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Rental Reviews: Make Sure You’re Maximizing The Value of Each Guest Experience

October 2nd, 2014

Vacation rental homeowners consistently rank increasing rental revenues as their number one objective. Rental reviews can be powerful fuel to supercharge your revenue.

Consumers naturally seek the input and advise of others when making major buying decisions such as selecting vacation rentals. Often this advice comes in the form of customer reviews, which provides third-party validation of the vacation rental. Enlisting your guests to comment on their experience may be your path to increased bookings.

Fortunately, many online listing services such as VRBO, Homeaway and Flipkey make it easy to obtain and display guest testimonials. The key is, first, to have a plan to collect reviews and second, to feature reviews in your online listing and in guest communications.

We recommend that you contact guests soon after their departure to thank them for choosing your property and request suggestions on how their stay could have been improved. This is also an opportunity to ask them to write a review. Including a link to your review page will make it easier for guests to comment. Most guests are happy to provide feedback if requested to do so.

Once you have gathered guest reviews, it is important that you direct prospective guests to your reviews. This can be accomplished by including statements such as “highly reviewed property,” “see property reviews…,” etc. in your listing description. Additionally, in communications with prospective guests, encourage them to read previous guests’ commentaries.

Be prepared for both good as well as bad reviews. Most consumers are savvy enough to discern the validity of a bad review, however, the number of positive versus negative reviews will be an important consideration. You may want to consider listing your property on Flipkey, a subsidiary of Tripadvisor, which allows homeowners to respond online to guest reviews. This interaction between you and your guests can be particularly effective.

Using customer feedback to drive revenues is a proven marketing technique. Like most effective marketing tools it must be actively managed and promoted in order to realize the full benefit.

At VRS we recognize the importance of guest testimonials, which is why we have incorporated them into our Rental Management Plan. As part of our quality control function, we contact guests soon after their departure to thank them for choosing the property, to request feedback on the property and to request that they provide a property review.

How To Avoid IRS Compliance Traps

June 12th, 2014

With all sources of income, taxes are an important consideration. Income from your vacation rentals is no exception. With vacation rentals, there are 3 key tax considerations.

1. Personal Use and Rental Days

The number of days you personally use your vacation rental property has a significant impact on how the IRS treats your rental income:

a. If personal use is limited to 14 or fewer days or 10% of the time your property is rented, you can write-off 100% of rental expenses against rental income.

b. If personal use exceeds 14 days, you can still write-off a portion of your rental expenses against rental income. For example, if you rented your property for 90 days and had 30 days of personal use during the year, you are allowed to write-off 75% (90 rental days/120 total usage) of your rental expenses against rental income.

c. If you rent your property for 14 days or less, you are not required to report the rental income for income tax purpose.

2. Common Rental Expenses
The following is a list of common rental expenses that may be written-off against rental income:

* Management Fees
* Mortgage Interest
* Mortgage Points
* Repairs
* Taxes
* Utilities
* Advertising
* Cleaning & Maintenance
* Commissions
* Depreciation
* Insurance
* Legal/Professional Fees

3. Passive vs Active Income
The IRS usually considers income from rental real estate to be a passive activity; that is, you get income mainly for the use of your property rather than for services provided. The IRS allows you to off-set passive losses against passive income, not ordinary income such as wages. Any excess passive losses are carried forward to the next tax year.

If you are actively involved in the rental of your vacation home, up to $25,000 of the loss from your rental property could be deductible against ordinary income. There are restrictions and limitations if you make more than $100,000 annually.

At VRS we recognize that keeping more of your rental income is one thing all vacation homeowner have in common. That is why we provide essential rental management services as an affordable fixed monthly price. Compliance Services are just $50 per month.

Fraud and Your Vacation Rental Property

May 15th, 2014

In addition to attracting the attention of millions of travelers, the $23 billion vacation rental industry is unfortunately attracting a variety of scams. One need only perform a Google search to find story after story of how both travelers and vacation homeowners are becoming victims of fraud and phishing schemes. This is a trend that will no doubt continue to plague the industry. But what steps can you take to protect yourself and your guests from the impact of these scams?

