How to Turn Your House Into a Profitable Vacation Rental

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Looking for some extra cash? Renting out your house for a night or two while you're out of town can help offset your vacation costs and bring in some extra bucks. Here's how to pull it off.

According to the Times-Picayune, 8.75 million tourists visited New Orleans during the Mardi Gras season in 2011.

Living a mere three miles from the parties, concerts, and parades gives me a few great opportunities. One, I can have a lot of fun, and two, there are nearly nine million people looking for a place to crash in my city.

This year with New Orleans also hosting the Super Bowl during the Carnival season, a few friends and I are planning on renting our apartments for a few nights to make some extra cash. They’ve done it before and made enough to pay their rent for the month.

But you don’t have to live in a major city or near a huge event to pull this off. If you’ve got the space, you can make some money. Check out the following news story we did on vacation rentals, then meet me on the other side for more:

Now, here’s how to go about it.

1. Price your rental

Since you’re acting as landlord/inn keeper, you get to set your own prices, but they should be in line with what others are charging for similar-sized vacation rentals in your area. I figured out my prices with a little research.

First, I checked the “Vacation rentals” section on my local Craigslist. I found five spots in my area that were roughly the same size and wrote down their nightly prices:

  • $39
  • $100
  • $210
  • $65
  • $95

Then I checked the website of three-star hotels in my area for their nightly prices:

  • $139
  • $129
  • $149

I added up the prices for each spot to find an average rate: $115 per night. This is my base price for a one-night stay. Since I’d like to rent my apartment for a week, I added an incentive: Stay for three or more nights, and I’ll knock 30 percent off the price, making it $80 a night.

2. Advertise

To find guests, you’ll need to advertise your rental, including making an ad, taking photos, and posting the information online.

When I wrote my ad, I started with a list of features my apartment has, including a queen-sized bed and pull-out sleeper sofa, a fully equipped kitchen, alarm system, and Wi-Fi access. Then I threw in some perks to seal the deal, like making my apartment pet-friendly and mentioning that the kitchen comes with coffee, tea, and a few snacks that I always have on hand anyway.

Depending on where you advertise, you might be limited to a few photos. Keeping this in mind, I took photos of the inside of my apartment showing the bedroom and kitchen. Then I walked around my neighborhood and took pictures of the highlights like the local park, a nearby diner, and a coffee shop.

Once your ad is ready, you have a few advertising options online:

  • Craigslist – It is free to post an ad on Craigslist, but the site is unmonitored and anyone can reply to an ad.
  • Airbnb – Airbnb lets you post free listings. They offer a messaging service, guest and owner reviews, and guest profiles to help you choose a guest, but they do charge a fee. You’ll pay 3 percent for every reservation you take.
  • RentalSpot – You can post a free basic listing, but you’ll be limited to short descriptions and few photos.

3. How to prepare

A friend of mine has been renting his pad two weekends a month for the last year. He gave me a quick rundown on how to prepare my apartment for vacationers.

  1. Clean – My friend pays a cleaning service before and after every guest at $50 a pop (roughly $200 a month), but I plan on giving my place a quick once-over myself.
  2. Protect valuables – I’m fortunate in a way; I don’t own much worth stealing, but if you do, consider either taking it with you or locking it up out of sight.
  3. Put out linens – If you have guest towels or sheets, use them. If not, make sure you put yours in plain sight. Not everyone is comfortable digging around in closets.
  4. Make a welcome kit – My apartment has a few quirks so I’ve made a brochure of sorts explaining them with notes such as: “kitchen sink water doesn’t heat up immediately,” and “stove has to be lit with matches.” I plan to pop the brochure in a basket with coffee, tea, and cookies.

4. Words of caution

Screen all potential tenants carefully. Take into consideration why they want to rent your place. Is it a few college kids looking to take a vacation for a local festival? If so, they might be there for some partying – possibly heavy partying. You don’t want to risk your place getting trashed, so remember that you can and should say no to any person or persons who make you uneasy.

It’s also not uncalled for to ask for a security deposit. Any deposit you charge should be smaller than or equal to one night’s stay. If you do decide to charge a deposit, consider writing a small contract stating when and how you’ll return the deposit after their stay.

If you rent, check with your landlord to make sure he’s cool with you subletting your place for a few nights.

Finally, give your tenants a number to reach you at in case they have any questions or concerns and let your neighbors know what’s going on. Then they can call you, not your landlord, if they have any problems. It’s better to get the phone call from an aggravated neighbor than an angry landlord.

Stacy Johnson

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