4 Surefire Ways to Make Your Vacation Rental Stand Out Online

Many owners of vacation rental properties wonder how to compete with all the other vacation homes in the area. How do you make your rental shine amongst hundreds of other rental properties? Below are some tried and true methods for having your vacation rental really stand out heads above all the others.
4 Surefire Ways to Make Your Vacation Rental Stand Out Online

Pictures Speak Volumes

Great photographs of your property – inside and out – are the best way to make a good impression. It’s what people see first and if they don’t like what they see they won’t go any further. Large, beautiful images rather than tiny iPhone photos will go a long way to promoting your vacation rental faster. It’s the difference between “What about this place?” and “You’ve got to see this place!”. If you’re not a great photographer, or don’t even own a “real” camera, consider hiring a professional photographer that specializes in real estate photos. It will be money well spent.
4 Surefire Ways to Make Your Vacation Rental Stand Out Online

Choose the Best Photo

You’ll need to choose one photo from among all the others to promote your property. Sell the destination with a stock photography image. Or purchase a great photo of the surroundings where you live to include in your images. The destination is a huge part of the reason that vacationers come here.
4 Surefire Ways to Make Your Vacation Rental Stand Out Online

Weave a Tale

Just as a headline is the intro to a story, the description should be the actual story or tale. Express not only facts but emotions too into the listing description. Emotion is a key component in a purchase decision. People don’t buy based on details alone; many people take action based on their emotions. Does your rental sound like somewhere you would want to stay? Does the list of amenities make you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth? If not, try re-writing; instead of listing amenities, try listing the benefits that people will get from them. “Private deck” could be changed to “Make unforgettable memories sharing gorgeous views with the family on our private deck.” If you’re not comfortable writing stellar copy, hire a copywriter to do it for you.
4 Surefire Ways to Make Your Vacation Rental Stand Out Online

Go Over and Above

Vacationers appreciate knowing what the basic amenities are, but tell them the benefits of living like a local and you’ll win them over, for sure. Guests want more than photos of a property and a list of amenities. Tell them what there is to see and do, make recommendations, offer discount tickets on area events, and your vacation rental will stand out from among all the others. When you care, it shows.

How to Keep Track of Your Rental Business Expenses

If you’re the owner of vacation rental property you probably already know how much paperwork can be generated. You don’t want to lose track of a single expense or receipt because at tax time they’re the difference between owing a lot and not.
With the tax season behind us, it’s a great time to evaluate how you track your rental business expenses and try to streamline and improve them for next year. There are several technological solutions available that can easily help you keep track of all your vacation rental expenses without any hassle. There are also several tricks of the trade that you can implement now.
How to Keep Track of Your Rental Business Expenses

Don’t complicate it. Keeping track of your expenses doesn’t have to be complicated. Many property owners advocate setting aside a dedicated period of time each week to update your records. Find what works for you and set up your own routine.
Use just one credit card. Stick with one credit card and know that every item purchased with this credit card is a vacation rental expense. It’s an easy way to assign purchases to the category they belong in such as cleaning, maintenance and advertising, etc.
Get your head in the cloud. If you’re not using a cloud-based accounting software system such as Quickbooks Online or Xero, consider the benefits of doing so for the next tax year. Because the software is hosted online, you can access it and record your expenses from anywhere. Link your credit card and bank account, too, so that expenses automatically feed into your account, and when you are ready to create expense reports, it’s a simple task.
How to Keep Track of Your Rental Business Expenses

Keep that paper trail. When possible, jot down relevant notes on the backs of your receipts so that you know exactly which expenses they are related to — meals and entertainment, travel, vehicle and home office expenses are among the main expense categories. If you have a receipt for a meal, write down who was present and the purpose of the meeting. This kind of paper trail is important, as it will help support your case in the event of a tax audit.
Receipts everywhere. Do you have an ever growing stack of receipts and bills? Check out a cloud-based app such as HubDoc and make your life easier. Using your phone, take photos of paperwork and forward email invoices right from your inbox. This works well if you are using an accountant or bookkeeper, as they can access your bills and receipts through the cloud as well.
Track your expenses. There are several great programs available for tracking expenses. Mint and Billguard are two examples. Link up your expense card with these apps and all of your purchasing data will be instantly available on your phone and can be accessed from anywhere.
Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be. If you want help with your vacation rental property, give Topsail Realty a call at 800-526-6432. Our singular focus is on protecting your hard earned asset, while maximizing its income and occupancy potential. We offer a turnkey, end to end solution that gives you peace of mind knowing your home is being cared for and marketed by local professionals.


Swing Bridge Foundation Submits Alternative Plan for Surf City Bridge

April 1, 2017: Surf City, NC:  In an earlier surprise announcement today, local Real Estate company Lewis Realty announced they were planning to buy the Surf City Swing Bridge, effective 2018. In response to this announcement, that has been on the table since beginning of 2015, Topsail Realty Vacations President and Owner, Mike Harrington, said “We are excited that the Swing Bridge will be protected moving forward. It’s an iconic piece of Topsail Island history and we feel it would be a shame for it to completely go away”.

