Vacation Rental 101: Guest Check-Ins

The Evolve Team
The Evolve Team
November 29, 2016

The easiest way to get great reviews is to ensure your guests have an effortless, stress-free stay. That experience starts from the moment they arrive in your city, and there are tons of things you can do to help create a stress-free vacation for your guests.

From ensuring your guests have an easy way to get their questions answered to providing a secure method of accessing the property, your check-in process sets the stage for your guest’s experience at your vacation rental. Let’s make sure it’s a great one.

Double-Check Your Cleaning Schedule

We’ve talked about how to find a reliable cleaning service in a previous 101 post, and this is where they’re really going to earn their bread and butter. Double-check that your cleaning service knows when you need the property cleaned to have it ready for your new guests’ arrival, and verify what time and day they’ll be coming to service it.

It’s especially important to double-check on your cleanings if you have a quick turnaround day: one guest checking out in the morning, and another guest checking in that afternoon. Be sure your cleaning service knows when your new guests will be arriving and that they’re prepared to complete their tasks a full hour before the guest’s arrival.

If you want a bit of added reassurance, most cleaning services are happy to send a quick text message to verify that the property is cleaned and guest-ready. If you’re operating your vacation rental remotely, you may want a little additional peace of mind!

Provide Easy Access

There are lots of different ways to provide guests with access to your vacation rental, and they involve varying levels of security, cost, and personal involvement. Which method you choose will depend heavily on the type of host you choose to be.

Key Hand-Off.

Some owners like to greet their guests personally and assure themselves that they’re comfortable having this party in their vacation rental. If you live locally and don’t mind taking the time, this can be an excellent option.

Be aware, however, that your guests may not be able to arrive promptly at your proposed check-in time because of travel delays. If you can be accommodating and helpful in those circumstances, you’ll earn huge points with your guests.

Cost: nothing but your time, and the occasional inexpensive house key replacement.

Programmable lockbox hanging over door handle Lockbox.

Programmable lockboxes have become a popular option for owners who don’t live locally. They allow you to leave the house keys inside a secure lockbox that can only be accessed with a code you provide to the guest, which you can change whenever you like.

Lockboxes are inexpensive and generally easy to program with the correct code. You do need to change the code in person, but this is a task you can easily delegate to a service provider such as your housekeeping staff – whom you should also direct to check to be sure the keys have been replaced after a guest checks out. The major downside is that lockboxes can be stolen and broken open by a determined thief.

Cost: generally around $30-$40, though there are more expensive models available.

Keyless entry solution with keypad on front door Keyless Entry.

Keyless entry systems essentially take the place of your door’s keyhole. Once installed, you can change the code on a keyless entry system with WiFi remotely, and since they’re installed into the door itself, it’s very difficult for anyone to tamper with them.

Keyless entry systems are extremely secure and easy to use, and the ability to change the code remotely at any time can be very helpful for vacation rental owners. The downside is that they’re more expensive to install and usually involve cutting into the door, which some owners may not want to do.

Cost: ranges from $100-$600, plus the cost of installation, which will vary by area.

Once you decide on how you’d like your guests to access your vacation rental, you’ll need to communicate the method to them via your check-in instructions.

Give Clear Check-In and Check-Out Instructions

Before your guests arrive, you’ll want to send them some instructions about how and when to check in and check out, as well as reminders about your house rules and policies.

Unless your guest has booked on short notice, you’ll want to send these check-in instructions well in advance of your guest’s arrival – we usually send them 15 days before their check-in date.

We recommend including the following in your check-in instructions:

  • Your property’s address. Put this at the very top of the page – they will need it to find your house, and you don’t want them to be frustrated when they can’t find it right away!
  • Driving directions to the property. Your guests may or may not use your instructions, but they can be particularly helpful if your property is not easy to find on Google Maps or Mapquest.
  • Parking instructions. If you are providing garage access, let your guests know how to get into the garage. Otherwise, tell them where it’s acceptable to park in your area, and how many cars they can bring.
  • Your local contact person. This might be you, or it might be a trusted neighbor or hired service partner who is willing to answer questions or help in case something goes wrong with the check-in process.
  • Check-in instructions. This is where you should provide your check-in time and explain how the guest will get access to your property. This may be via an in-person key hand-off, using a coded lockbox, or another method of your choosing. Make sure your guests know how to access your property!
  • Check-out instructions. Provide the check-out time and instructions for what you’d like the guest to do before leaving the house – such as taking out the trash or stripping the beds. You should also make sure they know how to return the keys or lock up the house on departure.
    We also like to include additional helpful information in the check-in instructions, such as the WiFi password or guidelines for where various important items – like spare linens – are located.

