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Rental homeowners can’t afford to be deceptive

Sun., June 5, 2011

We have some friends who rented a home in the mountains for Memorial Day weekend. It was the only weekend of the summer their entire family could gather. Summer jobs, baseball tournaments and out-of-town weddings erased the chance of taking their usual time during July and August, so they settled for the traditional opening weekend of summer.

The owners of the home were “friends of friends” and did not typically rent out their home, keeping it instead for family use only. The main reason for this was that the owners had inconsistent work schedules and usually made last-minute decisions to use the mountain place.

Long story short, our friends said they did not get what they paid for. The home that could “comfortably sleep eight” had a double bed in one room, single bed in another room and various foam mattresses and cushions in the second-floor loft.

“The setup would have been fine several years ago, but some of our children are grown adults,” the mom said. “I was just expecting a few more real beds for the amount of money we paid.”

People who do not rent out their homes on a regular basis can underestimate what they need to do to get it ready and the basic information they should communicate to renters. If visitors are paying to use the place, they should receive the product, or service, they are paying for.

While some vacation homeowners deliberately try to deceive their customers, most of them know that one bad review can spread online in a hurry. Misleading information can lead to vacancies, upset vacationers and lost income.

Here are some vacation-home topics for owners and renters to consider:

1. Steps and stairs. If your mountain cabin is reached only by a long trail from a community parking lot, be upfront about the time it takes from the car to your door. While most people in the area might be familiar with the territory and common quirks, don’t surprise out-of-area renters with what you might assume as an obvious custom. Also, grandma may not be able to make the trip if the steps are steep and numerous. “You can see by the photo that the house is on a hill” is a poor excuse for not explaining why a renter would have to be a finely tuned athlete to negotiate the switchback staircase to the beach.

2. For the dogs? If don’t want pets in your summer place, make sure everybody who might rent it knows. Some people take it for granted they can take their pets anywhere unless told otherwise. If you do allow pets, you will lure those looking for that possibility and also warn people who may be allergy-conscience at the same time.

3. Not-so gourmet kitchen. Some visitors love to cook. The traditional breakfast pancakes and hot dog dinners are not the only entrees vacationers plan to serve. If your kitchen offers only basic utensils, a fry pan and an oven, make sure your vacationers know what to expect. They may have planned all year to show off their new blended drink and may be isolated high on your hill without a blender.

4. Every picture tells a story. If the pictures on your site or flier do not give an honest account of the views, furniture and fixtures a visitor will encounter at your place, don’t use them. If you have to stand on the toilet with a high-powered camera to see a tiny portion of the lake, it’s probably not a good idea to use that shot in your promotional materials. Display photos that show the actual views renters will see from the living room, bedrooms, kitchen and deck. If you deliberately mislead, karma has a way of circling back to you.

5. Out of range? Many guests now expect to have Wi-Fi service (and/or cell phone coverage) in homes that they rent. One member in the party might even need it to do work while he or she is away from home. If your home does not have Internet access, disclose it in your marketing material. It’s best to mention how far away the nearest connection might be.

Every home has plusses and minuses, but paying customers do not like to drive all day, or fly all night, and walk into a negative surprise. So if your “private” hot tub is actually shared by two other units, that might not be the late-night picture your guests have in mind. If you are an owner, do your best to accurately describe your property. If you are a renter, make sure you understand what you are renting.

Tom Kelly is a former real estate editor for the Seattle Times. His book “Cashing In on a Second Home in Mexico: How to Buy, Rent and Profit from Property South of the Border” was written with Mitch Creekmore of Stewart International.

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