How To Rent Vacation by Owner
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    Third Edition Finally Done!
    Oct, 22, 2013

    Super-excited! I just got a copy of the third edition of my book! When I hold the book in my hands, it’s still a bit surreal that I actually wrote it (yes even after many updates, printings and editions it’s still exciting). As I hold the book in my hands, it so much thicker and heavier than my first edition (almost twice as many pages).

    The book will not be available in stores for about a month but you can purchase them from my website now and they should be delivered to you no later than November 2nd. Oh and I’ll also autograph them for you too! Just be sure to add, “Please autograph this for (your name)” into the comments box during checkout.

    Happy Renting by Owner!

    Christine Karpinski

    Farewell to Homeaway!
    Oct 24, 2011
    Nearly seven years ago, when I met Brian Sharples and Carl Shepherd (co-founders of HomeAway), they were new to the vacation rental industry. They had a million questions and spent a huge amount of time learning about this space. I was happily working on my own, writing books and holding seminars when they offered me a job – which I declined.

    I was very concerned about the individual owners — I wanted to make sure that the owners were considered and protected as they grew the business. And I could see that this company was on its way to doing some incredible things. For these reasons, I joined the HomeAway team in 2005.

    During my tenure at HomeAway, there are many things that I am especially proud of. I created the Owner Community website, a resource center for vacation rental owners. I conducted countless seminars for vacation owners, a weekly podcast series, created over a thousand articles, and championed and executed HomeAway’s first-ever owners conference (HomeAway Summit). In November of 2010, under my direction a new community forum was built so that owners could finally communicate with each other online.

    I also worked behind the scenes as an internal consultant for products and services pertaining to vacation rental owners. Basically, my role was to make sure that the voice of vacation rental owners was heard internally (even when it wasn’t easy to hear). And I was an advisor to the executive team– who relied on my perspective for a myriad of key decisions that helped shape and influence what HomeAway has become today.

    When I joined HomeAway, it was a very small company—only a handful of employees. Today it’s a large corporation with over 900 employees. We have come full circle and it’s time for me to once again work on my own in order to develop concepts and ideas for the vacation rental industry which I am very excited about.

    It was a pleasure working with, for and on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of vacation rental owners over the years. I look forward to continuing our relationships as we work together to make the vacation rental industry better and bigger than it is today.

    All the best,
    Christine Karpinski
    Happy Renting BY OWNER!

    Part III of the Kitchen Remodel Saga
    Oct 10, 2011
    Hi everyone,

    Here’s the continuation of my kitchen remodel saga.

    My next step after choosing materials was to interview contractors who could actually do the work. I really wanted someone who had experience in installing Ikea cabinets and conventional cabinets.

    So just like anything else, finding a contractor in the area who is reliable is quite a challenge. This property is in Florida which is an advantage—the state has gone through many hurricanes and has had its share of fly-by-night contractors coming into the state and ripping off people, so thankfully, they were forced to enact some pretty stringent laws for working as a contractor in the state of Florida. But laws or no laws it still doesn’t mean they are the “best”. This search, as with any others started with other owners. I called a bunch of people I knew to see if they had or knew anyone that could do the job for me.

    I also talked to my HVAC guy and asked him if he had any recommendations. His response was, “don’t go with anyone who advertises in the yellow pages! There’s so much work from referrals available in this area that contractors don’t need to advertise. If they advertise then you should worry.” I thought that was interesting and pretty sound advice.

    I found and interviewed three different contractors. One showed up in a suit and tie with a clip board. I know you should not just a person by their appearance but…I expect a contractor to show up in jeans and a tee shirt (or polo shirt) and you know… have a little dirt under their nails. To me the suit and tie was just a bad sign! And it seems my instincts were correct. When I mentioned things I wanted done, his eyes met mine and I think I actually saw dollar signs in his pupils.

    The next person I interviewed was from a company. He was professional and knowledgeable and there were no glaring reasons to not hire him but there were also no glaring reasons to hire him.

    The third person I interviewed came in and I instantly felt like he was the right one for the job. He was professional and knowledgeable but also came in with suggestions and recommendations for me. You know just the stuff like “you shouldn’t do this because it will cost too much… doing this will not gain much… or did you consider this?” While I have ideas of what I think I want, what I am looking for in a contractor is someone who will offer suggestions and alternatives.

    So contractor # 3 is the guy I chose! That is until the last wrench got thrown into my plan. After I had chosen the cabinetry, and contactor, but before I had ordered anything, I got a phone call from a prospective guest. He wanted to book the months that I had “shut down” for construction. I quoted him the full rate (plus cleaning + pet fee) and he said, “I would like to go ahead and book it.” My response was, “Ummmm now? You don’t want to shop around?” He said, “Nope looked at a bunch and I like yours the best.” So I had to make a snap decision: turn down a great booking and go ahead with the renovations or table the renovations until next year and take the bird in the hand.” I took the booking. Now who was it that had dollar signs in their eyes? Yup it was me and I’m not ashamed to admit it!

    So the kitchen remodel saga is officially closed until next year.

    Happy Renting!
    Christine Karpinski

    Step II in the Kitchen Remodel
    Oct 3, 2011
    As I blogged about last time, I am in the very beginning stages of a kitchen remodel. The last couple of weeks have been spent seeking cabinets.

    Step one was to figure what kind of kitchen cabinets I would want to purchase and install. I found is the price and quality are all over the map—from the basic to the high-end designer. While I would never install Ikea cabinetry in my primary residence, I didn’t rule out Ikea completely. My husband and I went to Ikea and looked at their kitchen cabinets. I have to say I was quite impressed with the look and function of their stuff. They have a lot of different add-ons to explore. But looking more closely, their cabinets, while faced with real wood are mostly made up of MDF or particle board. Since this particular condo is located on the beach, I am not too sure how particle board would hold up to the moisture and humidity. But the one thing about Ikea that cannot be beat is their price. This project can be done on a real tight budget and it would look good and be very functional. But do I want to sacrifice quality for price? It is a rental after all. And lastly the cabinets come in flat boxes completely unassembled. Tack on the shipping costs and the extra labor to assemble and it might not be worth. I’m going to have to do some research on this one!

    Next we went to Home Depot and Lowes to check out their cabinetry options. We found they both have something in all price ranges and quality. Ikea beat out Home Depot and Lowes both in the “price” category by a long shot! If we decide to go with a lower quality cabinet, then we will for sure buy them at Ikea. If however we decide to go with an upgraded quality, Home Depot or Lowes would be in the running.

    While watching a show on HDTV there was mention of a cabinetry shop online. So I quickly went online and found them. The company is called CliqStudios.com. Their prices seem to be about half those of Home Depot and Lowes and the quality is similar to the middle to . I spoke with a design consultant over the phone and had them send a sample to me. The kicker is these cabinets are built in Minnesota and then shipped (shipping is free). Coordinating the delivery to fit the construction schedule could be a nightmare.

    Lots to of stuff to consider! Stay tuned next blog post will be about my interviews with contractors.
    Christine Karpinski
    www.howtorentbyowner.com

    My Big Fall Project–Kitchen and Bath Renovation in My Vacation Rental
    Sep 6, 2011
    I hope everyone had a wonderful (and booked) Labor Day weekend. Memorial Day and Labor Day signify the unofficial beginning and end of summer. I often wonder what other countries use to signify the beginning and end of their summer. How do they know when it’s okay to take out their white shoes and white slacks and when they have to put them away (does anyone besides my mother-in-law still follow this rule?) if they don’t have days that signify their start and end of summer?

    I am in the beginning stages of doing a total kitchen and bath renovation for one of my vacation rentals. The condo was built in the early 90’s and it still has the original kitchen and baths. There have been many people who have updated their kitchen (you know with new cabinets, new appliances, and granite counter tops). Even though my kitchen and bathrooms are still in good condition, they do look dated, especially compared to the ones that have already been updated. I figure if I want to remain competitive, I feel like I must do the renovations.

    I started my research by going through some of the listings in the complex and looking at photos of other people’s places that have already done renovations. When I found a kitchen I loved, I picked up the phone and called the owner (I didn’t know them). I asked them where they got theirs, how much it cost, who did the installation and how long it took (from the ordering of the materials and installation). The owners were gracious enough to share their experiences with me.

    Then there’s the can of worms that this opens. Can I really just do the kitchen and baths or will I have to end up replacing the flooring (because the old stuff looks dated)? Then how about the ceilings? It still has the popcorn ceilings and I’d love to get rid of that too. And while I’m at it, it would be nice to add crown moldings. Oh and window treatments, it’s about time that I should get new drapes made too. Oh….this is NOT good. You know how it goes, figure out a budget and then plan on doubling it.

    Since this property is booked particularly well, it’s going to be tricky to time the renovations properly. I want to be sure to optimize the time the property will be out of commission. The other tricky part is getting in there to measure everything so I can place the order (since it’s pretty well booked for the fall). I determined that November and December would be the optimal time for me to have the work done since historically these are my two slowest months and the rates are the lowest in those months (so if I do have to turn down a booking, I won’t be losing too much money. I’ll keep you updated on my progress here on this blog.

    Wishing everyone tons of bookings this fall!

    Christine Karpinski

    Dealing with the Aftermath of Hurricane Irene
    Aug 29, 2011
    Hi Everyone,

    Let me start by saying my heart goes out to everyone who has been in the path of Hurricane Irene. Irene has impacted many communities, especially in the Caribbean Islands and New England.

    Having been through hurricanes with my properties in the past, I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate this week’s blog post to some quick pointers for dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane:

    • First and foremost, safety should be your number one concern. Don’t put yourself or your renters into a situation that is not safe. Pay close attention to warnings and ordnances in your area.

    • If you haven’t already, call (or email) all guests who are scheduled to come in the next few weeks and give them a status update (even if you have no effect).

    • If you must cancel guests due to arrive, figure out your plan of action. If your home is uninhabitable (extreme damages, no public services such as power, phone, water, etc.), in my opinion, it is right to refund guests or allow them to re-book. While your rental contract might have a clause that says you do not refund due to hurricanes, it is my opinion that clause would only pertain to guests due to arrive (or already renting) while the hurricane is in process. I do not believe it would cover you for damages due to the hurricane after the storm. (Disclaimer: I’m not an attorney; you may want to consult with your attorney if you do not plan on refunding or re-booking guests due to arrive.)

    • Check your insurance policy to see if you have coverage for loss of rent due to damages. Many insurance policies for rental properties have loss of rent coverage.

    • Don’t be too reactionary. While your situation might look grim right now, you would be surprised how quickly clean-up and restoration of services (water, power, phone, etc.) can happen. Don’t hastily cancel guests scheduled to come 3 months from now.

    • Contact your insurance company. File a claim ASAP. You don’t have to wait for repair estimates, as soon as you know you have damage open a file.

    • When assessing damages, be sure to take photos and/or video of all damages prior to cleaning up or repairing. It will make your insurance claims much easier if you documented all damages.

    • Be compassionate to your service providers. While your housekeepers and maintenance staff might be your lifelines during normal circumstances, have patience with them now—their first priority will be themselves (remember this is only your second home; their primary residence may have also been impacted by the storm).

    • Keep detailed records of all cleaning and repair costs.

    Again, my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by the storm.

    Christine Karpinski

    As Dates Get Closer, Your Chances of Getting a Booking Decrease Significantly.
    Aug 15, 2011
    Hi Everyone,

    With the end of summer season right around the corner, now is the time of the year that I look my 2011 revenue to see how things compare to the goals I set.

    For most of my properties, I am on target to reach my goals (and happy to report, a couple properties are ahead of my goals.) But, there are a couple of properties that I had to “step it up” in order to keep myself on target. So what does “step it up” mean to me? Well that means that I have to be more diligent about calling and emailing renters as soon as they inquire (you know—the early bird gets the worm).

    Everyone hates last-minute openings and I am no exception. As the dates grow nearer, your chances of getting a booking decrease significantly. I still had some openings for the end of this month so I’d better get a move on it because once those dates have passed the opportunity is gone. To entice renters, I decided to run a special. For the last 2 weeks of August and first couple weeks of September, I ran “Rent 3 nights, get the 4th night ½ price” or “Rent 3 nights, get the 4th night free” (of course, Labor Day weekend is excluded).
    As soon as I ran that special, the bookings started to roll in which put me back on track to meet my goals for 2011. Sometimes it just takes a tweak her and a tweak there to get those bookings!

    I’m going to close today’s blogpost with a funny thing that happened to me this week.

    I was on the road and I received an inquiry from a prospective renter. In the comment’s field, they asked if there was free wifi in my cabin. I responded with my Blackberry, “Yes the cabin comes with free wifi”. The renter responded, “Thanks but already have one wife; I cannot handle two.”

    A bid confused by their response I scrolled down to the original conversation. Apparently the spell-checker on my Blackberry changed the word “wifi” to “wife”. So my response to them actually read, “Yes the cabin comes with free wife.”

    They ended up booking !

    Happy Renting by Owner!
    Christine Karpinski

    Flight Delayed = Cancelled Seminar
    Aug 1, 2011
    Hi Everyone!

    Hope you’re having a great summer rental season.

