So you’ve fallen in love with island life, and you’re looking to find a way to have a permanent piece of St. John all to yourself. After pricing properties, you realize that perhaps your dream of keeping a small condo for personal use on the island is not as affordable as you expected. So what do you do?
Lease your island getaway as a vacation rental. It helps to offset the costs associated with maintaining a property year round, and it’s still available to you when you want to sit and relax on the beach. While vacation rentals can be quite lucrative, you will want to make sure you maximize your investment, or you’ll end up losing money, as well as possibly your sanity.
Don’t Skimp on the Overhead
You may want to start small, purchasing the most affordable property you can find and adding the bare necessities until you get some cash coming in. Unfortunately, this is a great way to doom your new project to failure. You will want to be sure and purchase a quality property, in a great location, if you hope to turn a profit. Having a desirable property increases your ability to price well, and also reduced your vacancy rates. Remember, this is an investment.
Make it a 5 Star Experience
Since most vacation rental bookings are based on reviews of previous guests, you want to make sure your guests are fully satisfied with the experience in your home. Think about what you would expect from a high-priced hotel, and try to match the experience. New, clean mattresses and linens, plenty of thick, plush towels, and all the amenities that you would expect should be standard. No one wants to arrive on their dream vacation and find thin, mismatched, and faded bath towels or hand-me-down quilts on the bed. If your kitchen is in need of updating or the bathroom is dated and dingy, have it renovated before you begin renting. Negative reviews are hard to overcome.
Hire an Interior Photographer
It sounds expensive, but hiring a professional photographer to take pictures of the property may be one of your best investments. It’s also surprisingly more affordable than you might think. Make sure the home is clean, well lit, and staged, and let them work their magic. Since the very first impression travelers are likely to have of your property is from the listing on the internet, it is essential that the photos posted are of exceptional quality, or potential customers will pass right by it. High quality photos also increase your pricing ability. No one will shell out good money for what appears to be a shadowy home with dark corners.
Set Reasonable Rates
When deciding how to price your rental, there are many things to consider. Research other rental properties and the amenities offered, and make careful considerations. The exact same floor plan with an ocean view across the hall may rent for $1500 a week, but if yours offers a view of the parking lot; you won’t be able to ask for that much. A similarly sized condo in another building may rent for considerably less if your building offers a beach access and a pool-side lounge. Don’t be afraid to price your property seasonally, it can help keep your vacancy rate down during the off-season and your prices high during peak seasons.
Carefully Consider Amenities
In addition to the basics like linens and dishes, consider what your guests will expect when deciding what to include. Over the last few years, Wi-Fi has become an expectation, not a luxury. Offering a home without it is certain to impact your vacancy rate. $50 a month may sound like a lot of money, but if you’re rental is vacant for half the month, you’ll lose out on hundreds. Standards like coffee, ironing boards, and hairdryers should always be included, as well as the basics like dish soap, toilet paper, and other consumables.
Keep up with the Maintenance
Stay ahead of any potential disasters, like the hot-water heater or air conditioning quitting in the middle of a week. As with most things in life, prevention is always cheaper than dealing with a crisis. Have your heating and air conditioning serviced twice a year; make sure that the plumbing and electricity are well maintained. Paying a servicing fee every few months to ensure everything is in good working order is going to be significantly cheaper than hiring a 24-hour technician to replace the water heater on a Saturday. Replace linens and towels regularly, and replace damaged items as soon as they are noticed. Once a year, have the place freshly painted and re-caulk bathrooms and kitchens.
Pay Attention to Your Listing
Make sure that you are advertising your St John Condos on a quality site, and do not list on more than one or two. Keeping up with bookings and availability becomes a hassle if you find yourself having to update 10 different websites every few days. Listing on free sites may sound like a way to save money, but remember that free sites have their downsides as well. Consider scammers, having to make your own payment arrangements, and also the fact that guests searching on these sites are often looking for cheap deals. If you list on a free site, it will drive down your pricing and increase your vacancy rates. If possible, allow your management company to take care of the listing.
Hire an Excellent Management Company
Unless you already live on the island, you’re going to need someone to look after the day-to-day operations such as check-in/check-out, cleaning, restocking, and maintenance. This may be the single most important investment you make. A quality management company is the difference between 2 star and 5 star reviews and is the key factor in determining your vacancy rates. A company that has 24/7 response and offers excellent customer service is not just an option, it’s a necessity. If the stove quits working on a Saturday evening, your guest needs to be able to reach someone immediately to resolve the issue. You want to talk to other clients that use the company, and look for guest reviews on other properties that they manage.
Just like with other hospitality based industries, customer service can make or break your business. Look for a clean office, professional front office staff, and one that is licensed and bonded. There may be an island resident who is willing to offer to perform the services on the cheap, but remember you get what you pay for, and there’s no guarantee they’ll answer their phone in the middle of the night. A quality company may seem to have outrageous prices, but if they handle landscaping, maintenance, housekeeping, restocking, marketing, and handling payment, you’re almost guaranteed to save money over trying to hire for all of those services individually.
Don’t be Stingy
A running theme you may have noticed is that you need to be willing to spend money to make money. A good investment costs more, but offering a quality service to potential guests makes all the difference in the world between turning a profit, and turning your property back over to the bank. Your guest’s experiences will be detailed on the internet for the world to see, and won’t go away. Stay ahead of any potential problems, and make sure your guests are happy to ensure that your property becomes a money-maker and not a money pit.