  • We will take a look at the two most common scams:
  • •   Creation of Fake Rental Listings
    •   Phishing Schemes

  • Creation of Fake Rental Listing
  • In this scam fake rental listings are created to attract legitimate travelers. These listings are often created using pictures and information taken from legitimate listings. The unsuspecting traveler typically learns that they have been the victims of fraud only after they have paid out thousands of dollars for the rental.

    You can expect that as these stories are picked-up by national news sources, travelers will become increasing concerned and will no doubt make inquiries designed to assess the authenticity of your listing. Recent articles by ABC News and Forbes, among many others, suggest that travelers take a series of precautions to avoid fraud. The below chart reflects some recurring recommendations and steps you can take to ensure you are prepared to address traveler questions.

    vrs_phishing_recommendations_table

    Google offer a search service called Google Images that allows users to search the Web for image content. VRS recommends that you periodically search Google Images to determine if your property photos are being used for unauthorized purpose. To perform a search, simply copy the image address into Google Images and perform a search.

  • Phishing Scam
  • In a Phishing scam, someone masquerading as a legitimate guest contacts you, with the sole objective of obtaining sensitive information about your VRBO listing and/or the email address you use to manage your vacation rentals. Typically they want to obtain access to your email, which will allow them to hijack your rental inquiries and redirect rental deposits to themselves.

    Here are some steps that you can take to avoid being the victim of Phishing scams.
    •   Be suspicious of unusual rental inquiries. Vague travel dates, grammar or spelling errors, or requests that are inconsistent with your property can all be signs of a phishing scams
    •   Use a dedicated email address to manage your rentals. As much as we try, it is difficult to create a firewall around our personal email account.
    •   Subscribe to VRBO text notifications service. By receiving a text notification of all rental inquiries you can be sure that you are aware of all such inquiries.
    •   Use best practices to manage your email and VRBO passwords. This consists of longer passwords (minimum of 8 characters), do not use words, use a combination of numbers, upper and lower case letters, and use special characters. Periodically change your password.

    VRS is dedicated to providing safe and secure rental management services that highlights your property’s unique rental characteristics. Our ala carte menu of services are provided at a low fixed monthly fee.

    One Frugal Girl’s Secret Is Out: Take The Fork In The Road To VRS

    March 26th, 2014

    As Featured In: OneFrugalGirl.com   

    Vacation rental ownership, for most of us, was never really the original intention when deciding to make that family retreat purchase – at some point it settles into a seasonal rental with unintended consequences. We backed our way into short-term rentals as a way to offset the monthly burden when we’re not using ours. If you find yourself in this same position, you already know, or soon will be coming to the realization that your mission is to maximize revenue on every rental.

    The key to maximizing revenue is an equation that could make your head spin at first, but the kernel is simple mathematics: rent as many weeks as possible charging the highest seasonal rates while simultaneously decreasing commissions, fees and other related expenses. Traditionally, there have been two ways to handle the rental activity and management. So here’s the insider’s perspective.

    The first and most beaten path is to hire a “full-service” management company that charges commissions between 20-40% per booking. If your property rents for $2000 per week, you’ll pay the manager $400 to $800 in commissions! This increases the burden to generate more rentals. Spoiler alert below: that simple math I mentioned above doesn’t pencil out for me.

    My summer home rents roughly 16 weeks per year between May and September. A 20% commission rate would cost me $6,400 and at 40%, the commissions would tally up to $12,800! Additional fees may be charged for advertising, online listings, emergency services, inspections and maintenance. Suddenly your rental manager becomes a less than ever-faithful partner in your rental business while you’re carrying all of the risk. Needless to say, I exited that relationship.

    The alternative path is doing-it-yourself. Skipping the manager and commissions makes sense for some, just realize going in that it’s nearly a full-time job. Getting your property listed on VRBO is the easy part. The day-to-day of managing your property and keeping it rental-ready for the next guest and quickly responding to inquires is stressful enough, let alone managing the rental agreements (if you don’t have one, you need one). Did I mention collecting rental taxes and filing reports? Check with your local municipality because they see home rentals as a growing revenue source.

    Are you interested in finding a lower cost solution that provides the same benefits at a fraction of the cost? If so, Vacation Rental Services (VRS) is a new fork in the road worth exploring. VRS provides many of the benefits of a full service rental management company without charging any rental commissions. That’s reason enough to waive goodbye to your rental manager quickly. In lieu of rental commissions you simply pay a fixed monthly fee for the services you need.