    Last week was another “first” for me. This time it was not with my vacation rentals but with my seminars.
    In 15 years of doing vacation rental seminar and traveling all over the US, Caribbean, and Europe—I have never had to cancel a seminar (well, I did have to cancel one when my appendix burst—but at least the people had a week’s notice). I’m often on very tight travel schedules but the travel gods have always been with me. That is, until last week… I had a seminar in Boston on Tuesday and then I was onto Dallas for another seminar the next day. I made it to Boston with no problems. We had a full house and it was a great group. Then the next day I went to the airport to head to Dallas. We boarded our flight on time but within a short time of being seated they de-planned us and told us we were being significantly delayed.

    The airport was mobbed and apparently there was bad weather all over the place that had grounded many planes (the weather in Boston was fine, but the receiving airports would not all us to take off). In the end, I never made it to Dallas. I’d like to express my apologies to all who were scheduled to attend that seminar. I’m sorry I missed it too.

    On the vacation rental front, fall bookings seem to be coming in at a steady pace. For a couple of my properties I am on the road to have the best rental year ever! Perhaps this is because I don’t work full time for HomeAway anymore (I am just consulting now), so I am home to answer the phone and emails quickly.

    Last week I got an inquiry from someone who wanted to rent one of my properties in the Gulf Coast for 3 months—January, February and March and they wanted a monthly rate for all 3 months. Even though I have these dates open, I turned them down. Why, you ask? Because I looked at my rental history and each year I have rented the entire month of March on a weekly basis. The four weeks in March alone can yield more than the monthly rate for 3 months. When booking vacation rentals, it is very important to know your past booking patterns otherwise you can make some big mistakes that end up costing big $$$ in the end. So while a booking may look promising, be sure to evaluate whether or not it would be worth it in the end.

    Happy Renting!

    Christine Karpinski

    Destin then and now…Post Oil Spill Report
    Jul 18, 2011
    Hi Everyone!

    I’m down in Destin for my “mid-summer’s dash in and refresh” time for my properties. This is the time of the year when I check up on housekeeping and maintenance issues, and I also restock my cleaning products, cleaning supplies, etc. In my cards this week I see some trips to the Wal-Mart (cleaning supplies), the furniture store (to replace a damaged chair), the linen store (to replace a comforter) and what trip would not be complete without a trip to my local Home Depot! And of course, I’ll sneak in a bit of beach time too.

    It’s so refreshing to see all the tourists back in Destin this year. It’s hard to believe that this same time last year Destin was a bit of a ghost town. The BP oil spill was a devastating disaster with no end in sight. How quickly we all forget. Let’s just say I am so happy that the worst of this is behind us. It seems that our loyal tourists are back this year.

    With the amount of tourists in town, I would venture to guess that most owners here are having a pretty good rental year. But I know, at what price? Though the tourists are back, it seems that the oil spill created or should I say has exacerbated a monster—bargain hunters!
    I did an inquiry analysis for my properties and from what I can tell; it’s getting harder and harder to get quality bookings. In the past it used to take me 6-10 inquiries to get one booking. This year for my Destin properties, it seems to have doubled, tripled and even quadrupled. The one common denominator is people are shopping around for bargains. Do you think if we all double our rates next year and then run specials, “50% off” the renters would go for it? Ha! Probably not; but it’s nice to dream about it.

    Christine Karpinski

    Congrats to HomeAway for a successful IPO !
    Jul 5, 2011
    Hi Everyone!

    Congrats to HomeAway for a successful IPO (Initial Public Offering) last week! As a former employee (one of the first employees), I was watching the IPO very closely. While you may not think the IPO has an impact on you if you didn’t purchase any shares, but as owners/advertisers on their sites, I beg to differ. When a company goes public, it garners a lot of national and international press, which in turn should help gain more exposure for the vacation rental industry. I think the IPO is great for everyone.

    Hope you had a great 4th of July weekend. I was on vacation last week staying in a property in the Finger Lakes in NY that I found on vacationrentals.com. It was a great property that was very well equipped. The weather was perfect for us, it was in the low 70’s all week. I thought it was funny that everyone kept apologizing for the cool temperatures but for us it welcomed reprieve from the Texas +100 degree heat.

    As for my rentals, bookings are doing very well this year. I had another first happen to me—my guests who were staying in one of my condos got robbed. What happened was they left the door unlocked and they were sitting on the balcony with the sliding door closed (a hurricane door). They had their wallets sitting on the nightstand in the bedroom which is just inside the front door. Apparently someone came in while they were on the balcony and stole the cash out of their wallets. The robber didn’t take anything else, no credit cards, not their Mac Book or iPads or iPods which were also sitting out in plain view. It sounds like it was a petty thief but nonetheless, I still took all the necessary steps that we would with any type of crime. I had the guests file a police report; we reported it to the on-site security and notified the HOA. And even though it was not a forced entry, I had a locksmith come over and re-key all the locks. I figure for $60 it’s worth the peace of mind for both the guests and me.

    Happy Renting by Owner,
    Christine Karpinski

    The Lazy Days of Summer are Here!
    Jun 20, 2011
    Happy Summer! Hopefully your vacation rental properties are fully booked for the summer. I know mine are! This is the time of the year when most of us can sit back and not have to answer emails or phone calls. Right! Who am I kidding? Though the vacation rental business used to be a “seasonal” business, it seems that now it’s becoming a year-round business. While this is great news for our business, it means more work (and more revenue).

    Last week I got a call from my guests who arrived at one of my properties. They arrived around 10 pm and called to say that the gas fireplace in the master bedroom was on and it was about 100 degrees in the bedroom. Couple that with outside temperature of around 105 degrees and the air conditioning could not cool properly. This fireplace has a regular wall switch that just turns it on. Apparently, the housekeeper must have switched it on by mistake and during the bright summer sunshine illuminates the room, it would make it nearly impossible to see the flames.

    I am supposed to have the fireplaces turned off between April and October (for precisely this reason!). It was my bad—I totally forgot to instruct my HVAC company when they came to do their regular spring maintenance. The next morning I had the HVAC company come over and check the AC to make sure it did not seize up AND turn off the pilot light.

    Another thing I did this past week was go through all of my insurance policies and make sure that they all had the proper information. This is a task that everyone should do each year upon renewal of policies. In reviewing my policies I found that many of them had the wrong information. Some of the things that were wrong were the number of bathrooms, number of HVAC units, carpeting listed instead of tile and/or wood flooring. When I asked my insurance broker why the information was wrong (I know they had the correct information at one time) their response was the companies sometime just revert to their default settings. God forbid anything catastrophic happened to my property, my policies would not have paid the proper costs because they would have had the wrong info. So the moral of this story is, go check your insurance policies. Go through them with a fine-tooth comb and make sure all of your information is correct!

    Have a great summer!

    Christine Karpinski

    Renting a Vacation Rental Close to Home
    Jun 8, 2011
    Hi Everyone,

    Hope your summer rentals are going well. Last weekend my son graduated from high school. We had twenty family members come into town to celebrate the major milestone in his life. Since we have a large home, we generally just have the family stay at our home but it was just not possible for us to house twenty extra people in our home.

    Being in the vacation rental industry, my first recommendation for accommodations for the family members was, of course, a vacation rental. Low and behold, there was a huge 10 acre ranch (vacation rental) right around the corner from our home that they were able to rent. I never even knew there was a vacation rental this close to our home. We’ve driven passed it a million times but never knew it was a VR. I’m happy to say no one had to stay in a hotel.

    Having the family stay in a vacation rental was really nice. It gave them (and us) the privacy of their own bedrooms and bathrooms and the extra living space that comes with a vacation home.

    So the next time you have family come into town, you might want to look for a vacation rental near your home. Here are some of the advantages from our experience.

    • I did break the rules and called the owner to see if it was okay to preview the home before booking it. She obliged. I was happy we looked because we found the house was closer than we thought and it was waaaaay nicer than it appeared on VRBO
    • As wonderful as it might be to have visitors from out of town, it’s also very nice to have them leave each night (and come back the next day)
    • It was nice to have the extra refrigerator space for drinks and such for our party
    • It was great to have the extra trash cans—I don’t know about your municipality but here in Austin, we only get one trash bin and they will not pick up anything extra that’s not in the bin
    • After everyone left, it was nice to just leave the sheets and towels in a heap and have the housekeeper take care of them. After guests leave my house, I usually spend a day washing all the extra bedding and towels!

    This worked out so wonderfully that we went rented a vacation rental for our niece’s graduation in upstate NY at the end of this month. We found a place a mile from their home. I’m sure they will appreciate us NOT staying in their home too!

    Happy Summer!
    Christine

    Yet another way to make my vacation rental business more successful!
    May 23, 2011
    Hi everyone!

    Okay so I might be late to this party but I have to share my newest discovery for making my vacation rental business easier.

    At home I have one of those one-price, bundled packages for my telephone, cable and internet. The telephone is what they refer to as “digital phone service”, also known as VOIP (voice over IP). I recently discovered my voice mail has the capability to send me (via email) a digital version of my voice mail messages. With my phone provider there was an extra charge of $2.95/month.

    When I travel, I generally have my phone forwarded to my cell phone so I don’t miss out on any bookings. When I am in-town but otherwise just out of the house (running errands, shopping, walking the dog, etc.), I don’t forward my phone calls. In the vacation rental business, timing is everything, especially with last-minute bookings. When someone is looking for a place to rent at the last-minutes, they don’t have the time to wait for you to call back. Generally speaking, if they don’t get you on the phone when they call you, they’ll just move onto the next owner. I can’t tell you how many times over the past 15 years working in the industry I have lost a booking just because I called the person back a few minutes too late.

    Now when someone calls my home phone and leaves a message, I get an email sent to me with an attachment I can open and listen to on my cell phone! To remain successful in the vacation rental industry, we all have to step up our games especially as it becomes more competitive and saturated with properties (I read somewhere, I don’t remember the source, that something like 100,000 new vacation rental properties are added to the internet each year).

    Call your telephone service provider and see if this service is available to you. If not, you may want to look into changing providers so you don’t miss out on any bookings!

    Have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend.

    Christine Karpinski

    Who needs The Ritz when you can have a vacation rental instead?
    May 9, 2011
    Hello everyone!

    Last week I was in Grand Cayman working for the Cayman Islands Tourism Association. So for this week’s blog post I figured I would give you insights from the “renter’s point of view”.

    The island is a beautiful place with some of the friendliest people around. I stayed at the Meridian on Seven Mile Beach, in a lovely beachfront condo with a large private beach. I had to laugh because the Ritz-Carlton was just a couple doors down. Their guests were lined up like sardines on the beach who needs the Ritz? Our beach was so much better—I love vacation rentals!

    I cannot take anything away from the beautiful beachfront location or the well-appointed condo but one of the amenities that I appreciated the most while there was the phone. I know it sounds silly but they had a Vonage phone which I could make calls to the US at no charge—so I was able to take bookings for my rentals free. If I had used my Verizon cell phone it would have been $2.00 per minute! While this is not necessarily an amenity that guests would look for in a rental, for a mere $25 per month, I think its worthy of having and advertising this extra touch for your guests, especially if your home is outside the US.

    I found all the written materials inside the home about “what to do” were mainly for things in the tourism district. While I love to see and do the things that all the tourists do, I also like to explore other parts. The most common question I like to ask is, “tell me the best places that the locals like to hang out”. Because I was there for a Tourism Association gig, I met owners and property managers from all parts of the island. One property manager was gracious enough to take a day and show me the other parts of the island—where I got to experience the deep history and culture of the island. I truly believe if I had not ventured out of the tourist district, I would have left with a different impression of the island. Thanks Bo Miller for showing me the other parts of your island!

    So if you are looking for a great place for your next vacation, I would highly recommend The Cayman Islands.

    Happy Renting,

    Christine

    The Evolutionary Process of Rental Agreements
    Apr 25, 2011
    Hi Everyone,

    I hope you are doing well.

    Just as I always have, every Sunday evening I sit down and work on my vacation rental business for a few hours. I generally update my vacation rental listings, send my housekeepers an updated cleaning schedule, input door codes into my Schlage link locks, charge credit cards, send updated invoices showing that I charged the guest’s card and send directions to my guests. And last Sunday was no different than a usual.

    Monday morning I received a reply email from an updated invoice from one of my guests. It said, “Christine, my credit card company called me on Sunday to verify the charges for the rental payment. I totally forgot about the rental payment and I did not recognize charge so I denied the charge. This morning, I checked my email and only now did I realize that the charge was for the rental. Can you please verify whether or not the charge went through?”

    Okay so this is a first! I have never had anyone deny the charges (on purpose or by mistake). So my first call was to my credit card merchant account company to see whether or not the charges did indeed go through. As of that moment, it had. But they told me if the card holder denied the charges, it would show up on my account as a charge back. My best bet would be to call the card holder and have them immediately call their bank and see if they can authorize the charges. If the renter is not able to get the denial reversed, it would show up on my merchant account as a chargeback, which would have fees associated with it and could affect my credit standing (and rates). Since all of this happened on a Sunday, there’s a good chance that it will indeed be able to be reversed with no problems. I contacted the renter immediately and had him call his bank. This time, everything worked out—disaster averted.

    But this got me thinking. I have had my personal credit card company call me to verify charges that I have made. It seems that the fraud departments are becoming overly cautious. If this happened once, it could certainly happen again.

