NOTED SECOND HOME AUTHORITY JOINS WVR GROUP
Christine Karpinski tapped to help shape industry change
(AUSTIN, Texas) - Vacation rental author and expert Christine Karpinski has joined Austin-based WVR Group (www.wvrgroup.com) as Director, Owner Advocacy, CEO Brian Sharples announced today. The Amazon.com best selling author will leverage the company’s leading position in vacation property rentals to shape significant improvements in the industry as well as continue her work as an independent author, speaker and analyst.
“This is a critical time for the vacation home rental industry,” says Ms. Karpinski, who cites online vacation rentals as the fastest growing category in travel with vacationers spending more than $47 billion worldwide each year. “Now is the time to improve the online experience for vacation property owners and renters alike and WVR Group is at the forefront of that charge.”
“Christine is highly regarded for her work addressing the many issues property owners face,” Sharples said. “We’re fortunate to have her industry and owner perspective as we continue to grow and work with our owners.”
Karpinski, an experienced speaker and author of How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner and Profit from Your Vacation Home Dream is looking forward to her new opportunity. “As a part of the largest online vacation rental company, WVR Group allows me an even bigger platform for change and improvement.”
Her agreement with WVR Group allows an unprecedented level of professional independence. Not only will Karpinski continue to write guidebooks, produce videos and speak on topics related to vacation rental homes, she retains freedom to examine and promote the entire competitive space.
Karpinski purchased her first vacation home in 1997 and quickly became a powerful voice in support of vacation rental owners. She is a frequent source for local and national media including CNN, CBS Marketwatch Radio, The Chicago Tribune, MSNBC TV, RealtyTimes and The New York Post and owns and enjoys several vacation rental properties with her husband Tom Karpinski and their son Zachary.
Austin, Texas-based WVR Group is the largest international online distribution channel for vacation rental properties whose purpose is to enhance the experience of finding and securing vacation rental properties for consumers. The company is comprised of five of the market’s top vacation rental sites including: www.cyberrentals.com, www.greatrentals.com, www.a1vacations.com, www.holiday-rentals.com, and www.rent101.com. On a combined basis, WVR Group serves nearly 20 million travelers per year in the U.S. and Europe and provides more than 55,000 properties available for rent. For more information: www.wvrgroup.com.
Operation “Winter Renter”: Eleven Tips For Attracting Off-Season Guests To Your Vacation Home
Rent-by-owner guru Christine Hrib Karpinski offers a wealth of advice for keeping your cabin, condo or cottage booked all year round.
Woodstock, GA —It’s that time again. Time to rake up mountains of crunchy leaves, build crackling fires in the hearth, unpack your cuddly sweaters, begin your holiday shopping—and start fretting over that unrented vacation home. That’s right. T.S. Eliot may think that April is the cruelest month, but for many vacation property owners, any month between Labor Day and Memorial Day would qualify. That cabin or condo that renters clamor over all summer tends to sit depressingly (and expensively) empty all winter. If there was something you could do to make your off-season not quite so, well, off.
Actually, says Christine Hrib Karpinski, there are many things you can do. The author of How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner: The Complete Guide to Buy, Manage, Furnish, Rent, Maintain and Advertise Your Vacation Rental Investment (Kinney Pollack Press, 2004, ISBN: 0-9748249-0-9, $26.00) says it’s often the little touches that draw “winter renters,” delight them, and keep them coming back for more.
“Obviously, more people vacation during peak season,” she says. “That’s why it’s peak season! But there are still plenty of people who prefer to travel during the cooler months. Maybe they want to avoid the crowds, maybe they want to take advantage of the lower rates, or maybe they just want a break in the February doldrums. Your mission is to make your vacation home stand out from the many others that are available to potential renters. It’s that simple. You have to go the proverbial extra mile.”
