VRS151 – The Case For Abandoning Vacation Rental Damage Deposits


This episode might trigger some argument and I think that’s a good thing. It’s a discussion that’s populated forums across the the VR world since the business really began and as we move into the mainstream of tourism accommodation we might need to revisit our practices.

Why do we insist on punishing 98% of our guests for what we anticipate the 2% might do.

On the one hand are owners who will argue their case for damage deposits thoroughly and will never back off on insisting they are covered for potential damage. Then there are those who trust in their guest’s honesty and transparency and have never taken a deposit.

I’m in the second camp.

Here’s some of our statistics.

Over 10 years of managing 6 of my own properties we charged one guest for a broken hot tub cover…and even that was because I got personally offended because the guest rubbed me up the wrong way. In retrospect I would probably have let that one go as well given the stress and anxiety it caused.

That is not to say it was the only issue we dealt with. There were broken beds; stains on mattresses and linens; broken knobs on appliances; cracked toilet seats; disappearing towels; tears in sheets

In an average year we’d be managing 180 rental periods. You can do the math here.

Similarly, in our rental management company we have minimal damage reports.

In an average summer we’ll check out 1500 families, and this year we dealt with a handful of significant damage issues.

As an agency we play a different role since we have two distinct groups of clients – our rental guests and owners.   A damage report from an owner triggers a robust investigation that involves examining photographic and video evidence, and then mediating between the two parties.

It’s a lengthy process and one we’d rather avoid, so we’ll often pay the owner the amount of damage claimed and save ourselves the considerable cost in time and stress involved in pursuing it.

This doesn’t mean we allow our guests to “get away with damaging property” as one owner put it. Rather, we err on the side of tolerance and understanding that the majority of our issues are purely accidental, and a result of guests being in unfamiliar surroundings.

In this episode I talk about the range of damage issues we’ve dealt with over the last 15 years; what owners can do to protect themselves and the insurance alternatives that are available.

I cover:

  • The pros and cons for collecting damage deposits
  • Whether having ‘skin in the game’ makes a guest more careful
  • Damage versus wear and tear, or when the leather finally splits
  • How to combat being offended by the actions of guests
  • Why we can’t blame a single guest for a broken bed
  • Cost benefits of self-insuring and other insurance options
  • 5 tips for reducing the risk of damage to your home

Rental Guardian

CSA Damage Protection

VRS150 – The Best of 150 Episodes of Vacation Rental Success


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In that time I’ve interviewed some of the most influential people in the vacation rental world. I learned about Airbnb in an early episode with host Glenn Cooley, and more recently interviewed superhost Evelyn Badia. Matt Landau of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog has joined me on a dozen or more sessions of the ‘Mash-up with Matt’, and I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with many successful owners to talk about what they do that makes their vacation rental properties so special.

I’ve reported from Home Away Summits, VRMA conferences and stays at vacation rental places around the world, and along the way, shared experiences from my own property management company, CottageLINK Rental Management. And in that time, recorded 149 episodes.

*** This one is Episode 150 ***

With so many to choose from, it was hard to pick out the ones to re-share as highlights of the past 3 and a half years of recordings. However I broke it out into a few themes and selected the most popular episodes as well as those that may be worth revisiting to listen again.


1. Every owner should stay at least once in someone else’s vacation home.

I’ve repeated this many times and still stand by the view that you cannot ever really know what it’s like for your guests unless you’ve been to an unfamiliar property, got your first impression, explored on arrival and slept in the beds. VRS003 was the first episode where I talked about learning from other owners.


2. Using reviews to grow your business

Reviews a reservoir of suggestions, recommendations and ideas that can provide you with so much information on what you could do to improve the experience for your guests. Episode 064 explored 6 ways to use your own and other owners reviews to make your vacation rental business even better.


3. Listing sites are not the enemy

To listen to many ‘experts’ and vacation rental pundits, you would think Home Away and Airbnb are the obnoxious enemy to avoid at all costs, when in fact they are essential to kick start an independent business. Yes, we would love our own websites to rank on Page one of Google and for them to be seen before the big sites are reached, but without the reach of a billion dollar company, that’s just not going to happen. We need to take a different view, and use these site as stepping stones to independence – use them to bring you guests because once you have them in your home you can show your uniqueness and make them ambassadors, as Martin Picard of Vreasy pointed out in Episode 149.


