My phone started “blowing up” with pictures and videos from my cleaning partner, showing me the damage and disregard for my house rules by the guest who had recently checked out. I was LIVID at first. But, after a few minutes, I realized why I should be grateful for the experience and started identifying the learning opportunities that will benefit my business in the long run. In this post I’ll explain what happened and how it became a positive for me.
The story started a week before the guest even checked in. I had Instant Booking turned on in VRBO, which allowed the guest to book their stay without me confirming. I knew something was fishy as soon as I reviewed the details. They booked a one-night weekend stay just a week in advance… plus, looking at the renter’s profile, I could see they were local. In fact, he lived in just the next town over. They clearly didn’t need a place to stay. Naturally, I inquired about the nature of their stay via VRBO’s messaging feature.
“I have 3 friends visiting from out of town and we want to have a Christmas gift exchange.”
When I asked why they couldn’t do this at his own home, he responded with, “We just want to get away from our busy lives for a night”.
Touching, really. Naively, I gave this young man the benefit of the doubt and wished him and his friends safe travels to my home and a fun gift exchange.
The Check-In Challenges
One of my favorite implementations in my short-term rental houses is my Blink cameras I installed at the front door. These cameras alert me when they detect motion, particularly when someone walks in front of them to enter the house. The night of this guest’s reservation, I got the alert on my phone and opened it to see the clip of a young man and a young women entering the house. They were equipped with a couple of gift bags and boxes wrapped in decorative paper. So far, everything appeared according to their story.
A few minutes later, clips followed that got my attention a little more. The same two people made trips up the porch steps with a couple cases of beer and silver trays of catered food.
The last notification I got from Blink told me that the camera system had been disconnected from the network. I was no longer able to see anybody coming or going from my house. I was officially concerned.
Lie After Lie
My gut really told me something was up now. I messaged the guest asking him politely if he had accidentally disconnected the camera system hub from the wall. After an hour of no response, I gave him a call. I could hear the sound of people in the background but he quickly stepped outside to ask me “Who is this?” (and I’m fairly positive he wouldn’t have picked up the phone if he knew it was me).
He kept telling me that he had no idea what happened and that the Internet had just “gone out” in the house. With recent wind storms in Michigan, part of me believed that it really could have just been the Internet going out, which would explain the disconnection from the camera system to my phone. Still maintaining respect (ignorance?) for the guest, I apologized for the inconvenience and for interrupting his gift exchange. I almost asked my cleaning partner to drive by the house to see what was going on, but I convinced myself I was just worrying over nothing.
When my cleaner entered the house the following morning, she immediately pulled out her phone to document what she saw. Coincidentally, I was sitting at the closing table of my newest short-term rental investment when I received the evidence. Her and I were both stunned.
Furniture moved all over the house, windows open, heat turned off… All of the basic signs of “there were a LOT of people in here”… Dirt and beer were smeared all over my hardwood floors and ruined the living room rug. Trim was ripped off of the walls. Food was spilled everywhere; floors, furniture, walls, cabinets.. Half-smoked joints were left on couches and incense ashes laid dusted on windowsills. The place wreaked… good thing they left a candle LIT to take care of the smell (*sigh*).
The place was a mess. My cleaner put in the work of 3 of our usual, respectful guest cleanups. She steam-cleaned the floors, washed comforters twice, and worked general magic to make the place look untouched before she left 6 hours later. Though the filth was cleanable, my biggest stressors left by these Neanderthals were the heat off/windows open (it’s Wintertime in Michigan and pipes freeze if you aren’t careful) and the still-burning candle we found. That one made me furious. They left the candle on top of the fridge, crammed among the decorations and trash they left up there with it. Clearly a danger, I made sure my cleaner captured a video of the scene.
Equipped with plenty of pictures and videos, and with my handyman scheduled to go repair the damaged trim in the house the next morning, I was ready to file a damage claim through VRBO.
I was honestly a little confused about how quickly I moved from anger to contentment and even gratitude for the experience. I am not oblivious to the fact that I tend to hold on to anger longer than I should. So, this calming sense of “This stuff is going to happen and I am learning how to handle it through this experience” was a little foreign to me. Nonetheless, I ran with it and gathered my thoughts on how to move forward and improve my business.
Protecting Myself and My Home
I quickly made the following changes to my listings on Airbnb and VRBO:
- I increased my nightly rate. I had recently lowered it, trying to compensate for a slow Winter season for visitors. In doing that, it was clear I was welcoming the wrong kind of guest.
- I increased my minimum stay to 2 nights. This will deter people from booking my homes for a quick party.
- I am more careful with local booking requests. I turned Instant Booking off on VRBO so that I could take a better look at requests before giving someone access to my home. Young locals looking for a place to stay will be questioned and my gut will be given more credit from now on. I am not against locals staying in my homes, but I certainly will be more diligent about understanding what it is they are looking to do during their stay.
- I am considering requiring security deposits. I saw the option to require a refundable deposit from guests. I’m still debating this one, as serious damage would still require a claim to be filed anyway.
In the span of 24 hours I was taken on a rollercoaster of emotions that ultimately led to a better and more safeguarded business. My guard is certainly up now that I know the sort of deception and destruction short-term renters are capable of. I am glad to say that I was able to overcome my first unruly guest experience with the help of my partners in the area, all without making a trip to the scene myself. The fact that I was able to handle this fiasco remotely was a huge boost of confidence in my process I have set in place. This experience is going to help me in the next phase of my business, which is setting up my first out-of-state short-term rental in an area far more prone to parties.