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How to Turn Your Short-Term Vacation Rental into a Haven for Your Guests

Sarasota's Kim Cressell is turning her 20-year side gig into a full-fledged how-to business. Here are her tips for how to maximize your rental income.

By Kim Doleatto July 14, 2022

An outdoor seating area by a pool.

Cressell says "less is more" when outfitting a space for short-term renting.

From the sudden need for a blender to a request to host guinea pigs, renting out your space short term can be full of surprises—but also full of opportunity when it's done right.

Kim Cressell, 51, former owner of The Reserve coffee shop—where she doubled the business's income by renting out six rooms in the multi-building property—knows this. A natural hostess at the café, she applied those skills to short-term renting. The supplemental income helped the business stay afloat through a roundabout build outside the front door and a pandemic.

So she took her knowledge and put it into a book, How to Rent Your Home or Space on Airbnb and VRBO, which she published in May. She also coaches clients one-on-one and leads an online course. 

Short-term renting is something Cressell has done for 20 years. She once owned 10 short-term rental homes. Now she's down to just two—one in Virginia and one in Sarasota. But she's passionate about helping others achieve the same gains she saw. 

The time is right. Sarasota Airbnb searches have increased by 46 percent compared to this time last year, and international travel restrictions have been lifted, opening the doors to pent-up travelers. Last year, the highest number of tourists in the state's history visited Florida.

Cressell understands that some people aren't fond of short-term rentals in their neighborhoods. "I understand it's due to the large parties and there are some hosts who are just focused on the money," she says. "But you also have a responsibility toward your neighbors to enforce sound ordinances and be clear with your guests about expectations." 

And, she adds, "you have to be a people person and a detail person who doesn’t take things personally," she says.

For those just getting started with short-term rentals, Cressell says that the initial investment is a few thousand dollars.

"From mattresses to hand soap and the toaster, expect to spend $1,000 to $1,500 per room when you outfit your home for short-term renters," she explains.

That might sound like a lot, but Cressell says that with the right setup, homeowners can double their income with short-term rentals vs. a traditional, annual lease rent. And you can save money by finding good-quality second-hand furniture and refinishing it. "Homegoods and Bissell Stain Remover are my best friends," Cressell jokes.

Read on for Cressell's best tips for starting your own short-term rental business.

A mix of new and refurbished furniture adds character to short term rentals like this one.

List your rental on multiple platforms

Cressell uses Booking.com, VRBO and Airbnb, but there are also others.

“When one platform isn’t performing that well, in my experience, another tends to kick in,” she says. Synchronize them to avoid double bookings. 

Allow guests to bring pets—within reason.

"You’ll get more bookings," she says. "But it’s something you have to weigh. There are gains on both sides, but there’s more cleaning involved and some guests have allergies.

It also depends on the pet. "When I was asked about bringing guinea pigs, I had to turn the person down," she says.

Declutter and walk in your guest’s shoes

Less is more. Clutter-free spaces and clear countertops are signs of a restful space. In fact, go the extra mile and stay in your rental for the full experience, Cressell suggests. “How does the shower mat feel under your toes? Is there a neighbor’s porch light that shines through the bedroom window in the wrong way?" she asks. Staying there is how you'll find out. 

And, Cressell says, a crucial component to a successful short term is “having a dependable handyman and a punctual, dedicated cleaning crew."

A living room with a fireplace.

A Sarasota short-term rental.

Delight guests with local treats

“You’re helping make memories out of everyday moments,” Cressell explains. Remember, you’re competing with hotels that won’t be offering this kind of experience. Find ways to delight guests by putting out local treats that highlight Sarasota, like local honey from Sarasota Honey Co., and local teas and coffee

Makes sure your communication is timely and clear.

"Tell guests where to park and how to get in. Remind them that their trip is coming up, and tell them what they should bring," she says. "Do you provide beach towels? Let them know. One less thing for them to haul is a bonus they may not know about otherwise." 

"Also, send a reminder of your house rules, and ask that they please share them with everyone on the trip," she says. And be timely. "Send information too soon, and the communication may get lost in their inbox or in their texts. Wait too long and your guests won’t have what they need in time." 

Deliver solutions

Hosts live and die by guest reviews. "Does the guest need a blender suddenly? Go get the blender,” she says. "If you're not local, you’ll have to have someone do it for you. If it’s a maintenance issue like plumbing or electricity, you have to jump on that right away." Be ready and available to respond to requests, questions and issues as they arise.

To learn more, follow Cressell's Facebook page or email her at [email protected] to sign up for a course. 

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