Here are some of Karpinski’s tips for making your vacation property appealing to winter renters:
• First and foremost, “winterize” your marketing. It won’t matter how perfect your place is for a mid-winter getaway if people don’t know about it. If you’re like many vacation property owners you’re already listed on at least one “rent by owner” website. Make the most of it. Play up features like hot tubs and fireplaces. Sprinkle copy with words like warm, cozy, cocoon, snuggle and cuddle. You might even paint an inviting verbal picture such as “Envision yourself gazing out the tall picture window, a cup of hot cocoa in hand, as fat snowflakes drift lazily through the pines.” Finally, add a few “off-season” photos of your property to your website. Photos of the home framed in brilliant autumn leaves or dusted with snow will speak louder than a thousand poetic words.
• Consider off-season specials. Everyone loves a bargain, and in the winter, they expect one. “My favorite off-season booking magnet is ‘rent three nights and get one free,’” says Karpinski. “Or, when you get a call for someone looking to book next spring or summer, offer them a winter special—say, half-price off a weekend stay—so they can come check the place out early. That would be tough to resist.”
• Get as much mileage as possible out of from the holidays. Early November is not too soon to put up a Christmas tree or twine the banister with garland or set out a selection of seasonal DVDs (It’s a Wonderful Life and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer would please guests of all ages). Holiday trappings delight almost everyone’s “inner child” and can really add to your renters’ enjoyment of their vacation—which, of course, is likely to result in another visit in the future.
• Add “warm cozy” touches. Put thick, warm comforters on the bed and fleece throws on the sofa. Place a few spice-scented candles on tables or countertops. Leave savory winter treats in the kitchen: cocoa mix & marshmallows, spiced apple cider, ginger cookies, chili fixings and a crock pot. (Ask the housekeeper to replenish edibles.) You might even consider leaving an extra coat or two in the closet, along with toboggans, gloves and scarves—chances are they won’t be used but guests will appreciate the hospitality.
• Plan for snow! If guests should happen to get snowed in at your home, you want to make the experience as pleasant as possible. Make sure to have a snow shovel, ice melt and a windshield ice scraper on the premises. The possibility of inclement weather is a good reason to have a selection of nonperishable foods on hand, as well as movies and books. You certainly don’t want a houseful of hungry, stir-crazy, cranky renters who are cursing their vacation experience (and by association, you)!
• Consider adding a hot tub, sauna or ventless gas fireplace. If your vacation property is a “summer home” with no winter appeal, such additions can make a world of difference. You may be thinking that these are pricey upgrades, but you’ll be amazed at how fast they pay for themselves via increased off-season bookings. One caveat: if you install a ventless gas fireplace, be sure to get a carbon monoxide detector as well.
• Make your home baby- and toddler-friendly. You’ve probably noticed that people with very young children are more likely to travel off-season. (After all, they’re not constrained by school schedules.) Appeal to these people by including baby and toddler paraphernalia. A high chair and a porta crib should cost less than $150 combined, and can drastically increase your off-season bookings.
• Accept pets. Vacation properties that accept pets increase their occupancy by 10 to 50 percent. When you accept pets, it’s okay to take an additional $20 to $25/night or $140 to $175/week. This extra (which pet owners would have to spend anyway on boarding fees) is enough to pay for any carpet cleaning that needs to be done. “I spoke with a woman named Jennifer, who owned a nice cabin in the mountains of Colorado,” says Karpinski. “She was within driving distance of 3 ski resorts, but not really close enough to any of them to advertise that her place was associated with any of them. She was only booking her cabin 2-3 weeks per year. I advised her to start accepting pets, and the minute she did, her bookings started to flow in. Two years later, she is booked for the whole ski season, 3 or 4 weeks during the summer to hikers, and she rents 10-12 long weekends through the year. She has never been happier!”
• If all else fails, offer a “customized” special to repeat guests. If you’ve tried everything and you still have lots of weeks unbooked, it’s time get creative (perhaps even a bit assertive). Consider calling or e-mailing prior “VIP” guests and offering them discounted off-season stays. You might even link the stay to a special event in their lives. For instance, if you know that John and Jane Smith have an anniversary in March—thanks to the detailed file you keep on them—call them and offer a special celebratory weekend at a reduced rate. When they accept, have a champagne gift basket waiting for them in the bedroom along with a handwritten “Happy Anniversary” note.
