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Shortterm Rentals

How to Attract Short-Term Rental Guests During COVID

If you want your rental portfolio to stay in business during the coronavirus pandemic, you need to align your offering with people’s priorities in the new normal. 

Safety and protection are of utmost importance right now, so what safety measures should you implement to assure your guests? 

Furthermore, why are they renting in the first place – are they going to have a staycation since traveling abroad isn’t a safe option anymore? What can you then provide to make your STR attractive, given the rapidly-changing consumer behaviors we’re now seeing?

Here are some ideas to help your short term rental business adapt to these new times:

  1. Contactless Check-In and Out

Plenty of us have experienced arriving in a new country and checking yourself in to the AirBnb rental you’ve reserved beforehand. You don’t even meet the owner, you just use the passcode they gave you to enter the cute little apartment unit. Days later, after you’ve eaten all the street food and bought all the souvenirs possible, you check yourself out simply by locking the door behind you, before heading to the airport. It’s easy, safe, and keeps human interactions to a bare minimum (owners or property managers only show up when something goes wrong with the unit!).

With all the tools and technologies available, you can implement contactless checking-in and out in your rentals too, and operate with increased health and safety protocols. Digitizing and revamping your check-in and out process will help to assure guests that you provide convenience plus safety. All you need is: 

  • Digital key or lockbox access
  • Welcome card with house directions & local info
  • List of contact numbers
  1. Refund Policy

COVID has cancelled a lot of plans – but not a lot of payments. One of the biggest head-scratchers during this pandemic is how most of us can’t cancel expensive flights, gym memberships, or reservations in resorts without a whopping, heartless cancellation fee. 

To assure renters that your refund policy considers the pandemic and related governmental restrictions, try including these two in your emergency policy (at least, for bookings made prior to March 2020):

  • Flexible credits – Offer the guest a full credit for the amount they’ve paid if they are beyond your cancellation window. You can allow them to use these credits to book your property again in the future (post-pandemic), so at least it’s just a “rescheduling” for both of you. 
  • Refunding – Offer the highest refund you can in your cancellation policy, while still protecting yourself. If the guests are unable to accept credits, and you can’t commit to a 100% refund, then at least give them back 50%. With the pandemic, uncertainty is our reality nowadays, so take this opportunity to show understanding to your travelers – it will result in higher chances of them returning post-COVID.

3. Sanitizing and Documentation

Take the extra mile to sanitize your STRs – not just clean them. What’s the difference? Cleaning is removing most germs, dirt, and dust using a soapy sponge or damp cloth. However, cleaning does not remove all the germs and bacteria that are hidden in the deeper layers. By using chemicals to deep-cleanse, sanitizing your rental will lower the risk of infection and further assure your guests of a COVID-free home. 

Document all the sanitizing measures you’ve done using the simple guideline below. Feel free to add more details as you go along. You can even post this as part of your listing to make any prospective guest feel at ease:

  • Wear protective gear or PPEs while you clean.
  • Ventilate the rooms before you clean (as recommended by the CDC).
  • Wash your hands properly and thoroughly before and after each cleaning. 
  • Clean first, then sanitize. Use detergent to remove dirt, dust, grease, and most germs. Afterwards, spray and wipe with disinfectants using clean cloths.
  • Use disinfectants that are registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (or has 70% alcohol) as these are believed to be effective against the virus. 
  • Pay attention to all surfaces–especially those that are frequently touched. For rugs, sofas, drapes, or anything else that’s similar, machine-wash if possible.
  • Avoid touching your face while cleaning to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Wash all linens at the highest heat setting recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Empty all appliances and disinfect their surfaces.
  • Dispose of your cleaning supplies properly. 
  • Safely remove your cleaning gear after you’re done. 
  • Include a card in the property, informing newly-arrived guests that the property has been disinfected (listing all these steps, if desired!), and publish this
  • information online – it will help set your property apart when people are searching for a place to stay.

4. Comfort Features

Lastly, figure out why they are renting your property during COVID. If they’re planning a staycation, then it’s best to fit your property with entertainment and other comforts. This could mean additional towels, a coffee maker, board games, or free Netflix. (It will also differ, depending on where your STR is situated and what kind of guests you attract. Features that rowdy 20-year-olds will appreciate are quite far from those that 80-year-old elderlies will kiss your cheek for!)

