Ownership of a VRBO rental—Lessons Learned our First Year
Updated on April 24, 2020
Background story: Location, location, location
Jim and I purchased a condo in Navarre Beach, FL in January 2017 planning to use for our vacation home and to rent it for weekly visitors. We picked the particular unit based on its amazing view. The Gulf of Mexico is a beautiful aquamarine blue-green and the sand is sugar white and super soft. The units have floor to ceiling sliding doors in both the master bedroom and the living room. For us the view was the most important feature knowing it would never change! You can also see the Navarre Beach Pier which is the longest fishing pier in the entire Gulf.
Inside the condo, changes were needed! We immediately painted to remove the mustard yellow and ketchup red walls. We replaced ceiling fans and selected new artwork as well as moving some of the better-quality art pieces (luckily there were a few large pictures we could keep). Below are some before and after pictures to show the difference.
We selected a combination of grays and soft blue to compliment the darker aqua blue that was in the main living area. The colors reflect the sky and sea right outside and create a more peaceful feeling. We also immediately purchased new furniture for the master bedroom. One year later, we are happy with all these decisions.
Our first lesson learned was about function over beauty. We purchased a natural jute rug that we planned to use in the master bedroom and later moved it to the living room. What we learned was that RUGS MUST BE EITHER WASHABLE OR LOW MAINTENANCE. Bath mats need to be washed between guests and rugs need to be either given a good shake to remove or a quick vacuum to remove the sand. Outdoor patio rugs are designed to not hold on to stains so they are much more practical! The jute rug was beautiful but not practical. According to the dictionary, practical means likely to succeed or be effective in real circumstances. Unfortunately, the jute rug in a rental unit was not practical.
Our second lesson is to expect to replace everything. It may be a lamp that gets knocked off the nightstand or the curved shower curtain rod that gets pulled down and rips the curtain. Or it may be the pots and pans and bowls and glassware that get broken. This is where practical is important! Correll dishes or high-quality melamine plastic are going to be better than ceramic dishes, lamps with metal bases are better than glass, and dishwasher safe is a must. I have created a file with all the receipts and pictures of all the items we have purchased so that if I need to buy something again, I have the information available.
And perhaps the hardest lesson for me is to not become emotionally attached to the items in the unit. Renters will not take the same care of the stuff as I will, and I need to accept this! I think one reason I have struggled with this is that we have owned a timeshare for over 20 years and every place we stay, I make sure to “clean up” after us. I would never leave a spill or a stain on the stovetop from something I cooked, but others do.
And no, the cleaning service does not clean as well as I do either(this is true at both my regular home and my vacation home—but I have a service so that I don’t have to do it every week and done is better than perfect!). So again, it is best to be practical. Make sure the pots and pans are durable and easy to clean. Put a drip liner in the oven to help catch spills, provide placemats that can be wiped clean, and a glass top table is actually very easy to clean. Think of it this way…the teenagers get stuck with cleaning up so they are going to do it as fast as possible so they can go out and enjoy the rest of their vacation.
And the last lesson is to have an owner’s closet if you are planning to use the place as your vacation home. Keep items that you enjoy and that will personalize the space when you are there. We have a few “Knick knacks” that I do not leave out but when we are in the unit, I place around to make it feel like ours. I see lots of photos online that show shelves of Knick knacks and I worry that they will get broken or stolen and it’s much harder and takes longer for the cleaning service to complete their work when they have to work around a lot of decorations. During the prime season, they have very little time to clean a unit so the less “extras” they must deal with the better your chances of them doing the important stuff really well. (As you can imagine, the Kitchens and Bathrooms require the most time and attention). Also, an owner’s closet is a great place to store alcohol and nonperishable paper and cleaning supplies so that you don’t have to repurchase each trip.
Assuming you plan to use your property as an investment I have a few suggestions on how to get your unit ready. These suggestions are from both our property management company and from personal experience and experiences of friends that also travel frequently.
TAKE AN INVENTORY OF KITCHEN ITEMS: There are lots of lists available online and your property management company may provide a list as well. Here is one I found: https://blog.pillow.com/top-10-kitchen-essentials-for-your-short-term-vacation-rental/
Remember I mentioned that things will get broken and will wear out so budget for replacements.
PUT A REALLY BIG TV IN THE LIVING ROOM: We selected a TV that is larger for our beach condo than we have at our regular home! We were told that it is a very common question of renters, “What size is the TV?”, so we wanted to make sure that we had a large one. We have had renters at our condo during the Super Bowl, the Final 4 of College Basketball and the World Series. All of these were watched on the extra-large TV and we received positive feedback. (Additional TVs in bedrooms are also nice but they can be smaller without complaints.)
BECOME A “TEMPORARY MINIMALIST”: Have a few decorative items but don’t spend a lot of money. A sailboat or a metal fish will look great sitting on the dresser. A basket of seashells and a couple of “fake plants” to create the beach theme in the living room is all you need. But as a friend of mine who travels each year with her grandsons says “The first thing we do when we arrive in a unit is put all the extra items under the sink, out of the way of the boys”. The thing we liked most about our unit—THE VIEW—is the same thing that is mentioned repeatedly in reviews. They never mention the pictures hanging on the walls.
As with all investments there will be highs and lows—good years and great years! Plus if I remember why we made the purchase and the investment in the first place, it helps to bring me back to the reality that when I stop renting it (when it is paid for) then I can furnish it exactly how I want (I see a Jute Rug in the bedroom again—even with all the sand it holds).
If you would like help setting up your property for vacation rentals, please contact me by phone –call or text 817-797-0870, or email GCarter@Organzied-Occasions.com. I cover the Northwest Florida area (Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton Counties).
Organized Occasions Concierge, Navarre, FL: I created Organized Occasions to help others make positive changes in their lives. I focus on three areas: Nutritional Coaching with Meal Planning and Grocery Delivery; Home Organizing; Event Planning with Wine Tastings from the Boisset Collection. As a concierge service, I am committed to helping my customers shop for supplies, provide guidance on quantities needed and introduce local merchants and products while suggesting easy to prepare recipes and ideas. I believe every day is an occasion to be celebrated. And every occasion is best when organized!