• One final tip for Florida property owners. Sometimes we find ourselves in the fortunate position of helping people in need and making a little money besides. If you have a vacation home in or near the areas that sustained damage from Hurricane Ivan, this may be one of those times. FEMA is still looking for rental homes that can house displaced residents. Call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).
• Not sold on winter renting? Consider it “damage insurance.” All of that said, some people actually prefer to lock up their place for the winter. Maybe they don’t think renting is worth the effort, or maybe they make enough money during peak season to pay their mortgage for the year. If this is your mindset, Karpinski suggests you reconsider—winter renting can ward off property damage. “I’ve stories of locked-up properties that have been ransacked by families of raccoon, and of broken furnaces that have led to burst pipes,” she says. “Houses that are empty for long stretches of time, especially in freezing weather, tend to have problems. If renters had periodically visited such homes, these issues could have been avoided or at least discovered early, before things worsened.
Now that Karpinski has shared all these great ideas, she offers a word of caution: exercise moderation.
“It’s great to spend some money on things to attract winter renters,” she says. “Just don’t go overboard. I knew a guy who would tons of extra advertising and equip his place with all these bonuses for his off-season renters. Yes, he ended up booking the place for all of January through March—but his bottom line for all three months was only $500! My advice is this: a little effort goes a long way. Do one or two things on the list, not all of them. Otherwise, do a good job with the basics and be a friendly, hospitable host. As word gets around and your guests become ‘regulars,’ your off-season problem will solve itself.”
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Home, Sweet Vacation Home:
Yes, You Can Own One—Even If You’re Not Rich
The key to affording that vacation house, cabin, or condo is cutting out the
property management company “middleman.” An informative new book teaches
you everything you need to know to successfully rent by owner.
Woodstock, GA —You’ve always dreamed of owning a vacation home. After all, real estate is a smart investment, and what investment could be better than one that lets you spend several weeks a year in your own little slice of heaven? Problem is, you fear getting in over your head. You are hardly wealthy, so your first concern is cost. You know that many vacation homeowners pay for their properties by renting them, but the details seem daunting. How would you find renters? Deal with damages? Clean the home from 200 miles away?
Don’t give up your dream yet, urges Christine Hrib Karpinski, author of the book How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner: The Complete Guide to Buy, Manage, Furnish, Rent, Maintain and Advertise Your Vacation Rental Investment (Kinney Pollack Press, 2004, ISBN: 0-9748249-0-9, $26.00). Vacation homes are no longer just for the wealthy—and if you cut out the “middleman” property management companies, you’ll not only break even on your mortgage but make a tidy profit.
Her book, which reads like a friendly chat over coffee with a friend who’s “been there and done that,” will inspire even the most nervous reader to take the leap. Packed with tips, techniques, and suggestions from successful vacation home owners, it covers subjects that run the gamut from financing options to advertising for quick results to avoiding “bad apple” renters. Here are just a few examples:
• Aim for the magic “17 weeks.” If your monthly mortgage payment is less than or equal to one peak week rental, and you rent approximately 17 weeks per year, you will break even on the cost of your property. Usually there are 12 peak weeks in a rental year. So if you rent these 12 weeks, you will have enough revenue to pay your mortgage payments for the entire year. Other costs, including bills for your phone, power, cable, and association dues, are paid by your earnings from approximately five off-week rentals.
• Talking to renters yourself is “damage insurance.” The obvious reason to cut out the middleman is, of course, money. But the other reason, says Karpinski, is that you get to control “who” rents your vacation home—an informal brand of “damage insurance.” “I like to talk to each renter,” she says. “I am friendly and personable, and let the renters know that they are renting my second home. By establishing this relationship, the renters have now transcended from customer to ‘friend.’ If you stay in a hotel and spill coffee on the carpet, what do you do? But if you rent a ‘friend’s’ place, how differently would you handle that spilled coffee? My renters take care of my unit.”
