A Real Life Vacation Movie Experience

My partner and I own a vacation rental property management company in PA. When we started the company, I don’t think we were quite prepared for the experiences that we would encounter both from clients who own and rent out their homes and from guests. I feel that these stories are just too funny, ridiculous and/or unbelievable to not share with others who are in this industry. We have seen some very crazy, shake your head, cannot believe we have to put a sign in the house for this things over the past year and a half. I hope you enjoy these as much as I am writing them. I also hope that some of these will help homeowner’s and guests out with do’s and do not’s of short term vacation rentals.

Our very first experience was probably one of the funniest so far.

We had a client who was renting out their house. Right before the first guest arrived for the season, they had an issue with a squirrel that came into the house through their fireplace. After a lot of phone calls to wildlife centers, it was determined that the squirrel was a flying squirrel (I had no idea we even had those here) and that it was born in the chimney. The wildlife refuge person was able to evict the squirrel from the house and we thought that was the end of it.

The guests checked into the house about three days after the eviction. I got a call later that evening from the man who booked the house. He is trying to explain that they are having an issue at the house but he is laughing so it was hard to understand him. He says “I’ll text you a video, watch it.” After a few minutes this video comes through. A squirrel comes out of the fireplace and everyone screams. This scares the squirrel so it runs up the stairs and climbs on the railing of the loft that overlooks the living room. It stands there for a few minutes and then it proceeds to do what could only be described as a swan dive from the railing, wings outstretched, speeding towards the ground and lands perfectly in a red solo cup on the coffee table. The kids in the house were cheering and clapping yelling “that was so cool,” “oh my God that was awesome”. After about a minute, the squirrel jumps out of the cup and jumps on the floor running. One of the guests proceeds to lead it towards the door with a broom and out he goes.

I call the guest back, we are both cracking up at this point and a little amazed at the acrobatics of this squirrel. The gentleman tells me that they were able to get it out of the house and that all is well. He was mistaken.

The next day I get a video of the squirrel flying out of the fireplace and landing on the coffee table. Apparently it was popping its head in and out so they decided to turn the video on. Once the squirrel lands on the table, the kids start cheering and the adults start panicking. What happened next can only be explained and understood if you have ever watched the squirrel scene in Christmas Vacation.

The squirrel starts to run towards the two women at the back of the living room. They start screaming and run around the dining room table as the squirrel gives chase. At this point the kids are chasing the squirrel and the men are trying to”guide” the squirrel out the door but it’s coming at them fast. They jump in front of the 2 women, knocking one of them over the arm of the recliner and now the one women and the two men are in front of the squirrel and the kids are not far behind. They run up the stairs and so does the squirrel, and then the kids. Everyone is screaming. They all start coming down the stairs, now the kids are in front of the squirrel. Everyone hits the bottom step and then head into the dining room and around the table again. The lady that was hip checked over the arm of the recliner chair is now screaming and running towards the kitchen counter (the squirrel ran right through her legs) and jumps on it. At this point, somehow the squirrel got in front of the rest of the group and is now being chased by them. Whoever is videoing this is out of the frame, away from the chaos, laughing his ass off.

The squirrel goes up the stairs with the group hot on his tail, screaming and chasing him. The squirrel makes it to the top of the loft railing again and jumps. At this point, the group comes running down the stairs to try to get behind it and chase it out the door. The lady on the counter is screaming and laughing, the kids are laughing. Someone runs by the broom and shoos the squirrel out the door. The lady on the counter pees herself from laughing and I think the man behind the camera may have peed himself too.

I am watching this video with a mix of horror and unadulterated laughter. All I can say is “Oh my God, I cannot wait to read the review they write about this.” Again, the gentleman who booked said “Ok, he’s out. Hopefully we scared it enough that he won’t come back.” I am not sure if he truly believed this.

You can probably guess what came the next evening. It seems this squirrel liked to come out at around 8 pm. I think that they all hoped it was gone for good but expected that it would be back because they were ready to record as soon as he popped his head out…..again. This time he came out, ran to the dining room table and they were able to shoo him right out the door. At this point the gentleman sent this text: “Candace, while we really enjoyed the show that this squirrel put on the first night, and this is an experience that none of us will ever forget, we are starting to feel like we are in a Vacation movie. We really need to evict the squirrel.”