4. Spend time and invest in great photos and videos

It’s common sense that you should make the images on your listing and website a priority but amazing how many owners don’t do this. Too often we see poorly lit and staged photographs and grainy, shaky videos taken with handheld phones. Photo experts will agree that unless you are able to shoot photos in RAW format and adjust them in a photo editing suite, you should get professional images done for you. Tyann Marcink is a pro VR photographer and explains some of the techniques in Episode 013.

In Episode 059 I talked to videographer Lou Bortone about creating video to focus not only on our homes but also to create short pieces on topics that help your guests plan their vacation. He had worked with owner Evelyn Gallardo who owns beautiful properties in Costa Rica, to develop her Youtube channel. I interviewed Evelyn on Episode 007.


5. Find your niche and promote it

Over the course of 150 episodes I’ve talked to interview guests who have found a strong niche they can build a brand around. Australian Dianne Denton has done it for her pet friendly (notable horse-friendly) home on Diamond Beach (VRS134); Andy Renals has made accessibility his niche as he explains in VRS113, and Wendy Shand of Totstotravel.com (VRS005) and Nikki Woodson Blair (VRS105) shared their focus on family-friendly vacations.


6. You need your own website

If you are reading this or listening to this episode and haven’t got your own website, make it your goal. In talking to successful owners, their own sites are the foundation of their move away from dependence of listing sites, and without one, you will always be at the mercy of the listing sites.

Whether it’s Wix or WordPress (Alan Egan 066); One Rooftop or MyVR, or using the options provided by companies such as Rentivo or Booking Sync, just do it .


7. SEO is not dead

Google “Is SEO dead” and here’s what you get:
….plus the other 800K results.

My guest on VRS116, Conrad O’Connell doesn’t think so, and since my management company is working with him on our new website, we don’t either. It has just changed focus from the old idea of keyword stuffing, to a greater emphasis on quality content, which means once you have your wonderful new website, you need to keep it populated with outstanding information on the area in pages and blog posts.


8. You need to capture the imagination of your readers

Telling your story is so much more important than describing the dining table or how many small appliances you have in the kitchen. The story of what made you buy the place and why you love it so much is going to engage your site visitors so much more. Then, in your description you need to fire up their imagination and tell them why they need to book. Travel copywriters Erin Raub (VRS011) and Jessica Vozel (VRS095) explain how important this is and how you can do it well.


9. And when you’ve had enough and want to sell….

This will come to most of us one day. We want to move on and do something else or the economy is just right to capture the fruits of the investment. But selling a vacation rental isn’t easy since most residential realtors fail to understand the vacation rental market, and commercial agents are fixated on longer term tenancies and cap rates relating to those.

Rick Oster talks about the issues facing sellers in episode 074 and explains what you need to do to prepare for a private sale. Then if you are thinking of buying or selling a property management company, listen to Ben Edwards, the President of VRMA (VRS092). Finally, if you’ve not yet bought your first property, or want to expand your investment portfolio, listen to Erica Muller from The Flamingo Group (VRS012) as she lays out the steps for a successful purchase.


OK – so you have a lot of listening to do!


I want to take this moment to thank you for being with me along this journey and hope you’ll stick around for the next 150 episodes.

VRS149 – Turn Your Vacation Rental Guests Into Ambassadors with Martin Picard

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Today’s guest is a sailor, adventurer, ardent traveler, software developer and founder of Vreasy – the Guest Experience Authority ™ – Martin Picard.

I met Martin in Barcelona at the European VRMA conference and attended his presentation where he talked about the value of knowing your guests and creating a personalised experience for them. It was an eye-opener for me as a property manager and an owner, as he shared the ways we can create passionate advocates

His focus on uniqueness and branding is evident in the way he talks about our industry with more emphasis on vacation and less on rental. We had a fascinating discussion on how we, as property managers or independent owners can create such a special experience for our guests that they become our most ardent ambassadors.

Using examples from his own PM company and experience of renting his own properties, Martin leads us towards thinking more strategically about our businesses.

In the interview Martin talks about:

  • The vacation rental business in Spain & the tradition of second homes
  • Why we need to develop uniqueness to build a brand
  • The importance of the word ‘vacation’ in vacation rental
  • The value of ‘client discovery’ and how we can use the information to enhance the guest experience
  • What can change a guest into an ambassador for our properties
  • The three things property managers need to do to create a successful business

Links mentioned in this episode


VRS148 – The Ultimate Vacation Rental List of People and Companies to Follow Part 2


Following on from Episode 141 when I sat down with Matt Landau to compile our Ultimate List of People and Companies to Follow, we’ve added some more.

