Once you’ve decided to list your home for short-term rental, you have a big question to answer: which listing site or sites should you use?
Airbnb will immediately come to mind, of course. Home Away and VRBO. TravelAdvisor’s FlipKey. There are good reasons to list on those popular sites. But for us, and for many others who rent out their primary residences and second homes, those sites have one big drawback: They won’t let you talk with guests before booking.
Sites that block pre-booking communication between hosts and guests takes control of the process away from the host, as well as from the guests themselves. E-mail exchanges through the listing site can’t substitute for the back-and-forth of person-to-person communication with guests via phone or Skype. Conversations with potential guests before booking is how we establish the personal connection that’s vital to a successful short-term rental, make sure our home is a good fit, and spot possible problems well ahead of time.
Fortunately, there are still a few alternatives for those of us who care more about accepting the right guests than turning our home into a business. One is the venerable Sabbatical Homes, which we’ve used with some success, and another is FlipKey’s little-known subscription option, both of which I discussed in an earlier post.
UPDATE: As of February 2018, Trip Advisor’s Flip Key no longer offers a subscription option.
I’m heartened to see other listing options appearing on the scene for hosts like us who want to control the rental process themselves. Here are four new short-term rental sites that let you talk with guests before booking. They’re relatively new, but they each have the potential of providing a viable alternative, so we’re following them closely.
A relatively new site, CuddlyNest still has a limited number of listings in many areas. That means less competition for your short-term rental, but it also means fewer visitors to the site.
There’s no charge to list your home, and you can communicate directly with potential guests whenever you want. You can choose to process guest payments yourself but you also have the option of signing up for online payments through the site. If you do that, you’ll pay a commission and the guest will pay a fee on each rental. Signing up for online payments also offers you prominence in CuddlyNest’s paid social media advertising.
CuddlyNest says, “It is an integral part of our mission to have both models; in giving the freedom of choice to hosts and guests to transact with us or outside our system.” Sounds good to me!
An interesting new concept is the Vacation Rental by Owner Group. There are no listings on the site. Instead, it serves as a portal to individually operated VacationRentalByOwner sites all over the country. As of this writing, there are individual sites in about 32 U.S. States. They appear to be adding new state sites all the time but listings are still limited in many places.
According to a blurb on the site, “We are not in the business of trying to manage your property or force you into cookie cutter scenarios where you have little to no say. We allow you the flexibility to manage your rental property how you see fit….You are always in charge of who rents your home…You can talk to the traveler to find out more about them and make sure they’re a good fit for your property. We will not force you at accept online bookings.”
There are no traveler fees, and each site sets its own host fees and policies. For example, California VacationRentalbyOwner charges $99 per property per year, with a 90-day free trial. There’s a dashboard, a calendar, and an optional Online Booking and Reservation Manager.
Tripz says that its main goal is to “bridge the gap between owners and travelers by providing open communication and total control of your listing.” Travelers connect with hosts and book properties directly, and there are no guest fees. You can choose to publish your phone number so travelers can call you or have travelers fill out a contact form with their direct contact information (phone and email).
A basic listing costs $399 a year. The site still has a limited number of listings but it seems to be growing quickly.
According to the home HomeEscape site, “Whenever you receive any communication you will be able to see the guest phone number, email address and even reply to them directly from your phone.” There are no traveler fees. You can arrange payment directly or use the site’s optional payment system.
The annual subscription is regularly $350/year, with a current promo price of $199. You can also sign up for a “basic free listing with access to our reservation management system and tools to upload your vacation rentals to HomeEscape,” but no access to the online payment system. There’s an optional “Bidding System” that lets you pay for increased visibility.
We’re watching the short-term/vacation rental marketplace closely and will update this list from time to time. If you know about other short-term or vacation rental listing sites that let you talk with guests before booking, please tell us about them in the comments or on our Facebook page.