Beach House for Fun and Profit

Make money and catch some rays at the same time!

Tag: Jersey Shore

Costco Patio Furniture Deals

Outdoor pillows and cushions

It won’t be long before you can feel warm breezes and relax outdoors again. So, this is the time to get your patio/outdoor space in order!

I have earlier written about the benefits of polywood furniture. But should you need beach chairs, umbrellas, or most anything outdoors now is time to take your pick at Costco. It is an overlooked place for these items. Yes, at the warehouse for toilet paper, paper towels and rotisserie chicken you can score deals on your outdoor space needs.

Cool, new chair pattern

On a recent trip to Costco, I spotted patio umbrellas, conversation sets, outdoor dining, patio cushions and pillows, deck tile, beach carts and of course Tommy Bahama beach chairs. Including this cool, new design. I highly recommend these chairs for the beach. They are very lightweight, comfortable and sturdy. I make them available for my guests and they last multiple seasons. If you are not picky about the pattern, you can often find them on markdown in late summer (this item Costco usually has till the fall).

Tommy Bahama Chairs and Umbrellas

dining and umbrellas

Conversation set

Of course, most of these items, and particularly the larger pieces, are only in the warehouse during the Spring.  Costco moves them to make way for indoor furniture in the Summer, holiday items in the fall, etc.  So get to Costco now if you are need of these items. Happy shopping!

Update: New Jersey Short Term Occupancy Tax and Airbnb

Airbnb will now collect the 6.625 percent New Jersey sales tax and 5 percent state short-term occupancy fee, as required by the New Jersey 2019 budget law, with reservations booked on or after December 1, 2018.  See below this post for details from Airbnb.

Renters of New Jersey Shore properties will only be able to avoid paying this tax IF: the rental is a permanent residence (you live at the location and have at least a month to month lease), the accommodations are obtained via an agent or broker licensed by the state Real Estate Commission, or the rental is by a qualified non-profit organization which typically receives waivers of state fees.

The powerful Realtor lobby worked hard to ensure the loophole which exempts realty agencies from these taxes.  Homeowners, which have no similar lobby, have an obligation to collect the taxes even when renting directly to friends or other consumers whether it be online or offline.  This certainly seems to be inequitable.  However, shore realty agencies typically charge 16-18% commissions (and I would expect it is only a matter of time before the state of New Jersey comes to them for more revenue).

Bottomline, if you use Airbnb or local agencies exclusively this is not much of a concern for you.  Otherwise be sure you collect and remit the 11.625% required for New Jersey short-term rentals you acquire by any other means.

How to Close Up for the Winter – End of Season Checklist

October and November are the months when owners of beach homes typically close up for the winter. While some duties may vary based on your region or type of house, there are some things you should always consider doing if your property will be vacant for an extended period.

With only a little modification to cover alternative situations, below is the checklist I use.

Close for Winter Checklist

Exterior

☐ Take inside umbrellas, light furniture, and any foam padding/cushions to avoid mold and mildew build up.

☐ Properly secure large furniture that will remain outdoors. I use a bungee cord to secure everything together and cover with a tarp (be sure to secure a tarp well, I use ratchet straps).

☐ Store inside a shed or garage garbage cans which have been rinsed well.

☐ While rinsing, use the garden hose and sprayer to rinse the dirt and debris off the blades and condensing coils of the outdoor AC unit.

☐ Shut off and drain outdoor water spigots to prevent freezing damage. Likewise, drain and bring in garden hoses.

☐ Check weather-stripping, exterior doors and windows to ensure no major deficiencies are present.

Interior

☐ Clean the house thoroughly! This includes:

☐ Remove all perishable foods. Any food that remains should be stored in airtight containers.

☐ Clean the oven to remove food particles.

☐ Clean out the refrigerator, freezer, sink traps and garbage disposal. (Again, we are trying to minimize the chance of rotting bits of food attracting any critters.) I leave the refrigerator on, but if you are shutting off the refrigerator, leave the door cracked open.

☐ Unplug household and major appliances.

