Dated: February 3 2023
I didn't want too many days to pass without reflecting on Rudy's and my first year as the owners and hosts of RiverHouse Cabin in Northern Michigan, our first short term rental endeavor. We closed on it February 2nd of 2022, thanks in part to our dear friend, Teresa Kenny, who was able to do the closing for us in her New York office since my flight to Traverse City was cancelled due to an unexpected snow storm.
I was able to fly into Detroit the next day, spend the night with my mom and then drive up to RiverHouse with her, which is approximately four hours away. Our Realtor, Bill completed the final walkthrough for us since we were in New York, and though he did a great job, there were a few small unexpected things that needed to be taken care of. One of which was an old stove was left in one of the storage rooms that we had no use for. Bill stopped by the next day to get rid of it and enjoy a slice of my mother's homemade rum cake. Bill was awesome, and so was the rum cake!
RiverHouse Cabin isn't our first investment property. We've had many years of experience as the landlords of two condos in Orange County, New York. The condos have been rented on a long term basis, with an annual renewal. RH is our first property to be rented by the day (3 night minimum to be exact). It is one of the most lucrative real estate investments we've made thus far.
If we used RiverHouse as a long term rental, we would gross approximately $3000 a month, but as a furnished short term rental we can gross over $10,000 a month! And that's even with spending a week there per month ourselves!
My mom and I spent the first 10 days post closing prepping the house for guests, taking photos of the rooms as they were completed, and adding the listing to Airbnb and VRBO. The house came complete with everything from the sofas, beds, linen, dishes, you name it! But most of the items left behind were not consistent with the vibe I envisioned for the log home.
Weeks before closing, using photos and notes that I took when Rudy and I visited the house for the first time two months prior, I was able to come up with ideas for each room and order linen, dishes, and toiletries, and have them all waiting for me at the post office post closing. NOTE: You can have items delivered to the post office in care of general mail for up to 30 days. The post office did call to find out exactly when I was coming to pick up my packages. Being that we live 866 miles away, and wanting to get as much done as possible in a week, I may have gone a little overboard.
As for the items that were left behind that didn't work, I listed them for sale on the local Facebook marketplaces. I was able to get rid of quite a bit. The linens that didn't sell were donated to the local Humane Society.
I had painters, handymen, electricians and housekeepers all lined up to meet and do work while we all got acquainted with the area and set up the house. I used referrals from the local real estate broker, and recommendations from the local Facebook groups. I am very happy with the team we were able to put together.
Setting up RiverHouse was such a fulfilling project for me, as with my real estate listing prep, I was able to utilize some of my interior design skills and that always makes me happy.
SIX LESSONS WE LEARNED OUR FIRST YEAR
1. Merge the Calendars on All Platforms Your Listing is On.
Our first booking confirmed was from Airbnb. Not long after we received a confirmation on VRBO for the same date! We were double-booked! I canceled the request from VRBO since it came in second and offered the guest a discount to book another time, but he was coming in for an event and couldn't change his dates. I apologized for the rookie mistake and told him I would honor the discount should he decide to book with us again in the future. I also changed the setting so that bookings could be reviewed and not automatically approved.
Shortly after we received another request that would have lead to a double booking. That's when I realized I needed to merge the calendars, this way if a date gets booked on VRBO, it will automatically block off the days on Airbnb, as to assist in avoiding any scheduling conflicts.
2. Have More Than One Means of Accessing the Property.
We decided to go with a smart lock for the front door. One that we can monitor and add codes of visitors to. The Schlage Encode Plus WiFi Deadbolt was our first choice but there were none available at the time so we opted for the Kwikset Halo.
I was sure to also add a traditional combo lockbox with keys in it on the front screen door and an automatic garage door opener to the garage just in case the smart lock malfunctioned. Boy were we so glad I did. The Halo died unexpectedly about four times. So if the guest has an issue getting in, we can give them the code to access the keys; or even open the garage remotely using the myQ app. Over our first twelves months, we've had to use all options for guests, housekeeping and repairs.
NOTE: Over time we learned that it was a good idea to give a key for the owner closet to our electrician and plumber so that they can get to the HVAC system and electrical panel when issues arise without having to rely on housekeeping for access. We can open the front door remotely as needed and the contractors can get to the systems.
3. Always Have a Back Up
This pretty much goes for everything and everyone... Back up bedding; back up throws; back up batteries (for remotes), back up housekeeper; back up handyman; back up locksmith; back up electrician and so on. The most unexpected things can and do happen at the most unexpected times and in the middle of a sewer pump crisis, if your plumber is backed up for 3 days (no pun intended) and you have guests arriving in 2, you have to have options. Knowing you have a team to depend on helps lessen the stress of what can be a very stressful situation.
4. You Can't Please Everyone
Not being able to please every guest was probably the most challenging lesson for me over the year. Being somewhat of an overachiever and trying my best to make sure that we put out a noteworthy product is something that I am extremely passionate about. So, when we received our first 4 star review, I was devasted. I thought that it would kill the momentum we created and was totally unwarranted, but as a friend shared, when you have a sea of 5 star reviews and one 4, you kind of take it with a grain of salt.
You also, as a consumer look at the way in which the dissatisfaction was addressed. Did the host lose their cool or was the response a professional one? Things to take into consideration when you are researching your next place to stay.
5. Establish a Great Relationship with Your Neighbors
This is one I can't stress enough. If you don't live in the area and don't have family close by, you will need someone you can trust and depend on to look out for your property when you are not around. We truly lucked out with our neighbor. They are not only our eyes but have also assisted in bringing in packages, lawn maintenance, snow and garbage removal. No, they don't take care of those things for free, but being the direct neighbor they definitely have an interest in making sure things are well maintained and if the guests are out of hand, which thankfully they haven't been. But if they were, our neighbors will definitely let us know.
6. Explore the Area
Though I am originally from Michigan, RiverHouse Cabin is in an area we'd never visited or even heard of before. When we decided to start looking for a vacation home, I literally Googled "Places to visit in Michigan" and found a place called Harbor Springs. From there I found a Realtor to help us since I wasn't yet licensed in the state.
Our Realtor, Bill introduced us to Cheyboygan County and when he sent me the videos from his visit to the house in Indian River, I was sure it was the one for us! Yes, we bought site unseen and were part of a bidding war, but we had enough information to know that we wanted to take the risk.
I'm not suggesting that anyone do what we did, that sort of play can cause some people to have a heart attack, but it was right for us. Before we closed on the house, I researched things to do and places to dine and play to assist me in putting together the guide for our guests.
We visit RiverHouse every few months to get away and to find new places to explore that we can share with our friends, visitors and on our social media outlets. Not having known the area adds to the thrill for us. It ensures that when we visit we do a little work to improve the house and some play. Now that the house is pretty much set our visits are much more fun. It really has been a rewarding year and we are looking forward to our next adventure.
A trusted name in real estate, Kenyatta Jones-Arietta is the broker/owner and creator of R2M Realty, Inc., a full service residential and commercial real estate brokerage based in Nyack, NY. Keny....
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