    So, yet again my rental agreement enters its next evolutionary phase—I added another clause to my rental agreement stating if the renters deny the charges (even by mistake), then there will be a $50 fee added to their balance. I have also altered my “verbal spiel” when taking reservations. I am now telling my guests that there is a chance that their credit card company may call to verify the charges and if they do, be sure to approve the charges!

    After renting my homes for 15 years, even I still have to tweak my agreements on occasion.

    Happy Renting by Owner!

    Christine Karpinski

    Tax deductions and scheduling capital improvements
    Apr 11, 2011
    Hi everyone!

    If you are like most successful vacation rental owners, tax day means sending a check rather than receiving a refund, which also means that we’re the least likely to send our tax returns in January.

    Over the past few weeks, I have spent a considerable amount of time gathering information to send to my accountant so she can do my taxes. After several years of being a vacation rental owner, I pretty much have the process down to a science. But the only thing we have not figured out is how to do it quickly!

    After I am done sending all the spreadsheets to our accountant, I also take this opportunity to look at my bills and see if there are any places where I can cut some corners. And I also make it a point to set up schedules and budgets for maintenance and capital improvements for the current year.

    While looking at my bills for one of my properties, I noticed that my power bill increased significantly over the prior year. I also noticed I had three service calls for in 2010 for the air conditioner and one already in 2011. The HVAC system is over ten years old. I called my HVAC guy and talked to him about it. He said the unit could last another couple of months or even years but it was definitely nearing the end of its life. I decided to go ahead and replace the HVAC system now rather than chance it. This will accomplish three things: it should lower my power bill, since the new one is much more energy efficient, it takes care of necessary capital improvements for 2011 taxes and it is preventative maintenance.

    I also looked at my cable, internet and phone charges for some of my older properties. I tend to do my research when first setting up all the services, getting the best rates, but after everything is in place, I just pay the bills and never think about it again. Now days, many companies offer bundled services—one rate if you use the same company for everything. So I called the cable company and I ended up saving $80 per month with one of my properties and $60 per month for another property that’s a savings of nearly $1700 per year!

    One quick reminder for all the vacation rental owners who filed and received compensation for the BP and/or GCCF loss of income claims: You are required to claim any money you received from your claim. You should have gotten a 1099 for all payments but even if you didn’t, you still should claim that income.

    If you still have not filed your taxes, you have one week from today to do so—taxes must be post marked by April 18, 2011.

    Happy Renting!
    Christine Karpinski

    Fraud Alert! Credit Card Denied.
    Mar 28, 2011
    Hi Everyone!

    Hope you are doing well. So I have had a “first” happen to me recently so let me set the scene and explain what exactly happened.

    When I take bookings for my vacation rental properties, I firmly require money down upon booking in order to solidify the reservation. But after the down payment I am extremely flexible with my rental guests regarding the remaining balance as long as they are paid in full thirty days prior to their arrival date. So this means, my guests pay $200, $300, or $500 down (depending on the property) and then we schedule a payment plan for the balance (but we do pre-determine it and stick to it). For the subsequent payments, I automatically charge the guest’s credit card on the agreed upon date then immediately email them an updated invoice reflecting the payment. The process of emailing them is just as much for my records as it is for theirs. This way I have a clear “paper trail” if you will of all charges to their account. It might sound like a lot of work but the process works for me and my guests appreciate the flexibility with the payment plan.

    Anyhow, for one particular renter, he paid the down payment upon booking. For the remaining balance he wanted it broken up into two more payments. I charged the down payment and first payment according to the schedule with no problems. Yesterday I charged the final payment and per protocol, I sent him the updated invoice. This morning I got an email from the guest and he said that there was a problem. The fraud department of his credit card bank called him yesterday morning (shortly after I charged his payment) to verify the charges. It caught him off guard and he never put 2+2 together that the charge was for the rental. Only after he checked his email and saw the invoice did he realize that the charge was for the rental.

    So I contacted my merchant account provider and found out that if he does NOT call his bank and reverse the denial immediately then it will indeed get processed as a chargeback and I get charged a fee of $25. Furthermore, it can hurt my credit standing with my merchant account provider.

    So I guess I will need to add yet another thing to my rental agreements reminding the guests that their credit card company might call to verify the charges. If they mistakenly deny the charged they can get assessed a fee of $50.

    Happy Renting!

    Christine

    Disconnected, Literally
    Mar 11, 2011
    Hi Everyone,

    It’s been a little while since I have blogged. I have been on the road a lot in the past month doing seminars and I managed to squeeze in a little weekend getaway too!

    I had the pleasure of going on the Carter Center Winter Weekend trip. Aside from spending five days with President and Mrs. Carter, I learned a lot about the work that the Carter Center has been involved in. One talk that was of specific interest to me was with Dr. Jay Hakes, Director of Policy and Research for the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. He talked about the things that went wrong (from both BP’s perspective and the government response). He also talked about policies and procedures the government is putting in place to assure this type of disaster never happens again.

    So onto my rental life… It was a slower start to the booking year. It seems that the renters are booking closer and closer to their rental dates than ever before. But in the end my inquiries and bookings seem to be on par with last year. Keeping our fingers crossed that booking will continue to roll in.

    Living 1000 miles away from my closest vacation rental has never seemed to be too much of a problem except for one silly issue. The internet! All of my properties have wi-fi connection because quite frankly the renters demand it. A couple weeks ago I had a router go out in one of my properties. You would think this would be an easy problem to solve, but NO! The stores around didn’t have any routers so had to buy a one online and have it shipped. But once it arrived, my housekeeper figure out how to install it. And though I could walk her through which wire to hook up where, she needed to get onto a computer and set the passwords. In the end, I had to ask my renter to hook it up. Though not optimal, it worked.

    That brings me to another story. I had a really funny call with a renter the other day. Here’s how it went:

    Renter: “I cannot get connected to the internet.”

    Me: “Go to the start menu, press control panel, press network and internet…”

    Renter: “Wait, my mouse is not working”

    Me: “Are you at the desk in the bedroom?”

    Renter: “Yes”

    Me: “Okay, your mouse is not working because the desk is a glass top, the optical mouse has to have something underneath it.”

    Renter: “I’ll use the touchpad on my laptop”

    Me: “Okay, now type in the network password.”

    Renter: “ ugh, this touchpad is not good; I am having trouble typing because I keep hitting the touchpad. Let me put the phone on speaker so I can do this with two hands.”

    Renter: “Okay, it’s on speaker, can you hear me now?”

    Me: “It’s a little garbled but we can make due. Now type the password into the box.”

    Renter: “ geeze I cannot use this dog-gone touchpad.”

    Me: “ Sir, go get a piece of paper and put it under your mouse.”

    Renter: “Okay wait a minute.” Renter comes back and says, “Can you hear me better now?”

    Me: “Yes, I can hear you. Now type that password in.”

    Renter: “ I cannot work this touchpad!”

    Me: “Sir I said put the piece of paper under your mouse, not under your mouth!”

    Renter: “ Oh wow my mouse works now! Okay I just typed in the password and the internet works. Thanks!”

    Problem solved! The silly things vacation rental owners have to endure.

    I am still laughing about the conversation!

    Happy Renting!

    Christine

    Winter Cabin Fever Sets In
    Feb 9, 2011
    Hi everyone,

    Hope you are all going well. Last week Punxsutawney Phil predicted that spring will come early this year. Living in the South for the last 20 years of my life, I have never given much thought to any silly groundhog predictions however this year, more than ever, I really hope he’s right! I am so done with cold weather (yes even here in Texas).

    And my vacation rentals have suffered too! Last month I had to pretty much close down my cabins in Tennessee because the roads were not passable. Then bookings that I had pretty much closed ended up not booking because their kids will not have a Spring Break this year because they had too many snow days.

    The only positive about all this cold weather is I do believe cabin fever has set in throughout the country. People who have been cooped up in their homes under many inches if not many feet of snow are dreaming about their summer vacations. And that has translated into summer bookings for me!

    So let’s hope the snow stops and Spring comes early so we can all get our vacation homes booked!

    Happy Renting,

    Christine

    Down a Slippery Road
    Jan 19, 2011
    Hi everyone,

    The Gulf Coast Claims Facility came out with definitions for the final claims process for anyone affected by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (also known as the BP oil spill). While going through the various options for claims, I came to the conclusion that since I am a multiple property owner, it is probably best if I retain an attorney.

    As you can imagine, there are hundreds of attorneys who are litigating these cases. Thankfully I didn’t have to search too far for an attorney I trust; I went with Buzbee Law firm.

    With my other than Gulf Coast rentals, life has been nuts. The snow on the East Coast has made renting cabins in the Smokey Mountains all but impossible. I had a guest who waivered on whether or not to rent. I told her it’s highly unlikely that she will be able to get into our cabins (I basically refused to rent it).

    The night before the renter was scheduled to arrive she called me and said she was coming—go ahead and charge her credit card. I told her that housekeeper said the roads were only okay during the day; After dark everything turns to ice. So the deal was I would rent but only if she would arrive during the day. But if she arrived at night, all bets were off; I could not guarantee that she would be able to access my cabin.

    I got a call the next evening and guess what? They didn’t make it there during daylight. Sure enough, the roads were all icy. At that point, there was not much I could do. I told her I could help her find a hotel or if she was feeling adventurous, she could walk up the road to my cabin. She didn’t like either of those options. She said she would call me back. About an hour later I got a call from her saying she was in the cabin. I asked her if she walked and she said no, they went to the store and bought 20 bags of salt and salted the road! The salt on the road coupled with the extra weight of the unused bags in her car and she made it up the mountain.

    This is NOT how I like to run my vacation rental business! I should have stuck to my “no” but in the end the guests really enjoyed the cabin and their time there. I, of course, refunded her the money she spent on salt as well as some extra for her trouble.

    Christine

    The Long Road Home
    Jan 10, 2011
    Happy New Year! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday.

    My holidays were a bit crazy with all the snowfall throughout the country. I had some major issues with snow on the roads near my Smokey Mountain cabins. There was so much snow that my guests leaving couldn’t get down the mountain, my housekeepers couldn’t get up nor could my arriving guests. I had to order snow removal services and salt truck! My neighbor’s guests got impatient waiting for the plows to come and attempted to go down the mountain. Their car slid and thankfully a tree stopped their car from ending up in my cabin (see the photo). I had to help them find a tow truck because I didn’t want anyone checking into that cabin with a vehicle teetering over the top of the cabin. I was literally on the phone all day long but in the end, it all got worked out.

    So far 2011 has started off with a nice trajectory for inquiries and bookings. To me it seems like there are a fair amount of window shoppers out there but I am confident they will end up booking. I chuckle as I think back 10 years; if I hadn’t been well booked up by the second week of January, then I would have been really nervous. But things have changed significantly over the past 10 years. People are booking closer and closer to their vacation dates. I have confidence that the bookings will come.

    Wishing you many bookings in 2011!

    Christine

    The Perfect Christmas Gift
    Dec 13, 2010
    Hi Everyone,

    Do you have all of your Christmas shopping done? Tom Aiello, division vice president for Sears Holding Corp. said “(A National Retail Federation) survey indicated 70 (percent) to 80 percent of people still had not done the majority of their Christmas shopping by the last week.”

    As you’re reading this, you might be thinking, “Okay Christine, have you gone off your rocker? What can this possibly have to do with vacation rentals?” Stay with me here…

    Think about the most difficult person on your list. What you can you possibly buy the person who has everything? I’m sure there are millions of other people out there who are wondering, “What in the world can I get [fill in any name here] for Christmas?” Well, I have the perfect gift idea: MY vacation rental (or even yours!).

    This idea came to me this weekend when I got a call from a man who was perplexed about buying his wife the perfect gift for Christmas. He had an idea that he wanted to run by me. He and his wife have rented many vacation rentals through VRBO before so he was very familiar with vacation rentals and all the strict cancellation policies that come with them. He asked me if I was willing to take a booking that might possibly change. While his wife had returned some of his gifts he had purchased in the past, he was quite certain she’d love the gift. But his dilemma was he wasn’t too sure about the exact dates they would want, though he knew it would be sometime in March.

    While this is not my usual way of running business—to take a booking without exact dates, in this instance I was willing to make an exception. So here’s how we worked it all out.

    We worked out some prospective dates that he thought would work and I went ahead and blocked them off but here’s the major difference: I did not require him to pay penny upfront! That’s right. The agreement we made was he’d pay the deposit after he presented the gift. I sent him a rental agreement and if his wife doesn’t like my cabin, doesn’t want to go to the mountains or just plain hated the gift, we’d cancel the reservation. Period– no strings attached!

    The best part of this story: After I worked out this deal with this man, I took another call from another renter who was buying a gift as well. He didn’t ask me for any special provisions. He was willing to take a gamble and just buy a weekend at my cabin for a gift whatever my circumstances were. I offered him the same exact deal and he was elated.

    So if you want to capture some of those last-minute shoppers, go change your headline on your vacation rental advertisement to say something like: Gift Certificates Available!

    Christine

    Will I Eat Crow?
    Dec 7, 2010

    Hi everyone,

    Last week we sent out our newsletter and we highlighted an article about raising rates. Who would have known it was going to be such a controversial topic?!?

    We got a lot of responses both for and against raising rental rates next year. The pros felt that they could justify raising their rates especially since many stated they had not raised their rates in the past year or two. The cons were quite vocal stating the economy was the reason that they will not be raising their rates.