☐ Pull shades down to protect from sun.

☐ Put dryer sheets with stored linens.

☐ Replace HVAC Air Filter and consider having your heating system serviced.

☐ Shut off cable TV.

☐ Forward US Mail.

Either:
☐ Turn off the water (requires shut off at main supply and draining all faucets. Typically, you should leave one faucet open on the lowest level of the house to allow air and excess water to drain).

Or:
☐ Keep your home warm enough to ensure the pipes do not freeze. I opt for 59°F to help keep the interior of the floor and wall cavities, where the water piping is likely located, above freezing temperatures sufficiently even if the power should go out for a bit.

☐ Ask a trusted local person to check in to perform a visual on the house occasionally…this could get as extensive as shoveling the driveway, looking for ice dams, snow drifts, etc. for you after big winter storms.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and attending to these items now can prevent a potential disaster and expensive service call. The checklist can also be downloaded as a Word document: End of Season Checklist.

 

How to Ensure You are Ready for the Rental Season: New Season Checklist

The unofficial start of the summer season is behind us and prime beach house rental season is about to start.  To ensure you are ready for the rental season, use this checklist I use to have our place ready to host guests.

New Season Checklist

Exterior

☐ Touch up paint or fully paint depending on condition

☐ Power wash outside

☐ Check screen doors for damage and ensure rollers move freely

☐ Check workability of beach chairs, umbrella and beach cart

☐ Check outside shower stall and hose

Interior

☐ Put away personal effects
(kid’s toys, toothbrushes, hats, etc.)

☐ Swap out owner comforters/pillows/bath rugs to renter versions

☐ Update welcome letter and house manual/guide

☐ Buy beach tags

☐ Carpet cleaning

☐ Change remote, clock and smoke detector batteries

☐ Inspect fire extinguishers

☐ Replace HVAC Air Filter

☐ Test Air Conditioner

☐ Replenish stock of soap and toilet paper our cleaner puts out
(we provide hand soap and a starter roll if none is left behind)

☐ Refresh any “labels” in house that need updating
(ex. Light switches, owner closet, leave washer door open when not in use, etc.)

☐ Restock area brochures and menus if needed

☐ Provide updated magazines (remove my home address!)

☐ Purchase and provide cleaner with welcome gifts for each guest

☐ Through house cleaning

Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and attending to these items now can prevent a potential vacation disaster and an expensive in-season service call. Some of these tasks may be best performed in the fall at the conclusion of the rental season, but I leave that to your discretion.  The checklist can also be downloaded here: New Season Checklist.

 

Why You Should Greet Renters with a Welcome Letter

High season is almost here.  One thing you will want to make sure is up to date and on your refrigerator is a welcome letter for your guests.  Think of it as the absolute “Do’s and Don’ts” you want guests to remember during their stay in your property.

I recommend a House manual too.  House manuals are a great resource of information for your renters.  However, I have been places where, for one reason or the other, the house manual was hard enough to find that we only located it near the end of our visit. Usually, house manuals are a binder which, no matter where you keep it, will get moved around also if it is read at all.

By contrast, the refrigerator is always seen right away by nearly every occupant of your beach house.  People do not move things clipped on the refrigerator.  My suggestion would be you put up a one-page sheet that covers the essentials: Wi-Fi password, trash pickup details, and your hard and fast house rules.  Feel free to use my welcome_template.  I put mine in a plastic sheet protector for durability and to convey added significance.

Please comment if you think there are any points that are absolutely necessary to include that I might have missed.

 

Frequent Service Call Alert: Garbage Disposals!

A good, general rule for a vacation rental property is to remove unnecessary items that may fail and cause you a repair bill. I would include things like complicated small appliances, ice makers and trash compactors in this category. Because I market my property as a high-end home, I do offer a few items that some might include in this “unnecessary and likely to break” category: a dishwasher and a garbage disposal.

