VRS051 – 12 Things That Shouldn’t be Seen in a Vacation Rental

It’s been a while since I had a rant so I guess the time is ripe to get back to basics and list out all those things that give vacation rentals a bad rap.

In my day job as the CEO of a Vacation Rental Management Agency I see a lot of properties. Owners send me photos of the place they want to list, and on occasions they don’t and it becomes a crapshoot. Then I might drive a couple of hours to visit a vacation home that has been described as “luxury”, “executive”, “high end” and just “special”, only to find a weary looking cabin crying out for a makeover and some TLC. The job of telling these owners their beloved cottage doesn’t cut it in the rental market isn’t easy, but it gets done.

I may then see it listed with another less demanding agency, or coming up on a listing site. So I know that some poor unsuspecting family will spend the first few days of their vacation cleaning windows and getting mouse poop out of the back of the food cabinets.

I get it. They love their home on the water; their paradise in the country; the place the family has been loving for years.

Sadly, they don’t get it!

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In the mist of emotion, tradition and the poor advice the friend next door gave them, they have fallen short in the knowledge department about what hospitality and value for money actually means.

I know that the majority of my good listeners and blog readers are shaking their heads in disbelief. You, my wonderful friends, know how to do this business so well you probably cannot imagine how someone could not care a jot about their ‘renters’ or ‘tenants’.

(By the way, in the world of sub-standard properties they are not called ‘guests’. )

But you know, if only one person reads this or listens to the podcast and makes a change because of it, I’ve done my job. The reputation of our industry grows a tiny bit better as another convert joins our ranks and understands their responsibility to the travelling public.

Rant over….sort of…

Here’s my 12 things I really hate to see when I’m viewing a home:

  1. Anything that would not be displayed in your own home. By this I mean the stuff that you just can’t bring yourself to throw out but don’t want to keep it. So, its final resting place becomes the vacation rental. I know this because I used to do it.
  2. Yard sale furniture, and pieces that someone else has decided to get rid of but can’t throw away. See #1
  3. Sticky notes and draconian must-do lists + notes that say “if its brown flush it down, if it’s yellow let it mellow” . I’m not joking. And in case you didn’t realize it, putting the words in a fancy little frame, or laminating them, doesn’t make them any more acceptable.
  4. Flat pillows, transparent bedding and sleeping bags/old throws. And…anything with stains, tears or made of flannelette. Did I mention sleeping bags?
  5. Mismatched and cracked dinnerware. no, it isn’t boho or trendy. It just looks tacky.
  6. My caretaker suggested Corelle – hear my take on it….
  7. An abundance of family photos – one or two is OK but your guests want to feel the space is theirs for the duration. Don’t have them feel they are intruding in your home.
  8. Personal Belongings – and on that topic….. do you really want your guests to know your underwear size?
  9. Non Stick Pans, blunt knives and rusty stuff – is it time to upgrade your kitchen stuff? (Don’t miss Mike’s excellent tip for making stainless steel pans sparkle again)
  10. Over-complicated small appliances and gadgets – all those as-seen-on-tv gadgets that don’t work anywhere near as well as they do in the demo….see #1 if you wouldn’t use them yourself because they are just too complicated….
  11. Overabundance of remote controls – fan, fireplace, heating system, tv, stereo, satellite system.
  12. Outdated tourist information. If anything still says 2013 or older it’s time to dump it, and refresh your brochures.

I did say 12 but there’s one more……

I never want to see any of these: dust bunnies, dog hair and mouse poop, so if there’s any chance of that, you may want to check under the beds, in all the drawers and cabinets, and give the place an extra vacuum.

That is definitely rant over….I’d love to hear your comments.

  • Great reminders as we prepare for our comprehensive, off-season inspections!

  • Heather, I just stayed in a beachside vacation rental with a big hefty nightly rate and when we opened the closets, guess what we saw? The owners clothes! Yes, they had made room for us, but…. we were very turned off. It’s Too Much Information, right? Thank you for your thoughtful, thorough podcast!

  • Years ago when we first came out to Ontario and booked a cabin (no photos, just a lavish description), the owner came to the door and he was still drunk from the night before. Therein lies a longer story, but when we finally got rid of him, we found all his stuff in the drawers and closets and even underwear under the bed. Gross.

  • How do you go about that Paula? Do you use a checklist?

  • I agree with you totaly. I do have to get rid of my fake plants.

  • Great point Jacqueline – I missed out the fake plants. I got rid of mine a few years ago, but see a lot of them in homes that I view. They are added to the list.

