The Beach House Budget Challenge: Ten Tips for Cutting Costs in Your Vacation Rental Property This Year—Without Cutting Corners

Yes you can cut the expenses associated with owning a vacation home, without driving away renters. HomeAway.com’s Christine Karpinski explains how to put your seaside cottage or rustic mountain cabin on a budget. 
 

Austin, TX (January 2009)—We know, we know. The economy is in trouble, and money is tighter than ever. You’d be hard-pressed to find a family who isn’t clipping coupons and keeping the thermostat a notch or two lower. But as a vacation rental property owner, you envy most of them. After all, they have only the one home front to worry about. You have two. That’s right. You’re torn between the need to cut expenses associated with your beach house or mountain condo and the knowledge that if you pinch too many pennies your renters will drift away to more comfy digs. The good news, says Christine Karpinski, is that finding the right balance is easier than you might think.

“You don’t have to make major changes to cut costs in your rental property this year,” says Karpinski, director of Owner Community for HomeAway.com and author of How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner, 2nd Edition: The Complete Guide to Buy, Manage, Furnish, Rent, Maintain and Advertise Your Vacation Rental Investment (Kinney Pollack Press, 2007, ISBN: 0-9748249-9-2, $26.00). “While the prospect of ‘cutting back’ may seem overwhelming, you’ll find that a few small, simple, conscious changes can make a huge difference to your bottom line.”

Ready to take the beach-house-budget (or cabin-cash-crunch) challenge? Read on for Christine’s tips on how to cut your vacation home expenses in 2009.

Get it all down on paper. Before you cut costs, you need a complete picture of where you’re spending your money in the first place. In other words, close yourself up in your office with a cup of hot tea and create your vacation home budget. Once you have all of your current expenses laid out in front of you, you can begin to put a cost-cutting strategy in place.

“The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to do this,” says Karpinski. “You can review your expenses from the previous year and make adjustments for spending your money more wisely in 2009.”

Make your 2009 shopping list (and check it twice). When you sit down to create your budget, make a list of all of the items you think you may need to purchase for your vacation rental in the next year. Include new amenities that you’d like to add to make your home more marketable—A hot tub for the deck? An espresso machine? Internet service?—as well as replacement items for those already in your home that may become worn, lost, or broken in the coming year. 

“It can be painful to think about spending money when you’re seeking to cut costs,” admits Karpinski. “Still, it’s better to know what you’re going to need upfront than to bury your head in the sand. Staying mindful of upcoming purchases makes you more likely to put the requisite money aside. That way your finances won’t have to sustain a surprise hit.”

Think about refinancing. Bad news for the economy could actually be good news for individual homeowners with solid credit. Specifically, low mortgage interest rates make refinancing a viable option for many homeowners. Pay close attention to the finance market in the coming weeks and months, suggests Karpinski, and pull all of your documentation together so that you can act quickly once you find a favorable rate.

“Refinancing may be stressful for some, but is typically well worth the effort,” she explains. “Locking in to a lower rate could save you big bucks in the long-term.”

Cut out the middle man and rent by owner. If you currently use a property management company or a booking agency, you are most likely cutting into your annual profits and paying unnecessary fees. Might you rent out your vacation home yourself? Figure out what you are paying each year for these services and weigh it against the amount of your own time and energy it will take to run your property. It will require some commitment on your part, but the extra money can make it worth doing.

“It might be helpful to think of this as a second job,” explains Karpinski. “It will likely mean more work for you, but you could potentially increase your in-pocket revenue by anywhere from 25-150 percent depending on your current commission agreement.”

Don’t be afraid to buy generic. Stocking up on convenience products like dishwashing and laundry detergent, glass cleaner, disinfecting wipes, and hand soap pays for itself in guest satisfaction. They won’t have to run out and buy their own—and they’ll see that you really do have their comfort at heart. Best of all (for your wallet), they won’t care a bit if you provide the less expensive store or no-name brands.

You may be surprised at how much money you can save by avoiding the brand names for household products,” says Karpinski. “Generic brands tend to work just as well and your guests won’t be able to tell the difference. What they will notice is if those amenities are not offered at all.”

Don’t let your empty house run up the bills. In the summer and winter months it can be expensive to heat and cool your home. Leave a note for your guests reminding them to turn down the thermostats before they depart. Have your housekeeper to double-check behind guests after each stay. And if your home is sitting unoccupied for more than a few days, ask him or her to unplug all of your appliances and electronics (just make sure the refrigerator is empty first!).

“Small changes, like turning down the temperature on your water heater, can save you hundreds of dollars by the year’s end,” advises Karpinski. “Pay your housekeeper a little extra for helping to keep your electric bill down, and it could be the best investment you make all year.”

Karpinski also suggests making inexpensive modifications to your home to make it more energy efficient. Small steps, like caulking and installing weather-strip around doors and windows and switching light bulbs to energy-efficient models, can add up to big savings. 

Embrace your inner do-it-yourselfer. As with any home, your vacation rental property will need periodic updating and maintenance. It can be tempting to hire out the handy work, but doing so will cost you. When it’s time for home improvement projects such as painting walls, laying tile, and installing crown molding—or for your home’s quarterly “deep cleaning”—roll up your sleeves and get to work! Far from being dreaded tasks, some of these projects can be fun learning experiences (especially if you get the whole family involved).  

“Performing some of your own home improvements could save you big bucks,” Karpinski asserts. “Just be sure to research the project and its requirements ahead of time—and attempt only those projects you are reasonably sure you can do. If you have to hire someone to come in and undo your mess, you could end up spending more than you would have originally.”  