We wanted to include some of the great communities and resources available for owners and property managers, as well as some great people we love and trust. In this episode we continue the tag format and share our favourites. [Read more…]

VRS147 – From Vacation Rental Rookies to Seasoned Veterans


This year has seen an upsurge in new owners coming into the rental market – at least in my neck of the woods. Our rental agency has had the highest rate of new owner enquiries since the business started in 2004, and in talking to them the message we are receiving is loud and clear…

It doesn’t make economic sense to have a property sit empty, and renting out has become an integral part of a second-home investment strategy.

This was the case with both Gary Miller and Jan Kahlen, who we first met on Episode 137 as they were both preparing their newly acquired cottages for rental. Now, 10 weeks later, I catch up with them as they reflect back on a whirlwind season of full occupancy and discuss how the reality of back to back rentals matched their expectations.

Given the short time frame they had in getting their properties to market, Jan and Gary decided to use rental agencies, which proved to be a wise decision for both of them.

In the episode we discuss:

• Their overall impressions of the first season of rental

• Managing changeovers and maintaining standards

• How power outages and fallen trees brought home the need to prepare for emergencies

• The highlights and lowlights of a summer of rentals

• Hospitality and guest satisfaction

• The challenge of managing a hot tub

• Guest connections and porcupine invasions

• The value of attending the Vacation Rental Success Summit

Jan’s Cottage

Gary’s Cottage

Vacation Rental Success Summit

VRS146 – Three Weeks, Three Countries, Three Vacation Rentals

If ever there was legislation governing the operation of a vacation rental property I would want there to be a clause requiring owners to have stayed in a property other than their own on at least 3 separate occasions, with a group comprising the maximum number of occupants.


Because that’s the real way of understanding how your guests feel when they come to your place.

Because it’s the only way to appreciate the power of a first impression, and….

……owners need to fully experience the issues guests face in an unfamiliar environment in order to create the best one for their own guests.

In this episode Mike and I share our learning from the three homes we’ve stayed in the past couple of weeks, in England and Germany, and include a conversation with Andy & Niki Renals – the owners of our vacation home on the wonderful island of Cyprus.

As ever, we have a lot of takeaways from the trip and share the improvements we’ll be making when we get back home.

We talk about

  • the booking experience
  • what wowed us – the power of first impressions
  • the little things that make a difference
  • beds and bedding and the importance of a good night’s sleep
  • How to use guest feedback to implement changes
  • Hands-on owners vs property managers

Links mentioned in the episode:






Villa Carpe Diem

Ferienhaus Wieke via Booking.com

Ambermill Farm – via Home Away


VRS145 – How to Invest Wisely in Vacation Rental Property with Erica Muller


Buying a vacation home has become far less of an emotional journey for many new owners, and more of a carefully balanced investment. With the rise in popularity of vacation rentals, the plan to rent out a second home when it is not in family use has become part of the overall purchase strategy for investors.

There’s a lot to consider before taking the plunge into vacation rental investment though. Location, regulations, licensing implications, the ability to source property management, seasonal variations in demand and tourism demographics are just some of the factors that can impact a decision to buy.

And that is where the first choice becomes all-important – finding the right realtor. Get that part wrong and even the most savvy investor could find himself in a financially damaging situation.

Orlando vacation rental realty expert, Erica Muller, joins me to discuss the changes that have taken place in the real estate market in the two and a half years since she last joined me on the show.

Erica shares:

  • How custom developments are shaking up the VR market in Orlando
  • How to choose an effective realtor when buying or selling
  • Why some owners are finding it difficult to sell
  • The surprising inclusions needed to be competitive when selling a vacation home
  • What buyers need to look for in a vacation home
  • Why thorough research into niche markets can be a valuable time investment
  • The questions to ask a property management company
  • What you need to have in place even before you start looking
  • Some tips for independent owners going it alone in marketing and management

Erica is giving away two great downloads:

The Evaluation Spreadsheet – this allows you to select a property based on a variety of criteria and will help to find the best neighbourhood to get the highest ROI

10 Questions to Ask A Property Managerchoosing the right manager is key to rental success but there are a lot of pitfalls if the choice isn’t sound. Use these questions to aid the selection process.