The next day I called in the troops and we gave the squirrel a final eviction notice and padlocked his door. The squirrel did not return for the remainder of the trip. The guests were such good sports and put up a fabulous review that included the story of the squirrel and titled it “The Summer We Vacationed With A Flying Squirrel.”

How to Handle Early Check Ins and Late Check Outs Like a Boss

I know it has been a while since my last blog, but as those of you who are in the industry know, summer is a busy time for vacation rentals. So much has been going on but this week I would like to talk about late check outs/early check ins.

During the slower months we have no issues giving late check outs/early check ins but in the summer months, we sometimes have 16+ turnovers a day. Housekeeping needs to stick to a strict schedule so that houses are cleaned, disinfected, restocked, linens cleaned and set up for the next guests who are arriving. This summer has been one of the most frustrating as far as guests who expect early check ins/late check outs or just simply refuse to vacate the property on their check out. This is reflected in reviews, of course, but a large part of the guests we have had trouble with this summer are verbally, and in one instance, physically aggressive towards housekeeping and towards me.

Listen, our listings all reflect the check in/out times, their contract reflects the check in/out times, they received a check out check list that states if they are not out of the home by 10 AM, they will be charged a full nightly rate, they sign this. It’s posted in the homes and in the info books in the homes. I review these policies with them on check in. It’s not just a few minutes it’s hours of fighting with them to leave the homes. I am nice, I am mean, I am patient, I am understanding, empathetic, nothing gets through and when we pursue the additional highly rate from them they become enraged and fight us tooth and nail. I JUST DON’ T GET WHY PEOPLE DON’T GET IT!

I have heard every excuse in the book from we had a flat tire (they also forget that there are cameras on the properties) to several people who complained that it was too hard for them to get 10 people out of the house by 10 am, one was a young mother and the other, well her children were in their 30’s…. insert facepalm here.

I have gone on vacation every year with my 4 children since conception. I also took my nieces and nephews with me for a total of 12 at times, I HAVE NEVER MISSED A CHECK OUT!!!!! I pack everything up the night before, leave out our incidentals and last minute things and then we check out in the morning BEFORE check out time. The check out time is posted by the door, if we are late we get charged. I have never gotten angry, gotten into someone’s face and hurled expletives at them, balled up money and thrown it at any one, never.


The Biggest Problem with Messy Guests, and How You Can Fix It

I’m sorry I have missed a few weeks. It has been a very busy start to the summer season, our busiest all year. On this weeks episode: Messy/Destructive Guests. While it is true that when you book an AIRBNB/VRBO etc. home, you are required to pay a cleaning fee, security deposit/damage insurance (VRBO).

I think that some guests are confused as to what this covers. Actually, I had one guest who told me that he thought that meant that he could leave the house as messy as he wants to and destroy whatever he wanted to because he paid for the cleaning and the damage insurance (this particular guest did over $4000 damage to one of our homes).

I think we need to clear this up!

When you are renting a home (at least one of ours), they are left to you in immaculate condition. They have been cleaned and sanitized, all of the guest info is arranged nicely on a table or counter in the home next to a gift basket that we provide. The cleaning fee that you are paying is to cover the cost of cleaning and sanitizing the house for the next guest. Now this does not mean that you leave the house in utter filth, food everywhere, garbage everywhere, dirty dishes, food in fridge and freezer. This means that you keep up after yourself, like you hopefully would at home. If you spill something, you clean it up, if you dirty a dish you wash it, if the floor is dirty you sweep/vacuum/mop it. You dispose of your garbage in the trash can and before you leave (in our community) you take the trash to the compactors. Housekeeping then come in, and cleans and disinfects the house, and does all of the laundry, remakes the beds, puts out clean towels and supplies for the next guest.

The same thing applies to the damage insurance through VRBO. It does not give you permission to destroy the home. It’s for accidental damage. It comes in handy when a guest accidentally breaks the glass top on a $2000 convection/self steam cleaning, counter stove (that recently happened in one of our houses).

