Compare the Wear-and-Tear: Are Short-Term Renters Rougher On Your Property?

I can still hear my mom’s response when I told her my intentions of hosting guests on a short-term basis rather than a typical 1-year lease term.

“Vacation rental? All those people coming and going? They’ll wreck the place!”

My mom’s argument was the same one many people have when comparing these two rental strategies. She saw the rapid rotation of short-stay guests as a recipe for faster property depreciation. Rather than see the place as “home”, short-termers (rapid renters, as I call them) may not treat the house with respect, but with a “not my house, not my problem” attitude that will lead to carelessness and damages. While her logic made sense on the surface, I have actually found the opposite to be true. In fact, because of the nature of the short-term stay and the platforms that make it possible, I trust my assets in the hands of short-term renters much more than those of long-term tenants. In this post I will explain what I mean.

The Tenant-Landlord Relationship

The Typical Lease Term

In my experience renting 1-year apartments, I saw the landlord/staff on three occasions per lease in my unit; at the beginning of the lease, the end of the lease, and on the few-and-far-between instances of mishaps that were severe enough to warrant a maintenance call. “Severe enough” is important to note – I wasn’t calling maintenance to patch a small hole or inspect a spot of mold in the shower. The “it’s just a rental” mindset was in full effect and I only blew a whistle when I felt that my standard of living was hindered or that my rent money was being squandered by negligent upkeep.

When damage was my own fault, I certainly avoided telling the property manager, and the risk of losing my security deposit was usually so far off in the distance that it dampened the urgency for action on my part. At this point, it’s likely easy to imagine how year-to-year renters can lead to deprecation of a property at a noticeable rate.

Renting in The Short-Term

At the other end of the spectrum, the interaction between the rapid renter and the home owner (or property manager or cleaning professional) is just as regular as the guest turnaround. When a guest checks out after their weekend stay, my cleaning partner is in the door within the hour to get the house ready for the next guest. Part of her process, of course, is to be my eyes – Inspect the condition of the property and its furnishings and ensure nothing is out of the ordinary. This both makes sure the place is ready for the next guest and, by doing this thorough inspection between each guest, it allows me to pinpoint the culprit of any guest-caused damages. Then, I can file the appropriate claims with the listing platform, if necessary.

The Nature of The Short Stay

When going on a quick trip – whether for work, play, or personal reasons – staying in and making yourself at home is not usually the main item on the agenda. There are things to do, people to see, and foods to eat. Though the front door may get a workout, many of the amenities of the home will likely see less use. Most of my guests don’t touch the oven, open the windows, or spend much time sitting on the couch watching TV, for example.

Social Feedback and The Digital Reputation

A huge motivator in all aspects of life is how we are perceived by others. Social media and the internet have, of course, amplified the extent to which others can judge us..

Airbnb and VRBO, like many other marketplace platforms, encourage the rating of the people with whom you have recently done business. Following a checkout, both the host and the guest are asked to review their experience throughout the transaction, letting others on the platform know what to expect when interacting with this individual (each not being able to see the other’s review until theirs is complete, to avoid retaliation). Fear of a bad review can make even the rudest homeowner a pleasant host and, similarly, the slobbiest vacationer a fantastically clean guest. If a guest causes damage to my house, and my cleaning lady reports it to me, it has just put a blemish on their online reputation, hurting their chances of being accepted as a guest by a future short-term host.

But What About Parties?

It’s true – Many people search out Airbnb properties with the intention of throwing parties – drinking, playing loud music, and cramming many more people into the home than are allowed in the listing. While this is certainly more likely to happen in some areas than in others, it’s important to be aware of the risk and the things you can do to prevent it.

Of course, you should say “No” when the platform asks if events are allowed in the home when setting up your listing. It should be no surprise that this rule might not be enough to deter a group of college kids on Spring break… Luckily, there are a few other measures you can take to protect your property.

Companies like Noise Aware have created devices that monitor the noise level in a space. These gadgets are small, sleek, and usually plug into an outlet. They alert you if they detect noise elevating to boisterous levels. If the levels stay up long enough (or late enough) to cause you anxiety, you can call the guests to inquire about their activity and ask them to be courteous. Feel free to blame it on a “call from a neighbor” if you don’t want to seem like “big brother” (though I believe you do need to disclose any monitoring devices in the listing). You can buy yours here. This monitoring gives you the additional benefit of staying on the good side of the neighborhood, preventing complaints to the city about the “party house on the block”.

Doorbells with cameras integrated in them can offer a way to see who is coming and going, right from your phone. While you cannot put cameras inside the home to watch your guests, you can find out if a zoo of people is at the door, allowing you to shut down a party before the first keg stand. Ring offers a few options.

Conclusion

Every real estate investment includes some kind of damage risk and it is important to be prepared, both financially and emotionally, to handle the upkeep and unexpected maintenance of your property. However, it is my strong opinion that the argument of many (my mom included) that short-term rentals lead to more damage than long-term rentals is misguided and mitigated via the reasons in this post.