Links to sites mentioned in this episode:

The Flamingo Group


Where you can find Erica:











VRS144 – What it really means to be an Airbnb host with Evelyn Badia

“Yes, I have dealt with missing guests, a broken door, two hurricanes and the never-ending laundry. I’ve been rewarded by getting to know the amazing people that have come to my home.  Yes, I still do all the cleaning!”

This is from Evelyn Badia’s About Me page on her website, and you may think it’s no different from many of us who manage our own vacation homes. There is a difference though.

Evelyn lives in the same house as her guests; shares the bathroom and kitchen with them; is there when they arrive at 2am after a long flight, and listens to them share their adventures after a long day in the city. She doesn’t make their breakfast, but may be in the kitchen while they are brewing up their coffee and eating their toast in the morning.

And yes, she has rules. As she explains in this episode, you have to set expectations and boundaries when hosting in this way. When guests are sharing your space there’s a lot to consider because they are there with their needs and wants and demands, which is a little different from getting a phone call to tell you the garbage truck didn’t pick up the recycling.

Evelyn has hosted 100’s of guests, many of whom are now repeats, but she says she you never forget the first. For her, it was a Professor named Ed.

After nearly an hour of talking with Evelyn I completely understood why her guests love her and her place. It was like finding a new best friend.

In this episode Evelyn shares:

  • The real differences between remote operations of a vacation rental and a traditional Airbnb host
  • What she loves about her guests, and a little of what she doesn’t
  • Why she likes hosting in this way
  • How important communication is before, during and after a guests’ stay
  • How she deals with difficult guests
  • Her pet peeve about home sharing
  • The basics of a comprehensive property manual
  • Her favourite organizational tools

Links mentioned in this episode:

Evelyn Badia.com

Airbnb Listing

The Hosting Journey (Facebook Group)


Where you can find Evelyn:













VRS143 – Getting Automated in Your Vacation Rental with Brad Huber

Technology has revolutionized the vacation rental business in ways you wouldn’t realize unless you have been involved in it for a couple of decades. From print catalogues, classified newspaper ads and road signs being the only way of communicating a listing, to mailing keys or hiding them under a flowerpot, the old ways of doing business have been mostly digitally replaced.

Nowadays we have a techno-solution to just about everything. We can automate our emails and newsletter output, connect with cleaners and property managers to monitor their progress, and take a booking within seconds of a guest finding your property.

The tech has moved onto complete home automation so that owners and property managers have control over access, heating, cooling and lighting, and a way to monitor for emergency situations such as flooding and freezing,

My guest in this episode is home automation expert Brad Huber, the CEO of Parakeet. We talk about the general adoption of technology throughout the vacation rental industry; the practical to bizarre applications of it, and how different systems can help owners and managers become more efficient as they create improved guest experiences.

Brad shares:

  • The three tops uses for home automation
  • How owners can benefit in a cost effective way from implementing these systems
  • Ways of retro-fitting, from self-installation to getting professional help
  • How we can detect a party-in-the-making (and don’t we all want to do that?!)
  • How you can stop worrying about your keys being copied
  • What you can do to get automated


Mentioned in this episode:


Technology for Airbnb Hosts

Where you can find Brad:











VRS142 – Building a Vacation Home on the Experience of 5 Years Vacation Rental Living with Lynne Martin


When I last interviewed Lynne Martin, she had just published her book, Home Sweet Anywhere, was excited about having an article featured in the Wall Street Journal, and had stayed in half a dozen vacation rental homes on their worldwide adventure.

Just over 2 years on, I wanted to catch up with Lynne and find out what’s been happening in the nomadic life she and her husband Tim have been leading.

And I found that not only has her best-selling book been published in 8 languages and now available on Audible, Lynne is now a bone fide journalist with a press pass, she is a regular contributor to Huffington Post and Travel Advisor to Travel Smith and will shortly be seen on a TV ad with a major brand.

And that’s not all. She and Tim have just welcomed their first guests to their custom built vacation home in California – a property created to their criteria, developed from five years of living in vacation rentals.

In this interview Lynne shares:

  • The most memorable experiences of a five year trek around the world
  • Why a simple couch made such an impact
  • The practical tips she is now applying to her own vacation rental
  • 10 simple learning points brought back from a sea of experiences
  • The benefits of using staging and photography professionals
  • How she plans to manage the property when they get back on their travels
  • What’s next on the Martins’ adventure list

Sites mentioned in this episode:

Home Free Adventures

Travel Smith

Home Sweet Anywhere

Alanna Schroeder – The Distinguished Guest

Tyann Marcink – Photography

Where you can find Lynne: