Two days ago, we landed in New York City for a 2-month stay, leaving short-term tenants in our California home. It’s great to be here, despite the hurricane reportedly on its way up from Florida (we were here in 2012 when Sandy slammed New York, but that’s another story). Still, I’m always surprised at how much work, time, and attention it takes us to get out of the house. It doesn’t matter whether we’ll be away for two weeks or two months, going to New York or Istanbul, doing an exchange or renting out our home. It’s always harder than I think it’s going to be. But now that we’ve been doing the travel-exchange-rental thing for more than a decade, we’ve learned that taking the time to get our home ready for our guests is absolutely as important to a problem-free trip as deciding what shoes to pack and double-checking our travel arrangements. Here’s a snapshot of the 6 key tasks we typically do to get our home ready for guests.
1. Repair and replace
Several weeks before we leave, we do a quick walk-through of the house. There’s always something – a light fixture that needs to be replaced, a dripping faucet, a broken window screen – so we schedule time with our long-time helper, Jim, to make sure everything’s working properly. On our walk-through, we also keep an eye out for things that need to be replaced. This year, it was a tattered duvet cover and a quilt that was losing its stuffing.
2. Clear away clutter
We don’t mind a little of our own clutter, but we don’t like it in the exchange or rental homes we stay in while we’re away. We don’t get rid of everything, but we do cull the stacks of old New Yorkers, Nutrition and Wired magazines, Room and Board catalogs, and brochures we’ve set aside to read “someday,” toss almost-empty shampoo bottles and cereal boxes, and clear the shelves of unnecessary bric-a-brac. We’re not trying to make the place resemble a hotel room, only to greet our guests with a neat, comfortable, uncluttered home.
People don’t want to waste their valuable vacation time shopping for essentials. We make sure they have fresh hand and bath soaps, new kitchen sponges, cleaning supplies, laundry soap, and dishwashing liquid.
4. Alert the neighbors
You’ve probably read about the concern in many communities and buildings about the proliferation of short-term tenants. That concern is not surprising – people are understandably nervous about strangers coming and going, especially in these uncertain times. What’s surprising to me is how few hosts take the time to help allay those concerns. We make it a point to let our close neighbors who will be staying in our home, how long we’ll be away, and how to reach us in case of problems.
5. Prepare a welcome packet
Guests need certain information at the ready: the Internet access code, where to put the garbage, and who to contact if something breaks. They also need to know about your home’s special quirks. For example, we want our guests to be careful when they use the washer because the laundry sink backs up and floods the garage if the nylon sock we use as a filter breaks. People who are unfamiliar with your area also need to know where to buy groceries, find a pharmacy, use the public transportation, and more. We give them a packet that includes essential information about the house and sometimes includes extras such as maps, restaurant and takeout menus, brochures from local attractions, transit schedules, and more.
6. Clean House!
The last thing we do before guests arrive is clean the house. We put fresh sheets on the bed and fresh towels in the bathrooms. Do the dishes and put them away. Clean the refrigerator and the countertops. Scrub the toilets and the sinks. Dust everything, even way up in the corners where the cobwebs collect. Finally, vacuum and mop. We want greet our guests the way we want to be greeted, with a sparkling clean home.
What else do you do before your short-term rental or exchange guests arrive? When you stay in other people’s homes, what do you wish your hosts had done before you got there?