“If you go above and beyond, so will your bank account” is the mantra of Susan Colwell, who has spent 5 years of managing two successful vacation rental companies. In our recent conversation, she provided her best ever tactics on how to give yourself an advantage over the competition. While this advice was provided in the context of vacation rentals, one can easily tweak these techniques and apply them to almost any aspect of real estate investing.
The main tactic Susan attributes to her success is taking the hotel or resort experience and applying it to her rental portfolio. And the best way to emulate that experience is to hire a professional photographer to take amazing pictures for all of your listings. Photos are the first windows a potential tenant is going to look through to see what you have to offer. Therefore, you don’t want low quality iPhone photos, or worse, junk in your shots. Rather, you want to portray a 5-star experience, even if you have a modest property. That means your property must be immaculately clean, well lit, and inviting, which you bring together with a great photographer that captures it all and conveys that feeling to the tenant.
Before preparing a listing, Susan will go on various hotel websites, browse through the pictures of the highest quality rooms being offered, and model her pictures after that. Typically, it is as simple as getting some nice fluffy pillows for the bed and furniture, making sure nothing is wrinkled or cluttered, among other small additions, which makes everything in the unit look pristine. All of this ties into the aspirational aspect of vacations. Tenants aren’t just looking for a place to rent. They are looking for the entire luxurious experience.
Provide Phenomenal Customer Service
The next area of focus is backing up the experience you’ve promised from your amazing photos with phenomenal customer service. Susan has an amazing assistant, and between the two, their top priority is to make sure that the tenants are taken care of. Their service starts before the tenant even arrives, because they work towards anticipating specific needs before they occur. For example, Susan provides all of her tenants with a list of local amenities, like food delivery services and nearby restaurants, shops, parking locations, etc. Or, if a property has a unique feature, (one of Susan’s properties has a steep spiral staircase) she discloses that information upfront so that there are not any surprises. Essentially, she offers a service that is similar to what a hotel concierge service provides and is completely truthful and transparent about the features of the property.
It is also important to anticipate a game plan for when things go wrong, because in real estate, unforeseen issues are almost a given (A/C breaks down, minor flooding, clogged toilets, etc.). Since you know that these types of things will happen, how you deal with them is key. For Susan, when an “expected” unexpected issue arises, depending on the severity, she will give the tenant money to get dinner or will provide a discount. However, at the very least, you must commit to answering any problems – or questions – as soon as possible. It helps to identify with their frustrations by putting yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself, “If I were renting a property and the toilet goes out, what type of response would you want?”
As the owner, it is about understanding the frustration and easing the pain as quickly as possible. If you’ve followed the “professional photography” advice and are selling a high quality experience, you don’t want people to think that you did a bait and switch. You really have to follow up on that amazing experience that matches the amazing photos that you put out there.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as an offer to buy or sell any securities or to make or consider any investment or course of action.