How do I manage a beach house when I live far away? It is a question to consider as you contemplate a vacation rental investment or a question you might ask after you have purchased one.
Typical challenges to a long-distance owner include how to manage check-ins/check-outs, cleanings, emergency repairs, payments, etc. If you live close by, it might be easy for you to show up on demand and manage all these things yourself. I have seen it done…with varying degrees of success. However, if you live far away this just is not practical. In my mind, I think of the tagline from the movie Ghostbusters – Who you gonna call? That is was it boils down to. You need to have someone to call for everything.
You can opt for one call…to a management company. They can handle most things for you; from procuring guests, sending leases, providing and retrieving keys, emergency repairs, payments, etc. This convenience however, will cost you. Management companies in Ocean City, New Jersey for example, charge between 12-18% commissions. Ultimately you are still responsible to handle routine maintenance, repairs to appliances and more yourself. (I imagine they could handle this for you too for a still extra charge.)
Quick story: A rental agency guest complained that a toilet seat broke at our place. The agency called me to see what I wanted to do about it. Oh, I don’t know, fix it? OK, do you have someone to send out or do you authorize us to send a repairman to purchase and replace the toilet seat? I opted for the later because I was hours away. I expected to be gouged, but I was not expecting a bill of $260! A standard toilet seat at the Home Depot is ~$35 and while the service call fee for a handyman may vary greatly, $200+ was more than exorbitant.
I learned pretty quickly it was good to have a book with the appropriate people to call for typical scenarios like the toilet seat. A plumber, a cleaner, an HVAC company, general handyman, etc. It will take some time but you will develop a network of others you can rely on and trust to handle issues for you. Sometimes that is a trial and error process. In my case, I was fortunate enough to find a capable person who performs the cleaning during our changeovers which acts as property manager and set of eyes each week at guest changeover. She lives very close and can save me a long trip for cases like a chirping alarm, lockout, etc. Finding an individual like that is a big help to the long-distance owner.
Another way you can manage a beach house from afar is by automating as many processes as you can. Whether you use a booking website, a local agency or you find renters on your own you should automate to the extent possible. You can receive payments via Paypal or Venmo. You can use a standard welcome email, create a list of FAQs, a standard lease template, etc. You should automate check-in/out too. Electronic lockboxes or smart locks can streamline check-in and make maintenance service calls easy too. I opt for a low-tech solution of a simple lockbox that my cleaner changes the code to each week, but it accomplishes the same purpose.
Lastly, when you don’t have someone to call and you don’t have a process for something, you always have a friend in Google. You will not be the first long distance beach rental owner and you will not likely be the last. Almost nothing you encounter will be unheard of, a simple web search can bring you to a blog like this or to an instructional video with a how to and step by steps for the problem you are facing.
While being at a distance from your investment property does pose some disadvantages, if you are willing to devote some time and effort these challenges can easily be mitigated.