    Last year I had a healthy debate (you might call it an argument) with a good friend of mine who also owns where I do. She lowered her rates last year and I raised mine by 25%. She said I was crazy; I said she was crazy (two good friends and also very strong willed women.) Anyhow, last week we shared our year end results and yes, her lower rates did indeed yield her more nights booked than my higher rates. But…you knew there would be a but…Surprise, surprise, we both made the same amount of money!

    I told my friend I win because I worked smarter not harder–less coordination with guests, housekeepers, etc. and less wear and tear on my home. No eating crow for me!

    Whatever you decide to do, raise your rates, keep them the same or even lower them there is no absolute right or wrong answer. It’s your decision.

    Christine

    Making the Grade
    Nov 30, 2010
    Hi everyone,

    I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I had a lovely weekend spent with family and friends.

    Last week when my guests checked into one of my properties I called them to touch base and to see if everything was okay (I try to do this whenever I have time, which admittedly isn’t as often as I would like). I got the voicemail, so I left a message. The next day, the guest responded with a very kind email saying they were delighted with our place and went on to say that our place was “better” than any of the other places he stayed in the same complex (he’s a frequent and loyal guest of our complex, though it’s his first time staying with us).

    I really wondered what made him say that ours was better than the others. I often wonder what it is that makes people enjoy my homes over other homes. Is it the big things or the small touches? Is it the home itself or is it dealing with me? I decided to call him back to probe into it a bit further.

    Here’s a recap of the things he told me. While it’s a focus group of one (not really statistically significant) there are insights that can be taken from it.

    • He said this is definitely the nicest of all the other condos in the complex with exceptional furnishings and amazing appointments.

    • The bedrooms were much nicer than any of the other properties. He liked that they were actually decorated with artwork on the walls and pretty bedding. He especially loved the nice quality sheets.

    • He absolutely loved the big, thick towels in the bathrooms.

    • He said he liked how well the kitchen was equipped even down to plenty of kitchen towels.

    • He appreciated the cleanliness of the property, he went on to say it was the cleanest place he has rented (yea for my housekeeper!)

    • And lastly he said he really appreciated the ease and courtesy of making the reservation.

    So the bottom line that I took away was it is not one thing that makes or breaks us in this business. It’s more often the entire package that the guests appreciate—the home, the furnishings, the added touches, the décor and the professionalism.

    Christine

    Wishing You a Happy Thanksgiving
    Nov 22, 2010

    Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

    Beyond being thankful for the things in my personal life, there are many things in my vacation rental life that I am thankful for. In no particular order, I am thankful…

    To be privileged enough to own vacation rental homes. Let’s be real here… it is a privilege to own vacation rentals!

    To the vacation rental websites for connecting me with travelers seeking accommodations. I definitely take it for granted when I log into my email and find an inquiry.

    To each and every one of my guests who take care of my homes as if it were their own. Come on, this is everyone’s biggest worry when they start renting, but after four or five perfect guests, we all come to expect it. It’s really great that there are way more good people in the world than bad!

    For my housekeepers and maintenance staff. I feel like this one needs to be in all CAPS. I don’t take them for granted and really do realize what they do for my vacation rental business.

    For my credit card merchant account, which makes it quick and easy to process payments. It’s hard to remember back to the days when I couldn’t take a last-minute booking because there wasn’t enough time for the check to get to me.

    For my new remote locks, which makes it a breeze to allow my guests access to my homes. It’s the little things that make life easier. Gone are my worries about guests being able to get into my homes.

    To the many other vacation rental owners who I network with to collaboratively get things done. It’s nice to have others to lean on during times of need.

    That I am doing something I love! This is an awesome industry!

    Wishing you all a happy, healthy and delicious Thanksgiving!

    Christine

    Last-Minute Booking Scramble
    Nov 12, 2010
    Hi Everyone!

    This past week was a good week for inquiries and bookings for my cabins in the Smoky Mountains. I have been successful in filling a couple of gaps in my calendars with a few last-minute travelers.

    It’s kinda funny, the last-minute guests seem to be more appreciative than any ol’ guest who books a few months in advance. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it is because they have looked and looked and everything else was booked, but I like to believe they’re happy to find my diamond in the rough.

    This month is a big sales tax month for most vacation rental owners. For most of us who file quarterly, sales taxes for the summer months are due in October. Reminder, if you own along the Gulf Coast and received claims money from either BP or GCCF, you do not have to remit sales tax on the monies received from your claim (the state and counties will be filing their own claims). You only have to pay sales taxes on actual rentals.

    Christine

    Cleaned Out by Cleaning Fees
    Oct 18, 2010
    Hi everyone,

    This weekend the tables were turned for me again. Instead of receiving and responding to inquiries on my homes, I was sending some. Going to the other side always gives me a different perspective on things.

    We’re going with our son for his first official college visit in Daytona Beach. We’re only going to be there for two nights (yep, I know most people have 3 night minimums) but honestly I would much rather stay in a condo instead of one hotel room with the three of us.

    Owning beach properties myself, I know that November is likely dead for most people there. So I figured I’d give vacation rentals the old college try. I went to HomeAway.com and found that many 2 bedrooms, 2 bath properties were available for the same price or $25 dollars more than the Hilton or Marriott hotels nearby. I thought this was very reasonable. But then I looked at cleaning fees. Many properties were charging more for the cleaning fee than for the night’s rental rate! I totally understand because my cleaning fees for my beach properties are similar. But being on the other side of the coin now gave me a different perspective.

    This really made me think about my rentals during the fall and winter. Is it reasonable to expect renters to pay a cleaning fee equal (or close to equal) to one night’s rental rate? It seems a bit exorbitant (now). Would this be a barrier that might make a renter choose a hotel over a vacation rental? I bet it would!

    So, a cleaning fee of $150 during the summer on a week-long rental of $1500 might be reasonable. But that same $150 cleaning fee on a 3-night booking during the winter when your rates are $150/night might be a bit much. So what are we to do? You have to have the place cleaned right? You have a couple of options. You can ask your housekeeper to scale her rates according to the season or length of stay. Or you can split the cleaning fee with the guests to nab a booking during the otherwise slow (or completely dead) season. Me personally, I think I’d opt for the second choice. I’ll try it and see how it goes.

    Stay tuned for the results,

    Christine

    Last-Minute Booking Scramble

    Oct 12, 2010

    Hi Everyone!

    This past week was a good week for inquiries and bookings for my cabins in the Smoky Mountains. I have been successful in filling a couple of gaps in my calendars with a few last-minute travelers.

    It’s kinda funny, the last-minute guests seem to be more appreciative than any ol’ guest who books a few months in advance. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it is because they have looked and looked and everything else was booked, but I like to believe they’re happy to find my diamond in the rough.

    This month is a big sales tax month for most vacation rental owners. For most of us who file quarterly, sales taxes for the summer months are due in October. Reminder, if you own along the Gulf Coast and received claims money from either BP or GCCF, you do not have to remit sales tax on the monies received from your claim (the state and counties will be filing their own claims). You only have to pay sales taxes on actual rentals.

    Christine

    Under the Weather
    Oct 5, 2010

    Hi Everyone,

    It’s been a little while since I have written a blog post. I have been a bit under the weather and took some days off to recoup. Let me clarify: by days off I mean off from my day job at HomeAway. Unfortunately, vacation rental owners never get to take “sick days.”

    October is the busiest month for my cabins in the Great Smoky Mountains. I’m generally booked every single night of the month with 4-5 night back-to-back rentals. So all maintenance better be done before October hits because there is no down time whatsoever. Toward the end of September, I talk with my housekeeper and maintenance people, and we go through our checklist of things to be done before the October busy season.

    So let me set the scene. It’s October 1st, the first day of my busy month and I’m at home, in bed, with a terrible cold. My husband is on the sofa (also sick) and our son is upstairs in his room because, yep, you guessed it, he’s sick too. The phone rings. Everyone is feeling too icky to answer it. It goes to the answering machine and we hear, “This is your guest in your cabin, we’re having a problem, we’ll call you on your cell….click…”

    My cell phone rings. Surprise! It’s my guest who says, “None of the fireplaces are working. I have checked all three and none of them will work. Is there a special trick?”

    Ughhhh, no there is no special trick. It’s my bad. I forgot to have the maintenance guy come over and turn on the fireplaces (we turn them off for the summer). I call my maintenance guy to see if he can come over but he’s sick too (sounds just as bad, if not worse, than I do). I tell him not to worry; I can call my back-up maintenance man. I called him but his message says he’s on vacation (figures!). So I called my main maintenance man back to see if he has any friends I can call. He says he’ll check and then call me back. About an hour later I get a call from my maintenance man who said he just got dressed and went over to do it himself.

    I was so grateful. And if he felt as bad as we did, then he gets extra kudos for helping me out in this pinch. I have said it again and again. We could not run our vacation rental business without our good help. We have to make sure that we have committed, dependable and reliable staff.

    Guess who is going to get a little extra in his check this month?

    Happy October!
    Christine

    Break up Your Fall with Fall Break Bookings
    Aug 30, 2010
    Hello Vacation Rental Owners!

    It looks like it might be a strong fall season for me and many others! Last week was a very good week for inquiries and bookings for my properties in both Florida and Tennessee. After speaking with a number of renters, it seems like many of the schools in the southeast have fall breaks this year, which is awesome for the vacation rental industry. I spoke with one guest who lives in the Nashville, Tennessee area, and she said that her children have the first two weeks of October off for their fall break.

    To stay on the lookout, here are some of the fall breaks I know about from speaking with my various guests:

    • September 18-25
    • October 2-9
    • October 9-16
    So why do you care about those dates? Well, if your guests generally travel from the southeastern part of the U.S., then you could and should be able to get those weeks booked at your published fall rates. Don’t make the mistake of taking a 2-night booking too early and miss out on a full week.

    Happy Renting your fall break!

    Christine

    Home Sweet Home
    Aug 24, 2010

    Hi everyone,

    I’m back from my vacation. I stayed in a vacation rental property in Turks and Caicos and had a wonderfully relaxing vacation. Everything with my rentals was smooth sailing while I was totally unplugged from it all…therefore I don’t have anything to blog about !

    Happy Renting!

    Christine

    3, 2, 1… Vacation!
    Aug 9, 2010

    Hi Everyone,

    I’m officially ready for my vacation starting tomorrow. I cannot be more excited to have a week of R&R from both jobs—my work at HomeAway and my rental business. The vacation rental business can easily be a 24/7/365 job if you let it. But I insist on taking time off at least once a year. If I miss out on a booking, so be it, it’s worth my sanity.

    I’ll see you again in a couple of weeks when I’ll (hopefully) be relaxed and tan. Turks and Caicos here I come!

    Christine

    All Quiet on the Rental Front
    Aug 2, 2010

    Hi Everyone.

    My rental life has been pretty quiet. This is a welcomed change because the BP oil spill has been consuming my life lately.

    Next week I am going on vacation and NO, I’m not going to one of my vacation rentals. We’re going to Turks and Caicos. So this week I’ll be setting up all of my rental systems so I can have a relaxing vacation without worrying about my vacation rentals while I am away (read what I do before going on vacation The specified blog post was not found.).

    This Thursday, I’ll be speaking at Florida Tourist Development Tax Association. For all of you vacation rental owners in Florida, if you are not collecting and remitting sales tax, you now have a chance to come clean and potentially save thousands of dollars in fees and fines.
    Have a good week!

    Christine

    On The Road Again Again
    Jul 20, 2010

    Hi Everyone,

    I’ll be in Denver giving a seminar this evening.

    On Wednesday, I head back to Destin to gather more information about the oil spill. Stay tuned on that one…

    Saturday, I had the first snafu with my Schlage link lock. My guests called and said they could not get into the condo. Because this lock has the functionality for me to unlock the door online, I went to the dashboard and it said the door was already unlocked. I told the guests that it was registering as unlocked but they said the door still did not open.

    Perplexed, I pulled out the owner’s manual and walked them through the steps to unlock the door. Apparently I missed one step in my directions… do I hear the drumroll?… “turn the knob and open the door.” I will refrain from putting in print what I was really thinking, but I am quite certain you can fill in the blanks. The funnier part is I have also had this happen with my cabins, which have keyless locks. You would think I would learn to give explicit directions. Oy!

    Have a great week!

    Christine

    When Nature Calls
    Jul 7, 2010

    Hi Everyone,

    Hope you all had a nice Fourth of July weekend.

    So it was bound to happen; for the first time in 15 years of renting vacation homes, I got a phone call for a clogged toilet and I had to have a plumber come over and snake out the lines.

    It’s kind of funny because one of the most common questions (fears, really) I get from people who are thinking of renting out their vacation homes is, “What do you do if the renters call and the toilet is clogged?” To which I have always replied, “I have never gotten a call for a clogged toilet.” So how will I answer this question now?

    Happy Renting,

    Christine

    Are You Ready to Lock?
    Jul 2, 2010

    Hi Everyone,

    I have returned from my travels to the Gulf Coast and I am back to my normal routine of working and dealing with my rentals.

    After Owner’s Summit, the Schlage salesman insisted that I try the new Schlage LiNK lock on one of my rentals. As a rule, I am a bit resistant to change- and even more resistant to new technology- but since he gave me the lock and installation for free, I figured I had to give it a try.