If you are leaving behind a complete mess that takes them hours to clean or forces them to call in additional people to help them clean, especially on turnover days, then you will be charged for that. Keep in mind, we take pictures after each check out and prior to each check in. So the housekeeping fee that you paid covers the first two hours of housekeeping, anything above that is your responsibility to pay. If they have to remove garbage from the property, you’re paying for that as well and you are getting black listed from our community. It is a very simple thing to read your contracts, read the check in/check out instructions and rules and return the house to the owner in decent condition. It’s disrespectful and condescending to come into someone’s home under the notion that you paid a cleaning fee therefore you can just trash the house and leave garbage everywhere.

Recently we had a guest who stayed in one of our homes. Now again, we take pictures prior to arrival, I personally enter the home before each arrival to set out the info book, badges and a gift basket that we make for every guest. Our houses are 5 star, and our cleaning company is 5 star. So this guest proceeded to come into the home and the very first thing she did was order a fight on pay-per-view under the owner’s account. I politely called her and straightened that out. I did not hear from her for the rest of the weekend. On her check out day, she called at 10:03 AM (check out is at 10 AM) and told me that she was not going to make it back to the house for check out at 11 as she had to take a family member to the airport and was running late. I politely explained that check out is at 10 AM. She got upset and tried to say that the listing and the contract both said 11 AM. I pulled the contract and emailed her a signed copy showing that the check out time was 10 AM, and took a screen shot of the listing showing the same. I told her to get back as soon as she could because the cleaning company was going to come in by noon. She said ok. When we got to the house at 12:30 PM because she didn’t leave until 12:17 Pm, it was trashed! Food and garbage everywhere (I wish I could post pictures of this), food left in the refrigerator, beer cans and alcohol bottles strewn all over the owner’s property. We took 20 full trash bags from the house, 3 very large boxes and a giant piñata. We had to call the contractor to pick it all up in his truck. So on top of her leaving over 2 hours after check out, she left the house a mess. I contacted her and she ignored me so I went through Airbnb to get this resolved as we were charged extra money by both the contractor and housekeeping. Finally, after weeks of this she answers Airbnb and then proceeds to try to convince me that the house was filthy and smelled when she arrived (I check all of the guests in personally), and that she was going to put up a bad review and she was not going to pay the additional cost because she should’ve been allowed to leave that garbage there because she paid the cleaning fee. Needless to say, if she does not pay it and Airbnb does not resolve it, we will be taking her to small claims court which will end up costing her more money.

Moral to this story: Please treat these homes better than you treat you own. These homes belong to people, to families and they are trusting that you are going to take care of it while you are there. Don’t be destructive and don’t leave additional messes behind. It’s only going to end up costing you in the long run.

Guest Emergencies: Expectations vs. Reality

On this week’s episode of Vacation Rental Property Management Experiences we are going to talk about guest emergencies. As I have said before, my partner and I own a Vacation Rental Property Management business in the Poconos. We are a full service property management company and our motto is “we do all the work so you don’t have to.” This includes 24-hour service and after hours emergency service if needed. I am going to guess that “emergencies” is subjective and translated on an individual basis as you will come to understand when you read further.

For those of you who have never been to the Poconos, it is a largely wooded area with mountains and houses scattered about. There are a lot of private communities where the houses are a bit closer together but nonetheless it is considered to be rural. There are farms that are scattered about as well. With a woodsy, rural landscape come wild animals and most importantly bugs. For you city folk, these are definitely not the bugs that you may be used to seeing. For example, mosquitoes here are literally like Pterodactyls. They are huge, they dive bomb you, they gravitate towards light and if you leave the door open, they will make there way inside and feast away (ugh!).

We had a guest in one of our homes last summer , who proved to be quite interesting. Aside from calling me, after hours, to ask for laundry products (we do not provide them) so that she could do her laundry in the house, she called me at 12:05 AM one night, in a panic. This was the conversation:

“OMG, OMG, there are bugs everywhere!! The whole house is filled with them!! They are flying at us! We can’t sleep in the house!!” Now we check our cameras from time to time to make sure that all is well (don’t panic, they are outside and the guests are made fully aware that the house is under video surveillance ), so we could see that they had propped the screen door open and left it like that for the better part of the day and that they had taken the screen out of the upstairs bathroom window and the kids were hanging out of it.

