How to Make Money with Vacation Rental: 5 Tips for First-Timers

The Evolve Team
The Evolve Team
November 13, 2020

Mollie and Jim Platt are successful vacation rental owners in the historic coastal district of Morehead City, NC. The high-season calendar is packed with bookings at their quaint Mermaid Cottage. They’re making thousands of dollars in vacation rental income every year.

You wouldn’t know it, but not long ago, the Platts were vacation rental newbies. They’d never before taken on the responsibility of managing a short-term rental property, and were worried about whether their business venture would succeed or fail.

The Platts are not alone. Hundreds of investors and second-home owners enter the vacation rental industry every day. Running a second home or investment property like a business is a tall task for first-timers.  That’s why we asked the Platts—and other now-seasoned owners like them—to reveal what they wish they knew when they were just getting their rental properties off the ground. Here, find our comprehensive list of strategic tips for first-time vacation rental owners. You’ll reduce stress levels while maximizing returns. It’s a win-win.

Pro Tip #1 | Do Your Vacation Rental Homework 

You’re off to a great start…because you’re here, reading this right now! 

From setting rates and figuring out which listing sites are best to staying in the know on state and local regulations, there’s a wealth of knowledge first-time vacation rental owners must absorb to be successful.  

“When I first started in the business back in 2005, there wasn’t as much information about vacation rental readily-available. I would read everything I could get my hands on and study other rentals in my area,” said Karen Hopkins, owner of eight short-term rentals in Branson, Missouri. 

Karen paved the way to profitability by doing her homework. She was committed to avoiding first-time mistakes by leveraging hospitality recommendations from experienced sources. Today, Karen’s properties get hundreds of bookings a year.

Luckily, owners no longer have to look as hard as Karen did in 2005. A simple Google search pulls up a ton of valuable info for first-timers. Our personal suggestion? The Evolve blog is a great place to start. Check out some of our key resources here:

Pour over these articles, be a sponge, and use this knowledge to empower your next steps in vacation rental success.

Pro Tip #2 | Don’t Pinch Pennies Upfront 

When you’re just getting started with vacation rental, it’s tempting to cut corners in an effort to maximize your returns. This often takes two common forms: 

  • Doing everything yourself so you reap 100% of the business rewards 
  • Trying to skimp on household upgrades instead of investing in a refresh before guests lay eyes on your rental property

Frugality might seem like a responsible driving principal, but it forces owners to work tirelessly to generate rental income results. Ultimately, investing in your vacation rental upfront and releasing the reins of absolute control mean a simpler path to success—and more money in your pocket in the long run.

You might be thinking, “Okay. I’m on board. But what exactly will that entail?” Here’s the short of it: upgrade your vacation rental with simple luxuries, and onboard services that can take your business venture to the next level. Our next two tips will help you navigate these recommendations in more detail.

Pro Tip # 3 | Welcome Guests with Simple Luxury to Suit a Variety of Tastes

Simply luxurious bedroom

When decorating your vacation rental, it’s important to create a comfortable and convenient space for any guest to enjoy. To achieve this goal, start with a base canvas of classic, crisp lines and color palettes. Exercise design discretion and prioritize neutrality to appeal to a wide array of tastes.

“I should have skipped the cheap colored linens, the themed heavy comforters, and the mountain of coordinating throw pillows,” said Tyann Marcink, a professional vacation rental photographer and the owner of eight rentals in Missouri. “I should have gone straight to commercial white linens with extra pillowcases and the triple sheet method of making the bed.”

Similarly, make an investment in new, high-quality furniture when you first open your rental’s doors. The scuffed living room set you’ve had for years might be perfectly comfortable for you and your family, but it looks like wear and tear to guests.

“At first, we used the outdoor furniture we had instead of shelling out for new chairs, and our guests noticed,” said John Lisanick, the owner of My Sweet Escape, a cottage in Virginia’s Northern Neck. “We corrected that right away and added ample deck chairs and cozy cushions.”

And while choice furniture and unbusy prints are sure to suit a variety of design tastes, guests have also selected their vacation destinations intentionally. “I would add more decorations sooner than I did,” explained Al Williamson, a successful property owner and the expert behind the Leading Landlord Blog.

