Should you make it a Vacation Rental

If you’ve decided that the best way to help make your mortgage payment on time is to start renting out your cabin or cottage to vacationers, than you’re not far off from the truth.  You can definitely make your money back, and even take home some profit, but you need to be ready for a serious amount of consideration and planning.  There are some things you need to figure out before you begin handing out the keys.  Ask yourself some basic questions:  why do I want to rent my cottage out?  Who am I willing to rent to? How much money do I need to make? When do I want my cabin available for ME?

Lucky, there are answers to each of those questions if you just sit down and consider each one with an analytical professionalism.

Why do I want to rent out my cabin?  There are a number of reasons you may want to rent out your vacation home.  It might very well be a financial decision: either planned or sudden.  Some renters may buy their cabin when they’re young, rent it out long enough to cover the mortgage payments, and then retire to it once they’re done working and ready to relax.  Others might have bought the cabin and then later have a financial crisis that requires them to rent the cabin out so they’re able to afford to keep it.  If you plan on selling your cabin, it is important to consider a private sale to one of your renters.  This is advantageous for all parties involved.  No matter what your reason is for renting out your cabin, it is important you think about why, and discuss the situation with the whole family so you know everyone’s opinion before you make your decision.

Who should I rent to? There’s so many people interested.   You don’t want to have to deal with problem tenants.  It’s no fun, and it causes too much stress.  This is your comfortable, relaxation place after all.  Screen everyone.  Seriously.  Everyone.

Extended Family: Extended family can be a godsend if you have a good relationship with them.  When you decide to list your cottage, make sure you tell the extended family that you’re close with about the cabin.  They may just want to rent it themselves and this can be great for both of you.

Friends of Neighbors:  Word of mouth is a great and cheap way to find vacationers for your rental property.  Let your neighbors know that you’re going to be renting out a cabin, and let them do the rest.  Chance is, they know somebody who knows somebody, and suddenly you have renters that you never expected to find.  

Strangers:  Renting out to complete strangers is a risk that many people are forced to take.  If you’re one of those people, make sure you take the time to really research who you’re going to rent out to.  Make sure to do a background and credit check on them.  You don’t want a complete lunatic residing in your peaceful retreat, after all.

Couples: Finding a couple to rent your cabin to that doesn’t have kids is often a great option, especially if you have a small place that’s better suited for a romantic honeymoon than a family reunion. Besides that, if a couple is looking for a vacation spot by themselves, the chance is they’re not likely to cause huge scenes and bother your neighbors!

Families:  If your cabin fits their needs, renting to a small family may be very beneficial. Just make sure that you warn them of all the hazards if they have young children (like the fireplace, or the lake).  With any luck, you’ll find a family that wants to stick around for a long time and become regular vacationers at your cabin.  This will save you having to constantly fill in that time slot that they might be taking up.

Groups:  If you have a larger cabin, you might be tempted to rent it out to a large group.  I won’t tell you not to: there are definitely some perks to renting out to groups.  If there’s a large family that wants to vacation or have a reunion or wedding, it can really be in both of your interests to rent out your cabin to them.  On the other hand, you might end up getting a group of friends who are trying to find the cheapest rate per person, and won’t respect your cabin like they should, and might irritate your neighbors. Big groups also don’t often come back for a second or third or twelfth time renting either!

How much should I charge?  There are a number of things you have to consider when determining how much you need to charge each person who rents out your cabin.  Taking time to do the math is very important.  You might find out that the net profit is not worth the trouble.  Or you might find out that renting out your cabin is a truly great idea, and will make you crazy profit.  It’s all in the math, so sit down with that notebook and that calculator and get to work figuring it out!

Cleaning Costs:  Remember that someone has to clean the cabin before your guests arrive.  You don’t want them coming in to see a messy cabin that looks as though nobody ever knew how to use a broom before.  You might be willing to do this yourself if you have time, or you might have someone on call that will come and clean it.  If you use a person or a service, you’re going to have a higher cost than if you do it yourself, but if you’re too busy, it might be necessary.  Either way, you’re spending money, and you need to figure out how much and how often.

Advertising: If you don’t get booked immediately, you might end up spending quite a bit on advertising. Newspapers and the Internet can add up pretty quickly if you’re not using free sites – and remember, free doesn’t always mean the cheapest option.  There are usually hidden fees or “extras” that cost more… do your research and make sure you’re using the right sites and wording your ads the right way.

