VRS156 – Vacation Rental Design Made Easy with Sarah Honaker

Design and décor is an overlooked topic in most vacation rental expert websites and podcasts, including this one! When I looked back over the last 150+ episodes, there’s only been one that really focuses on design and that was back in September 2014, with Mercedes Brennan.

With so much emphasis on staging and great photography to sell in an increasingly competitive marketplace, getting the furnishing and décor right from the start has become so important. With that in mind, I’ve talked to two design experts to find out what we need to do to attract first-time and repeat guests.

My guest in this episode is the founder of Design Made Easy, Sarah Honaker. I heard of DME a while ago and fully intended to visit the booth at VRMA in Chandler in October. Unfortunately (or fortunately for Sarah), the booth was busy each time I went past so I didn’t have a chance to meet her face-to-face. So, it was a pleasure to pin her down for an interview and discuss the issues facing owners who, like me, have less design flair than we would like.

I had a lot of questions to ask about the mistakes owners make when they purchase a property and start on this journey. After talking with Sarah I realised I’d done many of these, and in retrospect, when I look around my own vacation rental, I know it’s time for a refurb, and this time I will get some help!

This episode, and the following one with my guest Sally Lauren Nichols of SLN Stage and Design should give you enough tips and suggestions to get started on a DIY revamp, use online tools, or engage the right design professional to create a fabulous result.

In this interview Sarah tells us about:

  • Her own vacation rental in Water Color, Florida and how she created the successful design makeover
  • How she used her own app to refurbish and furnish the property
  • The mistakes new owners often make when they prepare a place for rental
  • Her design tips for color selection and furniture purchase
  • The solutions available for owners who don’t want to do this themselves
  • Why your local independent retailer could be your best friend
  • How to get trade discounts from Wayfair, Overstock and Amazon Prime
  • The DME app and how it works


Design Made Easy

Wayfair.com & Wayfair.ca for Canadians

Amazon Prime


Farrow and Ball (colors mentioned are Borrowed Light, Parma Grey, Light Blue, Dorset Cream, Pavilion Grey)

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

VRS132 – Vacation Rental Property Management with a Difference with Darik Eaton

I had the pleasure of co-presenting a workshop session at the Vacation Rental Success Summit with Darik Eaton of Seattle Oasis Vacation Rentals.

In my discussions with Darik beforehand we explored the differences between our two companies and they could not have been wider. In this episode he explains why his model works and how his clients benefit from the control he takes over their properties.

Our discussion covers how he started his company which now manages 40 properties in urban Seattle, and how he works with his wife – an interior designer and stager – to bring a consistently high standard of property to his guests.

We talk about his approach which is very different from most property management companies; the design options the company offers; what he outsources and what he keeps in-house, his choice of reservations systems, and why has always has a Plan B!

Darik shares:

  • The lawsuit that started it all
  • How the combination of his business acumen and his wife’s design and staging expertise helped them achieve 80% occupancy of their condo in the first year.
  • His varied business models and how they combine to create a successful whole
  • Why he wins owners and guests with a unique model
  • The design options his owners can choose
  • Why he has a list of 1500 items essential for vacation rental
  • Why IKEA is a four letter word
  • His arguments against paying for an owner’s poor choices
  • How and why 2 condos with the same floorplan consistently show a $3K – 5k difference in income when the only difference is design
  • His method of attracting investors
  • Why he has a high staff to owner ratio
  • The challenges of success and the battle between operations and marketing
  • How design pays for itself in terms of income as well in an increase in the value of the property
  • Why he doesn’t write his own blog posts
  • His reservation systems – and why he chose the one his competition wasn’t using
  • The #1 question to ask when looking for a new reservation system
  • Why having a Plan B is always worthwhile


Links mentioned in this episode:

Seattle Oasis Vacation Rentals

Vacation Rentology

Seattle Oasis on Youtube

Where you can find Darik:









VRS098 – Choosing the Right Vacation Rental Reservation System with Seb Grosjean

One of my favourite parts of interviewing vacation rental professionals is that they are from around the world. And today’s guest called in from Greece so that’s another country to add to my geographical portfolio!

Seb Grosjean could be called a hybrid developer because he’s a mix of software engineer, property manager and vacation rental user, and he explains how he’s used all that experience to create his property/reservation management software, Booking Sync.

Seb is also a presenter at the upcoming Vacation Rental World Summit where he is going to tell us about the pitfalls, myths, truths and solutions of VR management software.

In our discussion Seb revealed:

• Why not having a robust booking system is risky – even with only one property
• The importance of having your own website
• The key features of a good booking system
• How to choose between system options
• Why tracking customer history is so important
• How channel distribution can impact the time you spend on the customer experience
• That extensible software can give you just what you need and dispense with the rest

There is a free trial period on Booking Sync, and Seb has offered listeners a further 3 months subscription at 50% discount with this discount link.

Links from this episode:

Vacation Rental World Summit 2015

Where you can find Seb & Booking Sync:











VRS089 – Keeping on the Right Side of Your Vacation Rental Neighbours

In this episode Mike and I sit down and chat about two issues that affect every vacation rental owner – neighbour relations and general safety, and discuss the importance of emergency planning.

I brought up the topic of keeping on side with the neighbours because I’m personally affected by super-noisy rental guests next door this week. Fortunately it only happens once a year but it got me thinking how I would feel if our neighbours rented indiscriminately every week of the summer. Then on the other side of the picture, Mike talks about the difficulties he faced with his neighbours at Sea Breeze when he started renting it out and shares his master stoke of genius to get them on side. [Read more…]

VRS067 – Don’t Let The Bed Bugs Bite In Your Vacation Rental Property with Jeff White

For the first 12 or 13 years of my life, the last thing my mom said to me when I went to bed was:

“Goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite”

After that I went off to boarding school and the nighttime routine was different, but this little rhyme always stuck with me.