Here are some features to consider:

  • Provide quality basics – Strong water pressure, fast and reliable WiFi, AC units and heaters that work without fail are all examples of levelled-up basics. Having these basics at good quality gives the guests everything they need for living, working, and relaxing in the easiest way possible.
  • Offer ample amenities – Stock your bathrooms chock-full of toiletries any of your guests can appreciate (especially when one of them forgets their toothbrush or shaving cream). Prepare your kitchen to handle an entire family cooking together with all the pots, plates, wine opener, and sponges. People are cooking in more now than ever before, so having things like spices and oil might be a nice additional touch, too. 
  • Have unexpected features – If Netflix is now an expected offer, then try installing a Nintendo Switch for your guests to enjoy. Throw in a foot massager in the living room too, for mom to get pampered while the kids play Mario Kart on the big screen. Perhaps you can put a couple of cold ones in the fridge for dad to kick back and relax as well. These are all small items that you can offer specially for COVID-escaping staycationers that will stay in the rental for days at a time, and these small touches go a long way towards garnering awesome reviews.

COVID may have hindered a lot of businesses from operating, but that doesn’t mean yours should stop too. There are ways to keep your short-term rentals attractive even in the midst of this pandemic. Try out these tips and comment below on how they worked for you!

Image Courtesy of Evgenia Basyrova

Categories
Shortterm Rentals

How Soon Until Short Term Rentals Bounce Back From Coronavirus

Lady wearing a face mask
What is the new normal?

Coronavirus has affected the travel and tourism industry at an unprecedented scale. With strict stay-at-home orders and lockdowns still in place globally, online travel traffic is down by 70%, potentially accounting for up to $20B in missed revenues. In the US, bookings for short-term rentals bookings saw a 94% year-on-year decrease due to the pandemic.

As borders slowly start to reopen in the near future, what will the new normal of the short-term rental industry look like in Metro Detroit and Oakland County, in particular?

Localized Effects Will Differ

Travel restrictions have crippled the industry severely, but data suggests that the short-term rental industry is doing better than the hotel industry, which reported continuous declines, with revenues per available hotel room dropping year-on-year by as much as 94%.

Urban markets will likely suffer more than holiday or leisure destinations. In New York (where the virus hit hardest), year-on-year data indicate that the demand for short-term rental properties have decreased by 50%, and consequently, revenues have gone down by 47%, too.

What we’re currently seeing is a shift in demand from urban to remote rental locations, where there is less exposure to the virus. As these patterns carry on into the foreseeable future, we recommend STR operators to keep a closer eye on market trends and industry news. More than ever, strategic and data-driven decisions will be crucial in bouncing back from this crisis.

Assessing the Impact of COVID-19

To predict demand and gain market insights, consider using a trend analysis tool, such as MarketMinder. They provide good breakdowns of market rates and offer valuable insights on trends that can help you work out the state of your particular market, and adjust your strategy accordingly. (Note: some of their features are only available for paid subscribers, but you can do 5 basic reports a month for free).

Here are some trends to look at to gauge the stage of your market’s recovery:

  • How far ahead reservations are being made?
  • How are other hosts pricing their properties now vs. their pre-pandemic rates?
  • What rate do guests actually book the property for?
  • How far are people travelling to reach your area?
  • How are they getting there – by air or car?
  • When will business-related travel resume? Are there any conferences planned for the future in your area?
  • Are people booking owner-occupied rentals, or only “have the whole place to yourself” ones?

Post-pandemic, it seems very likely that travelers may opt for vacations that could be reached via land travel to mitigate risks. This may lead to an increase in demand for nearby STRs, as travelers try to find budget-friendly holidays and accommodations within easy reach of the city. 

To see how these trends are developing in Metro Detroit, we used MarketMinder to conduct a comparison between Downtown Detroit and a suburban area closer to the lake, such as Saint Clair Shores.

Insights from the tool indicate a rental demand score for Saint Clair Shores of 72, in comparison to Detroit’s score of 69. Median occupancy rates (calculated over the last 12 months) in Downtown Detroit are also down, from 69% in June 2019 to 45% in April 2020. By comparison, Saint Clair Shores has a current occupancy rate of 50%, possibly showing early signs of the shift in demand from urban locations to less densely-populated areas.

Human beings have an inherent desire to travel and explore. So it’s almost certain that, once travel restrictions are lifted globally, the demand for STRs will slowly increase again. Although we don’t exactly know when this “new normal” will begin in earnest, for now, property owners and landlords can spend this time preparing for it, by implementing strict sanitation measures to reassure and attract future guests.

Image Courtesy of: Anan Shvets

Categories
Shortterm Rentals

How to Market a Short-Term Rental in Metro Detroit

Got a property in Metro Detroit that you want to rent out short-term, but don’t know how best to market it?

In Michigan, short-term rentals were banned during the height of the pandemic to help contain the spread of the virus. However, now businesses have almost fully reopened, and STRs are allowed to operate again. People are still wary of travel, but short-term rentals are seen as a safer alternative to crowded hotels for many, and this demand is helping steadily revive the industry as a whole.

