So you’re thinking about hiring a property management company for your vacation rental.
Maybe you’ve got an extra home, you just purchased a new property, or you’re exploring ways to make some extra income. It could be your first time dealing with vacation rentals, or maybe you’ve been burned by property management companies before.
A question you might be wondering is — why shouldn’t I just do this myself?
While there are owners who handle management themselves, it can be incredibly time-consuming to promote your rental, field traveler inquiries, take quality photos, write and revise the listing, answer questions about your property, vet potential guests, juggle on-the-ground services like cleaning and maintenance, and follow up for reviews.
There’s a better way. Hiring the right vacation rental management company for your home can take the stress, endless tasks, extra time, and marketing responsibilities off your plate.
But before you hire a traditional or local property manager, make sure to ask these seven questions to know you’re getting everything you need.
You’re looking for a manager who has a good feel for the local market. A great property manager will know the ins and outs of your location — high season, low season, competing rates, what types of property are most popular in the area, and how local regulations and trends are affecting vacation rentals. You can prep for your conversation with our market-by-market vacation rental performance reports.
Ask your potential manager questions about the local market and feel out their responses. If the vacation rental manager has reasonable answers to those questions, you’ve probably found a solid manager who spends a good amount of time thinking about how to help their clients succeed.
If they seem uncertain or their answers seem off, you may want to keep looking. Be particularly wary if you know about regulations in the area that they don’t; every manager should be fully aware of the status of local short-term rental regulations. And don’t base their experience on years in the business. There are quite a few longtime property managers out there who haven’t kept up with changes in the industry and don’t perform well as a result.
Many vacation rental property management fees range from 25-50% of your rental income. And, in some areas, the rates continue to rise.
Before hiring a local property manager, do the math to determine whether you can afford to pay that high of a fee and still meet your rental income goals.
Contracts are the biggest sticking point for owners who have wound up with a poor property manager. If you figure out in the first two months that the property manager isn’t doing their job well, but you’re locked in for a year-long contract, you’re going to be very unhappy for the remaining ten months of that year. You’ll also want to know the payment terms and timing. Some managers can take months to pay and, if you’re caught in an unfavorable contract, it can be a long time until you get paid.
If a management company requires a contract, ask whether there are any out clauses based on performance or poor service. For example, if the management company fails to clean the property three times in one year, or only gets you two bookings in six months, you should be able to leave their service without a penalty.
Above all, make sure any fees and agreements help you build a vacation rental business that prioritizes guest experience over short-term profit.
You’re hiring a vacation rental management company for the high level of services they provide. You’ll want to know exactly what services are included in their fee.
Specifically ask whether the fee covers marketing, photography, writing the listing, updating the listing, observing market trends, cleaning, maintenance, pre-stay walkthroughs, or in-person visits for any issues that arise during a guest’s stay.
You should also ask about any services that are not included in their fee – for example, some property management companies will charge an additional fee if one of their employees has to visit the property outside of business hours to address a problem the guest is having. Excellent guest support should not cost more.
Once you know what services the fee does and does not cover, ask yourself if you’re getting enough bang for your buck. If your management company covers everything from marketing to maintenance, the fee may be worthwhile. If it only covers cleaning and all other services are a la carte, you should probably keep shopping for a better deal.
This is an important one. Ask them how and where they’ll market your property.
Many vacation rental management companies prefer to market their clients’ properties only on their own website. These days, that’s not enough. You want to be on all the major websites with highly professional listings. No matter how popular a local manager’s site is, it’s never going to get the same amount of traffic as major online listing sites like Vrbo, HomeAway or Airbnb – which means you’ll be missing out on a lot of potential guests if you’re limited to one website. Make sure you understand their marketing plan.
Marketing is a big word that includes the photography of your rental, a high-converting property listing, framing your rental for current trends and the market, and how it is promoted.
A vacation rental manager’s 25-50% ought to cover the cost of marketing your property on at least one major listing site in addition to any marketing efforts they make to raise the profile of their own site. Listen for words like “appear high in the search results” or “search engine marketing” – these are good indicators your manager has put effort into raising and maintaining their website’s profile online.
Your manager should also actively solicit reviews from happy guests and follow up with guests who have already stayed at the property to see if they want to book again next year. Ask your vacation rental manager what they do to ensure repeat business and 5-star reviews to entice new guests to come and stay at your property.
Vacation rental managers aren’t awake around the clock, (which is just fine, because most guests aren’t either) but they should be available when people are likely to be making their travel plans: before work, after work, and on weekends.
If your manager is only available to make bookings from 9-5 on weekdays, the odds are very good you’ll be missing out on bookings from people who work standard office jobs at those hours. Believe it or not, the ideal response time for inquiries is 15 minutes, so the bar is pretty high for providing the kind of service that turns into bookings.
You should also ask if guests are able to book online and use a credit card. The vast majority of guests prefer to book online, and very few are willing to get on the phone or send a paper check in the mail. If your potential manager doesn’t offer any way for those guests to book online, you’ll again miss out on bookings.
After every stay, you should confirm that your guests left your property in good condition and that any accidental damage was documented and addressed. Be sure to ask your potential vacation rental manager how they handle issues like broken dishes or missing items after a guest’s stay.
You’re looking for a manager who performs a post-stay walkthrough after every guest leaves, takes photos of any damages for your records, and takes steps to bring the property back up to good condition for the next guests.
Your property manager isn’t expected to pay for damages out of pocket – that cost will come from the guest’s deposit or a damage protection program like Property Protection Plus (included as part of Evolve’s lightweight vacation rental management approach). However, your manager should notice the damage, report it, and speak to the guest about retaining their deposit to cover the damage if necessary.
Always ask to speak with a few existing clients prior to signing a contract. Previous and current owners can share details about working with the vacation rental managers and exactly what to expect from your arrangement.
If a manager is reluctant to give you references or isn’t enthusiastic about current clients speaking about their experience, that’s a sign this manager isn’t going to be a good fit for you. You should be able to hear or read success stories from customers who endorse the company.
On the other hand, if their current clients rave about this vacation rental manager and give you lots of insider tips they’ve learned since working with them on navigating the local market, full speed ahead! This manager may well be just the business partner you’re looking for.
The traditional models of vacation rental management are outdated. Doing it yourself is a LOT of work and, as we’ve covered, working with traditional property management companies means less control with fees that are hard to justify.
But there’s a better way. You don’t have to do it all yourself. And you don’t have to sign a contract with an overpriced property manager. Evolve is different.
Evolve’s lightweight management approach gives you total marketing, booking, and customer support, plus the power to choose your own “home team” to clean and monitor your property.
Basically, we drive more guests to your property for maximum income, while giving you more choices with fewer rules – all for an industry-low 10% booking fee.
We’ve helped 10,000+ homeowners earn more than $500 million in rental income. And we’d love to help you.