I think it’s pretty clear I live in Livingston. Well, not really. Do I? I’ve had this love-hate relationship with Billings for at least 13 years now. I love the mountains in Livingston, I love my little funny-farm life and where I live but each week I get rather excited to cruise down the interstate to go to my downtown home in the heart of Billings. There is just so much about Billings that I love. If you’re like me you love the availability of great restaurants that you can bike to, great evening spots for you and your girlfriends, and my favorite part— there is ALWAYS something to do in Billings.
My sweet little husband used his realtor magic to get me this perfect little condo for my stays in Billings for work. It has worked out to be one of the best decisions we have made. We decided to make it into a vacation rental and rent it out when we were not using it. It seemed complicated and risky but has worked out rather well for us. It has taught us many lessons but also has brought us a fun little place for us to enjoy when we come to “town” to play!
Dress it up.
If you’re like me and always look on vacation rental sites before even considering booking a hotel you know the convenience of a vacation rental. The availability to cook your kids breakfast, park a car in a garage, sit on the porch are all things you just can’t get at a hotel. When I find myself a cute and stylish vacation rental it always trumps a hotel. Allow yourself part of your budget for items that give your rental some stand out features. Some things that will wow your future guests and make them want to rent your home just to get inside of it! Buy matching dinnerware and photograph ti with a bottle of wine on the table, they will want to be there. It doesn’t take much to pull it off, most of our matching and coordinating pieces were from an IKEA trip on our way home from our week in Banff, a random 65% off sale at Dillards and a million TJ Maxx trips.
For me, planning and decorating is easiest with photos. I have to see it! No big surprise there. Brian always laughs at my vision boards and collages but I tell you, they save the day. When shopping for a room I pull up that rooms collage on my phone with all the photos of things I have already purchased together in one image, I hold up said item I wish to purchase, say a dish/pillow/picture/hand towel next to my phone and make sure if fits in with my collage of that room. I am SO visual! It’s my way of making sure I have bought something that fits and most importantly it’s something I love.
I kid you not, I get more compliments on the stinking wall paper that I put in our vacation rental than anything else. I’ve gotten little sticky notes asking “where did you find this wallpaper” and emails after guests leave telling me how cute they thought the wallpaper was and “who would have ever thought to put it on stairs.” It’s fun and so easy, go buy yourself some wallpaper and have fun with it.
Here are is my favorite Etsy wallpaper site: Sweet Pea Wall Design
Have a budget and stick to it.
For us, we wanted the house to be cute, functional, but also not cost us an arm and a leg. I need my arms and legs.
We knew with a vacation rental it’s a risky decision to put anything of value in it. You know how it goes, someone rents it for a wedding and people drink too much wine, your furniture gets ruined, glasses get broke, and all your cute decorations end up on the floor. From the moment we bought this place I was on a mission to find furniture that was cute, functional, and would not break the bank. We had a strict budget for getting this vacation rental off the ground and I was determined to stick to it.
I found most of my ideas and inspiration through Houzz but then search site after site after site finding the best option for us. We found great deals on at TJ Maxx, target, and from the 65% off sale at Dillards. For a rental, I am fine with Target quality. Correction, for my life I am fine with Target quality. Having a budget made me work extra hard to find exactly what I wanted, but it also gave me the ease of mind if something was out of our budget it was an absolute “nope” and I was off to find my next bargain. You’re not decorating your forever home, you’re decorating your income property.
One of our biggest wins was a $300 box mattress, I was skeptical but with over 1,000 5 star reviews I really didn’t think we had much to lose. Well, we love it. People always complement us on how comfortable it is and I can attest to it being a completely worth its money. It has worked out well for us and again, for a rental it’s the perfect price. Click here for the mattress and here for $125 frame.
Ditch the standard-contractor grade lighting.
If there were one thing I would recommend to transform your normal two bedroom house into something that looks and feels different it would be new lighting. A few little updates can change the entire feel of not only the room but the entire house. For our house we updated several fixtures took the generic construction grade fixtures out and put in some things that are funky and gave the rooms some character. In all, we swapped out only 4 fixtures but transformed the house and gave it a much cleaner and modern feel.
Splurge on a Security System.
When we were trying to figure out the best way to coordinate access to the house with guests we thought about lockboxes, having keys that could be left at specific locations, but it all seemed far too cumbersome and something we didn’t want to do as rental owners. When we have rented in the past the keys have been left under the door mat (not safe), passed off to us in person (didn’t want to meet you on my vacation), or in a lockbox that you know has had the same code for the last 2 years and 50 guests. We wanted something that we could access from anywhere and use easily yet was customizable for vacation rentals.