Don’t hesitate to negotiate. Call your telephone provider and ask about bundling services for a cheaper rate. Ask your power company about paying a consistent rate throughout the year instead of paying a premium in certain months. Check with your insurance provider to see if a lower rate is available. In other words, don’t just meekly accept the prices you have been paying all along. Ask and you may well receive. 

“Many homeowners assume that the price they pay is the only option available,” explains Karpinski. “During tough economic times like these, service providers are more grateful for your business than ever before—and are often willing to negotiate if it means keeping you as a customer.” 

Stock up at home. As a vacation homeowner, you are probably well aware that the cost of living in vacation destinations tends to be higher than in the rest of the country. Consequently, household items like linens, towels, dishes, and BBQ grills tend to cost more as well. Take advantage of the lower prices and (likely) better selection of your primary home market when making purchases for your rental property. It’s easier to catch sales and bargains at home as well.  

“If you wait till the last minute to stock up on necessities, you can end up paying a premium,” warns Karpinski. “It’s much more frugal to stock up on purchases in your hometown and take them with you on your quarterly cleaning trip.”  

Plan your own vacation home visits for the off-peak season. If you want to maximize the amount of potential revenue you can make in 2009, consider booking your personal stays in your home during the shoulder or off-season. While you may enjoy visiting your vacation home at the height of summer (if you have a beach cottage) or ski season (if you own a mountain chalet), you may be taking up a week that you likely would have booked otherwise.  

“In times of economic uncertainty you should try to get all of the bookings you can, even if it means a bit of personal sacrifice,” advises Karpinski. “The extra income this year can create a safety net you’ll be glad to have. This doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy your vacation home. A getaway is a getaway no matter what time of year you go!” 

If these cost-cutting measures seem like a lot of hassle—and if owning a vacation home at all is starting to feel like a bad idea in today’s economy—try not to get discouraged, says Karpinski.

“The fact that the U.S. economy has hit a rough patch doesn’t detract from the benefits of owning a vacation home,” she says. “Real estate has always been, and will continue to be, a great long-term investment. And if you’re doing everything right, rental-wise, your property will not only pay for itself but may actually be a welcome source of additional income. So make your plan and put it into action—and get ready to thrive in 2009.”

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About Christine Karpinski:

Christine Karpinski is the author of How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner, 2nd Edition: The Complete Guide to Buy, Manage, Furnish, Rent, Maintain and Advertise Your Vacation Rental Investment (Kinney Pollack Press, 2007, ISBN: 0-9748249-9-2, $26.00) and Profit from Your Vacation Home Dream: The Complete Guide to a Savvy Financial and Emotional Investment (Kaplan, 2005, ISBN: 1-4195069-1-9, $19.95).

Her books, combined with her seminars, media appearances, and Web site (OwnerCommunity.com), help thousands of people purchase and manage their vacation homes. Today she serves as director of OwnerCommunity for HomeAway, Inc. (HomeAway.com).

About HomeAway, Inc.:

The HomeAway, Inc., websites connect homeowners and property managers with travelers who seek the space, value and amenities of vacation rental homes as an alternative to hotels. With more than 300,000 global listings across the sites, travelers may easily search for budget- to luxury-priced vacation rentals on HomeAway.com, VRBO.com, VacationRentals.com, CyberRentals.com, A1Vacations.com, GreatRentals.com, TripHomes.com, Holiday-Rentals.co.uk, OwnersDirect.co.uk, FeWo-direkt.de and Abritel.fr.  The sites also feature reviews and the HomeAway Rent with Confidence Guarantee™, which help ensure a memorable HomeAway from home® experience. HomeAway is headquartered in Austin, Texas, and funded by Austin Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, American Capital, Institutional Venture Partners and Trident Capital.

 

 No Cutting Zone: Four Things Vacation Homeowners Should NOT Skimp on in 2009

By Christine Karpinski, director of Owner Community for HomeAway.com and author ofHow to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner, 2nd Edition: The Complete Guide to Buy, Manage, Furnish, Rent, Maintain and Advertise Your Vacation Rental Investment(Kinney Pollack Press, 2007, ISBN: 0-9748249-9-2, $26.00).
 

1. Marketing. If you spend a good chunk of your budget on marketing your vacation home, it can be tempting to make this your first cut. Resist! Actually, you should market more. In a down economy, fewer travelers are taking vacations, so this is the time to increase your exposure and reach as many potential renters as possible. 

2. Housekeeping. The number one complaint that most renters have about where they have stayed is the cleanliness of the property. For that reason, you must make sure your home sparkles. Unless you live in the same town as your vacation home and are willing to spend a lot of time cleaning, don’t cut your housekeeper out of your budget. She is your biggest ally. (In fact, you might be better served by giving her a raise!) 

3. Must-Have Amenities. Every vacation home has unique qualities that keep guests coming back time and again. If you’ve rented your home out for any length of time, you probably know what it is that makes your place special. If you know your guests choose your home for a certain amenity—free wireless Internet, freshly chopped firewood for snowy nights, or a heated pool for after-summer rentals—make sure that it doesn’t get trimmed in the budget cuts. Doing so may mean losing return customers. 

4. Major Home Improvement Projects. Unless it’s already your day job, it’s not a good idea to take on major maintenance work yourself just to save a few bucks. Stay away from doing any electrical, plumbing, HVAC, or structural work yourself. More often than not, when non-experts try to tackle these home improvement projects, they end up causing more problems than they fix—and end up spending more than paying a professional would have cost to begin with.  

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