I didn’t want to minimize her panic, so I calmly asked her to provide a picture. She did. There were no seeums (pesky little bugs, prone to areas near water, especially in high humidity) and mosquitoes but the house was not overrun as she claimed. I told her to get the fly swatter and to kill them. I politely explained that she needed to keep the doors and windows closed, especially at night, when bugs are drawn to any light in the home. Needless to say she was highly insulted that I suggested that she use the fly swatter and kill the bugs. She was berating me, the house and anything that she could. She continued to assert that they were all over the house and that no one would be able to sleep there.

Knowing how fickle guests can be, especially with regards to reviews (see my blog from last week), I dragged my half sleepy butt out of my comfy bed and drove over to the house. When I arrived there, around 12:45 AM, everyone was up in the house, lights on, waiting in the dining room for me to get there. They were all huddled together like they were taking shelter from a storm. The guest who called me proceeded to take me to a bedroom where the bugs were. There were 4…4 bugs on the ceiling…..4! She was still panicked and at this time also crying and this is what she said: “You have no business renting this house when there are bugs in the area!! It never said anything about bugs in the listing! You purposely kept that out! You need to update your listing to include the bugs that are in the area so people know and can decide if they want to rent the house!!! I hope you are going to provide us some credit on the rental because of this!!!” (insert eye roll, jaw drop here). I was tired, aggravated and stupefied by what she was saying. I killed all 4 bugs and without saying a word, turned and walked out of the house.

So what constitutes an after hours emergency? I think that it is safer to identify what is not an emergency:

-Killing bugs

-brining you laundry supplies (it looked like she had brought all of her laundry from home and was doing it while she was in the house on vacation!)

– turning the jets on in the tub/hot tub. There are buttons for that, just turn them on.

-bringing you anything from McDonalds because you are drunk and cannot drive

-Doing a beer/liquor run for you because you are drunk and cannot drive

-getting you ice because you are drunk and cannot drive

-bringing over a propane refill for the grill because you are drunk, high and “just want to barbecue a snack man.”

-coming over to change the source on the TV so you can use the firestick

-calling in your cousin’s numerous “girlfriends” throughout the night

-Need coffee or an iron and ironing board because you “didn’t read the list of items provided”

-Need linens because you “didn’t read the list of items provided”

-Need to know where the closest dispensary is because you ran out weed

I am sure that there will be plenty more to add to this list but this is what we have experienced so far….again, insert eye roll!

Until next week, happy hosting and happy renting!

What to expect and what not to expect when you are renting a home for vacation

On this week’s episode of Vacation Rental Property Management Experiences: what to expect and what not to expect. It is surprising to me what guests and owners expect when renting out/renting a home for a short term-vacation.

I have been asked the craziest questions by both owners and guest alike. For owners who have decided to use their homes to generate money, they have these expectations of guests that are, at times, beyond attainable. If you are an owner who is deciding whether or not you want to use your home for short-term vacation rentals you will need to consider these things:

  1. People will be in your home, with their families and children. If you do not want your things to get ruined through accidental damage and/or wear and tear then either put less expensive things in your home or do not rent your home out. You need to understand that not everyone keeps their home as you do. This does not make them terrible guests, this makes them human. Things are going to break, things are going to get stained, it happens. Most vacation hosting platforms will provide some type of insurance whether it be a security deposit or accidental damage insurance that will cover certain things that get broken and/or damaged in your home by a guest. However, it will not cover “wear and tear” items like stained sheets/linens/towels, missing silverware, broken dishes/glasses, marks on walls. You need to be prepared for these things to happen and not expect us to put a damage claim in when a fork is missing.
  2. Housekeeping is a service that is provided to clean (and now with COVID) disinfect your home between guests, including laundry. The laundry takes hours to do. At times, this is being done up to 3 times a week. They have a very short window to get a house turned over. Providing 3 sets of everything is helpful. You should always have 3 sets of linens per bed, and enough towels for 2 per guest plus 6 extra x 3. This allows the housekeepers to swap the clean/dirty laundry so that they can cut down on the time that they spend on each house, focusing on the cleaning/disinfecting. Stop complaining about the fee. We charge $250 per stay for housekeeping to your guest. These ladies earn every single penny of it. It is not their jobs to deep clean your home after every guest, it is not their job to stage your home after every guest, it is not their job to respond to guest complaints or to engage with guests while they are renting your home. It is not their job to deep clean your barbecue grill or steam your carpets and curtains in between guests. If that is what you expect, then hire a property manager. Housekeepers have enough that they need to focus on in the house with housekeeping and laundry alone. You are lucky because you see the homes after they have been cleaned. You do not see the absolute filth that they encounter after some of these guests leave. And no, not every guest is like that but we have all seen our fair share. Stop expecting your housekeepers to do things that are outside of the job of housekeeping. They are human too and sometimes things do get missed/overlooked. Just communicate with them.
  3. Please keep in mind that you are not going to please every single guest that rents your house. There are going to be unhappy guests, disgruntled guests (especially when you do not allow them to check in early/check out late). They will take this out on your review and most often times their review is filled with silly things like the woman who was unhappy that one of our homes had a DVD player and DVD’s. Evidently this upset her because “there is a plethora of web based TV available and the DVD payer and DVD’s is just clutter.” Or the guest who was upset because the house did not have a garbage disposal. We had a guest that was upset because one of our house didn’t have a DVD player with DVD’s. Guests are fickle and in turn this sometimes comes out in their reviews. Don’t personalize it. Don’t internalize it. Take what you can from it, thank them for the review and move on.
  4. If you cannot reconcile with 1, 2 & 3, don’t rent your house out.