  • Julia

    Heather- I crack up when I read some of your comments! It’s great entertainment. This list of “don’t haves” IMO is more critical than the “must haves”! All in all the list reiterates the necessity for owners to embrace the VR as a business. Essentially owners are selling piece of real estate to each new traveler and converting them to guests. When I look through many of the listing sites I frequently am amazed and stunned by the appearance of properties. It’s those same owner’s who can’t understand whey their inquiries/bookings are down??? Just as professional photographs are a MUST- professional staging follows suit. Designing and staging a home is an ART – Thank you for always holding our feet to the fire and challenging us to do better 🙂
    Oh! one of my pet peeves is nicks and scuffs on trim- I have added a small touch up paint kit to the supply closet and the task has been added to the “changeover” checklist. The housekeeper would report anything she noticed- so I just asked would you mind taking care of it when you see it? Then it doesn’t get overlooked time and time again. Much more efficient!

  • Thanks Julia – I tend to get a bit carried away when I’m atop my soap box. It’s something I’m so passionate about and it blows me away at times that a few people just don’t see that what they do is not acceptable.

  • Liadan

    What’s wrong with non-stick pans?

  • I had non-stick in my vacation homes for years but found I went through a set each year as I would not keep them as soon as the Teflon began to show signs of scratching and damage. They just look ugly once that happens. You also have no control over the utensils your guests use on them. Once someone has beaten eggs with a fork or a metal whisk in a Teflon pan, there will be scratches. In addition, I have visited many vacation homes where the pans look old and in need of replacement and the owner tells me they were new 6 months ago. Since I changed to stainless steel, the pot cupboard just looks so much better and I am more comfortable that my guests have a healthier and more hygienic option.

    Other than that, I have no objection to them at all.

  • Patrice Wolf

    I have a converted miners shack that I rent out. Cute as a bug, but I did appreciate many of your suggestions. Once my housekeeper missed a pair of boxers under the claw foot tub. And this info made it onto Trip Advisor. So owners – make sure you do a walk thru prior to check-in.

  • THIS is a great list! One thing I noticed was a lot of VR Owners writing here use housekeepers. As I only have two ‘Cottages’, I do my own with a backup person when I have both checking out the same day and new Guests coming right in. This way, I know what should be there and what shouldn’t.
    As for furnishings, I could only afford used furniture except for the beds and night stands, I managed to find good wood furnniture, sanded them down and recoated them, then added the fresh flowers, and fruit to help stage my little’Cottages’, along with freshly painted walls, soft pillows for the couch and My sis-in-law, who’s very fussy and up on all the latest as she’s a realtor as well, came today for my new photoshoot, and couldn’t say enough nice things about what I had done on my limited budget! It takes a lot to get a compliment out of her, so I’m taking her remarks to heart.

  • Patrice – that sounds amazing. Where is it?

    We have a laminated checklist our housekeeper uses on changeover and this mentions checking under beds and in every drawer. It’s saved some embarrassing finds!

  • Used furniture is great when refurbished. It allows you to buy better pieces if you have the time and expertise to do the work. Yours sound wonderful. Where’s the link so we can see the pics?

  • Hi! Thank you for your kind words! This link is to my old virtual tour. the new one isn’t up yet unfortunately. I’ll post when it hits so you can see the difference 8 months makes! eracapetours.com/20seaviewave
    This is a single story duplex, which now has one bedroom in the left side, and two on the right side. The whole place is new up past the gutters. Literally.All that’s left of the old house is the foundation, the roof, the two diamond windows, two stoves, one refrigerator, two hot water heaters and two gas furnaces.I even replaced a few ceiling rafters, as they were slightly cracked.

  • Heather, what is the trick you mentioned about keeping stainless pans looking good? Something involving apple cider vinegar?

  • Mike says its better to use white vinegar – let it sit in the pan for 10 minutes then give it a scrub. It will take off the white spots and dullness. Use it on all stainless steel appliances too: http://frugalliving.about.com/od/cleaningtipsandrecipes/qt/Stainless_Steel.htm

  • sherry

    Thanks so much for mentioning about the excess number of remotes and the complicated electronics. Maybe now my husband will hear me lol!

  • That made me laugh Sherry – it is a continual bugbear for me as it seems everything comes with a remote control these days. Whatever happened to getting up off the couch?

  • Sharon

    Well said, Heather! My pet peeve is notes pasted everywhere. We rented a house on the beach in California, and the owner had notes in the garage, posted on the entry doors, on every light switch, every appliance, even in the shower! The “Welcome Book” had a note on the front cover that basically said “read this or you might not get your deposit back”.

    In my cottage lake property I have two notes. I do not have a phone in the cottage, so rely on guests to use their cell phone. I have one note titled “In Case of an Emergency”, and gives the full address of my property so if guests had to call 911 they can give the correct address. It also has my contact info, and the non- emergency number for local police, fire department. The other note is on the fridge- the WiFi password. All this info is in my “Welcome Book” as well.