    I’ve been using the new lock now for about a month and I am surprised to report that I absolutely love it. I can change the lock code from my computer or Blackberry. I can have unique codes for my guests, housekeepers and maintenance staff. And I also receive an e-mail notification each time anyone unlocks the door.

    So the Schlage LiNK salesman was a pretty smart guy, he piqued my interest by giving me one free lock and now I’m going to be buying them for all of my rentals.

    Wishing everyone a happy, safe and totally booked Fourth of July weekend.

    Christine

    Seafood Shortage Hits Home
    Jun 23, 2010

    As promised, I wanted to give you an update of my travels on the Gulf Coast.

    Yesterday I was supposed to go up in a small plane to get an aerial view of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. But on Tuesday afternoon, just as I was getting ready to go, some thunderstorms rolled in that canceled my flight.

    I took some time see more of the beaches Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning. I went over to Okaloosa Island and down to Panama City Beach, and I was very happy to see these beaches exactly as the others — no oil or tar balls that I could see.

    I had to cut my trip short and fly to Atlanta on Tuesday night for a Wednesday morning interview with Fox and Friends (to talk about the oil spill). My family lives in Atlanta so I thought it would be nice to pick up some fresh seafood so we could enjoy the fruits of the sea. I called my favorite fish market, Shrimpers, to place my order. Their answering machine picked up and said, “Sorry, we are closed due to the oil spill.”

    The closed fish market hit me like a load of bricks! I guess it was because everything else I “saw” was eerily exactly the same. The stores were buzzing with tourists, the boardwalk had people walking and running as usual, the restaurants were crowded, and yes, they even had seafood on the menus (I suppose shipped in from other parts of the world).

    Every beach vacation is virtually the same — enjoy the beach, play in the sand and water, get a sun tan, go to the fish market and cook up a freshly caught seafood feast. But not this time. As I sit here writing this blog post, I feel deeply saddened by this. I am wondering why the closure of the fish market had such a profound effect on me. I suppose it’s because no matter what I see or hear about the oil spill on TV, somehow that’s surreal, a bit more difficult to believe. Perhaps my brain can only believe what I see. The bottom line is whether I can see it or not, the oil is affecting my beaches.

    Christine

    Live from the Gulf Coast
    Jun 21, 2010

    Hi Everyone,
    I have been getting conflicting reports about the oil spill. The TV news makes it sound like the entire gulf coast is covered in oil. The county reports say there is no oil sheen but there are “tar balls” in some areas. So ultimately, I decided to take a trip down to Florida’s Gulf Coast so I could see for myself.

    I flew into the new Panama City Airport (ECP) Sunday evening. I was pretty happy to see our flight was fully booked. Knowing the majority of the tourists go to Destin and Panama City Beach from Saturday to Saturday, seeing a full flight on Sunday was promising.

    The new airport is really nice. I could smell the newness of the paint and the carpet as I walked onto the jet way. But I couldn’t help think it’s pretty sad that this is the first new international airport in the United States since Denver’s airport, and the grand opening never even made the news because it was foreshadowed by the oil spill.

    As I drove down Highway 98, the traffic started to thicken as I approached San Destin—a good sign that tourists are, indeed, in town. I arrived in Destin just as the sun was nearly setting, so I hurried out to the beach to see if there was oil. I’m not sure what exactly I expected to see but the beach looked the same as it always has. No oil or tar balls in sight. No machinery on the beaches, no workers in Hazmat suits or blue gloves. There were many families turning golden brown from a full day on the beach – and some even lobster red! This was quite a relief.

    I also learned that the Doobie Brothers will be playing a free Rock the Beach Concert on Sunday, June 27 at 5 pm to be held adjacent to the Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island. Be sure to promote this great activity to your guests!

    The photos you see here are photos I took myself. I’ll be sending them to my guests and telling them so far so good. Feel free to send your guests a link to this blog post too!

    I also had the opportunity to sit down with an adjuster this morning at one of the BP claims offices. Here are the questions I asked, along with the answers from the adjuster.

    Q: Can I file for projected losses in rental revenue, as well as actual losses for past dates that have gone without rentals?
    Yes, you can. BP views projected losses in the past. For example, if you had a week in June that was not rented but normally would have been rented prior to the oil spill, you can file a claim after that date has passed – in this case, at the end of June. This does not mean that you only have 30 days to file; the dates just have to have passed in order to be considered a projected loss. All claims are dealt with on a monthly basis.

    Q: So if I have an upcoming week that is still open, let’s say July 3 through 10, I can’t file until the end of July?
    That is correct. The date has to be in the past.

    Q: What do I need to provide in order to file a claim?
    Documentation of your unit name, address and any description, cancellation documentation (emails from renters, contact numbers to reach them), reservation deposits (refunded or kept, credit card statements), list of costs incurred from renters, and 2 years of tax returns. You must have your warranty deed, which may not be listed on the claims document or your claims adjuster may forget to tell you, but they cannot pay a claim without it.

    Q: For tax returns, do you need the full tax return?
    Yes, including the Schedule E. Not just the first page.

    Q: When it comes to costs…If my home goes un-rented for 3 weeks, I still need to have a housekeeper come in to clean. Can I file a claim for those costs?
    Yes, you can, if that is something you can prove that you need to do and have done in the past. Again, provide documentation.

    Q: I heard you wanted documentation from the county? Do you need proof that we paid sales tax?
    We need proof that you are the owner, so we require a copy of the warranty deed for each property.

    Q: How do I prove what rates I would have received for weeks that go unrented?
    Provide documentation of your published rental rate. We want to see a copy of your listings for at least the last 12 months. We want proof that your listing has been active for a full year.

    Q: How do you prove rate increases?
    Last year was a tough year economically so very few people raised their rates. But after a good rental year, they raised rates this year. It’s just more documentation to provide.

    Q: What about people low balling rates? Some owners might accept a deal instead of letting their home sit empty.
    You can file for the difference between your typical rental amount vs. the discounted rate you accepted.

    Q: For what dates do you need proof of ownership/proof or rental history?
    We need 2008 and 2009 tax returns and a Profit & Loss statement for 2010.

    Q: Most homeowners have filed their sales taxes for 2010, so would that be considered proof if you show that receipt?
    You can bring that in and include in your file. Anything you can bring to prove documentation of your loss will be to your benefit. There is never a situation where you have too much paperwork.

    Q: Do you need copies of inquiries, proving that I’ve tried to rent?
    No, we just need copies of your ad.

    Q: If I have an ad on multiple sites, do you want copies of all the advertising?
    Wouldn’t hurt.

    Q: Homeowners are trying to work a lot harder to get bookings. A lot of time, phone calls, administrative costs. Is there any compensation for my time or if I hire someone to assist?
    That’s a hard one to say for sure. Doesn’t hurt to try.

    Q: If I have a cancellation and I’ve processed the original rent through my merchant account or PayPal, and then I refund the money, I still get charged transaction fees. Can I file for these costs?
    Yes, provide copies and proof of transaction fees.

    Q: I have rental agreements with every renter that say ‘no cancellations, no refunds,’ etc. My renters sign and agree to it. They also have to decline travel insurance and agree to my cancellation policies. If I didn’t want to refund their money, do the travelers have the right to file a claim?
    Anyone can file a claim. There is no guarantee what will happen, but they can try.

    Q: Let’s say I have a rental from June 5-12, dates that have already passed. I didn’t refund their money. Can those travelers file a claim and get paid even though the beaches weren’t closed?
    We haven’t had that situation occur yet. If they chose to go somewhere else and you didn’t refund their money, I’m not sure if they would get paid from BP. There are other circumstances for cancellations. It depends on when they booked. They have a right to file, but I’m not sure if any renters have gotten paid.

    Q: Define oil coming to shore? Does that include tar balls?
    Yes, that includes tar balls. BP is keeping track of where the oil has hit. Tar balls have hit every beach.

    Q: How are most homeowners handling the cancellations?
    Most homeowners are refunding the money and filing the claims themselves. This upholds your relationship with the renter, and hopefully they’ll come back.

    Q: If a homeowner doesn’t refund, are you advising that they tell travelers to file a claim?
    No, that is their choice.

    Q: How do you calculate the projected losses? For example, normally I would book the last 2 weeks of May. This May, I wasn’t booked the last 2 weeks, but I was booked the first week. That was an anomaly. Does BP then think, well you got 2 out of the 4 weeks?
    BP will generally take an average on the month. It does not mean that the “bonus” booking you received will be null and void.

    Q: Are they also taking into account the rate increases? This year my rate was higher.
    Yes, as long as it is shown on the VRBO listing.

    Q: Let’s say I rent for $1500 and I charge a $200 pet fee. In the past, 90% of my guests have pets. Will the pet fee revenue be included in the claim?
    That’s part of your revenue; just prove you’ve done it in the past. Show how many people have had pets.

    Q: I have privacy policies with my guests. What about past guests? Do you have to have their email addresses?
    If it states the rental amount and pet fees on your contract, that should be sufficient.

    Q: What about people new to renting and don’t have 2 years of tax returns?
    The people who are new are going to have to get as much documentation they can get. Anything to show your expenses.

    Q: Would it also be advantageous to get in contact with other homeowners and get their rental histories, to prove rentability of that property?
    You don’t have to do that; we’re only going to go by your rental rates and what you had advertised. You have to have started renting prior to April 20.

    Q: What is the process for filing a claim? Do you personally have to go through BP or do you have the authority to make the decision here in this office?
    Up to $5000 is all that we pay out at a time in this office each month. Any larger claims in a given month have to be reviewed.

    Q: Is it better to come into the office to file a claim or mail it in?
    If you can come in, do it. May be quicker. And you can talk to someone face to face and get questions answered. Plus, you have reassurance that everything is received.

    Q: Let’s say I have a cancellation and I wasn’t able to re-rent. If I came down to file a claim, and I’m staying in my own place, does that still count as an unrentable week?
    Yes, still file a claim for those dates.

    Q: How many claims do I need to file?
    You file one claim per property. Once you start the filing, and you prove your past rental history, you just have to do a new file each month for lost revenue. As of right now there is no cap on the amount you can claim. However, claims over $20,000 go to large loss claim units.

    Q: How do property managers handle the claims?
    If your home is rented through a property manager, PMs can only file for their commission losses. Homeowners must file the rental income losses themselves.

    Q: What about loss of property value?
    Everyone is asking. At this point, they’re only paying immediate loss of income claims, no prospective business value/property value claims are being made.

    Q: How many claims offices are there, and how are the adjusters assigned?
    There are approximately 30 claims offices to date. The adjusters are doing their best to assign local adjusters to each claim. If you own in Walton County, but you call the national claim line, if you can’t come down, they’re trying to give you a Walton County adjuster, not someone in the Keys. Make sure to write down your adjuster’s name and contact info because they are going to be your lifeline.

    Q: If President Obama and the administration change the claims process, what will happen?
    We’re not sure.

    I’ll keep you posted as I travel up and down the Gulf Coast this week. I’m renting a small plane tomorrow to take some aerial shots – stay tuned for more photos!

    Christine

    Gulf Beaches are Open for Business
    Jun 14, 2010

    Hi Everyone,

    Last week I got a lot of calls from many concerned guests about the oil spill. My stance remains the same; the beaches are open so I am not honoring any cancellations (yet).

    I am so frustrated with the media! When they are doing their news broadcasts, they are making it sound as if every beach in Florida is laden with oil. So besides having to quell the fears of my booked guests, I also have to combat the misinformation given by the news media. The fact of the matter is many of the beaches are open.

    Last Friday I sat in on a conference call with the Beaches of South Walton County. Here’s a quick synopsis of the things discussed:

    • Currently there are lobbyists going to DC to lobby for a Deepwater Horizon relief package for local business owners. I don’t have the specifics of the package but they are discussing tax relief and economic assistance. Decisions should be made before the end of the session, which is at the end of June.
    • A Gulf Recovery Task Force has been formed. This is a coalition of tourist development councils as well as elected officials to work together to assist and protect the Gulf Coast economy. The press release states, “The immediate mission of the task force is to protect the economic security of the businesses and families in the coastal counties impacted by this unfortunate incident. They are our highest priority,” said Governor Crist. “Task force members bring together the experience and expertise that will help us put in place measures that are essential to the economic recovery of the Sunshine State.”
    • The task force is also working with BP to simplify the claims process to make it easier. You must call 800-440-0858. On the conference call, vacation rental owners were called out as “a specific group” which should be protected. They reminded us to keep documentation of any and all canceled rental agreements as well as discounts given to encourage renters (if a guest cancels a rental contract, make sure to get it in writing.) They said that losses and potential losses are legitimate reasons for a claim.
    • They also announced a new Fishing & Seafood hotline (1-800-357-4273) which you can give to your guests who are concerned about eating the seafood or fishing in the Gulf.
    • They ended the conference call with a reminder to all vacation rental owners: “There is so much misinformation out in the marketplace. The core message we should all be delivering to guests and potential guests is the beaches are open for enjoyment.”
    Christine

    The information in the articles, blogs or other posts by Christine Karpinski are provided to assist vacation property owners or managers generally and are based on Ms. Karpinski’s personal experiences or the information she has been able to gather. This information is meant to help; however, please note that any particular situation of any owner or manager may differ and all owners and managers are encouraged to seek professional advice to determine what course(s) of action will be most beneficial for them. Christine Karpinski cannot provide any guarantee or warrantee that this information is complete or accurate at any point in time or that any particular outcome will result if action is taken in response to this information.