Now on to the guests who come to stay:

  1. You are using another person’s home. We use to say “treat the home as if it is yours” now we say “Treat the home better than you would your own.”
  2. Follow the rules, they are in place for a reason.
  3. Don’t smoke your cigarettes, hookahs, pipes, vapes etc. in their homes. Smoke in designated areas outside if permitted and please pick up your cigarette butts.
  4. Keep in mind that most properties have cameras outside, and we see everything.
  5. Please don’t sneak in extra people. These homes are governed by local law under hotel/hospitality/inn rules. As such there is a maximum occupancy that is allowed. Failure to abide by that, especially in private, gated communities can cause the owner to be fined and to lose their ability to rent out their home. A lot of owners’ do this to provide needed, relied upon extra income. We can see you on camera.
  6. Please do not sneak your pet in. Again rules are in place for a reason. Pet hair is extremely difficult to get out of furnishings and off floors. Guests and owners who are allergic will suffer coming into the home after a pet has been there. We can see you on camera.
  7. Please don’t use the dishwasher as a garbage disposal. It is not meant to wash an entire casserole out of a baking pan (true story, someone put their casserole in the baking pan in the dishwasher and expected the dishwasher to clean it. It broke the dishwasher). Rinse the dishes off before putting them in the dishwasher. Cascade is awesome, but it cannot clean an entire 4 course meal off the dishes.
  8. There is no concierge service (I’ll explain that in another blog)
  9. There is no turn down service (again, another blog)
  10. We do not put mints under your pillow/or provide daily housekeeping service (another blog)
  11. We do not provide a continental breakfast or bring you coffee in the morning (seriously)
  12. If you are renting in the mountains, please understand that there are bugs, especially near the lake, we do not exterminate them for you at 1 AM (wait until you read that blog).
  13. Read the listings, read the contracts, read the rules, it’s not going to help you when you say “uhh I didn’t read the contract I just signed it.”
  14. if you accidentally break something let us know. Don’t sneak the broken item off the property and then not say anything at all. We keep inventory of every item inside/outside that home. We will figure it out, especially when we can see you doing it on camera.
  15. These houses are booked constantly. Please don’t take it personally if we cannot accommodate an early/check in/late check out. We have a limited amount of time to get a house turned over for the next guest coming in. If we can provide it we certainly will.
  16. Don’t write crappy reviews unless warranted. Remember this will affect the owner’s ability to continue to rent their home. Communicate with the owner/property manager. I assure you they will take every step possible to rectify any situation that they can. Give them the chance to do so before writing a scathing review. If it is determined that whatever is going on interrupted or impaired your ability to enjoy the home and your getaway, most owners will offer some type of refund without you even asking.

I am sure that there are so many more things that can be added to this. I just wanted to provide a small list so that people who are thinking about hosting/renting will be aware of the expectations before they make the decision to move forward.

Until next week, happy hosting and happy renting!