    VRS rental management includes a full-on website to attract new guests and handle rental inquiries at a fraction of the cost of traditional sources. They can handle other rental related tasks too, such as collecting rental payments, taxes and security deposits, managing your rental calendar and handling and processing rental documents – all online (someone that gets technology).

    You can use their online rental calculator to compare the services your management company provides and charges with what you will pay VRS. After visiting their website at http://www.vacation-rental-services.com, you may just find yourself asking one of two questions – “Why am I paying so much?” or “Why am I dealing with the hassles?”

    Click Here to Read The Article on One Frugal Girl

    Rental Inquiry Response Time Study

    January 30th, 2014

    Promptly responding to rental inquiries is critically important to converting rental inquiries into rental bookings. Most vacation homeowners and Rental Managers (RMs) believe they respond promptly to all rental inquiries – but what really happens? VRS commissioned a study to determine exactly that; “How promptly do both typical owner-operated and RMs respond to rental inquiries?”

    The average response time in the study was 8.73 hours. Less than 25% of the responses were within the ”golden” 1-hour window, the period of time regarded as most valuable to convert rental inquiries into rental income (and of course, what impression your prospective guests will have of their future experience). Surprisingly, nearly 1/3 of inquiries received no response! Not only is the initial response time important, it is obviously important to follow-up with the prospective guest. In this study, less than 5% of inquiries received a follow-up email beyond the initial email. In a time when every rental inquiry is an opportunity to generate rental income, every inquiry should be coveted.

    There was a large disparity between responses from RMs and Owner-managed properties. RMs either responded promptly or did not at all. 38% of RMs responded within 1 hour, while an equally large group (36%) of RM’s sent no response, and unbelievably, only 2% of RMs sent a follow-up email. One clear difference from RM and Owner-managed responses: RM responses typically included an invitation to view other similar properties they manage


    The results of this study overwhelmingly indicate that; low time-to-response, persistence in follow-up and focus on renting only your property rather than a “rental pool” are basic requirements to successfully differentiating your property from the competition and increasing rental revenues.

    This much is very clear: to the extent potential rental guests typically book vacation properties that meet their requirements and responses are promptly and professionally managed, higher conversion rates and rental income should predictably follow.

    Rapid Response is a core business practice at VRS. Our focus on connecting rental customers and owners “one-on-one” through technology infrastructure and lead management operating systems facilitate rental inquiry responses within 30 minutes. Rapid Response results in significantly higher inquiry conversion rates and rental income for our customers. VRS passes along the savings we’ve created in our business model to our customers, resulting in up to 65% increases in net rental income. VRS provides complementary rental income comparison audits upon request. VRS Rental Management Plans under our low fixed monthly fixed-fee program are just $130.00 per month for a 2-bedroom property.

    5 Things You Should Know About Rental Commissions

    October 3rd, 2013

    The payment of rental commissions has been the accepted practice in the vacation rental industry for as long as owners have made their homes available for rental, but what are the unintended consequences of rental commissions? Below are 5 unintended consequences that you may have experienced with your rental manager.

    1. Do you ever feel like your rental manager is not working for you? High rental commissions may be the culprit. Like any businessperson, your rental manager may be tempted to give the most attention to the person who funds his income. With rental commissions this is the guest. Some rental managers may inadvertently work for the guest at the expense of the owner.

    2. Do you ever feel like your property is rented less than other similar properties? Often rental rotation policies are thrown-out when a rental manager is trying to find a property for a particular guest. This may result in your property not being actively marketed to a particular guest despite the fact that it is your turn in the rotation.

    3. Do you ever feel like your always discounting your rates to book rentals? Given the competitive vacation rental industry, often rental managers have limited motivation to maximize your rental revenues. Getting the rental, even at a discounted rate, is the primary objective of rental manager. In some instances the rate may be less than you feel is acceptable.

    4. Have you ever noticed excessive maintenance charges on your monthly rental statement? To keep guests happy while the guest is in occupancy, some rental manager consent to maintenance items that you may not approve. Some rental managers adopt the philosophy of “keep the guest happy at all cost.” This is of course an easy philosophy for them to adopt as the cost is passed on to the owner, while the rental manager cultivates a loyal guest.