• To find renters, rely on the Internet. “There are hundreds of websites that are devoted to listing vacation property renting by owner,” says Karpinski. “They are pretty inexpensive to list your property—only around $150/year. I guess you can say it’s like a classified ad that you take out on the Internet. I have found listing on three to five sites to be 100 percent effective in renting my places.”
• When writing your description, certain words get results. Karpinski offers a list of her favorite vacation property descriptors to include in ads. Examples are clean, peaceful, romantic, spacious, classic, cozy, private, inviting, rustic, warm, secure/security, and well-appointed. “You’ll notice that beautiful, nice, spectacular, and magnificent were not on my list,” she points out. “These words are so over used—especially in titles—that they just don’t have impact. Use them sparingly.”
• Consider accepting pets. Vacation properties that accept pets increase their occupancy by 10 to 50 percent. It’s also a great way to increase off-season rentals. When you accept pets, it’s okay to take an additional $20 to $25/night or $140 to $175/week. That’s enough money to get the carpet cleaned each time, or rent eight to ten weeks and you have enough money to replace the carpeting! And the best part is this: if people have a dog that they want to take with them, chances are excellent that it is not the kind of dog that causes a lot of problems—otherwise, they would have spent the “pet fee” to board him.
• With a little creative thinking, good help isn’t that hard to find! You will almost certainly need to hire a cleaning service for your vacation property. Here are two suggestions: 1) Visit your property on a weekend and go outside when most renters are checking out. Your neighbors probably have a cleaning service. Talk to them and see if they want to pick up a side job. (You can stagger your check-out time so they can clean both.) 2) Another good resource for housekeepers is your local church. Sometimes a pastor will know of someone who is looking for extra work. It pays to be resourceful.
These tips are just a small sampling of the wealth of advice found in How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner. It also offers appendices of forms, template documents, lists of recommended websites, partner companies, and more.
Karpinski also offers a companion book, The Vacation Rental Organizer. This 144-page double-O bound organizer helps vacation property owners track their bookings, manage guest information and phone numbers, log expenses and organize receipts, and keep track of important phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
Of course, Karpinski admits, renting by owner isn’t for everyone. There are risks, but that’s true of every new endeavor. And along with the risks comes learning experiences, personal growth, new friendships, and yes, financial rewards.
“I recently saw a statistic that said the average annual income of second home buyers is $80,000” she says. “That’s pretty solidly middle class. So if you’re concerned that you don’t have the resources to realize your dream, put that worry aside. Where there’s a will, there’s usually a way. My goal is to arm you with the information you need to determine whether vacation ownership is right for you. I enjoy it so much that I’ve made a career out of it. If I can do that, you can buy that beach house or ski slope condo or mountain cabin, pay your mortgage with ease, and maybe even make a decent profit in the bargain.”
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About the Author:
Christine Hrib Karpinski’s first and most important job is as a stay-at-home mom. She fell into teaching about vacation properties only by chance. Realizing that there was no way she could afford to buy a vacation home using a management company, she started “renting by owner.” Not only was she successful, others wanted to know how to do it too. She started writing a column in Gulf Coast Condo Owner Magazine. From there, the rest, as they say, is history. She’s been featured on CNNfn, CBS Marketwatch Radio, Good Day Sacramento, MSNBC TV, Kiplinger’s Magazine, The Chicago Tribune and many others. Currently her book is on the Amazon.com bestseller’s list for buying and selling real estate.
When she’s not teaching or taking care of her family, you’ll find Christine in a pottery studio creating with her hands, singing in her church choir, or relaxing on the beach in Destin, Florida. She currently resides in Woodstock, Georgia, with her husband, Tom, son, Zachary, and two Nova Scotia Duck Tollers, Trumpet and Piccolo.
About the Book:
How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner: The Complete Guide to Buy, Manage, Furnish, Rent, Maintain and Advertise Your Vacation Rental Investment (Kinney Pollack Press, 2004, ISBN: 0-9748249-0-9, $26.00) The Vacation Rental Organizer ((Kinney Pollack Press, 2004, ISBN: 0-9748249-1-7, $19.00) is available at bookstores nationwide and all major online booksellers.
Last modified: 7/5/2007