Congrats on closing! You made it! Now that you actually own the home, what are the next steps? How do you get it from there to going live on your first listing? Well, hopefully this little guide will help you (and me, lol) as you prep your short term rental (STR) for your first guest!
Here are some steps that can be taken while you are waiting close:
Read as much as you can and listen to podcasts about hosting.
There are so many resources out there. Check out BiggerPockets.com and their podcasts. Read more of my own blog MackofallTradesNY.com and just absorb as much knowledge as you can. There is not one way to tackle this, but there are some best practices that can help your new business to be extremely successful. So the more you immerse yourself in it, the more confident you will feel taking the next steps.
Shameless plug. Listen to this episode here
Create your guest book.
Research the area. Start trying the restaurants and visiting the attractions. You can do this solely online, but if you can experience them yourself, that is even better. It will help you to really sift through the top experiences you want to recommend for your guests.
Remember, options are good, but less is more. Don't place 10 restaurants in your guest book, instead focus on, say, your top 3. Try to select different cuisines, too, for variety. Same thing applies to the local activities. For example, don't list ten hikes. Instead choose just three: one easy, one moderate and one challenging.
Also consider different categories of travelers and be sure to make recommendations for each category. For example, will you have guests traveling with kids? If so, what are the top 3 local activities that are kid friendly? Will you have groups of friends that are adventure seekers? What are the top 3 local activities that will spark an adrenaline rush?
A good book of recommendations is essential in having guests leave a quality review. They are trusting you to guide them to the most enjoyable experiences in the area. Use this time to develop it well.
Research your vendors and create a short list.
This is one of the most concerning parts for people starting out. Who will your cleaner be? Who will your handyman be? Start interviewing and doing trial runs early. Check with other local hosts to see who they use. See if your realtor has recommendations. But keep in mind that even if someone comes highly recommended, they still might not be a fit for you. So it's important that you meet them yourself and see if your two personalities and work styles mesh. Also, keep in mind that some vendors start off strong but can change over time. Maybe they get burnt out? Maybe they take on too many clients. In this business (and every business really), you always need to be looking for backups and updating your rosters if someone isn't working out anymore.
Establish your rules.
Take some time to think through what rules you are going to set. Try to consider unintended consequences. For example, if you exclude dogs from being allowed, will that limit the number of guests you have checking in if you are in a super dog-friendly town?
What about quiet hours? Do you need them? Do you want them? On one hand, putting them in is nice because it may deter people who are looking to party, but on the other hand, it may come off as overbearing and limit the number of bookings you get.
Bottom line, the rules have to be comfortable for you, and you will likely change them over time. You will learn as you go. Problems will arise, and you will rework your rules and listing to prevent those same problems arising in the future. Consider your rules a "working document," and definitely start having critical conversations around what you will and won't tolerate and why. The more rules, the more difficult of a host you will be perceived to be. And generally, that will result in fewer bookings but bookings that are aligned more towards your ideal clientele.
Write out your listing.
Start by looking at successful listings in your area. What do they have in common? How are they written? What features and rules do they include or exclude?
Next, decide what websites you are going to use and set up the listings. If you are creating your own website to generate reservations as well, set that up too. Maybe you establish a presence on social media? Start to literally write them up and play with the words. Tweak them to make them more appealing. Revise, revise, revise. Strong copy is also a key feature in whether or not someone will want to book with you. Tone matters. If you sound like a difficult host, it will be a deterrent.
Set up your tech if you are managing it remotely yourself, or find a property manager locally.
What software are you planning on using to run your short term rental? I have a blog post written about what I personally use. Feel free to use it as a guide, or to try other apps. Play around with it. You can even have your friends do trial bookings and give you feedback on the customer experience. The more time you have to work through the glitches prior to checking in your first guest, the better.
Or shop around for a local property manager. Don't just look at rates (although that is very important), check their local listings and touch base with their owners to see how they truly feel about their property manager. Don't go based on just the property manager's recommendations they provide. Do some research and talk to as many people as you can. Meet them for coffee or a meal and see how well you actually connect with them. Do they seem like a fit and like you will jive? Or no? Do not rush this process, because this person will make or break your business.
Set up a separate bank account for your STR.
Don't be me. I waited until later to do this, and it was a mess. You want everything coming in and out of this one account, so that it keeps the bookkeeping clean and separate. The easiest time to do this is from the very beginning, even before you close, so that any and all deposits, lawyer fees, title company fees, etc. can pull from that one centralized place.