    In Loving Memory of Andrew Harris
    Jun 8, 2010

    Hi Everyone,

    Last week HomeAway lost someone very near and dear to us, our Chief Operating Officer Andrew Harris.

    Andrew was a vacation rental owner himself and my boss for many years. He was always one of the biggest supporters and advocates of the Owner Community. He was a valuable part of our company and also a very close friend. As a tribute to him, I am posting a link to his charity of choice should anyone wish to make a donation.

    http://www.ourglimmerofhope.org/AndrewHarris

    Andrew’s dedication to HomeAway and the industry will surely leave a lasting legacy. He will be missed dearly by his family, friends and colleagues.

    Christine

    Ready or Not, Here Comes Summer
    May 25, 2010
    Hi Everyone!

    A lot has happened since I last posted a blog. The volcano erupted in Iceland again and the oil spill is an ongoing problem for myself and other owners who own properties in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Oil in the Gulf

    From the personal side, I’m just sick about it. While there has not been any sign of oil on the beaches where I own properties (Destin and Panama City Beach), I have been fielding many questions from rightfully concerned travelers. It’s very frustrating to deal with the unknown. I pitifully read emails from travelers who booked many months ago who ask, “What is the cancellation policy if there is oil on the beach? Is the rent refundable under the circumstances?” Though I don’t tell them this directly, the real answer is, I don’t know. There’s not one good or fair answer for every situation. We’ll have to deal with this on a case by case basis.

    From the professional side, as Director of Owner Community, I have attended meetings, conference calls, and read just about everything out there on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Let’s just say I know more about oil and ways to clean it than I ever cared to know.

    So next weekend is Memorial Day weekend, the official start of the summer tourism season. If you are still not booked, then be sure to update your calendar and change your headline to say something like “Memorial Day Open!”

    Let’s hope that everyone has a great summer rental season!

    Christine

    Gulf Coast Oil Spill Update
    May 7, 2010
    Hi everyone,

    I just got back from meetings in Destin, Florida regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. HomeAway CEO, Brian Sharples, really wanted me to attend these meetings so I could be educated about the situation and bring first-hand information back to all of our concerned homeowners and travelers. And of course, I also have a vested interest in this topic because I personally own vacation rental homes along the Gulf Coast.

    As promised, here are my meeting notes:

    An estimated 500 people congregated on Tuesday, May 4th, at 1pm. In attendance were concerned citizens who had all sorts of interests in the area. Everyone including elected officials, vacation rental owners, property managers, HOA managers, business owners, waiters, real estate agents, attorneys, doctors, and many more. Basically the community came together as they were all hungry for information on the oil spill.

    Here are some of the unknowns:

    No one can really confirm how much oil is being spilled out each day. There have been reports all over the place from 5,000 barrels to a million gallons per day.

    No one knows when the well will be completely stopped (though preliminary reports as of Friday morning May 7, 2010, suggest that the cofferdam [containment dome] is currently in the water).

    Once the leaking is stopped, no one knows how long this will take to completely clean up completely.

    We aren’t sure if even all the beaches will be affected.

    Here are some general facts about the oil spill that I learned.

    As the oil leaks out, it comes in a plume and travels with the ocean currents before it surfaces. Because of this, all of the oil may not be visible from the surface immediately.

    Many of the preceding oil spills the general public hears about have happened in cold climates (Alaska, Iceland, etc.) The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is in a significantly warmer climate which will change the effects and will be significantly different. Basically the warm air and warm water assist in evaporation of the benzene and other toxic components of the oil, which I understand to mean that it will break down faster.

    What is being done right now.

    There are various steps being taken right now on multiple levels to minimize risks.

    BP is attempting to control the situation by capping and containing the oil.

    The EPA is training many groups of people to be certified in safe oil clean-up. Everyone from volunteers, beach attendants, general contractors, to heavy machinery operators are lining up to be trained.

    The local, state and federal governments are all working together.

    There are various methods of clean up being employed. As you likely have seen and heard on the news, here are some of the measures being taken.

    Booms placed in the water to keep the oil from drifting into shore;

    Controlled burns;

    Chemicals sprayed on the surface to absorb the oil;

    Human and Pet Hair Booms

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126536482

    Hay sprayed in the water

    http://www.waltonso.org/

    What should I tell my travelers who want to cancel?

    Keep yourself informed and deal with questions on a case-by-case basis, but here’s how I’ve been handling these questions from my renters:

    “There’s no telling at this early date what will happen and whether our beaches will be affected. The tourism counsel in the area recommended that we take it day-by-day. The bulk of the tourism season doesn’t start for 4+ weeks, which is a long way away for clean-up efforts. If you don’t mind, let’s just wait and see what happens and then discuss our options.”

    You can also direct them to news articles such as this one: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/04/us/04enviro.html?emc=eta1

    Will my homeowners insurance or traveler’s insurance cover loss of rent?

    I have heard from many owners who said they have called their insurance companies. From what I am told, they will not pay on the basis that this is not considered a “natural disaster” or “act of God”. However, the best practice is to contact your own insurance carrier to learn what your options are.

    Word on the street is that BP put a reserved amount of money into a trust fund for certain losses. Here’s a link where you can find the phone number to file a claim. http://www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=9033574&contentId=7061709

    This information is taken verbatim from Bay County Florida’s website: Businesses should keep detailed records of any business losses resulting from the oil spill. Businesses, including hoteliers, sport fishing charters, watersports rental companies, etc., that may be negatively impacted are asked to keep detailed profit and loss records and track any cancellations, should a claim need to be presented. BP has established a claim system and toll free number: 800-440-0858. This system will allow people to be entered into a process to recover lost income or recoup damage-related expenses.

    Where can you go for more information?

    Obama Encourages Vacationing at Gulf Beaches This Summer

    Maps of the affected areas:

    http://edition.cnn.com/2010/US/04/29/interactive.spill.tracker/index.html

    http://www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=9033575&contentId=7061771

    http://www.deepwaterhorizon.noaa.gov/#downloads

    http://www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=9033573&contentId=7061702

    Updates on beach closures:

    Mississippi

    Harrison County: http://www.usm.edu/gcrl/msbeach/harbmon.cgi

    Hancock County: http://www.usm.edu/gcrl/msbeach/hanbmon.cgi

    Jackson County: http://www.usm.edu/gcrl/msbeach/jacbmon.cgi

    Alabama

    http://gulfshores.com/issues/

    Florida

    Destin: http://www.destin-fwb.com/

    Beaches of South Walton: http://bswupdate.com/

    Bay County: http://www.co.bay.fl.us/

    Local Chambers of Commerce

    MS – Ocean Springs – www.oceanspringschamber.com

    MS – Hancock County Bay St. Louis – http://www.mswestcoast.org/

    MS – Jackson County – http://www.jcchamber.com/visiting.asp

    MS – Harrison County – http://mscoastchamber.com/

    MS – Biloxi – http://www.biloxi.org/

    MS – Longbeach City Page – http://www.cityoflongbeachms.com/

    MS – Harrison County (Biloxi, Gulfport, Long Beach, Pass Christian) Tourism Commission http://www.gulfcoast.org/

    MS – Pass Christian – http://www.passchamber.com/

    MS – D’Iberville St. Martin – http://www.dsmchamber.com/

    AL – Dauphin Island – http://dauphinislandcoc.com/

    AL – Gulf Coast – www.alagulfcoastchamber.com

    AL – Gulf Shores – http://www.gulfshores.com/

    FL – Sarasota – sarasotachamber.com

    FL – Treasure Island – http://www.treasureislandchamber.org/

    FL – Clearwater – http://www.clearwaterflorida.org/visitor/

    FL – Pinnellas Park – http://www.pinellasparkchamber.com/

    FL – Tampa – www.tampabaybeaches.com

    FL – Pensacola – http://www.visitpensacola.com

    FL – Pensacola Bay – http://www.pensacolachamber.com/

    FL – Santa Rosa County – http://www.srcchamber.com/

    FL – Avalon Beach – http://www.avalonbeach.com/

    FL – Gulf Breeze – http://www.gulfbreezechamber.com

    FL – Navarre – www.navarrechamber.com/

    FL – Pace – http://www.pacechamber.com/

    FL – Niceville – www.nicevillechamber.com

    FL – Destin – www.destinchamber.com

    FL – Crestview – www.crestviewchamber.com

    FL – Walton County – http://www.waltonareachamber.com/

    FL – Panama City – http://www.panamacity.org

    FL – Gulf County – http://www.gulfcountybusiness.com/

    FL – Carrabelle – http://www.carrabellechamber.org/Real_Estate.aspx

    FL – Franklin County – www.apalachicolabay.org

    Links for up-to-date information (this is not a complete list, but please email us if you know of others we can add to this list):

    http://www.visitflorida.com/florida_travel_advisory/

    http://www.nwfdailynews.com

    http://www.pnj.com

    http://www.thedestinlog.com

    http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com

    http://www.baycountyfl.gov/outreach/numbers.pdf

    http://www.waltonso.org/

    Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertLAJIC

    Facebook: Deepwater Horizon Response

    Facebook: Florida Travel and Tourism

    Information on filing a claim for losses due to the oil spill:

    http://www.myfloridacfo.com

    Important Phone Numbers:

    Report oiled shoreline or request volunteer information:
    (866)-448-5816
    Submit alternative response technology, services or products:
    (281) 366-5511
    Submit your vessel as a vessel of opportunity skimming system:
    (281) 366-5511
    Submit a claim for damages:
    (800) 440-0858
    Report oiled wildlife:
    (866) 557-1401
    Deepwater Horizon Incident
    Joint Information Center Phone: (985) 902-5231 or (985) 902-5240

    One last bit of advice

    Do your own research, stay on top of the news and I highly recommend you seek advice from your own attorney.

    Here’s to hoping the only oil we see on our beaches is suntan oil.

    Christine

    The Impact of the Oil Spill on Gulf Coast Tourism
    May 4, 2010

    Hi everyone,

    I know a lot of our owners along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida have questions about the what ifs and effects of the recent oil spill. Right now I am in Destin, Florida attending a meeting to discuss the impact of the oil spill on tourism on the Gulf Coast. Stay tuned here for updates.

    Happy Renting,

    Christine

    Sorry, Your Credit Card Has Been Declined
    Apr 13, 2010
    Hi everyone.

    Hope you’re all doing well. For those of you who are procrastinators like me, don’t forget to mail your taxes on Thursday!

    On Sundays I always do my vacation rental business chores. Generally, I tweak my headlines, make sure all of my calendars are up-to-date, and double-check my rates on HomeAway (because once the date has passed, the rates disappear). Then I go through my current renters file. I notify my housekeepers of all the dates they have to clean, go through my billing statements to see which renters still need to fax their rental agreements back, and which renters are due to pay. (Since I take credit cards, most of the work falls on me to push the payments through.)

    So, this Sunday when I went to go and charge credit cards, I was very annoyed that every card I went to charge was declined! It’s always an uncomfortable situation to have to call the guest and tell them their cards were declined. But before I contacted them, I reflected on something that happened to me recently which embarrassed me. When I rented the home for the Olympics, the first payment went through fine but the second payment got declined. And it was not due to lack of funds in my account. Nope, I had to call the bank and approve the card over the phone.

    So when I contacted my guests, I handled the situation very gingerly and was very careful to not alarm them. I explained the process and, quickly enough, they were able to call the bank and approve the charges.

    So bottom line: before you judge your renters’ credit worthiness when a credit card issues a decline response, consider the problem might be out of their hands. Most often it’s a security issue with their bank.

    Happy renting!

    Christine

    Go With Your Gut
    Apr 6, 2010

    Hi everyone!

    Well, we’re just about through with the spring break season. One more week to go—so far so good for me, no underage kids snuck through my armored screening process.

    This week I got an inquiry from a “Doctor in the UK.” Before I totally dismissed it, there were a few points that made me think that it could be legit.

    • Basic information in the inquiry was benign, raising no red flags (except for the fact he was a doctor from the UK). He stated they had visited the area before and wanted to return, their dates were somewhat flexible, etc.
    • The guest’s email was not from a free email service such as Gmail or Hotmail, but rather from a company. I looked up his company’s website and he was, indeed, profiled as one of the employees (actually, he was the owner of the company).
    • The spelling and grammar were correct.
    • He referred to my cabin as a cabin (not as an apartment as so many scammers do)
    • Didn’t ask for any “pricing information”
    • Wasn’t inquiring for anyone else (i.e. his godson in a different country)
    I did some internet sleuthing to ease my mind and here’s how it all went down after that:

    Upon receiving the inquiry, I replied as I normally do with my availability and pricing, but added a clause stating, “We take payment via credit card only.” This generally wards off the scammers who want to pay via a counterfeit cashier’s check.
    • He replied and instead of the usual questions about detailed pricing, or questions about the cabin itself, he asked a few marginally odd questions such as: “Where do we collect the keys?” and “Where do we leave the keys?” While these questions aren’t odd, it’s odd to not ask any of the other questions.
    • I politely answered his questions and added the statement, “If you would like to book, please call me.”
    • Low and behold, he called and wanted to book with his credit card in hand.
    The reservation is for September. He paid the deposit and we’re going to take monthly payments for the remainder of the balance. I really think I am fine. (I’ll let you know in September for sure!)

