This success story is near and dear to my heart not only because it is our own vacation rental home, but because it was the inspiration for me to go into the vacation rental consulting business and help other vacation rental homeowners. It has been such a fun journey with our own home and I love helping others turn their vacation rental home(s) into a more rewarding and profitable business.
My parents bought the home in 2006 at Lake of the Ozarks, MO as a real estate investment with another couple. For almost 8 years, the home more or less broke even and the inquiry/booking side of the business was extremely labor intensive for my parents as they were doing everything the ‘old school’ way (e.g. mailing rental agreements, collecting payments via check and keeping everything updated on an actual calendar). It hurts my head just thinking about having to manage a property this way!
By 2014, my parent’s co-owners were looking to liquidate some of their real estate investments and Echo Valley was one of them. Once I heard about this, I knew I wanted to be a part of it and was thrilled when my husband had the same vision and we agreed to become co-owners with my parents (definitely a nerve wracking but exciting moment early on in our marriage!). For me, I saw it as so much more than a real estate investment and I couldn’t wait to apply my years of marketing experience to begin generating a profit.
By 2014, my parents had operated a couple of rental homes and had a really good handle on the property management side of the business. We knew guests were enjoying themselves at our rental home, but this wasn’t translating online. We would receive a lot of inquiries, but only a few would turn into bookings. There were so many opportunities we had to improve our online presence and I quickly realized I couldn’t tackle all of them at once so I had to prioritize using the 80/20 rule (focus on the 20% of efforts that will produce 80% of results).
In 2014, these were the BIG hurdles I knew had to tackle first to attract more renters and turn inquiries into bookings:
Weak headline. I started with the first thing that every potential guests sees: the headline. You have a small amount of characters to work with to stand out in the crowd and ours was not doing the trick with the original headline as it was too generic. This one seems like it might be a quick fix but I actually updated the headline 10 times in the first year that I managed the property! My years in marketing have taught me it’s all about the ‘test & learn’ approach so you never know what’s going to work until you have the data to tell you. It’s still something that I will switch out occasionally, but I found that this base headline can work well year-round as it features a few of the benefits that are important to our guests (along with something to create a sense of urgency!).
Before: “Beautiful Lake of the Ozarks Cottage with Spectacular View”
After: “Spacious 4BR Cabin Steps from Lake. Free Wifi. Dates Fill Quickly!”
No Wifi. Yep, NO wifi! This is a deal-breaker for some and we were losing out on potential renters by not offering it. My husband and I thought it was a no-brainer investment (see my post here on this) but my parents are from a different generation and their thought was ‘who comes on vacation to be on the internet the whole time?!’ Luckily, we eventually convinced them to let us try it out for a few months and it quickly proved to be a valuable investment.
No online payments. Yep, NO online payments! Okay, keep in mind this was 2014 so online payments were not as prevalent as it is today but this took some convincing to prove that the CC fees would make this worth it. Once we saw the amount of increased bookings this convenient feature provided, this became a no-brainer offer!
Poor picture quality. The old photos were grainy, dark and uninviting. I’m no photographer, but I got in there with a decent camera (on a bright, pretty day), opened up the windows and took TONS of pictures of every angle I could get. Touched them up with a simple photo editor, and chose a strong cover photo to be featured in the search results. This did wonders (I also touch on the importance of great photos here)!
Low number of online reviews. We knew our guests always had great comments after their visit, but these were usually left as hand-written notes that usually my mom (who did all the cleaning at the time) had the only benefit of seeing. We began asking for online reviews from every visitor and were overwhelmed with the fantastic response we quickly found.
~The Jump for Joy Moments~
Our number of nights booked increased by 21% that first year we made the changes listed above.
When my dad admitted he was being an ‘old fart’ (his words) by not originally seeing the value in offering wifi and online bookings. :-)
After 2 years of investing all of our profits back in the home, we began paying ourselves in 2016. Hello, secondary income stream!
We have increased annual nights booked from 87 nights in 2013 (the year before we became co-owners) to 172 so far in 2017 - a 98% increase in nights booked!
It's been a fun, sometimes frustrating, but overall rewarding journey these past few years! The vacation rental industry is always growing, changing and evolving which means we always have work to do to keep up with competition.
If you're looking for help to keep up with the ever-changing vacation rental industry, contact Fully Booked today for a free marketing consultation.