This sounds counter-intuitive but I actually self-manage my short-term rentals, and I hire a property manager for my long-term rentals. All are located two hours from where I live, so a lot of people ask me, why would you self-manage the more involved of the two? Are you nuts?!? My answer yes, lol. It is actually waaaaay more feasible nowadays to manage STR's remotely than you think. How do I do it? I rely on an array of the digital tools.
Photo Credit: Jake Grate
Before I get too far into this post, I have to give a huge shout out to my friend Matt Ricci. He is the one who taught me this (and still fields my panic calls when I face tech challenges). Without him sharing his wisdom and expertise, I know I would be paying significantly more for a property manager. So both my wallet and my guests thank you Matt! :) You rock!
Time to reveal our secrets! After experimenting with several different services, here is the current plan we landed on. Keep in mind this may change as new tools become available or as my needs as a host change. But at the current moment here is where we are at and here is what we use to manage our places remotely:
Price: Monthly subscription starting at $44/month
I use this service for two main purposes (although I'm sure it does a lot more than even I realize). I specifically rely on it to align and update my calendar regularly between different booking platforms. So for example I am currently on AirBnb and VRBO. When a guest books on one platform, Guesty automatically blocks it out on the other one for me, so I don't run the risk of double-booking it. Because that could be a disaster.
Additionally, Guesty manages my automated responses for me. For example, as soon as someone books a stay, it sends out a welcome message that thanks them for booking with me and has them check out my Instagram page in anticipation of their stay. It also is set up to send out an automatic message the morning of their check-in with all the check-in details, and automated check-out messages the day of check out. And lastly, I use it to send a follow up message reminding them to leave a five star review the next day. We all know how important collecting those reviews is, so a little nudge can go a long way to getting them for you. All of these texts being automated helps reduce miscommunications regarding a guest's stay, and it helps the guests to feel looked after.
All of these messages are customizable ,too. So it's still your voice. And you can even add in a guest's name. Super duper personalized, which makes them even better.
Price: $9.99 per listing/per month to start
This is a tool that really helps to maximize your revenue. Essentially, it's an algorithm that determines your price per night. It takes into consideration peak season, low season, weekends, holidays, and local special events. So similar to how hotel prices fluctuate based on those seasons, it helps you to do that with yours, automatically.
It starts by allowing you to put in your base rate and then it sets up a range that it will charge based off of that. Additionally it provides market analytics to help you figure out your price points and then depending upon which subscription you buy, it also provides you with your own portfolio analytics. So if you are a data person, this app is going to be one of your favorites.
Price: First property is free, then $8 dollars per property/per month after that
This website helps streamline the communication between you and your cleaners by automating everything. As soon as a guest books, it automatically sends an invite to my cleaners so they can mark their calendar. They can approve it if available, or decline if they are not. If they decline, it goes to the second cleaner on the list. What is also super helpful about this feature if you have several properties, is it allows you to automatically pay your cleaner. I don't use this feature yet because I haven't scaled that much, but I will keep it in mind for the future.
This app also allows you to customize your cleaning checklist (a feature, I admittedly will explore more) and helps you to locate qualified cleaners in your area. I have never had an issue yet (knock on wood) about my place not getting cleaned between guests. Having this automated plays a huge role in eliminating the human error of me potentially dropping the ball on scheduling a cleaning so I strongly recommend it.
Price: Two plugs is $15.99
These are smart plugs that I use in order to reduce my overall utility costs. Anything major that I would want to make sure is turned off when a guest leaves, I plug into a Kasa plug so that I can turn them off remotely if a guest forgets. Items like ACs, heaters, our cute neon "Cheers" light, and certain lamps are all linked to these plugs and this app.
This also helps me to turn it on before they arrive. It ensures that the climate is nice and welcoming when they arrive (either cool on a summer day, or warm on a winter day).
Price: Varies based on how many devices you buy. They have sales often though, so you almost always can get it 40-50% off of list price if you just wait for a holiday sale.
I have exterior cameras linked through SimpliSafe. While there are many different companies out there, I have selected this one. They are fairly easy to install, and you can choose the devices based on your needs. Some are exterior cameras, some are interior cameras, some track water or plumbing issues. So look through all the options they offer and see what is most important for you.
Mine are set up to start recording when any motion happens. I have it set for both human and animals since my short-term rental is set in the woods, but you can adapt the settings accordingly. Occasionally, I get a moth fluttering in front of it on a summer night, and the battery drains quicker. But what can you do?
SimpliSafe offers different monitoring services based on how much coverage you desire. Check out the website for up-to-date subscription prices. Depending upon which subscription you buy, you can opt for one that would automatically notify police of a break in. Consider though if you need that. Having a short-term rental means people are going to sometimes struggle to get into your place through no fault of their own (it's new, unfamiliar, and sometimes they arrive after dark). If your town has a penalty for every time a false alarm is called in, then you may not want to use this feature. I personally find the motion sensor enough because it automatically notifies me on my phone anytime someone comes and goes.
That is just a short list of what I use. It is by no means an exhaustive summary of what is out there and available. So please do your own research and browsing. And feel free to drop in the comments what your favorite tools are and why! The more we share, the easier it will be for all of us. :)
And at the end of the day, don't worry about finding the "perfect" automation system. Start by getting something in place, and then add too it as time goes. Something is better than nothing, so don't overthink it. You're going to do great. Happy automating!