The first time we rented out our home, our guests wrote to ask, “What do you want us to do when we leave?” We hadn’t even thought about it. We sent a reply – but we forgot to ask them to leave the keys with our neighbor so she could let the cleaner in.
All good trips must come to an end. To make your re-entry easier when coming home, plan for your guests’ departure. Set up a smooth checkout process and include clear instructions in your user guide explaining what you want them to do when they leave. As a reminder, mention the move-out tasks in an email a few days before you will be coming home.
We’ve stayed in places where all we had to do was walk out the door and in others where we needed to do a pretty thorough cleaning before we left. We’ve also done home exchanges and short-term rentals where we were given no checkout guidance at all, leaving us to guess at what the host might want us to do.
Here’s the checkout process we generally give our own guests:
- Strip the bed and, if they have time, wash the sheets and towels
- Wash any dirty dishes or put them (rinsed) in the dishwasher
- If we’ll be home soon after their departure, leave some juice and milk in the refrigerator; if not, toss any perishables
- Leave some toilet paper (it’s amazing how many people forget!)
- Turn down the heat or air conditioning
- Lock the doors and windows and leave all sets of keys on the kitchen room table
The final cleaning
It’s up to you who does the final cleaning, your guests or a cleaner. What’s important (at least to us) is to find a clean home when you arrive exhausted after a long travel day. When we rent out our home, we charge guests a cleaning fee and schedule the cleaner to come in right after they leave. For home exchanges, we and our partners usually agree to leave one another’s homes clean. But we still arrange for our own cleaner to come in so we don’t have to depend on our exchange partners’ idea of a clean house.
If you do ask guest to do the final cleaning themselves, be very specific about what you want them to do: put fresh sheets on all the beds and clean towels in all the bathrooms, mop the floors, scour the sinks and toilet, wash all the dishes, empty all the wastebaskets and trash containers, vacuum every room, and so on. It’s a good idea to leave guests and cleaners a cleaning checklist.
Be clear about the checkout time
Hotels and vacation rental guests typically expect to leave by 11 a.m. But that’s not necessarily the time you’ll set for your guests’ departure. If you won’t be coming home immediately or or your next set of guests won’t arrive until the next day, you can easily let them check out in the afternoon instead of the morning. What’s important is to leave enough time for your cleaner (if any) to get the house ready and then be very clear about what time you expect guests to leave.
Do a walk-through after guests’ departure
We usually get home from a long trip too bleary-eyed to pay much attention to the state of the house. It’s only after we’ve settled back in that we notice the missing electric fan, the stubborn stain on the carpet, or the unwashed dishes in the kitchen cabinet. We chalk up minor problems to the costs of letting strangers live in our home. But we try to catch serious problems right away. When too much time has passed, people may not accept responsibility.
Do a walk-through shortly after you get home. Count the keys – it’s not uncommon for guests to walk away with a set in their pocket. Open the drawers and cupboards. Look behind the doors. Examine the carpets and the linens. Snap a photo of anything that seems to be seriously damaged or unreasonably dirty. Send the photo and a description to your guests right away, with the cost of repair or replacement.
Follow up with guests
Before settling back into your everyday routines, follow up with your guests. Send them a thank-you note, saying that you were pleased with the way they took care of the home (if you were) and would welcome them back (if you would). For rentals, return the security deposit by the agreed-upon time, with the details of any deductions.
If you plan to exchange or rent again, ask guests for feedback on their stay. If they were pleased, ask for a brief “testimonial” or review on your listing site. Even if they were dissatisfied, asking for feedback reduces the chance of disgruntled guests posting negative comments about your home. Use the information to make your next exchange or rental go more smoothly.
Finally, update your listing. Where do you want to go next? When will your home be available again? What was great about your exchange? Your rental experience? Keep your listing current so you’ll be ready when the next urge to travel strikes!