A Scottsdale woman rented out her house over the weekend hoping to make some fast cash. Instead, she’s busy cleaning up damage and apologizing to her neighbors after the renter threw a huge party.
Thinking about renting out your home while you’re away? Stories like those might make you think twice. But my husband Jeff and I have never had serious problems with our guests. Our secret? We talk with guests by phone or Skype before they book our home.
We ask people who want to rent our home to send a phone number or a Skype address so we can “answer your questions and tell you more about our place.” But what if your listing site blocks direct pre-booking conversations? Make it a point to talk with guests right after booking – well before their arrival date.
We’ve found that guests are more than willing to chat; we would seriously reconsider renting to any who are not. The back-and-forth of direct conversations increases confidence and builds trust for both you and them. You can clarify expectations and establish a personal connection that leads to more satisfaction with the rental.
Talking with guests can also tip you off to signs that they might not be the kind of people you want to welcome into your home. It’s worth paying a cancellation fee to avoid potentially costly problems.
Tip #1. Plan questions to ask
Think about what you already know from the guests’ initial inquiry and other emails, along with anything you learn by looking up the guests’ names on the Internet. Then make a few notes so you’ll be sure to cover what’s important. We’ve found that guests are more than willing to chat; we would seriously reconsider renting to any who are not.
The right questions help you get to know the guests a little: “Will it just be you and your husband/wife/friend?” “What ages are your kids?” “Where do you live now?” “What brings you to [our area]?” “What attracted you to our home?” Guests’ responses can also let you know what to mention that might “sell” them on your home: the great park two blocks away for their kids, the proximity to the wedding or conference they plan to attend, the peace and quiet that’s perfect for working on their novel.
A note of caution: Be sure not to ask any of the questions prohibited by the Federal Fair Housing Laws and any state or local laws that govern discrimination in housing.
Tip #2. Take your time
A rushed conversation is no better than no conversation at all – in fact, it can be worse, leading to confusion and frustration on both ends. Choose a time when you won’t be distracted, and choose a quiet place so background noise doesn’t make it hard to hear. Ask guests for a good time to call so they’ll have time to chat.
Tip #3. Be friendly and polite
Set the tone of the conversation right away with an opener like, “Thanks so much for your interest in renting our home. I’m sure you have lots of questions.” A friendly, polite tone helps people feel comfortable with the conversation. If they haven’t already decided on your home, being comfortable with you may help them decide that your place is right for them.
Tip #4. Encourage guests to ask questions
Before you start asking questions, encourage guests to ask theirs by saying something like, “What would you like to know about our home?”
People commonly want to confirm the amount of the rent (which they may have conveniently forgotten). They may ask about the layout and location of the house, the number of stairs, the size of the beds and the TV, wireless internet access, outdoor space, parking, shopping, the neighborhood, recreational facilities, and more.
Tip #5. Answer guests’ questions truthfully and briefly
Give accurate answers to questions, even if that might mean losing the guest: “Yes, there’s a somewhat steep flight of stairs from the garage to the house”; “It’s a 20-minute walk to the lake.” Clarify any vague or confusing questions. “How big is your home” might mean “How many people does it sleep?” or “How many rooms does it have?” “Is the area lively” could mean “Is it noisy” or “Are there cafes, bars, and restaurants nearby?”
Tip #6. Listen, listen…and listen some more
You can learn a lot from the questions guests ask and the way they answer (or don’t answer) your questions. Leave a little silence instead of jumping right in when the other party stops talking – it’s amazing how much more information people offer when you leave space in the conversation.
If silence feels uncomfortable, use neutral sounds or words (“uh-uh” “I see”) to encourage guests to keep talking. You might be surprised by what they volunteer, such as the fact that they plan to have a party for 20 people or invite their nephew and his swimming team for the weekend while they’re staying in your home.
Listen to more than the words: remain alert for hesitations and tone of voice that could indicate guests are being less than truthful. We’d be concerned if a guest hesitated when asked a question like, “How many people in your group?” We’d also be concerned if a guest’s friendliness seemed forced. If that happened, we’d ask additional questions and do a more thorough screening to make sure that the guests were kind of reliable, responsible people we want to stay in our home.
Tip #7. Discuss the key terms and details
During the conversation, confirm key details, such as the beginning and ending dates of the rental; the maximum number of people; the amount of the rent and when it needs to be paid; what the rent does and does not include; the amount of the security deposit and any other charges, such as a cleaning fee; and your cancellation policy. Also mention important rules such as “no smoking” or “no pets” so you can be sure that guests have understood them.
Tip #8. Send a follow-up note
Right after the conversation, send guests an email saying how nice it was to meet them, thanking them for taking the time to talk, and encouraging them to get in touch with other questions they may have. If they haven’t already booked, summarize the next steps: rental agreement, payments, and arrival logistics.
Have you ever had a bad experience with a short-term rental guest? How might taking the time to talk with guests have helped you avoid problems?