Surf City Swing Bridge

However, as of 1:00 pm, Harrington and his private foundation focused on historic preservation submitted an upset bid to NCDOT and Surf City arguing a bridge of such historic significance should not be sold to private individuals and is the property of all who have visited and live on Topsail Island. Harrington added, “Unfortunately preserving such an old bridge is going to require many millions of dollars moving forward. Our foundation can work with Chris on this project together, and provide funds moving forward, but only if the original character of the bridge is maintained.”

“The Swing Bridge Foundation”, a 501(c)(3) headquarter in Surf City, proposes to provide multi-year grants in order to maintain the character and operation of the original Swing Bridge, provide access to ALL who wish to use it instead of the new high rise bridge, and hire a full time bridge tender at 1.5 times the salary that NCDOT was paying.  “We respect Chris and Lewis for this endeavor, and we feel “The Swing Bridge Foundation” is the best alternative. We even have a seat on the Foundation’s board for Chris is he desires”, added Harrington.

About “The Swing Bridge Foundation”: A registered 501(c)(3) located in Surf City, North Carolina, The Swing Bridge Foundation sole purpose is to preserve the original character and operation of the iconic Swing Bridge that connects Topsail Island to the mainland of Surf City.  Founded by Mike Harrington, President and Owner of Topsail Realty Vacations, as well as other preservation minded philanthropists, The Swing Bridge Foundation aims to protect public access rights to a historical treasure for Topsail Island.  To learn more, visit:  www.SwingBridgeFoundation.org

Learn more about Topsail Realty Vacations.

FYI:  We’d love for this to be true, but, April Fools!


How to Make Your Vacation Rental More Profitable

If you want to improve profitability on your vacation rental you should take full advantage of all tax write-offs that are available to you. Whether this is your first vacation rental property or you’ve been at this for years, we have five suggestions to make your vacation rental more profitable by helping you maximize your deductions during tax season.

How to Make Your Vacation Rental More Profitable

Vacation Rental Depreciation

The depreciation on your vacation rental home can be a significant tax benefit that you can begin writing off the first year you start renting out your property. But the type of property you own plays a big role in how much you can deduct because land doesn’t depreciate.
“In a condo, you don’t have land so it’s all going to be depreciable,” says Bob Wheeler, CPA and author of The Money Nerve: Navigating the Emotions of Money. “But if you have a property with very valuable land and a house that isn’t worth much, you won’t see much depreciation,” he notes.

Improvement Depreciation

Don’t be caught off guard when you have to depreciate certain purchases and improvements over a longer period of time than you had anticipated.
“If you have a business and you spend $5,000 on equipment, you can take an immediate write-off,” says Wheeler. But rental properties are different. If you buy a $5,000 washer and dryer for your vacation home you would have to depreciate that cost over 5 to 7 years, Wheeler points out. And if you added a room to the home, you’d depreciate that cost over 27.5 years.

How to Make Your Vacation Rental More ProfitableSo how does this affect you during tax season? You may not be able to write off the entire cost of any property improvement or renovation during the year you paid for it.
Consult with a tax professional to find out how a costly home improvement could affect your taxes. The rules surrounding different types of write-offs are complicated and change from time to time. It’s a tax professional’s job to stay current with these changes.

Personal and Rental Items

Wheeler also states that rental property owners sometimes neglect to deduct items that they use for both personal and rental purposes. Items like toilet paper, towels and soap can add up to a significant total expense over the course of a year.
But how do you keep track of exactly how much you’ve spent and who is using it? Wheeler notes that it’s not necessary to get quite so detailed with your record-keeping. “If you’re staying at the property about 10% of the time and you’re renting it out about 90% of the time, you can create a reasonable estimate,” he says.

How to Make Your Vacation Rental More Profitable

Fees and Insurance

Be sure to deduct all fees you incur throughout the year and insurance costs on your taxes. Fees may include HOA fees, legal fees, landlord insurance, homeowners insurance flood insurance and more. You can only deduct the cost of any insurance for the applicable tax year.

Small Expenses Add Up

The smaller expenses don’t seem like much to worry about but when you put them all together they can add up to a significant amount. Expenses may include the cost of advertising, travel, lawn services, cable, internet, utilities, laundering, and pool services. To be safe, save all your vacation home receipts throughout the year and your tax professional will know what can and can’t be used.
Keep these five suggestions in mind when it’s time to do your taxes and you should see more profitability on your vacation home rental.

4 Ways To Maximize your Beach Time on Topsail Island

Topsail Island Vacation PlanningYou’ve booked that perfect Topsail Island Vacation Rental with Topsail Realty after weeks of planning.  Now what?

For first time and even returning guests, we get questions all the time about things to do, where to get groceries, and which are the best restaurants on Topsail Island.  While our local team is very knowledgeable about all things Topsail, we felt there was a need to have a more hands-on approach to a more holistic vacation planning experience.