We decided that our only splurge for the house would be a very good security system which would allow us to control everything remotely to the house. Our security system allows us to give each guest a secure and unique code for their stay that expires at check out. Assuring us that people aren’t staying longer than they have paid for and also that each guest is safe with their unique code. The security system we chose was a local company and Billings and have absolutely loved everything about them. They are a smaller company and made the process very easy, the owner installs and maintains your system and the monthly rate is better than the big company’s with the big contracts. If you want the name shoot me an email and I will let you know all the details. They have saved our bacon.
Advertise your vacation rental on all the platforms. We use AirBnb, VRBO and Tripping.
When I first started with this vacation rental we didn’t quite know if there was a benefit of having our rental on more than one platform. I knew that calendars didn’t sync from one renting platform to the other renting platform and I knew that it could be quite cumbersome keeping your availability accurate and up-to-date. We book pretty equally from all platforms. Airbnb has been our most successful followed by VRBO and Trip Advisor. Although there are a few differences the sites are pretty similar.
Once we were heavy into tourist season I was surprised to see our house renting two and three times per week. Although it was very exciting I learned a lot of valuable lessons. I was paying my housekeeper an extra hour+ each week for her to do laundry. After a discussion with her we decided having extra sets of sheets and towels allowed her to change the laundry quickly, clean the house, and then allow the laundry to be washed by me when I arrive for my stays. Having doubles of everything has saved me quite a bit of money throughout this house cleaning process and has made the transition between guests much smoother and faster.
Have a STRICT check out processes.
My biggest mistake from the beginning was not having a strict check out process. I was allowing guests to leave the house however they liked which was often nothing like they had found it. I didn’t want to turn any guests away thinking they had to “clean” before they left so I just didn’t put a process in place.
When I rented a giant cabin for my retreat that had 12+ beds in it and we had to strip each bed, put the sheets in the bins in the laundry room, haul the garbage out, etc. plus pay a huge cleaning fee I thought to myself “I am doing this completely wrong.” Shortly after I instituted a check out checklist, laminated it, and put it on the fridge loud and clear for every guests to see. I made extra copies for the office and in the second bedroom. When each guest leaves they know exactly what to do and how to leave the house ready for our housekeeper.
Your checkout procedure does not have to be extensive but should include routine items such as returning furniture to its original location, washing pots and pans and returning to their original location, stripping sheets and dirty linen and placing them in the laundry area, loading the dishwasher and cycling, etc. so you and your cleaning team can turn around your property quickly.
This lesson was learned the hard way after a group of six skiers rented my house and I entered to find more garbage than I knew what to do with. Five garbage bags later I had all of their garbage loaded up. Furniture was moved from room to room for no apparent reason, bedding was scattered throughout the house, I honestly had no idea what had taken place in my rental. I was incredibly frustrated but I had set the bar really low. It was a hard lesson to learn, I made a little promise to myself to never let that happen again. Correction, I made a promise to have a process in place so I can recover my cleaning fees should it ever happen again.
From then on the check out instructions included specific steps before leaving, a check out time in bold, and a nice little paragraph explaining that if the above steps are not completed their security/cleaning deposit would be mine. Period. Because of this I have not had any problems since my little skier friends. Fingers crossed it was an isolated event.
Get yourself a great housekeeper. Pay him/her well. Really well.
I have a lovely housekeeper and I can I tell you, I love her to pieces! She is flexible with her schedule, she make sure to get in during our downtime between guests and to top it all off she does an exceptional job. She makes my life so much easier and for that, I give her a nice little bonus every time she cleans. A great housekeeper is your teammate in this operation so find yourself a good one. If you want to be on the top of their call list and for them to show up every time you call you’ve got to treat them right.
Take great photographs.
Of all the things that has helped us book our house great photographs that truly depict what people are getting when they stay at our house has been a huge win for us. Do yourself a favor and hire a great photographer who can photograph your home showing off all it’s pretty features. Although photographs and paying for photographers can be expensive it is you’re selling point and worth the money! People want to stay at a house if it looks clean, stylish, well decorated, and fun! Focus on angles and views that allow people to see them sitting at your table, dining at your table, and enjoying your space! If you don’t have the money to hire a photographer being a photographer myself I will tell you we love trades! Trade a photographer for a weekend stay at your house with a good review on your booking platform and I guarantee you, you’ll be able to find someone to take your up on your offer
Check out our vacation rental by clicking here.