There’s one undeniable truth about vacation home renters: The early bird gets the worm—and she’s willing to pay top dollar for it! That’s why smart vacation rental owners set out to make their properties attractive to these oh-so-lucrative early birds, well, early. Yes, now is the time to start getting your ocean-view condo or woodsy cabin ready to stand out in the cyber lineup. And according to vacation home expert Christine Karpinski, that means one thing: It’s time to “amenity up.”
“Once your home is passed up, most people won’t go back to view it again,” warns Karpinski, author of How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner, 3rd Edition: The Complete Guide to Buy, Manage, Furnish, Rent, Maintain and Advertise Your Vacation Rental Investment. “If you want to secure that booking, you need to catch people’s attention the first time—and that means making sure their desired amenities are present and accounted for.”
In other words, you need to know what amenities renters tend to look for and make sure your home has them (or, at least, most of them). And—more to the point—you need to shine a brilliant spotlight on these amenities in your listing.
“No, I’m not suggesting you spend thousands of dollars building a tennis court in your backyard—unless, that is, you were thinking about doing it anyway,” says Karpinski. “But what you can do is let potential guests know that there’s one accessible to them just a block away. The idea is to give people what they are looking for in some form or fashion—and it doesn’t have to mean costly upgrades. It’s mostly about smart marketing.”
Read on for the top amenities that renters are looking for—and how you can make sure that yours are coming up in their searches:
• Pool - It should come as no big surprise that vacationers enjoy taking a dip in the pool while on vacation. Pools are a form of entertainment in and of themselves, so when people go on vacation, they typically look for some body of water in close proximity. Even if you don’t have a pool in your own backyard, advertise the shared pool in your complex or a nearby community pool.
“Whether for sun bathing, exercise, or simply for splashing around, a pool comes up as the number one search criterion for many vacationers,” asserts Karpinski. “If you want your home to stand tall and proud amongst the other ads, be sure to put any pool, lake, or beach access your home may have front and center in your listing.”
• Hot Tub - Hot tubs have become a must-have amenity in many markets, especially those with cooler weather. Having a hot tub in your listing can even increase the shoulder season “rentability” of properties—especially in areas with chilly spring and fall seasons. In other words, that hot tub on the deck or screened-in porch could mean more renters all year long.
“If your home does not have one, purchasing a hot tub might be well worth the cost when you consider all the renters it may attract in the cooler months,” notes Karpinski.
• “Jacuzzi” Tub (No, it’s not necessarily synonymous with the previous listed amenity!) - Just like Kleenex and Google, Jacuzzi is a brand name that has become the generic term for its category. While many travelers may use the word interchangeably with “hot tub” (meaning the outdoor variety), others search for Jacuzzi when seeking a whirlpool bathtub. In other words, if it has warm water, jets, and bubbles, chances are people are calling it a Jacuzzi, so keep that in mind when putting your property listing together.
“If you own a jetted bathtub, consider selecting both the hot tub and Jacuzzi checkboxes in the amenities section of your listing,” suggests Karpinski. “Also select both if you have a hot tub. Just be sure to specify which type you have in the free text section of your listing so as not to mislead your guests.”
• “Pet Friendliness” - According to the Travel Industry Association of America, approximately 30 million people travel with their pets each year. Although it may not be a traditional amenity, accepting pets at your vacation rental could significantly increase your bookings. Remember, it costs hundreds of dollars for guests to board their dogs or hire a sitter. Even if you charge a pet fee or a refundable pet deposit, it will still cost guests far less than leaving their four-footed friends at home.
“I’ve known homeowners to double their bookings when they start allowing pets,” notes Karpinski. “This is a great way to add value to your home at virtually no cost. And if you’re worried that someone’s dog will destroy your house, don’t be. If she is willing to bring along her pet, that pet is almost certainly well-behaved. And your guest will be so grateful that she’ll take extra care to ensure that her furry family member doesn’t scratch up the furniture or do his business on the carpet.”
