Protecting the Value of your Vacation Rental Home Investment
By William May
Published: 02/15/09 Topics: Comments: -
Many books have been written about offering second homes as vacation rental lodging; promising income and appreciation from an asset that sits unused when owners are away. But renting means the owner is in business and, like any other business, one that will occasionally have to deal with cranky consumers.
Dealing with the public can produce happy and healthy relationships. But no industry is exempt from the tiny percentage of people who ask too much, are irresponsible, or are out-right crooks. That is why hiring a cordial, professional and even-minded vacation rental manager is essential.
CHOOSING A VACATION RENTAL MANAGER
From a vacation rental manager you may want extensive marketing, advertising and sales in order to maximize income. Or maybe you feel that housekeeping, maintenance and customer service are of most importance. Or perhaps you seek the assurance of a trusted and reliable person located close by to insure quick response and oversight should something go awry. Good managers have mastered all those skills.
They work diligently to increase capabilities and Owners are assured of our good intentions, our desire to serve and reasonable response when needed.
ESSENTIAL HIDDEN SKILLS
There are attributes some management companies are unwilling to shoulder and some owners may fail to examine. One is for the manager to be clear and concise when dealing with guest complaints, demands and even legal action.
The ability to reconcile opposing goals is at the center of good management. Lodging managers must advocate for good behavior from owner and guest to insure properties are safe, sound and successful. The manager should not advocate for the owner or the guest, instead, they must make decisions based on the best interests of the property itself.
UNLIMITED GUEST INTERFERENCE
Consumers have come to know there are many ways to get what they want – even when they are wrong. They can:
- Send repeated letters & emails to the business.
- Answer guest surveys dishonestly.
- Notify the Better Business Bureau.
- Contact a newspaper or television reporter.
- File a complaint with City or State agencies.
- Post negative online reviews.
- File suit in small claims or higher courts.
- Harass the manager with redundant complaints.
Businesses should expect some consumers to use all these tools to push demands even when they are not justified.
COMPLAINTS ARE NOW CONVICTIONS
Seeking to resolve disputes is a good thing, especially when a complaint is justified. Unfortunately there is no reciprocal requirement that complainers make accurate assertions. Many forums do not require that complainer’s identity themselves nor do they allow viewing of the consumer’s complaint history. Consumers can extort free products or cash by applying undeserved pressure, and there is no backlash on the consumer if they make fraudulent claims.
Can consumers be blamed for cheating? Authorities like the BBB and government accept complaints but do not evaluate them. They employ clerks to pop information into a database, email it to the business and demand a response. Failure to respond brands the business as irresponsible. Responses are forwarded to the consumer again without evaluation.
Consumer advocate organizations portray themselves as mediators when they are nothing of the kind. The purpose of the BBB is to sell memberships. Businesses which get complaints also get high pressure sales pitches to join for a hefty fee.
The Better Business Bureau has one compelling attribute - a name that falsely implies members have a stamp of approval. That is not the case. The BBB violates its own guidelines in advertising, sales and marketing by selling what it is not - an unbiased evaluator of businesses. Worse yet, most media, government agencies and other such organizations do the same. They pass information along but fail to make determinations as to the merit of the consumers claim.
KANGAROO MEDIA COURTS
Newspaper, Broadcast and Website reporters are the most questionable of third parties. Branded themselves as consumer advocates (without any requirement for legal training or journalistic training) they anoint themselves as judge, jury and prosecutor in a kangaroo media court of their own choosing.
They use their pulpit to demand a central role in conflicts they know too little about. They are gleeful when intimidating employees, ambushing managers and evading legal advocates. These publicity hounding "judges" proclaiming themselves advocates for the plaintiff and that exposes their thinly veiled prejudices.
Whether government, pseudo agencies or media - any organization that reports complaints without allowing for compliments, is on its face, presenting an unbalanced view of their target.
THE EBAY STANDARD
There is a model for consumer feedback that works brilliantly. One based on age old legal concepts.
When online purchases began, consumers were leery about buying and providing credit cards. (Ebay.com)Ebay.com - an early pioneer of web auctions and commerce - became a blockbuster company by requiring buyers to be evaluated as openly as the businesses they utilize. It’s a two way street that causes complainers to justify their unhappiness and for businesses to publicly respond.
Better yet, the printed words of both buyer and business can be reviewed. Businesses are not saddled with an undefined grade like the BBB. And consumers are not allowed to make unidentified, drive-by problems. This system is based on a requirement of fair jurisprudence - that every person has a right to face their accuser in an open and fair forum.
By recording all transactions, not just those from the tiny percentage of complainers, Ebay levels the playing field. Business with thousands of transactions can never achieve 100% satisfaction because they will always bump into unscrupulous buyers. Buyers can also be evaluated and rejected when they exaggerate, lie and distort.
Ebay allows everyone to make informed decisions. Would you stay at a hotel with 10,000 positive ratings and 20 negatives? Or would you rely on the BBB for a property with 20 negatives but no place for the 10,000 happy guests to post a review. Omission of positives by any complaint reporting forum distorts the facts and is unfair and misleading.
If government, pseudo agencies, conventional media and online websites switch to a fair, balanced and fully disclosed environment like Ebay’s the value of consumer feedback would become a legitimate and valued service. For now it is heavily weighted to help get what they want, regardless of the merit of their claim.
DEALING WITH THE DETAILS
Guests will demand refunds because the Beach Resort was too hot., or the ski resorts had too much snow, or the water at the lake home was too rough to water ski. These are all actual cases. Large hotel operators suffer less because they can more easily relocate a guest or offer appropriately small consolations.
Vacation Rental managers are damned if they deal with such groups because they eat time and money. And damned if they don’t because groups will slander the business for failing to respond to outside organizations whose primary purpose is to extract retribution from them.
The internet has made this situation worse. Consumers who would be loath to go to an office and falsify in person seem eager to libel businesses on-line. The BBB’s website says their “vision” is to provide an ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers can trust each other. But by not posting the history of consumers they fail to make trust possible.
THE MANAGER SERVES TWO MASTERS
Property managers serve a unique role as middle-man between the property owner and guests. Valid consumer complaints must be handled quickly, correctly and with courtesy. Sometimes discounts are warranted if the guest suffers a valid inconvenience, but usually careful listening and personal empathy are sufficient to resolve concerns.
But unreasonable demands must be resisted so that the property’s money is not handed over blindly to undeserving customers. To do both of these things fairly, the Manager has to walk a tight rope.
FIRST - managers must have clear policies, procedures, legal forms, rules and regulations, responsive staff and regular training. This is the foundation on which proper dispute decisions can be made.
SECOND - managers must investigate claims and make judgments about right and wrong. The manager becomes mediator between wild customer requests and a property’s condition. It is not a desirable job.
Many managers find it easy to hand over the owner’s money to save them selves’ aggravation. A competent manager bases decisions on facts only.
They must do so even if that results in a record of holding consumers responsible. A manager with no complaints is a manager who freely gives away the owners money. Smart owners want managers wise enough to compromise when legitimate and strong enough to resist extortion.
There are far more enjoyable parts of the manager’s job then dealing with conflict but doing so is just another aspect of what a professional management firm must provide.
Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0118 – 02/15/09
Sponsor: Signatours Photo Team – Clean crisp vacation rental and lodging photos, panos and graphics. – Signatours.com