Make money and catch some rays at the same time!

Tag: Best ways to invest money

How to manage a beach house from a distance

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.

How to Furnish Your Beach House

Keep It Simple…But Nice!

Keep It Simple…But Nice should be your mantra when outfitting your beach rental.  No doubt you have heard the axiom “Keep It Simple” before.  However, you could take that to mean that buying all your furniture from a thrift store and featuring household appliances from the Dynex brand was OK.  Sorry, Dynex!

SIMPLE

Simple does not need too much explanation.  Everything should be functional and intuitive to your guests.  Household appliances should be both easy to use and clean.  Furniture should be low maintenance, not prone to smudges or stains, no deep crevices, power features, etc.  If consulting a manual is necessary for use, then it is not simple!  Keep it simple.

NICE

But Nice!  You should furnish similarly to how you would furnish your own house.  If the place screams “RENTAL!” at every turn then people will treat it like one.  Consider your own experience, even when your vacation budget is tight, you are still looking for the best when you spend your hard earned vacation dollars.  Your renters are no different.  They are not going to appreciate damaged or mismatched furniture.

HOW TO BE “NICE”

That leads to another important point.  It is best to start with a theme and furnish consistent to that theme. The uniformity will convey quality in your profile pictures and net you bookings. For example, we chose a nautical theme for our beach property as that reflects our location.  Just do not get too kitschy.  In any case, your place should have neutral colors and crowd-pleasing decorations for widespread appeal.  If you decorate with a Victorian theme then you are probably going to turn off most renters under sixty years of age. 

Be mindful that while renters will generally be respectful, accidents do happen.  Your vacation home furniture will pick up a few scratches.  Therefore it is best to invest in quality furniture and small appliances which will prove durable.  You make money not having to buy a new blender or sofa every other year.  We chose to spend extra for Sunbrella upholstery.  Nothing is worse than soiled furniture.  (More about Sunbrella to come.)  That extra expense up front is worth it if my sofa satisfies guests for additional years before replacement.

Here are some more “nice” items to remember when outfitting your beach house rental:

  • Opt for firm mattresses and purchase waterproof mattress pads.
  • Remember to be kid-friendly, no sharp corners etc. and consider supplying some children’s cups, pack and plays or baby gates.
  • Do not leave personal effects around for your guests. Photos of your family are going make them feel like intruders, put these types of items away in a locked, owner’s closet.
  • Consider area rugs in rooms with hardwood floors.
  • There should be art on the walls in every room, again just keep it simple (and preferably on theme).
  • All windows should have curtains or some type of window treatments.
  • And of course, there should be some beach chairs, sand toys, beach umbrellas for your guests to use.

If you keep these things in my mind when outfitting your beach house rental you will be on your way to accomplishing the primary mission of the beach rental owner…attracting quality guests willing to pay top rates for your property!

 

 

4 Questions that Answer Are You Ready to Invest in a Beach House

If you are reading this, you likely do not need a lot of persuasion about the benefits of real estate investment (build equity, control a tangible asset, tax benefits, etc.). However there are four key factors that indicate if you are ready to consider the investment of a vacation rental.

YOU CAN USE IT.

Finding a good deal is not so great if you cannot make use of the property. My wife and I traveled frequently and always researched the real estate market wherever we vacationed. So in 2011, just a couple of years after the housing meltdown, we went to Clearwater, Florida. There were numerous beachfront, short sales we could afford that only a few years previous had sold for four times their current list price. While intrigued, we knew we had children in our future and our primary residence was over 1000 miles away. The likelihood was that we would not be able to get down very much.

You simply have to be able to get to your property often, particularly upon initial startup. There will be repairs that you need to do…or at least verify are done or are necessary. Furniture to purchase and receive, and of course you want to be able to enjoy the place yourself from time to time. It just is not realistic to expect to be able to do manage EVERYTHING from afar.

YOU CAN AFFORD IT.

Real estate costs money. There is the down payment, whether it is 5, 10, 20 or 30%, I have yet to verify an individual who was able to purchase a second, investment property with zero money down. Then there is the cash on hand necessary to make initial repairs, purchase décor, list and market your rental, pay utilities and initial deposits, etc. Believe me these costs really add up as I will outline in detail elsewhere. You need to be in a strong financial position.

YOU HAVE DONE YOUR HOMEWORK.

Mine is a beach rental, maybe your preferred locale is a ski chalet, but either way you need to know the ins and outs of your location. Is the area you are considering in demand with renters? Does the investment property have the necessary amenities? Do you thoroughly understand the market, and is the current price justifiable? Have you run all the numbers for your situation? Do you understand local laws, property association rules, etc.? For example, in my analysis of Clearwater, Florida I discovered that most of the condo associations we looked at would not permit rentals of less than a month! That pretty much put a damper on my plans of running a weekly rental.

YOU ARE READY TO WORK.

Your guests ex­­pect near perfection for paying top rental rates. Garbage disposals must work, doors cannot stick, and the internet and cable cannot go out. When these things go wrong you will hear about it or plan to pay someone else (a management company)­ to…which of course will eat into your returns.

Getting the property initially furnished, managing inquiries and fielding calls when things break certainly requires effort and energy. A beach house is not a truly passive investment. However, unlike a 401K you can enjoy this investment and vacation there! Just expect to end your vacation storing personal effects, emptying drawers, locking up items you do not want renters to use, like bikes, sheets, etc.

Check, check, check, check? Then investing in a beach house for fun and profit is probably right for you.