The full version is below and is believed to have been written at a time when the bed bug situation in the UK was pretty bad.

Good night, sleep tight,
Don’t let the bedbugs bite.
And if they do
Then take your shoe
And knock ‘em ‘til
They’re black and blue!

Old English Nursery Rhyme (~1860) – Author Unknown

With the introduction of the pesticide DDT in the 1940’s there was a marked drop in bed bug infestations but the past dozen years has seen a resurgence in most parts of the US and Canada.

It’s one of those things we don’t really want to talk about, but for vacation rental owners and agencies, the potential for ‘the call’ is always there and if you don’t have a procedure in place to manage it, you could find yourself in a tough situation. [Read more…]

VRS045 – Managing Multiple Vacation Rental Properties with Oregon Owner Debi Hertert

Debi’s story of buying, renovating and marketing four separate (and very different) vacation rental properties is motivating and inspiring.

From a career in patient care to a rewarding business in guest care, Debi has used all her skills of understanding the needs of people to create a welcoming environment and it shows in the consistent five star reviews she receives.

In this episode Debi tells us how she began her business in what she calls a haphazard way, marketing on every platform she could find, and how now she does this in a more structured way. For example, Airbnb is a strong market for some, but not all her properties and she explains why Airbnb works better for all but one of them.

Debi is a strong advocate of the Airbnb style of ‘owner centric’ operating and discusses the differences in approach between them and the traditional Home Away/Flipkey listing businesses.

We also explore the value of finding a good housekeeper/property manager and Debi shares a great tip with me that I will be using with my own property manager very soon.

The Oregon Coast is a beautiful part of the country, and Debi shares her knowledge of the area in a variety of ways including having a Vacation Insider Guide created, and exploring using Google Plus to maximize her opportunities to impact visitors. [Read more…]

Are Your Cleaning Staff in the Hospitality Business?

cleanerWho does the changeovers in your vacation rental property?  Do you use a property management company or a local independent cleaner?  Perhaps you do it yourself and are considering handing the task over to someone else.

Regardless of who is doing the job for you, are you confident they understand the nature of our business, who your clients are and the uniqueness of the relationship?  If not, it may be time to have the conversation. [Read more…]

You don’t have to be on-site to be a great host – It’s all a matter of management

vacation_rental_property_managementWhen you are a far-away owner, and by that I mean an airplane ride away – not a couple of hours by car – managing a property becomes a whole lot more of a challenge.  I spoke about this with Lisa Presley Sedore in episode 2 of the Vacation Rental Success Podcast (VRS002).  She ‘manages’ her villa in Orlando from Ontario, Canada and is as hands-on as she can possibly be from a distance. Owner of the Thevine House on Great Exuma in the Bahamas,  Montreal-based Nathalie Olivier takes an active approach to the care of her guests, and I should know since I’m her guest at the moment.  It’s a tough life, but vacationing in rental homes gives me a great opportunity to explore how owners can have an impact on the guest experience even when they are thousands of miles away. [Read more…]

15 Tips for Fall and Winter Tasks for Vacation Rental Properties

winter_checklistNow the busy season is over for most of us (winter hot spots just ramping up) take stock of the wear and tear of a long summer of rental and spend some time do all those things that tend to get set aside with the busy period of regular changeovers.  Here’s just a few tasks to freshen up the place and make it ready for the festive season.

  1. Update the welcome guide – replace any pages that have become dog-eared and worn.  Think about a winter project to make it a really comprehensive information pack, or create an online version to put on an iPad.
  2. Refresh tourist info – replace all the out of date summer literature and brochures with the new season’s material.
  3. Check smoke and carbon monoxide alarms – we usually change the batteries twice a year when the clocks change to and from daylight savings time.
  4. Tidy all board games – check for pieces, replenish  note pads and pencils, make sure all dice are in place, and replace any games that have seen better days.
  5. Check and change all pillows if required – using pillow protectors will give pillows a longer life but after a lot of use they will get flat and uncomfortable.  Replace before they begin to look as if they need replacing.
  6. Change out lighter summer bedding with cosier options – swap out light comforters with goose down duvets and new covers.
  7. Clear out the junk drawer – it’s amazing how much junk collects over a summer of rentals.
  8. Take rodent precautions – If the property is likely to be empty for any period of time, take steps to ensure that non-paying guests don’t take up residence.  Check out this Wiki How article for tips of keeping your home free from rodents.
  9. Rewash plates and glasses – when was the last time you checked the bottom plates in a pile in the cupboard.  Would you know if someone had put back a dirty plate?
  10. Replace worn table linens – Is it time to buy new napkins or place mats?  With Thanksgiving coming up, it’s a great time to ring the changes and redo the décor.
  11. Copy all testimonials from guest book – these can be used on your website and marketing literature.  Make sure you’ve acted on any suggestions your guests have made.
  12. Check and replace utensils where required – vacation rentals are often parodied for their rusty can openers and blunt knives; make sure yours doesn’t fall into that stereotype.
  13. Refresh complimentary food items – such as herbs and spices, coffee and tea.  These go stale over time so need to be regularly replaced.
  14. Replenish stocks of light bulbs, batteries and fuses –  these become depleted over a busy season of rental so make sure that guests haven’t put old/used items back in the place where they got the replacements.
  15. Check flashlight batteries – when was the last time you did that?

What else should we be doing at this time of year?  Is there something I’ve missed?  Please share the tasks you do that I haven’t included on this list – let’s add some more!