Change the Way You Think About Short-Term Rental Destinations

If you asked me a year ago to list the areas of the country where short-term rentals thrive, you might as well have asked me to list where I would like to vacation; places near the ocean, places near mountains, and a couple big cities. I’m not alone. “Short-term rental” is a term often interchanged with “vacation rental”. I attribute this mindset to the relative newness of the industry, in terms of popular attention in the digital age. When Airbnb was started in 2008, the whole idea was shocking and whimsical; you go stay in someone’s home, in a residential area with all of the creature comforts of a “local”.

It was so different than the way my family had always done things. When we traveled to see family down south, we’d stay at the Holiday Inn nestled between the McDonald’s and the greyscale office buildings on the busiest (and most unappealing) road in town. Hospitality was a corporate business, done by companies whose job is to cram bodies into rooms – rooms that all look the same and make no effort to be a memorable part of your trip. Airbnb challenged this idea with their original slogan “Travel Like a Human”. By allowing people to rent personal spaces owned by individuals and families, it enabled completely unique and intimate experiences that immersed renters in the lifestyle of a location, rather than just giving them a place to stay. Travelling, for lack of better words, sucked less…and really became fun.

While travel has become more fun, when you’re considering starting your own STR, remember that fun is not the only reason people travel. Here are some of the reasons my guests have stayed in my first short-term rental during the first 3 months of operation:

  • Funeral of a friend
  • Coming back to visit their hometown
  • Temporary housing for a work assignment
  • A place to stay for a night during a cross-country road trip

If you want a quick litmus test for whether or not your area might be a good fit for an Airbnb listing, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are there hotels in the area? Big hotel chains don’t just set up shop anywhere. If there is a hotel in the area, it is likely because of trends in travel; whether for work, pleasure, or other reasons.
  2. Am I near a popular destination? While your town might not have a big, sexy name, you may be able to provide “close enough” housing for people looking to travel to that big-name city or destination at a much more affordable price. When searching on a map, budget-conscious individuals are likely to look around the perimeter of where they really want to go. Rather than take it as an insult to your small-yet-spectacular city, consider it an opportunity to capitalize on the sky-high rates in hot zones.
  3. Why would I want to come here? With some introspection you may remember the campground down the road from your house, the big barbecue festival every Summer, or the local college whose football team has a cult-like following. You might gain some confidence in the profitability of a short-term rental and a greater appreciation for the area.

So, why did I choose the location I chose for my first 2 STR houses? I chose the quaint Michigan town for a few reasons. First, there are 2 hospitals in the area, and I thought traveling nurses and doctors would appreciate a cozy home more than a stiff, boring hotel room after a long shift. Second, this adorable little city offered a touristy vibe only a 1.5 hour drive from my home, making it accessible in case of emergency (while I’m new to this, I enjoy the comfort of feeling close to my rentals). Add in cheap real estate prices in the area and a cute real estate agent friend I knew in town, I was tunnel-vision focused on this area.

In summary, don’t feel like short-term rentals are only for the flashy vacation destinations with household city names. With a little research you and some customer empathy, you may discover that there’s money to be made with STRs in even the unsexiest of towns.

*BONUS* Check out the airdna.co to check out trends and revenue forecasts for short-term rentals anywhere and everywhere.

Come On In

Hey there. My name is Phill and I’d like to welcome you to my blog. Younger me never would have guessed that those words would ever leave my fingers. I’ve always loved writing but I never knew what exactly I enjoyed writing about, and I certainly never figured it would be in blog form. But, with an attention span too short for a book and too much to talk about for Tweets, I recently realized that blogging was the perfect avenue for me to talk about my passion for hospitality and my journey of building a short-term rental business.

First, I want to preface this entire endeavor with the point that I am not an expert in real estate, hospitality, or short-term rentals. Do you see how I bolded and italicized that? Because I need you to know that before we start diving in. I am learning this industry along with you, with an insatiable desire to continuously improve, absorb, and share my findings with you.

While I’m not an expert in short-term rentals, I do have some experience under my belt. With my second short-term rental (or “STR”) investment property just days from hitting the market at the time of writing this post, I am looking forward to using my foundation of experience as the springboard for this blog. When I learn something interesting about how to improve my STR business, I’m going to try my best to share it with you.

I manage my rental properties part-time, on the side of my full-time job but, if I’m being honest, it has my full-time attention most days. I have always loved hosting people; parties, small get togethers, and one-on-one hangouts – I enjoy making people feel comfortable and welcomed. When I discovered that I could make MONEY doing this….. I was all in. The goal is to keep learning and growing my little business past the point at which I am able to call it my “full-time” gig. I am excited to share this journey with you. I hope you learn something from my failures, successes, and experiences. Be sure to leave comments on this and future blog posts with anything you’d like to teach me and other readers as well.

Happy hosting!

– Phill