What a Picture is Worth

The old saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words.  In real estate, a picture can be worth the sale of your home, or having someone book your vacation rental.  Bad pictures are an immediate turn off and many buyers and renters browsing online will move right past your property and on to the next.

Before you start snapping pictures, preparing your home is a very important step.  I’ll talk about the importance of staging in the future, but in general you’ll want to clean and tidy up your home as much as possible.  Remove clutter!  Remember that someone buying or renting your home wants the house, not your never opened boxed collection of Star Wars figurines.  Someone renting your home for the week wants to feel like they’re staying in a clean hotel, not like they’re squatting in a foreclosure.  Now would be a good time to finally hang those curtains and purge those items you’ve been meaning to donate.

Ideally you hire a professional real estate photographer.  This is their job, and most do it well.  Not only have they made the investment in expensive camera equipment, but they also have the experience in highlighting what’s important.  If you’re selling your home ask your Realtor about how they handle photographs.  If they show you their new iphone you should be concerned.  If you’re listing your own short term rental and can’t hire a professional, at the very least use the best camera you can get your hands on.  Without a wide angle lens, your bathroom picture is only going to show the toilet, and unless you splurged on a $6000 Kohler Numi you shouldn’t be highlighting the commode.  (The toilet opens itself when you walk in the room!)

An interesting side note, if you are advertising a vacation rental Airbnb will send out a photographer for free.  I’ve used this service once out of curiosity, and while the photos were decent they were nowhere as good as the regular professional real estate photographers that I use.  In fact if you own your own higher end camera you can probably take pictures of the same or better quality.  The photos Airbnb takes have an Airbnb watermark added which adds some credibility to your listing.  If you’re planning on renting your home out frequently, hiring a professional can be well worth the investment.  If you’re selling your home, great photos can get your home on a buyer’s “must see” list.


What About My Stuff?

People renting out their personal residences for a short period are largely, but not exclusively, financially motivated.  For Austin, TX residents, renting our your home during SXSW or Formula 1 and leaving for a week is a great way to pay for a nice vacation.  Others might decide stay in town and crash with friends or family, then use the rental income to pay for their mortgage that month or even cover their property taxes for the entire year.

The reasons to not rent your home out are more numerous, but for most people it boils down to one reason:

People don’t like strangers touching their stuff.

It’s really as simple as that.  A good friend said “I don’t want someone using my toilet.”  It’s a common concern, but how much sense does it make?  When you stay in a hotel, you’re using the same toilet hundreds of others have used before you.  And if you didn’t buy your home new from a builder, the previous owners used “your” toilet for years before you did.  But if you hire a professional cleaner your house will probably end up cleaner after your guests than before!

An interesting exercise is to ask yourself this.  If your house was on fire and you had to evacuate, what would you take with you?  Photo albums?  Jewelry?   Important documents and files?  These days people might say their computer with years of baby photos and other records.  Whatever is on your list, this is what you’ll want to protect, and chances are you’ll be surprised at how short the list is of “things” that are truly important to you.  You can consider a safety deposit box at a bank for things like jewelry.  For most things, simply locking them in a closet will safely keep them away from guests.

Everything else in your house is replaceable.  Your couch, your TV, that vase.  Airbnb bookings automatically include a $1,000,000 host guarantee, and Homeaway offers optional damage protection starting at $49 for $1500 in coverage, however I do still recommend taking a security deposit.

Renting Your Home for Special Events

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately from friends and clients about how to rent their homes out for special events, namely the Formula 1 races in November.  The motivation is simple – Austin has hotel capacity for 30,000 people, and 100,000 are expected to come for the race.  Most hotels have been booked since this spring at 3 times the normal rate; I even read that Motel 8 rooms were going for $500 a night!  And most full time short term rentals have been booked since this spring as well.  This means the regular homeowner has an opportunity to make some extra money by renting out their home for a few days.  Depending on your home’s size and location, you could make over $1000 a night!

One of the first questions people ask is “where do I find people to rent my house?”  The way home rentals work is actually the reverse of that question, as the renters will be searching to find you.  For Formula 1, I recommend the following two options.

Homeaway is the largest advertiser of vacation rental homes,and also owns other rental sites such as VacationRentals.com and VRBO.com.  A homeowner pays them a fee to get their home listed on their site, and renters search the site to find available homes. Advertising usually requires an annual subscription starting at $329 however they are currently offering a 2 month special for $49.

Airbnb is another great option, particularly for people not renting out their homes on a regular basis.  The big draw is that they don’t charge you to create a listing, but instead charge you a percentage of your rental fee, only after you have guests book.  They’ll send out a photographer for free, and have other guarantees to put your mind at ease when renting your home out to a stranger.

This past year, we rented our home out during SXSW and went on vacation.  The effort to get our home ready was well worth it, since in the end having someone stay in our home while we were gone covered the cost of the cruise.  Going on vacation is always great, especially when someone else pays for it!

I’ll explore other aspects of renting your home out short term in future posts.