For bonus points, let them know where they can stop off and get groceries en route to your property!

Find a Local Contact

Despite all the effort you’ve put in to make sure your guests have an easy way to access your property and locate all the important items in your vacation rental, many of them will still have questions in the first 24 hours of their arrival.

This is completely understandable. Your guests will be travel-weary, stressed, and disoriented in new surroundings. They’ve had to deal with finding their luggage and picking up the rental car. Everyone’s tired and cranky, and their phones are likely almost out of battery power.

Under the circumstances, it’s not surprising if they’ve lost that entry code or can’t get the key to turn in the lock.

Which is why providing someone who can answer questions and help with problems is essential.

You may be able to field many questions remotely, and that’s a good option for guests who are frantically text-messaging questions about where the coffee maker is located. However, it’s very important to have someone available locally to help with problems that arise on the ground.

If your guests can’t access the property when they arrive exhausted and stressed out, they’re not going to have a very favorable opinion of your vacation rental. If, however, some nice person arrives right away to help them with that tricky lockbox and make sure they have everything they need, they’re going to feel well looked-after, and in the mood to leave you a great review.

If you can’t be the local contact person for your vacation rental, we highly recommend finding someone willing to be available on an as-needed basis. Only about 1 in 10 travelers will have any trouble accessing your property, but for the ones who do, this service will make all the difference.

Final Walk-Through

Let’s face it: stuff happens. The cleaning service forgets – just this once! – to empty the sink of dirty water after their cleaning job. A raccoon knocks over the potted plants out front. You or your local contact forgets to change the entry code to the one you gave the guest.

That’s why a final walk-through is so essential. Give yourself a very short checklist of items to verify just before every guest is due to arrive, and mark it off every time. Don’t rely on your memory! One of the reasons mistakes happen is that you’ve done these tasks so many times, you think you couldn’t possibly have forgotten one. But we’re all human – and your checklist is the safeguard against those human mistakes.

Check off to be sure that:

  • The code you gave this guest will open your lockbox or keypad
  • All the lights in every room turn on and off
  • Each room is clean and staged invitingly for new guests
  • The heat and/or AC are functioning properly
  • All the appliances and electronics are functioning properly
  • You’ve stocked sufficient bathroom and kitchen supplies for this guest’s stay

For owners who want to go above and beyond the call (and reap the rewards of glowing 5-star reviews), you can also use your walk-through for a little added presentation flair.

It’s worth spending a little time to think about how your property will appear to a guest when they first arrive. What would make them feel at home? What would make their life a little easier? What would make them feel welcome in your vacation rental?

In the best properties, we see owners:

  • Turn on the porch lights so guests can easily see how to access the property
  • Leave a few interior lights on so that guests aren’t walking into an unfamiliar, dark house
  • Provide a small note in the entryway to welcome guests to the property
  • Leave a few snacks or a bottle of wine in the kitchen as a gift to the guests
  • Turn down a corner of the bedclothes so that guests feel invited to hop in

It’s especially nice to offer these little touches if you know that your guests are traveling for a special occasion such as an anniversary, honeymoon, or birthday. Providing a small gift and a card to guests congratulating them is always welcome, and practically guarantees a great review.

If you aren’t local yourself, ask your cleaning service or your local contact if they’d be willing to add a few little tasks to their duties to ensure your guests feel right at home.

Check Out More Business Resources

We think an effortless check-in process for your guests should come with an easier vacation rental management process for you. With over a decade of experience and exclusive industry tools, Evolve is the perfect partner — no matter what stage of ownership you’re in.

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