Nearly 30 years ago, our family purchased a small cabin on a mountain lake. The intent was to give our kids a few carefree memories in the sun, similar to the experiences I had every year on our family vacations as a youngster.
I realized early in my adult life that the fondest memories of my youth were of those summer days at a variety of rental cabins that surrounded a mile-high, lakeside village. While the life and times in the primary residence my parents owned for 46 years were memorable, they were not all as comfortably vivid as those times together at the lake.
As people came to visit for lazy days of swimming, sailing and water skiing, we often heard from the guests: "We should have bought something like this years ago … let us know if you ever think about selling."
I thought about that the other day when I read that HomeAway.com had introduced a new site for buying and selling vacation homes — with a focus on the possibility of renting the home out to others.
If a potential buyer knew a property’s realistic rental income, in addition to the benefits of experiencing quality family time, wouldn’t that data influence a purchase decision? HomeAway already focused on consumers looking to rent a vacation home, so why not show them properties for sale in the same category?
"We felt it simply completed the cycle of what we do," said David Petty, general manager of HomeAwayRealEstate.com. "Some renters look to buy, some owners look to sell, then those new owners would also seek renters. We were also very aware that the world didn’t need just another real estate website."
The highlight of the new site is a tool to gauge the property’s rental income potential. It also provides homebuyers, sellers and real estate agents with local amenities and vacation-specific characteristics.
HomeAway does not employ real estate salespersons who earn commissions or referral fees. The company’s business model is to charge owners and real estate professionals to list homes on the site (approximately $395, depending on number), betting that second-home traffic to the company’s variety of sites will prove to be a cost-effective marketing method for consumers and professionals.
HomeAway, based in Austin, Texas, operates several online owner-rental sites, including HomeAway.com, VRBO.com, VacationRentals.com, Holiday-Rentals.co.uk, OwnersDirect.co.uk, FeWo-direkt.de, Abritel.fr and Homelidays.com. Homeaway.com is the company’s flagship site and hosts a global inventory of about 480,000 properties.
The company purchased VRBO.com, a pioneer in the online advertising of for-rent-by-owner properties, in November 2006 and continues to run the site as an independent brand. Approximately 85 percent of the site’s 125,000 properties are based in the U.S. Earlier this year, HomeAway purchased BedandBreakfast.com.
The launch of the new site appears to be well-timed. Not only are more families heading out on vacation this year than in 2009, more vacation homes are selling. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey released in late March, vacation-home sales are up nearly 8 percent, with prices up 13 percent following three years of declines.
The NAR report also found nearly a third (32 percent) of vacation-home buyers are first looking online for properties for sale, up from 22 percent in 2008, and one out of four (26 percent) vacation-home buyers found their home on the Internet, up from 21 percent in 2008.
Brian Sharples, HomeAway’s CEO, said that about 300 million travelers visit the company’s website each year, and "HomeAway Real Estate members … benefit from our users, who understand the value of vacation homes."
We still own that mountain cabin. Our four kids are grown, and three of them have moved away, but all of them would disown us if we sold the place. They say their dearest memories are there, and I am extremely grateful that at least one thing I wanted for them has gone according to plan. Of course, they expect the sun to be on the dock when they return, gas in the boat and food in the fridge.
Now, if they wouldn’t mind pounding a few nails and diving into the crawl space to repair the plumbing.