It is my opinion that both are actually necessary items. A beach house without a garbage disposal and dishwasher would be more akin to a camping trip. Are guests going to feel like they are staying in a high-end rental if they are cleaning a sink trap after every meal? Clogged drains are even more likely to occur than a jammed disposal. So I consider a garbage disposal a benefit to the vacation rental owner as it prevents plumbing backups…and those are actual emergencies! Disposals are a must too if you have a dishwasher. Therefore it is my recommendation you provide both.

While I have never personally had trouble with the Insinkerator Badger 1  disposal at our unit, without question the number one reason I have been contacted is for trouble with it. Maybe some of these folks have never used one before or maybe they have more industrial versions at home. Either way, it has been a bit perplexing as to why all the trouble. It has been described as “jammed”, “stuck”, and just “not working.”

In most cases, any disposal that is jammed can be reset by inserting an Allen wrench underneath or pushing the reset button. I understand guests do not want to spend their precious vacation hours even doing that. One thing I do NOT understand is how people can lack common sense with the items they put in the disposal!

I debated installing a special strainer like this here. However, people would probably just pull it out.

Since I am tired of the calls, I decided to upgrade. My goals were to find a disposal that would grind virtually anything and one that had a decent warranty. I found and purchased a Waste King 9980 1 HP disposal. A triple grind, continuous feed system will grind almost anything and the warranty seems unbeatable…full lifetime warranty with free in-home repairs!

I believe Waste King can only be found online. I purchased it on Amazon…you can find it here. At that time, I purchased it for $168 and the good folks at Lenegan Plumbing performed the install for $110. So $278 all in. About the same amount I spent last year for two service calls. My thought is that if anything goes in the disposal, crazy or not, it will be obliterated.

I will update this post if I should encounter any issues but I expect to no longer hear about the disposal being jammed!

Springtime Cleaning

Spring is here and it is time for springtime cleaning. Every beach house certainly needs a cleaning inside and out in order to be ready for the summer influx of guests. One task that should be considered at least every two years, is a thorough power washing of the exterior.

Dirt, salt, mold, and moss can all build up on a home’s exterior, particularly in the harsh environment of the coast. If left to accumulate, these stains will corrode outside finishings and your siding. Not to mention there is the unsightly appearance these leave on your precious investment! You don’t want that.

If your house has been vacant during the winter, the first step will be to turn the water BACK ON to the outside spigots. Go ahead and test all inside and outside showers at this time. It is better to determine if freezing cold weather damaged any plumbing now and have ample time to schedule repairs before rental season begins.

After that, you can go in one of two ways with this springtime task. You can do the power washing yourself or you can hire someone else. I have done both. I opt for the later now. If you do it yourself, you will need to invest in a costly machine, maintain it each year and still risk equipment failure. I had a heavy duty power washer for a few years and despite my maintenance efforts it broke down in a couple years. I think water and motor equipment just generally do not work well together. A mid-range machine costs a few hundred dollars and I have been able to get power washers to clean my homes exteriors for ~$500. When I consider the amount of effort it was for me, the difference in quality of the overall work, and storage/cost of the equipment it is just a no-brainer for me to hire this task out. Your mileage may vary.
I contacted an outfit near me in Ocean City, NJ called JC Painting and Power Washing. They offered a soft washing which manages to achieve the benefits of power washing without the high pressure of typical power washing methods that can so often damage vinyl, stucco, wood and chip paint. Soft washing is achieved by combining soap with hot water and only a moderate amount of water pressure. While not a miracle worker by any means, the results are still impressive.


So when you consider the value it brings to your property’s curb appeal and the prevention of long-term damage to your exterior, power washing is a simple, cost-effective way to maintain your property’s exterior. If it has not been done recently, make sure you complete this task this spring!

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!

 

 

Why You Should Use Airbnb to Find Renters

I have snagged many vacation rentals for amazing prices in Hawaii, Florida, the Poconos, and even Turks and Caicos using sites like Airbnb or (in the past) VRBO.  I have long seen the value in renting privately and in the process saving substantial, hard-earned vacation dollars.  So naturally, when we bought our own beach house in Ocean City, New Jersey I fully intended to rent my place online and in the process lower the rental agency bite (commission) of our income.  The following are some of the reasons why I think it is the best avenue for obtaining bookings for your beach rental.


