Whether it’s the state of the economy or because you just don’t get around to using the place a lot, you may find yourself thinking for the first time about renting out your vacation home.
Join the club, said Christine Karpinski, who owns several vacation rentals and is the author of "How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner." She is also a spokesman for HomeAway.com, a vacation rentals website.
"I’m hearing from lots of consumers who already own and are looking to start renting," she said. Although she said as a homeowner she’s had to resolve occasional hurdles with the properties, she’s big on the financial benefits and has found that with thorough preparation, the process usually runs surprisingly smoothly.
Five things to know about getting ready to rent out your vacation home:
1. Find out if there are any legal prohibitions or restrictions on short-term rentals.
You’ll definitely have to check with your city government, said Karpinski. Some towns may limit the number of weeks per year you can have short-term renters, and some of them may charge special taxes. Some towns limit the number of unrelated adults who might occupy a dwelling, she said. The same questions need to be asked of your condo or co-op board or homeowners association, she said.
"A lot of markets will require you to have a business license and collect sales tax, a tourism tax, a bed tax, etc.," she said.
2. Get the place ready.
"You’ll have to depersonalize it a bit," Karpinski said. "You’re going to have to take the toothbrushes out of the bathroom, sort out your closets, get the drawers cleaned out, remove family pictures, and clear out the refrigerator. Anything you leave will be considered fair game for renters to use."
HomeAway.com and other rental sites provide checklists of furnishings and implements needed for renters’ use.
"Basically, you want to double what you ‘sleep,’ " she said. "If your place sleeps six, you want 12 forks, 12 knives, etc."
Plan on a certain amount of wear and tear. Karpinski said she usually replaces towels annually — "Get good, fluffy ones. Renters expect good quality." The sofa might need to be swapped out every 2 1/2 years, she said.
3. Some financial considerations:
Decide on the rental amount by checking for comparable rentals on the Web or by calling local property managers. Typically, managers who provide rental services will charge the owner a percentage of the rent; Karpinski said that she regards most owners as being able to handle the chores themselves.
The size of rental deposit can be a sticky issue, Karpinski said.
"A lot of people seem to be getting away from taking security deposits because they’re a hassle" to collect and return, she said. "I’d advise, for new people who are renting: take $200, or 10 percent of the rental cost."
A housekeeper who will come in between rentals is a must, she said. "That’s the most difficult part of starting to rent," she said, because the homeowner needs to find someone who’s reliable and can report on the condition on the place between renters.
She has found housekeepers through other homeowners and has posted ads at local hardware stores. She once found one by calling a local church and asked if there were any members who were looking for part-time work, she said.
When mechanical problems arise, sometimes the solution is as easy as dialing for a local plumber or heating contractor, she said. Some homeowners prefer to contract with a maintenance company to be on call, handle yard work, etc., she said.
4. The property must be marketed properly, whether you’re handling the rentals yourself or using a professional company, she said.
Would-be renters want information about nearby transportation, shopping, entertainment, beaches, skiing, etc.
They also want to see photos of the place, she said. The photos should include an exterior view, and if there’s a scenic view, include it, she said. They’re also concerned about seeing adequate seating in the living room, the "comfy"-ness of the master bedroom and additional bedrooms, and the workability of the kitchen, she said.
5. How to screen the renters?
The Internet is a great starting point for finding renters, but the phone is a must, Karpinski said.
"I talk to every single guest who rents my homes," she said. "They contact me via e-mail, and we’ll go back and forth by e-mail on rates and dates. But I absolutely talk to them and I absolutely advise it.
"I ask them why they’re coming to the area, and (if) they’ve ever been in a vacation rental," she said. "If not, then I’m going to go through a few more things. They might not realize the nuances of staying in a vacation rental that are going to be a bit different, such as the cancellation policy, and that there’s nobody on the premises" to field questions.
Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.