• TV - Even with the rising popularity of HDTVs, just plain “TV” remains a popular search term that people use in their hunt for that perfect home. In your description include the number of TVs in your home, taking care to mention any located in bedrooms. (Many travelers look for this detail.) Also, it doesn’t hurt to include more details in your listing about any high-end televisions you may have. “Cable” and “satellite TV” also rank highly in traveler searches. If you have an HDTV in the home, make sure you upgrade the box and pay that extra five or so dollars for those HD channels. Your guests will enjoy having them—and of course don’t forget to also highlight in your advertisements that you pay for HD channels.
Vacationing is about relaxing and many a guest is content propped up on the couch with the remote control in their hand—especially if that big game is on. If your home pipes in hundreds of channels, including those big sports packages, be sure to include that in the home’s description. Of course, many vacations are filled with so much activity that it’s impossible to coordinate being back at the house in time for kickoff. For this reason, having a DVR in the home is another amenity worth mentioning.
• Tennis - If you don’t have a tennis court in your backyard, subdivision, or complex, consider looking up local courts and including information about them in your listing. Many vacationers understand that tennis courts could be considered a hard-to-access amenity; if your home does have court access, shout it from the heavens. This just might be the amenity that reels them in.
• Internet - Even on vacation, travelers still want (and need) to be connected, and wireless Internet has become the preferred method. If you don’t already offer a WiFi connection, contact your local cable or phone company for more details. It’s fairly inexpensive to add this amenity to your home and, in this day and age, it’s as much of a necessity as running water and electricity.
• Pool Table - Pool tables are especially popular in certain ski and mountain regions because they offer reliable indoor entertainment. And if you’re looking to put your money on something that will make a big statement at a reasonable price, adding one to your home will do just that. Obviously, you don’t have to go top of the line and shell out $25,000 for a high-end pool table. Check out your local sporting goods store and you’ll likely find a perfectly nice model for around $1,000. If this still seems like a lot to spend, ask around and search the classified ads for used tables. Chances are you’ll come across people willing to sell theirs for next to nothing.
• Fireplace - When vacationing in a cooler climate, renters look forward to cuddling up by the fireplace after a long day outdoors. If you have one, be sure to really play it up in your listing. For slightly warmer destinations, an outdoor fireplace can be a huge draw for off-season travelers. And while adding a full-fledged fireplace, chimney and all, to an existing home may prove to be prohibitively expensive, there are plenty of portable fireplaces that you can pick up at the home improvement store that don’t require a contractor and construction crew to install.
“Adding a portable fireplace is a wonderful way to add warmth and ambiance to your property,” notes Karpinski. “And there are plenty of models to be had for just a few hundred dollars.”
• Porch - No matter what type of outdoor living area you have—a porch, deck, terrace, or patio—be sure to provide a detailed description and photo(s) in your listing. Another popular search term is “balcony,” so don’t forget that keyword when posting a photo of your view. Add the appropriate outdoor furniture and you have an inviting “bonus” living space that renters will love. Oh—and don’t forget to include pictures of that stunning view!
“Not only is it a great idea to include photos of the porch itself, also show photos of that beautiful view of the ocean, mountains, or even those city lights,” notes Karpinski. “And don’t forget the power of words! Describe that porch and its view in a way that potential renters can imagine themselves sitting there with a glass of iced tea in hand, enjoying their home away from home.”
If, after reading this list, you’re tempted to invest in a new amenity—say, a portable outdoor fireplace or a pool table—go for it. Chances are it will pay off quickly.
“Sometimes it really is a good idea to invest a few thousand dollars to make your home more desirable to vacationers,” concludes Karpinski. “Many upgrades will pay for themselves after just a couple of extra bookings. Besides, your expenditure may be a tax write-off! If you’re considering adding amenities to your vacation home, let these top requests from actual travelers guide you. When peak season gets here, you’ll be glad you listened to them.”