Incorporate subtle accents that evoke the feel of the area to position your vacation rental as an idyllic extension of the destination. Ski condos outfitted with mountain touches and beach houses with coastal decorations tend to get more bookings than those with no nod to the charm of the locale.

The final step in capturing understated luxury? Keep each room well-stocked with simple amenities.

Offer spices in the pantry, toiletries in every bathroom, and throw blankets in living spaces. Your guests should have the comforts of home at their fingertips for that kick-back-and-relax feel. “It’s surprising how much of a difference the right amenities and local decor can make to your success,” said Karen Hopkins.

“Then,” added Al, “I’d quickly get a professional photographer in so I could show off how great the place looks. This would have shortened the time it took me to recoup my initial startup investment.”

The Simple Luxury Checklist

Pro Tip # 4 | Let Professionals Handle the Brass Tacks 

It only took a few months for Mollie and Jim’s Mermaid Cottage to see wild success. Their secret? They did not attempt to own every aspect of their vacation rental endeavor. 

“We studied the pros and cons of going with Evolve and it was a no-brainer! I am happy to let Evolve handle the business aspects of running a vacation rental. It frees us up so we can spend more time bringing 5-star, above-and-beyond customer service to our guests.”

By outsourcing their rental marketing and management, the Platts achieved a polished professionalism right out of the gate—and avoided setbacks that often accompany inexperience. 

For Karen Hopkins, this lesson was learned the hard way. “I thought I needed to do everything myself to preserve as much of the revenue as possible. When in actuality, after I made the switch to using Evolve, my revenue increased by far more than my fees. ”

“Plus,” she noted during our conversation, “it left me with more time to take care of all the other parts of the business so we could continue to grow.”

After hiring a vacation rental management service to help, homeowners often realize that their revenue results can significantly outweigh the rental income they’d give up in the process. And, like Karen, they see a return on investment faster, while doing a lot less work.

Pro Tip # 5 | Price Your Home for Year-Round Success

SmartRates Calendar

All too often, vacation rental owners make mistakes when establishing daily rates for guests.

Some apply a flat rate to an entire calendar year, only to find their listings struggling when peak season ends and competition dwindles. Others price too high year-round, and consistently lose out to cheaper rentals nearby.

For owners who come out of the gate with the lowest prices on the market, occupancy soars—but when returns are tallied, they’ve ultimately undercut themselves, and miss out on revenue they should’ve had in hand.

There are a number of pricing strategies worth consideration when you’re first starting out in vacation rental. The key across every option is to pay attention to market data, seasonal fluctuation, and your direct competition. Be sure to measure your home against others with equivalent amenities and conveniences. And stay away from applying personal value to certain luxuries. Just because you’d pay $100 extra per night for a 3-car garage doesn’t mean your guests will see it that way.

Bottom line: a dynamic pricing strategy is crucial for achieving solid net occupancy and making top dollar on every booking. At Evolve, we’ve developed an exclusive algorithm, called SmartRates, to analyze billions of ever-changing data points. We track overall demand, seasonality, similar properties, and current trends. 

As a result, our owners are outperforming their competition with record-breaking success; they earn 24% more compared to those using traditional pricing methods.

It’s Time to Give Your Vacation Rental a Profitable Head Start with Evolve

With the right resources and strategies under your belt, you’re sure to leave mistakes at the door—and join the ranks of our most successful vacation rental owners.

Evolve’s fresh approach to vacation rental management gives you total marketing, booking, and customer support across all websites like Airbnb, Vrbo, and Booking.com. 

We’ll connect you with trusted cleaning and support partners, and you can decide who to work with to create the Home Team of your dreams.

It’s our job to drive more guests to your property for maximum income, so you can focus on providing an incredible guest experience—all for an industry-low 10% management fee.

We’ve helped 14,000+ homeowners earn more than $1 billion in rental income. And we’d love to help you.

See if you qualify or call one of our Vacation Rental Advisors today at 877.881.7584. 

We’ll Help You Navigate the Industry

We’ll help you manage your home and book more nights for just 10% of what you make.

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