    I wonder how many other owners he emailed and they never replied all because he is a doctor from the UK. Poor guy! That used to be a sure sign of respect, but in today’s environment, it’s a red flag.

    Bottom line: A little bit of extra effort and internet sleuthing and I landed a sweet 10-night booking for September, and we all know how September bookings can be.

    Christine

    Tackling Tax Time
    Mar 29, 2010
    Hi everyone!

    Hope you are doing well. Last week was a quiet week for inquiries. I think a lot of people are on spring break.

    I took advantage of the lull to finish my income taxes. Well to be fair, I don’t do my taxes myself. I actually have an accountant. But my job is to gather all of the income and expenses and send it all off to my accountant, which is arguably the most difficult part of tax preparation. I am confident with my income reporting because I have very good records of all rental income. Expenses, however, can get to be quite unwieldy.

    I don’t know why but I seem to have a mental block on the credit card merchant account fees (transaction fees and discount rate). Inevitably I forget to tally them and send them to my accountant. But this year, I remembered them! But I have to confess, it was an afterthought. Just as I was about to send everything off to the accountant I remembered!

    Have a nice Easter and Passover!

    Christine

    No More Holding Dates!
    Mar 22, 2010
    Hi everyone!

    Hope your spring break rentals are going well.

    As for my rental life, things are going well. I’ve had a steady flow of bookings coming in. At this time of the year last year, I was in a bit of a panic because I still had summer weeks open. But this year I am not as worried because I have found that many travelers are booking closer to their rental dates than they did in the past.

    I confidently raised my rates in a lot of my properties. A few weeks back, I said to my husband if we weren’t more booked up by the end of March I would run some specials. Thankfully in the past few weeks, the rentals have steadily come in and it looks as though my rental rates will stand firm.

    I had a bit of a snafu while I was on the road giving seminars. I had a renter who emailed me, we went back and forth with the usual, “yes it’s available…this is how much it is…here are the answers to more of your questions….” and so on. Then she emailed me and said she did indeed want to book it. She was in the Eastern Time zone and I was traveling in California, so I was 3 hours behind her. I tried to call her a few times but we couldn’t seem to connect via phone. I told her I’d hold the week for her until we connected. Once I got home, I called her and emailed her to no avail. Finally 6 days later she emailed me and said she had changed her mind. And of course, in the meantime, I had turned away many other renters. When I emailed them back, they had already found another place. I’m sure the week will book, but no more holding weeks. If you can’t find time to call me and give me a deposit, too bad!

    Lesson learned…again!

    Christine

    Making the Cut
    Mar 8, 2010

    March is here and for me that always means the pressure is on to begin preparing for that dreaded time of year—income taxes!

    Last week an article came out in BankRate.com which outlined tax deductions for mortgage interest.

    But, when I read this line, “Be careful. If you don’t vacation at least 14 days at your second property or more than 10 percent of the number of days that you do rent it out (whichever is longer), the IRS could consider the place a residential rental property and ax your interest deduction,” it caused me to stop and think. Is this correct?

    I had always interpreted whether or not mortgage interest was deductible based on personal use. According to IRS pub 527, “If you use the dwelling unit as a home and you rent it fewer than 15 days during the year, that period is not treated as rental activity. Do not deduct any of the rental expenses.”

    Now, BankRate.com is a very credible source—they have a stringent journalistic process for gathering information and fact-checking articles. So, because I have personal contacts at BankRate.com, I called them.

    What I found out was this article was written strictly from the mortgage-interest side of things, based off of IRS pub 936, which is significantly different from the income aspect of rental properties. So in the end, their article was correct (further proving their credibility to me). And, I was correct, too: we were just talking apples and oranges.

    So bottom line, income taxes for vacation rental owners are very complex. If you own a vacation home, you may very well want to seek the help of a tax professional when preparing your income tax returns.

    Christine

    Back in Action
    Mar 3, 2010

    Hi Everyone!

    I’m back from my trip to the Vancouver Olympics! I have to say, this was one of the best vacations.

    First and foremost, the vacation rental I stayed in was PERFECT! The location could not have been better; it was within walking distance to the main train station, ferry terminal, BC Place and the Ice Hockey Arena.

    Here are the events we were fortunate enough to see:

    Men’s Curling, Ice Dance Finals, Ski Cross, Women’s Figure Skating and we saw 2 quarter final Ice Hockey Games.

    The highlights of my trip were witnessing the first ever ski-cross gold medal, the emotional standing ovation when Joannie Rochette skated, and seeing the USA men’s hockey team beat Switzerland.

    I am already looking to go to the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia!

    Thanks Vancouver, for your hospitality and hosting the Olympics!
    Happy Renting by Owner,
    Christine

    Decorating From Afar
    Feb 16, 2010

    Hi everyone!

    Hope you all had a good week. I took a lot of booking this past weekend between watching the Olympic events. (I’m getting so excited for my trip to Olympics! I leave next weekend.)

    Yesterday I called my designer in Florida because I’m in desperate need of some redecorating in one of my condos. (It’s been nearly 4 years since I replaced my sofas.) So how do I decorate from a distance? I gave my designer my VRBO listing number and told him that I wanted to stay with the same color themes and not have to replace drapery, artwork, or coffee table, end tables, etc. Simply put, I needed new sofas, an accent chair and an ottoman.

    Within a few minutes, my designer emailed me some photos and this is the new sofa and chair I ultimately chose:

    The chair is made with micro-fiber and the sofa is made of the new Sunbrella fabric, both of which work really well for rentals. I was so happy to have found something so quickly.

    So my next step was to call my guests who are in that condo and ask them if it would be okay if I had a delivery of new furniture while they are there. They were more than happy and quite delighted to be the recipients of the new furniture. Yes! Everything worked out very smoothly.

    Happy Renting!

    Christine

    PS. I will not be blogging next week because I’ll be at the Olympics!

    Time for the Deep Clean
    Jan 21, 2010

    Hi Everyone!

    Hope all’s well with you and your rentals. It’s been a good month so far with a steady flow of inquiries coming in.

    This week I had openings in two of my cabins. So to take advantage of the downtime and keep my housekeeper gainfully employed, I scheduled some deep-cleaning tasks.

    Here are some of the things I specifically asked her to take care of:
    Deep clean and sanitize all the nook-and-cranny surfaces around the cabins
    Take off all the bedding, including mattress pads, pillow protectors, blankets and quilts and wash them all
    Have the carpets steam cleaned
    Wash all throw rugs or throw them away (if they are getting bad) and replace them
    Wash all the windows and window sills, and clean the blinds
    Wash the curtains
    Take all the sofa cushions off the sofas and thoroughly vacuum the sofas
    Take all the light fixtures down and clean the globes
    Take an inventory of all the china, silverware and cookware.
    Replace any missing items (I have tons of extras in my owner’s closets)
    Replace all the shower curtains
    Sweep and hose down the decks

    So now my cabins will be sparkling clean and my housekeeper is very pleased to have the extra money during this otherwise slow season.

    Happy Renting!
    Christine

    Wearing My Bartering Hat
    Jan 12, 2010

    Hi Everyone!

    Hope you had a good first week of the year. For me I really just played a lot of catch-up. I like to call it penance for taking off time during the holidays!

    Last week was a pretty strong week for inquiries, but I really didn’t take too many bookings as of yet. I think a lot of my inquiries were from looky-loos, who have just started shopping around. A lot of them were just asking for prices and availability.

    I did, however, take an interesting booking. It came from a professional photographer who has been hired by the Chamber of Commerce to shoot photos of the local area. I worked out a sweet deal where she’ll be taking some new photos of my cabins as well in exchange for some free accommodations. I’m going to contact my accountant to see how this might impact my personal use days, but it’s worth it to me! I’ll share the photos once I get them. It should be interesting to see what a professional photographer can do that I can’t.

    Also this week I spent some time on the “other side” as a traveler looking for places to stay for my trip to the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. Oh what fun it was for Last-Minute Lizzy to find accommodations! But I’m so happy I scored and was able to find a vacation rental that was newly added to HomeAway.com

    Christine

    Getting a Pulse on the Market
    Jan 5, 2010

    Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season.

    We went to visit my husband’s family in upstate New York for Christmas, and we had a really nice time. I was very disappointed because I could not find a vacation rental to stay in, so we had to stay in a hotel. (We gave up staying with family many years ago—not that they wouldn’t love us to, but it’s just easier for us to have some of our own space.)

    Many of the vacation rentals in the area are closed down for the winter because, quite frankly, it’s not necessarily a winter destination (it’s bitter cold and snowy!). I did find a couple of homes that were open for the winter but they were pretty far off the beaten path, and the owners were charging their regular summer season rates. I’m sorry, but as a vacation rental owner myself, even I expect off-season rates during the off-season.

    The hotels, however, were running great deals—we ended up staying at the nicest hotel in the area (where the rooms are generally $300-$400 per night) for $60 per night! So we splurged and got two connecting rooms so we could sleep in a king bed, and our son could have his own room. While I wasn’t expecting a vacation rental to be priced that low, I was not willing to pay summer season rates either.

    But this all brings me to a point with vacation rentals—while admittedly vacation rentals offer so much more than a hotel room, our main competitors are the hotels. So this got me thinking—what are the hotel rates in the areas where I own? I got on the Internet and checked on some hotels in the areas where I own properties. Tennessee hotels seem to run the rock-bottom sale prices for rooms, but when you calculate two hotel rooms, my cabins are still a better value for the traveler. It was a good exercise to go through just to get a pulse on the market.

    Now about my rental life—things are very good! So far in 2010, I have been getting a steady flow of inquiries and have even taken some spring and summer bookings. I just ran my end-of-year numbers last night, and I’m happy to report that overall 2009 was my best year on record! Whoda thunk? Especially since last year many of you blasted me when I said my The specified blog post was not found..

    I’m happy to report that all but one of my properties had positive year-over-year (YOY) revenue growth. My largest gain was 21% YOY, and my biggest loser was -10% YOY. Overall, with all properties combined, I finished the year with +10% YOY total gross revenue. Admittedly, it was a lot more work this year to nab the bookings, but in the end it all worked out.

    Happy Renting in 2010!
    Christine

    Vacation Rental Booking Dilemma
    Nov 6, 2009
    This past week I was faced with a vacation rental booking dilemma that was tough to deal with.

    The History. I received an inquiry about a month ago from a woman looking to rent my cabin in January. She had specific dates in mind. I spoke with her and she seemed genuinely interested but had to check with the others in her party before booking it. But she never called back. This is pretty common, so I thought nothing of it.

    A couple of days ago I heard from her again, she told me that she had ended up in the hospital. Now, thankfully fully recovered, she said that she needed a vacation more than ever. She still needed to finalize everything with the other members of her party. She then called back two more times asking various questions but still had not committed. Having spoken with her many times, I gave her an option that I don’t usually give: I explained that I could give her “first right of refusal” if anyone else inquired about those dates, but am unable to “hold” dates until I have full confirmation of the booking. Seemed fair.

    Lo and behold the next day I get a phone call and an email from a different renter looking for which dates? Of course the same exact dates as the lady that I have had numerous conversations with. She wanted to book and pay in full on the spot.

    The Dilemma. Do I allow the “new” renter to book on the spot? Or do I tell her that I have someone else who wants those dates and have her wait? Do I go with “courteous business” practices and call the first renter to give her “first right of refusal” which may or may not result in a booking? Or do I just book the sure thing? What if I give the first renter the “first right of refusal” and she does not book and the second renter then finds another property to book and then neither of them books it?

    The Solution. Since I told the first renter that I would give her “first right of refusal,” I felt obligated to at least call and give her the chance to book or refuse. I explained this to the second caller (renter) and she said that she absolutely understood. But she did laugh and say, “It just reassures me that you are the person who I would like to rent from—makes me respect you more.” So I asked her what time is appropriate to call back, and she said she would wait up all night for a call from me. Out of the hundreds of cabins she looked at, mine was her number one choice. I thanked her for being so understanding and told her if I had not heard from the other renter within 3-4 hrs I would call her back.

    So I called the first renter and of course could not get ahold of her. I left her a message on her answering machine. In the meantime I looked up to see what if any other cabins still had availability. Many of the cabins I looked at were booked. This made me feel much worse about having to “decide” between renters. But I did finally find one cabin that had those dates open. I double checked with the other owner to be certain her on-line calendar was correct. She assured me it was.

    So in the end I called back the second renter and took her reservation. I still have not heard back from the first renter but if she does contact me, at least I have another cabin that I can refer her to if she does indeed make the decision to rent. While some owners might think this is a bit excessive, out-of-my-way to assist, I feel it’s very important for the vacation rental industry in general. While our main motivation is always to rent “my home” first, I am more than willing to go that extra mile to assist whenever I can.

    Happy Renting By Owner!

    Christine

    Buying New Beds for Your Vacation Rental Property
    Nov 5, 2009
    Hello all! I cannot believe it’s already the last week of January. Where does the time go?