    5. Do you ever feel pressure from your rental manager to limit your personal usage to non-peak period? If your property is not rented, the commissioned rental manager is not paid. This may lead some rental managers to attempt to influence your personal usage days by encouraging you to use non-peak days.

    To avoid the possible conflicts associated with rental commissions, VRS has adopted a low-fixed monthly fee billing structure. This ensures that VRS is working exclusively for you, the owner.

    The IRS and Your Vacation Rental

    September 5th, 2013

    With all sources of income, taxes are an important consideration. Income from your vacation rentals is no exception. With vacation rentals, there are 3 key tax considerations.

    1. Personal Use and Rental Days

    The number of days you personally use your vacation rental property has a significant impact on how the IRS treats your rental income:

    a. If personal use is limited to 14 or fewer days or 10% of the time your property is rented, you can write-off 100% of rental expenses against rental income.

    b. If personal use exceeds 14 days, you can still write-off a portion of your rental expenses against rental income. For example, if you rented your property for 90 days and had 30 days of personal use during the year, you are allowed to write-off 75% (90 rental days/120 total usage) of your rental expenses against rental income.

    c. If you rent your property for 14 days or less, you are not required to report the rental income for income tax purpose.

    2. Common Rental Expenses
    The following is a list of common rental expenses that may be written-off against rental income:

    * Management Fees
    * Mortgage Interest
    * Mortgage Points
    * Repairs
    * Taxes
    * Utilities
    * Advertising
    * Cleaning & Maintenance
    * Commissions
    * Depreciation
    * Insurance
    * Legal/Professional Fees

    3. Passive vs Active Income
    The IRS usually considers income from rental real estate to be a passive activity; that is, you get income mainly for the use of your property rather than for services provided. The IRS allows you to off-set passive losses against passive income, not ordinary income such as wages. Any excess passive losses are carried forward to the next tax year.

    If you are actively involved in the rental of your vacation home, up to $25,000 of the loss from your rental property could be deductible against ordinary income. There are restrictions and limitations if you make more than $100,000 annually.

    At VRS we recognize that keeping more of your rental income is one thing all vacation homeowner have in common. That is why we provide essential rental management services as an affordable fixed monthly price.

    7 Must Do Things To Increase Rentals

    June 27th, 2013

    Improving where your VRBO/Homeaway property is displayed in a guest search result directly impacts the number of rental inquiries you receive and your rental revenues. Selecting the correct subscription level is the first step in managing your sort ranking. Once you have selected a subscription level, there are 7 factors that determine where your property is displayed within the selected subscription level.

    1. Photos
    A maximum of 24 photos are permitted on your listing. To receive maximum credit for the photo criteria, you will need to upload a minimum of 16 photos. Professional photos are recommended, but the quality of photos is not currently used to rank properties.

    2. Maps
    Activating the online map and using the map marker is the next factor used to determine your properties sort order. If you are concerned about security, your actual address is not displayed on your listing.

    3. Rental Rates
    Displaying your rental rates is also considered by VRBO/Homeaway in determining your sort order. It is recommended that rates be kept current, but the most important factor is that rates are posted.

    4. Reviews
    There are two criteria used to determine your property’s ranking for this category. First, is the number of reviews on your listing and second is the average star rating of those reviews. A good target is a minimum of 5 reviews and an average star rating of 4.2 or higher.

    5. Updated Calendar
    Maintain your calendar is an important consideration. Even if you do not have updates to your calendar, it is recommended that you log into your listing and click the button indicating that your calendar is current. It is recommended that you update your calendar weekly.

    6. Tenure with VRBO/Homeaway
    The length of time your property has been listed with VRBO/Homeaway is also a factor that determines your sort position. While it is not explicitly stated, it is believed that enrollment in automatic renewal is also included in this category.

    7. Using Reservation Manager
    Reservation Manager is an optional service offered by VRBO/Homeaway that allows guests to book and pay online. Enrollment in this optional service is factored into your property’s online sort order.

    At VRS we recognize that managing a VRBO/Homeaway listing is not a passive process, which is why we have incorporated procedures that address the factors outlined above into our Rental Management plan. We continually monitor clients’ listings to ensure each maintains the best possible sort order on VRBO/Homeaway.