    A good idea for those outfitting or updating a property is to choose items you can get replacements for; my dishes (Fiesta), silverware, glasses (wine glasses and tumblers made by Libby I order online), linens, even my outdoor lights (commercial brand Hi-Lite) are all still available. Buy two or three new placesettings or a set of 6 glasses, new washcloths and hand towels, instead of replacing all the dishes, all the glasses, all the towels. And it’ll all match and look nice.

  • JanStevensDesign

    Another trick for getting old greasy pots, pans, bbq grates to look like new…. I freshen up my pots and pans about once a year or as needed by putting them in a plastic bag, spraying them with Ammonia, tieing off the bag and placing the items outside for 24 hours (or until I am in the mood to finish). Once they have brewed in the fumes and I put them in the sink the baked on gunk just falls off. Very little scrubbing required….easy peasy and sparkly. Check out the 60 year old broiler pan below. Like New.

  • Hey Heather, it’s interesting that this list took me back 10 years as opposed to reminding me of places we’ve stayed recently. I just don’t see many of those things these days, so it just shows how standards have improved. There again we’re pros at weeding out the dross so I dare say some of this is still rife! The kitchen was always a lottery – my wife and I used to dread opening the pots and pans cupboard – ugh… makes me shudder! Great post, thanks for making me laugh 😉

  • Fab tip Jan! I remember using that method when I lived in military housing in the days when we were not able to get a cleaning service in, and had to clean the oven before we moved to the next base. The base store was always stocked well with ammonia. Watch for the fumes though and take the item out of the bag before bringing it indoors.

  • Instead of a note with Emergency numbers on, we use one of those acrylic brochure holders you can get in an office supplies store. I got this idea from a vacation rental we stayed in Maui a few years ago. We created a neat list of emergency #s, typed them up and put them in the holder and it’s by the phone. Very neat.

  • Andy – yes I think you are adept at weeding out the dross because it is certainly out there. In a week I can see three or four that don’t make the cut for one of these reasons

  • While we don’t have the stickie notes for lifehacking in our VR, we do have reminders to be mindful of water waste, given CA is in the midst of a serious drought. We also have a note by our very large TV asking our guests to be neighborly by closing the shades when viewing at night as the light reflects in our neighbor’s window.

  • LOVE that tip! We have well water and it’s so challenging to keep things spot free.

  • There are always times when a reminder is important and knowing the Welcome Book may not always be read, a note would be appropriate.

  • Paul Deuter

    Hi Heather,
    I think you misunderstood the note “If it is brown flush…”. This saying is common in California during drought years to save water. This advice is not meant to spare the owners cost but rather for each person to do their part to save a scarce resource. For visitors from non-drought prone regions, this advice might not be well known.

  • Staying in a vacation rental in Torino Italy as we speak, and I would also add to that amazing list bath towels larger than a hand towel, and a good coffee pot. If there are appliances that need instruction, i.e. Italian made washer/dryer, basic instructions should be included, as something like that isn’t intuitive to the international guest. Great list Heather!

  • Hi Paul..no misunderstanding here in ontario. All cottages have septic systems and they are fragile beasts. Many guests have never heard of a this, so a reminder about both water conservancy and septic management is common. My point was there are ways of doing this that don’t involve tacky rhymes.

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  • Alicia

    I think what I like best about your list is the reminder that nobody wants to spend their vacation sitting on your cast-off furniture from 1985. Gross. I mean, really. If you’re serious about creating a welcoming getaway for your guests, you have to let the sagging couch go!

  • Hi! sorry about the delay in answering. Here’s a link for you.
    midcaperentals.com The numbers for each ‘Cottage’ are: #333 for the on bedroom, and #334 for my two bedroom. Please understand these are VERY small places, each side is only 456 sq.ft., and some pics were difficult to get because of this, mainly the baths, and the one bedroom with the bunk beds. also, they were taken in late fall, early winter.

  • Eric Polcin

    Hi. I have been reading these comments and most make a lot of sense especially the ones about hand me down items, no one wants to sit on anything and feel a spring up there. Or dodge the lumps in a bed. New Furniture with slip covers protects your tenants from someone’s sun tan oil and whatever else. It keeps your assets looking fresh. You do however need to have a sign that says Human Waste Only on the Toilet. It is surprising how many woman flus their intimates without thinking of what there doing. On the kitchen side I feel that Fiesta is a little over the top for a cottage. How many people on this blog have a million dollar home that they call a cottage and rent out. Quite a few I suspect. While we all enjoy our little peace of paradise, lets not confuse a “Cottage Cottage” with Water Front Homes. I for one am not interested in the least in renting a Home on the water. I want a Cottage, Clean, Comfortable, Lots of trees, Wildlife coming out of the ying yang, a battery radio, battery light, and a barbecue in case the Hydro goes out. I have been without Power for a week due to storms not to long ago and while it was inconvenient to say the least, When in Rome due as the Romans Due. Get a bucket of water from the lake, some soap, porta potty and head for the woods. Good Luck cottagers, Eric’s World