Oct 18, 2013

Recently, I got the opportunity to experience the guest's side of the Vacation Rental process, having booked a condo near our home to accommodate a group of friends. If you manage your own vacation rental, some experience being the customer will go a long way towards giving you some valuable insights on what is realistic to expect out of your own renters - particularly on the day they check out. There are a number of things many vacation rental owners really need their departing guests to do - and NOT to do - on the morning they vacate your property. And there are other things that may be better left to your cleaner.

Think back on your own experience on past vacations. What was your favorite part?  I'll bet it was NOT the morning you packed to travel back home, for which you may have had to get up extra early so there would be time to gather together and pack the family's personal belongings, while simultaneously remembering all items listed as your responsibilities upon check-out in the small print of the rental contract. And you're in a rush to do all this first thing in the morning because you either a.) need to return the rental car on time before catching your flight, or b.) have a 10-hour drive back home, and are hoping to squeeze in a full night of sleep before it's time to return to work the next morning. A time when most are not at their most organized and methodical. And definitely NOT the time to expect your guests to hunt through three pages of closely-typed instructions on what they need to do for their full damage deposit refund.

Be Realistic

Many vacation rental owners ask their guests to leave the property "as they found it."  But realistically speaking, people who are packing up to leave after a week of vacationing need you to be more specific. Depending on the quality of help you have in your cleaning service, you may ask your guests to complete a rather large collection of tasks before they vacate your property. For example, you may expect departing guests to take out their garbage, clean and put away all dishes, re-set the thermostat - maybe even strip the beds and wash the towels, before they lock all doors and windows, turn off the water, and leave the key . . .

But considering the conditions under which most vacationers depart their vacations, you might do well to pare down your expectations considerably, and prioritize for only the most important and easy-to-do tasks. A guest who is rushing to pack up and catch a flight is probably not the best person to oversee your linens or put away your kitchen's breakables. And the more chores you require the renters to handle, the greater the risk that they will forget to do the most important things you need them to do, such as locking all doors and leaving behind the keys. It may be worth the extra expense to have your cleaner to handle the more time-consuming tasks that involve some skill - particularly when shoddy work will impact your next guests (e.g. insufficiently cleaned towels and bed linens).

The Check-Out Checklist

For those tasks that you must ask your guests to complete, you should communicate them in as frictionless and helpful a way as possible. In other words, don't bury your check-out instructions in the middle of a multi-page screed that contains every detail any guest might want to know during their entire stay. Information about your property's amenities, lists of restaurants, grocery stores, how to connect to wifi, and "things to do" in your area are best kept in a binder at the property or at least in a separate document. Give them a check-out checklist. The often hectic and stressful transition from blissful vacation back to regular work-a-day life that a check-out morning is for most guests means they need all the help being organized that you can possibly give them.

Currently, we rely on a single-page bulleted checklist, which includes only a handful of items. The list is short and simple and printed using a large-sized font.

Imagine the logical order in which each task might be done on a check-out morning. For example, stripping the beds and taking out the trash could be listed first, and items like locking all windows and doors and leaving the key could be the very last items on the list.

Note:  Harkening back to being realistic about what you expect your renters to do versus your cleaning service, you may wonder why we ask our guests to strip the beds and separate the towels, as that could be something best left to the cleaner. But the main purpose of this is not so much to save the cleaner time, as to help your guests avoid leaving behind personal items hidden in the tangle of sheets, or accidentally packing some of your towels in with their belongings.)

Depending on your preferred style, you may wish to inject some humor, if possible, in your list of instructions. Include a "please" or two, to make your instructions sound more friendly - or short explanatory comments that will make them fun to read and hopefully more memorable.

Also, if there's space on the sheet, leave some blanks for your guests to use as a handy spot to write down a task or two of their own (drop off the rental bikes, pack the cell phone chargers, etc.). In this way, your list is not just to help you; it also can be an extra help to them!

Identify the most important task of all and highlight it. As you can see in our example, the primary task we need our guests to remember is to leave behind our keys! For this reason, we print this in red and place it at the very end of the list.

When to Spring It On 'Em

Another way to communicate well with your guests is to be repetitive. Multiple copies of the check-out checklist are provided to our guests at different times before and after their arrival at the vacation rental. First, the tasks for which they are responsible are listed in the rental agreement that they sign at booking time. Second, a bulleted list of them is included along with driving directions, etc., sent to guests prior to their check-in date. While there cleaning and making up the beds, our cleaner leaves a printed copy where the guests will find it when they arrive at the property. Lastly, a copy is posted in a prominent location at the vacation rental.

In addition to including this checklist along with whatever driving instructions, access codes, or packing tips you send your guests prior to their check-in date, be sure to refer to this list explicitly and encourage them to read through it and ask questions at that time. If your guests object to washing the dishes or taking out the garbage on their check-out day, the best time for both of you to discuss this is before they arrive at the property. You do not want to spoil your guests' last hours at your VR with an unpleasant surprise of a long paragraph of small-print good-care requirements and unnecessary stress. The extra work you put into clear communication well beforehand will help you avoid misunderstandings and possible conflicts that could taint your guests' memories of their time at your Vacation Rental and their dealings with you. Helping your guests get checked out without mishap increases the likelihood they will want to check-in with you again for their next vacation.

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