taxes. They run website and a few employees to answer calls. Oftentimes the cleaners and handymen are independent contractors, they are not necessarily on payroll with workers comp etc.
Yes they do charge renters damage insurance or renters damage deposit – but more often than not only AFTER we have noticed the damage and complained. if we are not there several months, the damage often went unreported and no one was charged unless it was something that it was impossible to ignore.
This is one of the larger PMs in the given market with over 200 properties. There are others (even bigger) that have WORSE reputation – with more properties -have been used by our friends and friends were totally disgusted. All trying to charge 35-40%.
Yes maybe there are great ones, I am yet to see any that was above “so so” or “ok” level, to be worth being paid 40% they need to be much more impressive.
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