    Tips to Increase Rental Revenue (Second in an Important Series)

    February 7th, 2013

    If you are like many homeowners who rely exclusively on VRBO to market your vacation rental, you are probably missing out on additional rental opportunities. There are now three major vacation rental listing services: VRBO, Homeaway and Flipkey/Tripadvisor. According to Alexa, a firm that monitors website activity, VRBO ranks 599 in online traffic activity in the US, Homeaway ranks 1,009, and Flipkey ranks 3,260.

    Flipkey is now owned by Tripadvisor. With a Flipkey listing your property is automatically listed on Tripadvisor, which is the world’s most popular travel site with an Alexa US traffic raking of 111. Flipkey is currently offering a free 60-day introductory trial period followed by an annual subscription fee of $299

    It is now easier and less expensive to list a property on multiple sites. VRBO and Homeaway recently introduced a new plan that allows you to list your property on both websites for an additional $249. So if your property is currently listed on VRBO at the Silver subscription level your property will also be listed on Homeaway at the Silver subscription level for an additional $249. This represents a $350/year savings. To eliminate the hassle of setting up a new listing, all of your existing property information will automatically be transferred to the new listing. For your convenience, click on this link which provides more information on the offer. or call 877-225-7591.

    The #1 homeowner objection to having more than one listing is concern about keeping the sites current particularly the booking calendar. HomeAway Connect, a free booking calendar from Homeaway, now offers a solution that allows owners to maintain a master booking calendar that will automatically update all of your booking calendars. For more information, please click here.

    The vacation rental business has become increasingly competitive. Taking advantage of multiple listing services may well be the key to unlocking new rental opportunities. For an annual marketing expenditure of about $1,000, your vacation rental can now be listed on four vacation rental sites.

    At VRS we recognize that maximizing rental revenues is critically important to most homeowners, which is why we offer a Rental Management Plan. This plan is designed to maximize rental revenues through the consistent application of proven sales techniques, which includes a unique rental website for each property and timely responses to all rental inquiries.

    How To Increase Rental Income (First of a Series)

    January 17th, 2013

    Vacation rental homeowners consistently rank increasing rental revenues as their number one objective. Over the coming weeks we will discuss a number of proven methods that are sure to increase your rental revenues in 2013.

    Consumers naturally seek the input and advise of others when making major buying decisions such as selecting vacation rentals. Often this advice comes in the form of customer reviews, which provides third-party validation of the vacation rental. Enlisting your guests to comment on their experience may be your path to increased bookings.

    Fortunately, many online listing services such as VRBO, Homeaway and Flipkey make it easy to obtain and display guest testimonials. The key is, first, to have a plan to collect reviews and second, to feature reviews in your online listing and in guest communications.

    We recommend that you contact guests soon after their departure to thank them for choosing your property and request suggestions on how their stay could have been improved. This is also an opportunity to ask them to write a review. Including a link to your review page will make it easier for guests to comment. Most guests are happy to provide feedback if requested to do so.

    Once you have gathered guest reviews, it is important that you direct prospective guests to your reviews. This can be accomplished by including statements such as “highly reviewed property,” “see property reviews…,” etc. in your listing description. Additionally, in communications with prospective guests, encourage them to read previous guests’ commentaries.

    Be prepared for both good as well as bad reviews. Most consumers are savvy enough to discern the validity of a bad review, however, the number of positive versus negative reviews will be an important consideration. You may want to consider listing your property on Flipkey, a subsidiary of Tripadvisor, which allows homeowners to respond online to guest reviews. This interaction between you and your guests can be particularly effective.

    Using customer feedback to drive revenues is a proven marketing technique. Like most effective marketing tools it must be actively managed and promoted in order to realize the full benefit.

    At VRS we recognize the importance of guest testimonials, which is why we have incorporated them into our Rental Management Plan. As part of our quality control function, we contact guests soon after their departure to thank them for choosing the property, to request feedback on the property and to request that they provide a property review.

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    If you could keep as much as 65% more rental income without sacrificing on service - why wouldn’t you?

    If you could hire a professional vacation rental management company to end the inconveniences and hassles - and pay an affordable fixed monthly fee for services - why wouldn’t you?

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