Aside from that, the City of Detroit is still keen on limiting STRs that are not owner-occupied.

This gives short-term rental owners in the Ring Cities (the cities surrounding Detroit) an edge. If the ordinance passes, travelers expecting to book an Airbnb in the city center will now have to choose between hotels or shared STRs within Detroit, or look beyond it to the Ring Cities.

So, along with the growing tourism of the general metropolitan area, it’s no wonder that many have chosen to invest in Metro Detroit STRs. But how can you make your property stand out from the competition, and encourage guests to book?

  1. Know the Rules in Your City

Just a few days ago, the city of Ann Arbor banned short-term rentals, except for shared listings where the owner-occupier will be staying in the house alongside their guests. If you want to rent your whole house out in Ann Arbor after March 2021, you can now only do so for a short period, and all STRs need to be licensed by the city. 

Ordinances like this are being passed all the time, so make sure your city allows Airbnbs, and that you fulfill any licensing requirements before marketing your unit. 

  1. Know Your Audience

The first step in any business is knowing who your core audience is, and what they want. Are you catering to families, staycationers, business travelers, out-of-towners, or young people? Know what’s in your specific area, and you’ll start to understand who would want to stay there because of those amenities. Most STRs attract a mix of different demographics, but some will be stronger contenders for your property than others – so don’t try to sell your listing to businesspeople if you’re not near good travel links.

Next, think of what your audience wants. Right now, that will almost certainly include some added assurances regarding property cleaning and disinfection between visitors. Airbnb has come out with their own set of enhanced cleaning protocols, and if hosts follow these guidelines, they’ll earn an additional badge on their profile showing guests that they’re dedicated to health and safety. Something like this shows you’re reacting to your customer’s wants and fears, and may prompt them to choose your place over another similar property on offer. 

  1. Use Great Photos 

Did you know that the success of Airbnb is mostly due to the quality of their photos? The company, now worth $2 billion, began with two guys renting out a couple of air mattresses to guests, out of necessity, to pay their own rent. They expanded to letting other people rent out spaces in their homes on an online platform, but found that hosts were taking poor-quality photos that didn’t entice anyone to book. So Airbnb called up a professional photographer and had them take quality photos of the properties. Right away, they saw bookings increase by 2-3x, and had doubled their revenues by the end of the month. 

The moral of the story? It’s worth the extra buck to hire a freelance photographer (or ask your tech-savvy nephew) to take quality photos for you. Guests will judge your property and base their decision mainly on the images you post, so it’s important to get these right. It doesn’t cost much to hire a freelancer online for an hour or two, and it’s an investment that you can recoup in just a few bookings. 

If you’re already a great photographer, then the next time the sunset is just right or your house is covered in a perfect layer of snow – get out your camera! A special photo like this will help your listing stand out from the rest, and help guests imagine having their perfect getaway in your place.

  1. Write an Engaging, Easy-to-Read Description

To compliment your great photos, also have a property description that accurately and attractively explains what you’re offering. The first step is to have a great title for your listing that gets across your property’s unique selling point(s). For example, if your unit is close to important landmarks or can accommodate a lot more people than other properties in the area, highlight this in your title, e.g. “5 mins from hospital, sleeps up to 12”. 

Since most people will just scan through the body of your description quickly, use short paragraphs or bulleted lists to highlight relevant features to your core audience. Avoid using too many superfluous words, and focus on the things people need or want to know. Here are some examples:

Need to know:

  • If some parts of the property are only accessible by stairs
  • If any pets live at the property usually (for those with allergies)
  • Any important house rules

Want to know

  • Travel distances to local attractions and amenities
  • How the windows in the bedroom overlook a lake
  • Special cleaning measures during the pandemic
  1. Stand Out with Little Details & Extras

The little details make a big difference when it comes to short-term rentals. Guests want to experience staying in a temporary home that’s cuter or cooler than their own. Just a few throw pillows, some candles, a couple of paintings from your local bargain store, and some small decorative touches can elevate your place 4 stars to 5. It’s all about adding finishing touches that will help you stand out from the competition.

When it comes to deciding on those little extras that entice bookings (and encourage great reviews), use the competitors around you to your advantage. Do some research on what they offer: free Netflix, gourmet coffee, fluffy bathrobes? Compare their extras to yours, and see where you can outdo them. These details might be small, but they play a big part when people browse through multiple options – especially when you have a unit that’s very similar to others. 

  1. Validate Your Offer with Good Reviews

Reviews have become a significant decision-making driver in the STR market, with 90% of people checking reviews first because proceeding with their booking. Getting good reviews from past guests will therefore either make or break your listing. A great listing could be significantly damaged just by one negative review, while similarly, a positive review could do wonders for your occupancy rate. It’s “word-of-mouth marketing,” but in digital form!