Fees

In Ocean City, New Jersey there are many brick and mortar rental agencies.  They are respectable outfits and provide the service of exchanging keys with renters, damage insurance, marketing, and securing payment. However the services offered by these outfits just do not come close to meriting the typical 14% commission.  Even for that hefty fee they do not alleviate most grief or further cost, as I will share at another time!  What I need from a rental agency or website is to facilitate bookings, secure payment and insure me against the worst.  Airbnb does that while only charging me a 3% commission.

Mind you, 3% is not the only money Airbnb is making on each booking.  Guests pay a service fee that ranges from between 6-12% (generally the more expensive the subtotal, the lower the percentage fee).  Also, Airbnb allows for a cleaning fee (if you choose) after this subtotal. I like this pricing arrangement for a few reasons.  Reason one, it is more straightforward to potential guests as they can see what they are paying and to whom.  Like any capitalistic venture, increased costs are passed on to the consumer. When I have a rental agency booking, I need to account for their commission and the cleaning fees in my rate upfront.  Therefore, my upfront rate appears much higher to these guests.  By comparison, the Airbnb guest will see a lower rate with the cleaning fee separate and apart from the rate and I can charge 11% less (the difference in commission, 14%-3%) and still net the same amount.  Reason two, all of this is negotiable.  Since the guest can see a clear breakdown of the cost, they are free to negotiate and often do.  Airbnb allows me to offer them special pricing too.  When you receive a special price you tend to close the deal.  None of this flexibility is possible through an agency and this helps me secure my bookings much earlier in the year than with an agency.

An additional bonus with Airbnb is that it is entirely free to list as a host and free to search as a guest.  Some other sites like FlipKey, VRBO and Homeaway charge an annual fee in order to list.  Quite simply Airbnb is the outlet that costs me the least amount of money.


Control

With a local agency like the kind that exists in Ocean City, NJ all the rentals are by the week or longer.  I can offer monthly or seasonal discounts but that is about it.  Airbnb allows me to offer my choice of term discounts, check in/out times, minimum and maximum stays, and much more.  I can rent for one day in December if I choose.  The local agency has little reason to accommodate those kind of bookings.  If I receive a booking inquiry, but want to charge a different price, I can send the guest a Special Offer.  This is a great way to hook someone who might be on the fence.  The more control I have over my bookings the better and Airbnb gives me the most total control.


Vetting /Communication

This is big.  When I receive a booking through the local agency, I know almost nothing about the guest I will be hosting.  Typically, I receive a contract that has the guest name and the number of people in the party but little else.  Airbnb provides a variety of tools to help me screen potential guests.  Basic contact information such as phone number and email address are verified of each guest during the Airbnb account set-up. I can see how many points of verification and what type of information has been verified for each user too – the more you see the better.

Also, I am able to review users “about me” section. Here members write a little blurb about themselves, upload a photo and answer credit report type questions to verify their identity through the site.   You can glean information about interests, age, vocation, and most importantly, level of maturity. Often there are links to a user’s social media.  You certainly should not use this information to discriminate, that is un-American, but this is your investment and this information can give you a general feeling for the type of guest you may be hosting and some assurance that they are not going to throw a huge party if you do not want to allow that!

Reviews/Feedback

In the 21st century online commerce works by giving and receiving feedback.  Airbnb works in a manner similar to sites like Amazon or eBay in that hosts and guests both have the ability to review each other.  This is great because guests in your place are much more likely to take care when they know your review afterwards can impact their ability to rent nice places in the future.  In fact, it has been my experience that the people who break things or are generally problem guests have been the people who rent through the local agency.  Those guests just are not accountable to me.  I have lodged complaints with the agency about particular guests and it goes in one ear and out the other.  I can refuse that guest in the future, but the agency will take their money and pass them on to some other unsuspecting host.  Mutual accountability leads to good outcomes.

Quite simply, Airbnb is a great site for procuring reliable, accountable guests without the pain of double digit commissions.