    All in all, January was a steady inquiry month for all of my properties. I was a bit concerned because I thought by this same time last year I had more bookings, so I looked up last year’s stats and sure enough, I am at just about the same pace as I was the previous year. I suspect February will be less Looky-Lou’s (“lookers, not bookers”) and more people who will just call and book (or at least I hope).

    Every January I try to make improvements in my properties. This year I have decided to change out my queen-sized beds (that were in my cabin when I purchased it) and replace them with kings.

    We’ll it’s just not that easy of a task—you have to first find mattresses. Ok I have a really good vendor that I use for beds~ Velorlo. They have great quality commercial grade mattresses. Just give them a call, order the mattresses, and set up a delivery date.

    The next thing I had to do was find a new bed frame. And of course I would prefer log beds because it’s a cabin. If you have ever searched for log beds before you’ll know my pains. There are about a million different manufacturers from the mass production places to the one-off guy who makes them in his back yard. Then there are the different types of materials—pine, willow, white cedar, red cedar, aspen, oak, cherry and the list goes on. And then you have to choose a finish, with the bark or without, rustic peeled, rough cut, smooth finish, unfinished, oiled, stained, Aaaaahhhhhhhh too many decisions! I get very overwhelmed with decisions. In the end what I did was called another owner that I know who has log beds. I asked her what she bought and then I just got the same ones. Yes it’s lame, but I would have never made a decision on my own.

    Now it’s time to buy new sheets, new quilts, pillow shams, dust ruffles, and I’ll probably have to change the curtains because the old ones won’t match.

    And lastly, try to coordinate it so everything is delivered around the same time.

    I thought I was just going to switch the size of the beds—not so easy I guess!

    Happy Renting by Owner!
    Christine

    Buying Linens for Your Vacation Home
    Nov 5, 2009
    Hi all!

    This week represents the official end to spring break! I hope you and your homes all survived, had tons of great renters and no beer-drinking, college spring breakers.

    Within the next few weeks, our next wave of inquiries and bookings should come rolling in for the busy summer rental season. If you’re already booked—great! If not, now’s the time to start thinking about attracting the next wave of travelers: Change your headlines, alter your descriptions, make sure your rates and calendars are up-to-date and your photos are the best!

    I have reassessed my ads and all’s well except I’ll have to write some new descriptions and get new photos of my cabins.

    Remember a few months ago when I wrote about buying new beds? Well this week they are scheduled to arrive. This news sent me frantically shopping for new linens (remember I’m switching my beds from queens to kings, so this means all new bedding too!). The first place I went was Costco. I found that King sheets were between $65 and $100. Wow, that’s much more than queen sets.

    Next, I let my fingers do the walking on the Internet to do some price comparison shopping. The best prices for good quality sheets I found were on SmartBargains.com. For $40 I was able to get 400 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets w/4 pillow cases (I love the bonus pillow cases, since it seems like I replace pillowcases sooner than sheets.)

    The benefit of buying Egyptian cotton is that—yes, they are very nice sheets—but now I can advertise my homes as having luxury sheets. I am hoping this will piqué the interest of a couple of renters that would have maybe otherwise glanced passed my property.

    After sheets, I needed new blankets, quilts, pillow shams, dust ruffles, and mattress pads. I was able to find all of these items reasonably priced on SmartBargains.com as well. So I purchased everything in one shot and had it shipped to my housekeeper. The total damage to my pocketbook was a mere $280 per bed (including shipping and taxes), which included 2 sets of sheets (one on the bed and one spare), 4 pillows (2 for sleeping and 2 for the shams), a blanket, mattress pad, quilt, shams and dust ruffle. I think I did pretty well! Hopefully they’ll make it at the same time as the beds.

    Happy Renting by Owner!

    Christine

    Credit Card Scam…or Not?

    Nov 5, 2009
    Hi Everyone!

    It seems that every single day as a vacation rental owner brings on new and different challenges. Let’s just say there’s never a dull moment in my life!

    The other day I received a phone call from a lady who was agitated and very upset. She asked me “Who are you and why did you charge my credit card for $X?” As you can imagine my stomach ended up in my throat. What happened? Who is this lady and why/how did her credit card get charged from my merchant account?

    My first fear was oh no! Someone rented last minute and gave me a stolen credit card number and by now had likely come and gone… and guess who would be out the money—me of course! But then I thought, how is this possible? My credit card merchant account requires me to put in the credit card holder’s billing address (including zip code), expiration date and naturally credit card number. Everything has to match in order for the card to get processed.

    So as soon as I calmed down and the phone caller calmed down, I did a bit of research. I asked her the exact date and transaction amount. I went to my credit card company’s gateway and sure enough I did process a credit card for that amount on that day. Next I asked the last 4 digits of her credit card (to be sure we were looking at the same transaction), sure enough, they matched. (Note: I did not at any time give the caller the full credit card number of my renter. I did not want to compromise the security of his credit card info. Nor did I ask for her full credit card number (not that she would have given it to me anyhow). I asked her if she was my renter’s name, or related in any way to that renter—nope.

    Next I looked up the renter’s records and cross referenced the zip code with the caller’s zip code. They didn’t match. Aha! But this puzzled me because the transaction was approved and increased my thoughts that someone had given me a stolen credit card number.

    The next thing I did was look up the dates for the renter whose card I “supposedly” charged. This puzzled me even further. I recall speaking to this renter. He was a really nice, older gentleman (not that older gentlemen aren’t capable of scamming, but my gut just didn’t feel like he was scamming me.) Then I looked at one more thing that solidified my “gut feelings”—his rental dates. This renter had not stayed in my property yet and as a matter of fact, the payment in question was only a partial payment. The other payment due next month. I thought, “Surely this can’t be a scam. If someone were to use a stolen credit card number, they would not use it for rental dates which are months away, and they certainly wouldn’t make a partial payment.” This set my mind at ease. But still didn’t get to the root of the problem.

    The caller was insistent; she wanted me to just credit her account. I was not going to credit her account. I felt pretty confident that this was not my mistake. I was sure that her bank had misappropriated the charges to her account instead of to my renter’s account. Furthermore, if I credited that charge, would she receive the credit or would my renter? Feeling like I was at a dead end, I told the caller that I would investigate and assured her I would get back with her ASAP.

    The next thing I did was call my renter. You could imagine the uneasiness at this phone call. Was I calling him to see if he was a thief? Was I calling to have him prove his innocence? So I gathered my thoughts and decided I would call him with the truth, which typically never fails me. I told my renter of my dilemma. The first thing I asked was if he could verify his credit card number that he had given me. Sure enough the number he gave me was indeed the number I had on file. The next thing I asked him was if he could look to see if the charge was on his credit card statement. He looked it up and no, he had not been charged.

    So this perplexed me even more. Why did the charge show up on the wrong person’s credit card statement? Furthermore, if I credited the charge, who would get the credit? So the next phone call I made was to my credit card merchant account company. I explained the problem to them. They verified the charges and said that even though the credit card was approved, the address and zip code were not verified (I thought you could not charge a card with out the correct address—apparently I was wrong! The representative explained to me that many cards do require address and/or zip code verification, however not all do.) So the representative then asked me the full credit card number that I charged. I proceeded to tell him the digits one at a time. When I got to the ninth and tenth digits he stopped me. “There’s your problem! You transposed the 9th and 10th digits.”

    In the end, the entire error was mine! I messed up! I called my renter and the woman whose card had gotten charged by mistake. I credited the one card and then re-charged the renter’s card—very carefully typing in each digit. And went to bed that night pulling feathers from my teeth from all the crow I ate that day.

    Oh well, no one is perfect.

    Happy Renting by Owner!

    Christine

    Dealing with a Drought
    Posted by Nov 4, 2009
    Hi Everyone!

    How’s it going? Things for me are back to the usual—another situation has arisen which gives me yet more fodder for my blog posts.

    Since my cabins are on wells, the drought has affected my rentals. Currently my wells are down around 16-18 feet! While I have not run out of water, thankfully, many people in the area have! Basically it has affected the quality of my water—it stinks like rotten eggs! And my renters are not too happy about that!

    If you are in an area where you’ve been plagued by the drought (here’s a national drought monitor websitehttp://drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html), there are some things that you could/should do to avoid complaints or worse yet, have people leave and demand their money back—yep that’s happened to me!

    So the best way I can advise you is give you examples of what I have done to divert the complaints.
    1. Sometimes when the water levels get low, bacteria could be introduced in your well. Have your water tested by your local health department–mine cost $50 and took about 2 weeks from application to test results.

    2. Convert to charcoal water filters and change them frequently! I’m changing mine every two weeks as opposed to my regular monthly schedule.

    3. Inform all renters (upon booking) that there is a drought—(and if your water stinks, like mine, tell them! It’s better to lose a reservation at the booking stage, rather than once they are already in your home. Keeping to my motto: I never want anyone in my house who doesn’t not want to be there; how will they treat my home? ) Here’s how a typical conversation with a renter goes, “I have to tell you that we’re experiencing a drought and it’s caused our well to be significantly lower. We’ve had the water tested by the health department, and it’s fine but there is a sulfur smell. Sulfur is a mineral which you find in hot springs that emits that smell…”

    4. On your rental contract, attach wording about the water. I have chosen the short and sweet version just so it’s in writing. Here’s the wording I have used: WATER AND SEPTIC: These cabins are on wells and septic systems. The mineral content in the water is high. During a drought, the well water may have an odor.
    5. On your directions, attach a reminder about the water situation. Here’s what I have added: I also wanted to let you know that there is a severe drought in the area. If you smoke please do so outside (this is a non-smoking cabin.) Please make sure that you extinguish your cigarettes completely and do not throw your cigarette buts outside in the woods as they may cause a forest fire. We are under extreme high burn warnings in the area. The drought has also caused the well water to have a sulfur smell. Our well has been thus far ok though we always ask that you please conserve water, and is safe to drink (we have a recent health department test report, which we can send you if you’d like to see it.) The sulfur smell is sometimes tough to get passed your nose, for this reason, we recommend bringing bottled drinking water.
    So there you have it, yet another way you can learn from my personal vacation rental problems. So glad I can be of service. LOL !

    Happy Renting by Owner!

    Christine Karpinski

  • Carter Center Winter Weekend trip

    Hi Everyone,

    It’s been a little while since I have blogged.  I have been on the road a lot in the past month doing seminars but I managed to squeeze in a little weekend getaway too!

    Carter Center Winter Weekend tripI had the pleasure of going on the Carter Center Winter Weekend trip.  Aside from spending five days with President and Mrs. Carter, I learned a lot about the work that the Carter Center has been involved in.  One talk that was of specific interest to me was with Dr. Jay Hakes, Director of Policy and Research for the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.  He talked about the things that went wrong (from both BP’s perspective and the government response).  He also talked about policies and procedures the government is putting in place to assure this type of disaster never happens again.  I’m going to invite Dr. Hakes as a guest on my podcast.  Stay tuned….

    So onto my rental life… It was a slower start to the booking year.  It seems that the renters are booking closer and closer to their rental dates than ever before.  But in the end my inquiries and bookings seem to be on par with last year.  Keeping our fingers crossed that booking will continue to roll in.

    Living 1000 miles away from my closest vacation rental has never seemed to be too much of a problem except for one silly issue.  The internet!  All of my properties have wi-fi connection because quite frankly the renters demand it.   A couple weeks ago I had a router go out in one of my properties.  You would think this would be an easy problem to solve, but NO!  The stores around didn’t have any routers so had to buy a one online and have it shipped.  But once it arrived, my housekeeper figure out how to install it.  And though I could walk her through which wire to hook up where, she needed to get onto a computer and set the passwords.  In the end, I had to ask my renter to hook it up. Though not optimal, it worked.

    That brings me to another story.   I had a really funny call with a renter the other day.  Here’s how it went:

    Renter: “I cannot get connected to the internet.”

    Me: “Go to the start menu, press control panel, press network and internet…”

    Renter: “Wait, my mouse is not working”

    Me: “Are you at the desk in the bedroom?”

    Renter: “Yes”

    Me: “Okay, your mouse is not working because the desk is a glass-top, the optical mouse has to have something underneath it.”

    Renter: “I’ll use the touchpad on my laptop”

    Me: “Okay, now type in the network password.”

    Renter: “<frustrated> ugh, this touchpad is not good; I am having trouble typing because I keep hitting the touchpad. Let me put the phone on speaker so I can do this with two hands.”

    Renter: “Okay, it’s on speaker, can you hear me now?”

    Me: “It’s a little garbled but we can make due.  Now type the password into the box.”

    Renter: “<even more frustrated> geeze I cannot use this dog-gone touchpad.”

    Me: “<assertively> Sir, go get a piece of paper and put it under your mouse.”

    Renter: “Okay wait a minute. ” Renter comes back and says, “Can you hear me better now?”

    Me: “Yes, I can hear you. Now type that password in.”

    Renter: “<now just down-right mad> I cannot work this touchpad!”

    Me: <Hu?  Why isn’t he using his mouse?  OMG the light bulb goes off!> “Sir I said put the piece of paper under your mouse, not under your mouth!”

    Renter: “<laughing> Oh wow my mouse works now! Okay I just typed in the password and the internet works.  Thanks!”

    Problem solved!  The silly things vacation rental owners have to endure J

    I am still laughing about the conversation!

    Happy Renting!

    Christine

     

     

     

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