Maintenance and Repair:  Even if you somehow manage to find the perfect guests who never break, tear, or dirty anything, you’re still going to have to pay for upkeep.  There will be wear and tear that you can’t avoid.  Maybe that’s the water heater one year, and the dishwasher the next.  Maybe you need to change the carpets after a while, or maybe a window gets shattered, or a wall gets punched, or maybe the paint just fades. Just keep in mind that costs WILL come up and you’re going to have to take care of them as they do.  It might be wise to put some money back from each rental just to pay for these inconveniences so you’re not spending your paycheck on them!

Utilities:  You’re going to need to pay certain utilities.  There’s gas, electricity, firewood, water, and even Internet access! They all need to be provided and paid for so your guests don’t have to worry about the lights going out on them, or suddenly losing their WiFi.  Trust me, if you don’t get these paid on time, they’re going to bite you in the butt later on.

Insurance: You have to let your insurance company know that you’re planning on renting out your cabin to guests.  This might incur extra costs to cover possible damage, theft, and liability.  This can be figured into your monthly costs right alongside utilities. Trust me, you won’t regret having the insurance. Sooner or later, if you’re renting out to guests – even if you avoid strangers – you’re going to make use of it.

Agency Fees:  Something that many renters do is use an agency to manage their property.  This can really be helpful, as they’re likely to find bookings, and handle things such as the clean up and check outs.  However, you’re either going to pay them a flat fee or a commission which can greatly cut into your profits.  Sometimes it might be worth it just to get the place rented, especially if you have a busy lifestyle that doesn’t leave you enough time to manage it yourself.  The good news about rental agencies is that they can help screen your tenants and will handle any problems that might arise. Imagine trying to kick out a tenant yourself! That’s no fun, and it might be nice if a professional handles it.  There’s no reason you should feel obligated to use an agency, but just remember that it’s an option!

Your time:  Time is money, friend.  This quote is incredibly true.  If you aren’t using an agency, you’re going to be handling everything yourself. You’ll have to handle advertising, bookings, check ins, check outs, clean up, and fix-ups that occur.  If you have a busy life, it might not be worth the extra money you’ll making.  Your time is worth something, after all.  Don’t forget that when you’re doing your calculations.

When should I rent out my cabin? How often have you decided to use your vacation home recently? A last minute trip on a Friday afternoon.  Deciding that Sunday morning that you want to take the lake off and spend it relaxing in your hot tub.  Maybe your neighbor called and told you that the fishing was great, so get your butt down to your lake.  Whatever reason you might have for going to your cabin, figure that out. How much is your freedom worth to you? You might end up hating the fact that you can’t go out on a Wednesday afternoon after a hard day at work and enjoy the quiet solitude that made you buy the cabin in the first place.  If you HAVE to rent out your cabin because the numbers don’t lie, and you’re in need of the cash, consider renting it out during the summer season.  You’ll be able to charge more, and you can schedule it for the busiest weeks that you didn’t really want to be there for anyway.  Remember, if you own the cabin, you can always pull the kids out of school during the winter and spend a week at the cabin then.  There’s no law against using it when the vacation season is quiet.

Make a Cottage Information Kit.  An information kit should include all the details that a potential renter could possibly want.  It also allows you to advertise toward a certain group of people.  Knowing what’s in the cabin will help the renters decide if it’s best for them. After all, a family of ten isn’t going to want to rent out a one-bedroom.  Someone who takes their dog everywhere isn’t going to want somewhere that’s not pet friendly.  Someone on their motorcycle might not want somewhere you can’t have bikes.

You want to make sure to list all the amenities, as well.  You might get the renter that was hesitant at first when they find out there’s a hot tub.  You might get a family that was considering elsewhere when they find out you have a fully stocked kitchen and stainless steel appliances and a huge dining room table.  That elderly couple may take you up on your cabin ad just because you mention that it’s all on one level.

Finally, don’t forget to set yourself up a website.  This will help you in the long run.  You want to be able to link back to your cabin.  You also want a place to send your family and friends when they ask how to go about renting your cabin.  It provides a platform where people can look up all the questions they have, which will save both of you time in the long run.  Finally, it allows you an easy way to calendar all your bookings so you can make sure you’re making the best out of your time slots!  

Renting out your cabin might be the best financial decision for you, or it may not be worth the extra time and effort.  That’s for you to figure out.  Just remember to take all these things into consideration when you make your decision.  Happy vacationing!