Seven Rules for Servicing Short Term Rentals
Over the last five years, the short-term rental market has exploded, delivering some unique challenges and opportunities for our industry. When I first started, we had only one short-term rental pool and we tried to treat it like a residential service. Big mistake!
The pool was always trashed. Our customer, although understanding, was unhappy. As we added more short-term rentals (STRs) to our portfolio, a trend developed. During their busy season, we were inundated with extra requests and repairs that were unexpected or put off in the slow season. Suddenly, those extra requests and repairs became emergencies for the owners.
Taking on short-term rentals is like taking on all the demands of a commercial customer but at residential pricing. After a lot of pain and learning we developed a formula to not only maintain the pools appropriately but to sell the right level of service to the homeowners. Now we specialize in short-term rentals, and they have become a great source of income and referrals. Here are my seven rules for short-term rentals.
7 Rules for Servicing Short-term Rentals
Rule 1: Assume a weekly pool party.
STRs need to have a higher-than-average free chlorine reading to ensure that the pool will survive a massive party. Even if a rental is not scheduled, it's important to plan this way regardless. Last-minute reservations should be a boon for the homeowner and not stressful.
Rule 2: Multiple weekly services every week.
We like to explain it as having a “recovery visit” early in the week and a “prep visit” late in the week before the most common check-in dates. We plan recovery visits on Monday or Tuesday, and prep visits Thursday or Friday.
Rule 3: No skip weeks.
Most of our residential service customers pay a flat monthly rate regardless of the weeks in the month. We offset this by taking four holiday weeks every year. Since our STR customers will likely have visitors these weeks, they receive service on these weeks, too. We account for those extra service visits and charge accordingly.
Rule 4: Preventative maintenance is required.
We set clear expectations that filter cleanings, pool drains, spa drains, and regular service need to be performed at certain intervals. This helps us build a schedule to ensure that these services are never emergencies and that the equipment runs smoothly all year round.
Rule 5: Keep it local.
You may have heard me talk about “localizing and specializing” in the Growing Your Pool Service Business Guide. Build your business in a smaller area that you can easily visit daily. This is essential to provide emergency services when things do go wrong. If I receive an inquiry that is outside of my service area, I will refer those to respected pool pros who offer similar levels of service. They do the same for me.
Rule 6: Log & document what the guests do.
If you find the suction cleaner removed, the heater running unauthorized, broken glass, or valves turned, be sure to take photos before you correct it. Skimmer allows you to upload four photos in addition to the completed project, so we are always careful to log these issues that get sent to the owners after every visit. Not only does this provide us with reference-able history, but it ensures that the homeowner makes pool rules clear to guests. It also ensures that you are not liable for broken equipment or additional chemicals needed when a pool is not running all weekend.
Rule 7: Sell value.
Owners of short-term rentals may not be local, or they may be renting out their own vacation home. The owners and entities who purchase and rent out homes with pools or hot tubs know they can earn a premium rental rate. I find it to be very easy to convey value when discussing the cost of a complaint. If the pool, spa, or hot tub is dirty or not working properly, this can result in the property owner having to credit the stay or risk poor reviews.
The simple fact is that the cost of a single large complaint is more than a year of pool service in most cases. Bad reviews result in missed booking opportunities. Educate your buyers on what you’ve seen and offer them tips on how to educate their renters.
For example, DFW real estate agent and STR owner Shokor Jawshan factors maintenance costs into the price of his furnished rentals saying, “A home with a pool is a luxury item. Many of our guests have not owned a pool, so I make sure I have clear rules and penalties. My four-bedroom, two-bath home with a 20-year-old pool regularly earns $1,000 or more per month than my homes without pools. I charge $75 extra per dog/per day for doggie pool passes because they cause a lot of additional work for us. There’s a hefty fine if we find evidence that dogs were in the pool, so most guests are willing to pay that fee.”
I found it's important to put your foot down with some rules to ensure success. It's better to spend your time on customers that value your experience and knowledge and who participate in your structure, rather than trying to adapt your business to meet the requests of customers who may not fully understand their needs. Hold your ground and know your worth.
Educate your potential clients. Keep them in your Skimmer database with an “STR Prospect” tag, and send them occasional blast emails reminding them of your expertise and offering tips geared for STR owners. Offer to install lockboxes on pool controls.
Give them a sheet they can include in their welcome packets with how-tos and rules for operating the pool, spa, or hot tub. If – or when– things go south, you’ll be at the top of their list.
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