So, how do you get good reviews? Kill your guests with kindness. Be readily available to assist them throughout their stay, create a folder that details all your favorite restaurants and tourist spots nearby, and go above-and-beyond with those little extras, like leaving a welcome basket with wine, snacks, or hand soaps which guests can take home with them as a souvenir. 

Another reason why reviews are critical is that they are a direct reflection of customer satisfaction; therefore, they can help you figure out what your core audience expects from you. Take the time to read both negative and positive feedback, then use it to improve your offer and engage with your guests. Just never argue or get angry with former guests in the comments, even if they leave a bad review, as this can harm your reputation as a host and drive away potential customers.

Apply these 6 tips and prepare yourself for a flood of guests! 

Right now is an optimal time for STR owners to grow their business in the Metro Detroit area. It may not be as developed as other areas, like Chicago, but the industry was growing before the pandemic and will likely keep growing once the new normal gets in full swing. 

Just remember to keep an eye out for ordinances regulating STRs in your area, so you can adjust your strategy if needed to remain competitive.

Any short-term rental marketing tips we’ve missed? Share your thoughts below! 

Image Courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio

Categories
Shortterm Rentals

Overview of Metro Detroit’s Short Term Rental Market

Property investors are attracted to short-term rental properties because they offer an opportunity to make more than long-term leasing, but the short term rental industry has taken a huge hit during the coronavirus pandemic. In Michigan, STRs were banned from operating during the height of the lockdown, and even now that they’ve been allowed to reopen to guests, vacancy rates are still sky-high – hitting as much as 85% in some areas. 

Furthermore, the great “Airbnb debate” has been raging in many areas of Metro Detroit for years now, with local city councils seeking heightened regulation and a limit to the number of short term rentals permitted within a given area. 

The new proposed ordinance in the City of Detroit, for example, will supposedly eliminate 85% of the nearly 1,000 listings currently active there – something short term rental owners in the area are keen to prevent. This is because, in addition to a rule limiting the number of Airbnbs to roughly 1 per city block, the new regulations would make it so that only owner-occupied properties could be used as a short term rentals. 

Yet “private rooms” in a host’s house account for less than 50% of all the short-term rentals currently on Airbnb in the Metro Detroit area. The rest are whole-place stays, where guests have exclusive use of an entire house or apartment, and these types of properties are where most of the demand will lie as we enter the age of the new normal. 

This could be an opportunity for STR owners outside the City of Detroit to take advantage of the area’s growing tourism industry in the coming years. If the new ordinance is passed, guests may look further afield to Metro Detroit’s Ring Cities as an alternative to staying in hotels or shared STRs in the city center. 

So, if your property is located near to good transport links or local amenities, you should highlight these points in your listing. In places like Hazel Park, Dearborn, and Dearborn Heights, where there are several conference centers catering to private and corporate events, expect a healthy demand from business travelers and out-of-town visitors once we return to normalcy. Whereas, in the shorter term, cities like the Pointes and St Clair Shores might see demand rise as people search for an escape from the more densely-populated metropolitan areas. 

Whether you want to target tourists, businesspeople, or city-dwellers looking for a more remote getaway, the way you present your STR should be in line with what your ideal customer wants. For example: 

Budget Stays – These could be just a simple, private room in the owner’s house, with basic furnishings, or a no-frills apartment. The target market for these types of stays are budget travelers and businesspeople, looking for an alternative to a 2 or 3-star hotel. This means you won’t need to splash out on fancy interiors or extra amenities, but you will need to make sure the property is in a good location, since budget guests will value convenience and affordable travel costs above all else. 

Luxury Stays – These include high-end apartments and lofts or nicely-decorated houses, and should ideally be located in safer, trendier areas with a walkable downtown. Your target market will be the bigger spending guests, looking for an alternative to a 4 or 5-star hotel. This means that you’ll likely have fewer issues regarding the security of your rental, but will almost certainly have to work harder to accommodate guests’ high expectations. Expect to get detailed reviews listing any small thing that your visitors found unsatisfactory, like clutter, dust hiding in corners, or noise from outside the property. 

The short-term rental market in Metro Detroit is still not as developed as it is in other cities, like Chicago, but the industry was growing prior to the coronavirus outbreak, and will likely continue to do so once regular travel resumes. If you operate an STR, keep an eye out for new proposed ordinances in your area, voice your opinions to your local city council, and make sure you adjust your strategy accordingly if nearby cities impose their own Airbnb bans – this could be an opportunity for you to capture guests from those markets. 

Image Courtesy of Monica Silvestre