Design the space and create a shopping list.
Do this while you are waiting to close. It will speed up the process of bringing your STR to market on the tail end. I always like to have a clear vision and direction so that when I close, I can hit the ground running. I have the design plan all mapped out, the fixtures all tagged and flagged in a spreadsheet. I have met with the contractor and are on their list so they can start immediately. Yes, plans will evolve throughout the process, but I have a pretty clear vision from the get-go so that I can move as quickly as possible. As in: roll up right after closing and begin installing my security system, new locks and setting up my internet.
Search for and collect free items while you wait.
While I'm waiting to close, I am scouring the internet to find freebies that can save me money. While I've posted about this before on my Instagram, there are so many little tricks to save money on the common things. For example, I never buy coffee makers. I see one pretty much every other week on our Buy Nothing listserv, same thing with TVs. People upgrade those often and love to give away slightly older models that still function.
So in the weeks leading up to my closing, I try to collect as many of these items as I can to help reduce the cost of furnishing and stocking my new STR. I only take on items in good condition and functioning though, and they have to go with the aesthetic I am aiming for. But everything I pick up over time saves me money, even if it's just $20 dollars here or $40 dollars there. It adds up on the back end.
Here are some steps you can follow immediately after you close and take possession of your property:
Renovate and furnish.
Time is money. The sooner you get this done, the sooner you can get it rented. So try to have it lined up where your contractor can get in there immediately, or if your place is already turnkey and just needs to be furnished, ensure you have the boxes coming ASAP, so you can start to put the furnishings together.
Make sure you set a clear goal for your timeline and plan out your carrying costs in the meantime. For example, if I close in January and intend to have my short term rental up and running by May 1st, I need to set aside mortgage costs, internet costs, electricity and other utilities in the meantime. With no money coming in for those first few months, I need to make sure I have the money on hand to take care of it.
Secure your permits.
This can include both renovation permits and also your short term rental permits if your local jurisdiction requires it. Some just require a form to be filled out, others require a full on in person inspection. Whatever it is, get started on that process early so you are not waiting at the end when everything is ready to go for someone to come out and approve it. Some towns, especially small towns, may take time to get on an inspector's schedule.
Interview and walk through the space with your vendors.
Now that you have started looking for vendors early, they need to see the actual physical space, especially cleaners. Ask them for their suggestions on how to lay out their spaces to make it as easy as possible for them to do their job. If they are experienced cleaners, they will give you solid suggestions to help set up your operation so that it can run smoother. They also may foresee issues ahead of time and help you to troubleshoot. But at the very least they need to know what all is in the place so that they can check for these items each time during turnovers.
Take professional pictures.
Unless you are a professional photographer with your own business, you are not a professional. Please don't say "I take great pictures, I can do this to save money." No, no, no, no, NO! You are leaving money on the table and convincing yourself you are not. We live in a visual society. Professional pictures make or break a listing. They need to be bright, well laid out, and have that editorial feel. This is an area I never skimp on and never will. It is what people see and decide within a split second whether or not they are interested in booking. It is imperative that these are well done professional pictures.
Do a trial run with a friend.
I strongly recommend you do this with someone you love and respect who has experience traveling and staying at a variety of short term rentals. You can have them stay for free, reimburse them for their troubles, or just charge them less, but the key is you want to get honest feedback about what is missing, what you need to tweak. After setting up your short term rental, if you are like me, you will probably be too close to your project and super attached. This may prevent you from seeing logistical issues that will arise for guests.
Stock up on supplies.
More is better here. You want to prepare for a fully booked situation with little turnover time in case that happens, cause it might. You want to have extra towels, sheets, cleaning supplies, firewood, etc all on hand. Make sure it's not all out for the guests, but secured away so that your cleaners have everything they need for at least the first month ready to go. Remember they too are learning how to clean your place, so the easier it is for them, the easier it will be for everyone.
Create systems and structures for your vendors.
Again, this is one I kinda learned the hard way. I should have done this sooner. But I made a checklist for my cleaner to fill out and complete each time a cleaning is done. This will ensure nothing gets overlooked moving forward. So think about what fears you have about management and start to create a system that will address that concern. If you don't have any yet, great. As they rise, you can always implement them down the line.
I hope this helps. Sometimes you just want to get started and it can be hard to do that when you are waiting to close. Hopefully this gives you some actionable items that can help set you up to hit the ground running when you close. Good luck!