Paper Machee by Patti Haskins
Utilizing online tools saves time and effort: how you can do it with your vacation rental business!
For decades the process of renting out a vacation home has typically involved mailing documents back and forth using the postal service.
First, the homeowner would buy advertising in publications read by people who would likely be interested in their property – publications such as alumni magazines, The New York Review of Books, etc. A brochure, mailed to prospective renters each year, was commonplace, too. As well, homeowners and guests typically made the transaction by having the owner mail the guest a reservation contract with cancellation policy; the guest would sign this, mail it back along with the check payment (sometimes they would mail out various checks as the reservation approached – a deposit, then balance, etc.). After the reservation was over, the owner then may refund the damage deposit, if there was one, by mailing yet another check. Conscientious hosts often sent a “thank you for staying at my home” letter of gratitude to the guests for their business and for having signed the guest book.
Fast forward twenty years and so much has changed! The effectiveness of the paper heavy approach has worn thin, quickly being replaced by more digital forms of distribution. The paper trail of decades past has given way to a more environmentally friendly, and convenient – online – solution.
STREAMLINING YOUR BUSINESS WITHOUT PRINTOUTS
“Trashed” by Muffett
Not only would you be helping the environment by cutting out the unreliable Pony – er…Postal Express, thus leaving less of a carbon footprint, you’d also have more secure copies of information and be better connected to your guests.
We all know sending something by snail mail has its risks. It can get lost or stolen; more often it will just take too darn long. Imagine having a guest mail you a check and then wait to receive and deposit it while another guest offers to pay for the same nights via PayPal, credit card, or even e-check. You’d be caught in a bind, wouldn’t you? After all, your booking is contingent upon payment. Until then, it is unconfirmed.
Forget about express, overnight, and other expedited delivery options. Forget about printing out copy upon copy at Kinkos. Save yourself time and money by bringing this all online.
I had a client recently tell me that she had to work through the weekend on re-creating her rental calendar for her three properties, explaining that her four year old had wandered into her home office and got creative with the white board she’d been using. Another client said he had mistakenly made a double booking for the second time using his little calendar book. Upon visiting a client earlier in the year I discovered her calendar book splotched with white out on every page.
This doesn’t have to be, folks! With online calendars, especially ones where the calendar is updated automatically when you get an online booking, this is much less likely to happen. If you want to have an automated calendar including scheduling for housekeepers, your account at Rentini is equipped with one. For a calendar not solely dedicated to your online rental business, we recommend Google Calendar.
Online Booking and Payment
Checks, while their usage is declining, are still surprisingly popular in the United States. This is evident in the vacation rental industry where many homes are booked far in advance. Owners prefer to have guests cut a check instead of paying by credit cards that force someone to burden the associated fees.
The emergence of telephone and online banking has greatly disrupted the check. Each generation wants everything faster. I just saw a couple of kids staring at their smartphone and then roll their eyes and whine that it was taking “too long”. A second is no longer good enough in the era of the nanosecond! This is becoming more apparent in the vacation rental industry as well.
It has never been more important to offer online booking and payment options. They’re faster and more convenient. Direct deposits via credit card, PayPal, and e-checks are good alternatives. The e-check solution is particularly appealing because, like its paper counterpart, it is also absent of credit card or PayPal fees. Of course there are also payment methods such as wire transfers or international bank transfers. Both of these methods are more costly, and in the case of wire transfers, riskier. (Wire transfers have been the method of choice for scam artists in order to swindle unsuspecting guests to send them money for a rental they’re pretending they’re the owner of.) E-checks, while taking a few days to process, will be increasingly popular for owners and guests because of the reduction in fees.
Receipts, Bills, and Statements
With the advent of online banking, instead of having to wait for a statement to arrive in the mail or to have to contact the bank about recent activity, now one can log-in to their secure account online and see it for themselves. This is safer than receiving a mailed statement that anyone could potentially intercept.
During a booking, services like Rentini automatically send out email statements, payment reminders and receipts, which contain more detailed information and are stored and easily recoverable. Reservation details are always already available as well. So opt into a service that provides e-receipts. PayPal does, Rentini does too, so that you can have a documentary record of payment details from the source of the transaction.
Instead of placing ads in magazines, newspapers, and publications, nowadays you’ll want to connect with more guests by listing on websites catering to them. Some listing sites, such as Rentini.com, are free of charge. Pricing and services vary, so you’ll want to look into it closely.
Depending on your business, it may just be a good idea to quit the brochure and create a website in its place. The website, above all, has emerged as the ultimate marketing tool, upon which your social media efforts are anchored. If you haven’t got a website for your property yet – get one for free here.
Before the Internet disrupted the hospitality industry, the guest book was a valuable and treasured resource. Nowadays, however, they’re less relevant and are seen more in a nostalgic light as a relic of the past. Guest books are largely obsolete – online testimonials and reviews have replaced them. Why? Testimonials are the online equivalent to the guest book. And reviews, which I differentiate from testimonials, are becoming more difficult to manipulate – they speak more to truth than kind words scrawled in a guest book ever did.
Contract and Cancellation Policy
Many homeowners don’t realize that they don’t have to mail a cancellation policy to get it signed. The entire cancellation policy can be online. The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) stipulates that, “Signatures and records cannot be denied legal validity simply because they are electronic.” By paying for something, you’re agreeing to the Terms of that purchase whatever it may be. At Rentini homeowners are able to upload a custom cancellation policy or choose from among several templates. By booking online, guests enter into a contract that is legally valid. This process can be done via PDF file as well. In short, electronic signatures are becoming more and more in vogue; from a legal perspective they’re no less legitimate from the way John Hancock did it in 1789.
Bookkeeping and Information Storage
Bookkeeping is one of the more complex areas of your rental business, one directly related to taxes. But don’t let the name fool you – none of this has to be entered in a book anymore. Much of it can be done via a simple spreadsheet (spreadsheet software is widely available for safe storage online), it can be done via Quickbooks, or pricey software specifically catered to vacation rentals such as Escapia. The important thing is to have your financial records ready for quick access. That’s why I recommend having them stored online. There are many tools with which to store them, such as Google Drive and Dropbox. You can also have them backed up on a physical hard drive if you wish.
Final note: Conservation and Eco-friendly practices will only become more important in years to come. Often it makes for the healthiest, most sustainable way to do business and thrive. By implementing some of the above suggestions you’ll save time and effort, and even a few trees too!
Missing something? Disagree/agree? Please, share your thoughts and comments below!
“Rentini was founded by a couple of computer guys from Silicon Valley. They were tired of the slow pace of the travel industry, in which many things are still done by pen & paper.”
Photo by Jimmie’s Collage