Vacation Rental Management -Should you use a management company or self-manage?
Updated: May 17, 2022
Owning a vacation rental means you will now be running a small business that needs to be managed. You will need to keep up the quality of your product (your cabin), acquire and retain customers (your guests), recruit talent (your team of cleaners & maintenance), market your cabin (listing sites, social media, etc) and keep track of your income and expenses.
You have a few choices when choosing how you want to manage your cabin. Let's explore your options...
The most turn-key option is hiring a management company. Management companies typically manage your client acquisition, marketing and pricing, cleaning and turn-around, and client communication. You can expect to pay 25% upwards to 45% of your gross revenue (that's your income before expenses are taken out) for the convenience of having essentially what is a passive business.
Even when using a management company, you will still be responsible for expenses such as utilities, maintenance, repairs, and consumables (such as guest toiletries, etc). These other expenses can run from 40-50% of your gross revenue, so add that to the management costs, and you can see that your net profits can be very slim; in the slow months, possibly negative.
Management companies vary in their service options. For example, some management companies include linens and/or toiletries in their costs, but many do not. Some charge extra for simple maintenance, while others include it. It's important to interview several management companies and get a very detailed, itemized list of what is and what is not included in their services.
On the other end of the management-spectrum is self-managing. With self-management, you will be responsible for every aspect of the business. You will need to set up your vacation home on the listing sites (perhaps even creating your own direct-booking website), hire a team (cleaners, maintenance, etc), manage that team, keep track of your expenses, communicate with guests, and so on.
One of the biggest concerns of new cabin owners contemplating self-managing is whether or not they will have the time to devote to managing the cabin and do it well. Rightly so! It is important that your cabin is set up and spotless for your guests each and every stay. Guests must be communicated with consistently. The home must be maintained. If any of these falls by the wayside, soon so will your rentals.
Time consumption will be determined by how well you have guest communication automation set up for your rental (I will get into those details in a later blog post in this series), as well as the reliability of your team. You can expect to spend a couple of hours a week managing your guest communications, bookings, and financials, as well as a visit up to your property at least once every month or so. If you have a full-time job with a strict 9-5 schedule that does not allow for any personal interruptions, self-management is probably not a wise option for you.
The rewards of self-managing are great, and enough to convince many vacation rental owners to forgo the advantages of having a passive business one gets with using a management company.
Firstly, self-managing is more financially lucrative. You will save yourself anywhere between 10-30% of gross revenue by doing it yourself. For a vacation rental that grosses $100,000/year, that is upward of $30,000 worth of extra cash flow per year! Keep in mind that with your vacation rental, you are also building equity in the home with appreciation while your guests are paying down your note; so, cash flow isn't everything, but it is nice!
Secondly, many owners find great joy in communicating directly with their guests. There is something fulfilling about hearing directly from your guests how your home had a positive impact on their lives and family. Hearing feedback directly from guests gives many owners a sense of control in knowing what guests enjoy most about the home, as well as what needs to be improved.
Finally, the old adage "Nobody will love your place the way you do," holds true when it comes to your vacation rental. No matter how good your management company is, they will never care about your home the way you do. With a management company, you are one of many cabins being managed, and in some cases (definitely not all) your cabin is just a number (specifically $$) for them. When you self-manage, you are able to hyper-focus on your property (or properties) and give each one full-attention to details.
Hybrid Management Solutions/ Co-Hosting
Recently, a new option in managing your vacation rental has arisen which combines some management company processes with self-managing. These companies typically will handle your marketing, listing and pricing management, and client communications. You, as the owners, are in charge of hiring, communicating with, and managing your team (cleaning and maintenance).
One popular company that provides this type of hybrid management is Evolve. They charge 10% of your revenue for this service, in addition to any fees incurred from the listing sites on your bookings.
You could also seek out a local co-host that can provide the same type of services, but for a smaller number of properties, which enables a more personalized level of service.
How to Decide Which Method is for You
When deciding how you are going to manage your vacation rental, ask yourself:
1) What is more important to me - my time or cash flow? Self-management will give you the best cash flow, followed by the hybrid method. Asset appreciation occurs regardless of which method you choose. While using a management company certainly is the last choice when it comes to cash flow, you may find that the value of your time is equally or more important than the money.
2) Do I have the time and patience to devote to managing my vacation rental? Although self-managing your rental will not take up too much of your time, there is no way to predict when you might be needed by a guest. You will also inevitably have to deal with guests that are more demanding than others so it's important that you have interpersonal communication skills.
3) Am I tech-savvy? If you have a lot of free time to devote to self-managing, you may not be concerned with automating processes. However, if you are planning to self-manage but truly want to spend a limited amount of time on it, you will need to utilize several online tools to get the processes automated (blog post coming soon on this topic!). If you're not tech-savvy, this may be a deal-killer for you.
Determining how your vacation rental will be managed is truly a personal decision and different for every owner. Seek out other vacation rental owners and ask about their experiences with each method. Be honest with yourself and understand what you can handle and what is important to you.
If you decide to go the management company route, interview several companies and ask a ton of questions! Get everything in writing before you sign up with anyone. If you decide to go the self-managing route, make sure you are able to get a good team in place first, as that is the most essential part of self-managing.
And, remember, if 3 months down the road, you feel you made the wrong choice, you can always change to another method that works better for you! Owning a vacation rental is rewarding both financially and personally. Managing that rental should be the same!