For this reason, for 2017 we have partnered with Metros Other Women, a great local concierge and event planning company.  Topsail Realty Vacations provides all of our guests with direct access to Metros’s concierge team at no additional cost.  If you can dream it, they can find a solution.  The most common services provided for our vacation rental guests are:

  1. GROCERY ORDERING & DELIVERY – Who loves going to the grocery store and stocking up for the entire week on your first day of vacation?  That’s right, no one!  That’s where we come in- Metro’s Other Women will go to the store for you and fill the pantry while you enjoy the view. How’s that for kickstarting your vacation?
  2. EQUIPMENT & BEACH RENTALS – Part of a good vacation is trying new things and there is nothing better while on Topsail Island than learning how to stand-up paddle board or surf! Or maybe your idea is beach chairs and a tent for the week, and as little activity as possible. Nor problem, we got you covered! We know all the local suppliers and can find exactly what you are looking for. Leave it to us!
  3. AREA RECOMMENDATIONS & RESERVATIONS – From a nice dinner out, to golf tee-times, to boat rental and fishing excursions, we are your one-stop shop for it all. Think of us as your personal assistant while on vacation. We might even recommend a local secret spot or two!
  4. DAY TRIP EXCURSIONS AND PLANNING – While Topsail Island is a perfect destination by itself, there still is plenty to do within a very short drive in Southeastern North Carolina. Would you like private transportation for a shopping trip to Wilmington? Or tickets to go see the Battleship downtown? Contact us and we’ll help!

We know how precious your vacation time is.  Most of us only get 1 cherished week a year to spend with our family and unwind.  Let Topsail Realty and Metro’s Other Women plan your entire trip experience and maximize those seconds on the beach and with family!

Amenities That Provide Maximum Return for Your Vacation Rental

When it comes to what prospective vacationing families are looking for in a vacation rental, at the top of the list is a sweet amenities package that doesn’t cost extra. They want the “most bang for the buck” as they say. You may have already added some amenities that weren’t previously provided in your rental, but is it enough? For amenities that drive maximum profit for your vacation rental, read the following background stats on what really matters most.

Amenities That Provide Maximum Return for Your Vacation Rental

A recent survey provided us with data from 10 cities in the U.S. to get a better understanding of what amenities are important. In general, a hot tub and welcoming outdoor space, conducive of al fresco dining, add the most value per night (per room).

Amenity $ Value Add
Hot Tub $31.00
Outdoor Space $29.00
Kitchen $25.00
Climate Control $24.00
Pool $22.00

Amenities That Provide Maximum Return for Your Vacation Rental

Why These Amenities?

“Kitchen” refers to having their own private kitchen, which is a huge selling point. Travelers often choose to book a vacation rental instead of a hotel just so they have a kitchen. It’s a mandatory feature and saves vacationers a bundle.

In addition to a kitchen, guests seek more square footage for the money and amenities that help them relax. They see outdoor space, pools, and hot tubs as providing just that.

Amenities that matter most are going to be those that keep comfort in mind. Whether it be the latest and most comfortable beds around or simply having the ability to control the climate within their vacation rental, things matter when it comes to comfort.

Proximity To Beach

Which Amenity is the Best?

Ultimately, property owners need to determine what will drive the connection between guests to your location and to your home. This varies depending on where you live in the country because ski bums are looking for something completely different than beach goers. It’s up to you to figure out which amenities provide the comfort and enhance the overall experience your guests are seeking. Is it free towels and beach supplies? Baby gear and puppy sitting? Or discounts on area events, entertainment and golf?

Where to Find Answers

You can answer this by researching what your competitors offer in your local market then determine how close you come to matching that. Is there something different you can offer to set you apart from the others? Instead of choosing an amenity because it seems like a cool idea, think of such additions as an investment that should support your overall business strategy to get the highest return.

Things to Know About Insuring Your Vacation Rental

One of the top requirements of owning a vacation rental is having adequate home insurance coverage. Any number of things could go wrong that you need to protect yourself against including damage and theft.

Be sure to call a few different places for price estimates to find the coverage you need at a price you can afford. Below are some of the main points to remember when it comes to insuring your vacation rental so you can make an informed decision on your coverage.
Things to Know About Insuring Your Vacation Rental

Understanding insurance laws

If you regularly rent out your home, a homeowner’s policy will likely not cover theft or damage associated with your guests. Instead, invest in a separate insurance policy to cover renters. If you don’t and the insurance company determines that you’ve been operating a business, any future claims can be denied.
Municipalities have different rules and restrictions when it comes to vacation rentals, so read up on the ones where your home is located. Some communities do not allow long term rentals while   others may prohibit rentals of any kind.
If you are renting out your home through a property management company like Topsail Realty, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the rules regarding any minimum requirements for insurance.


Types of insurance coverage

Commercial insurance policies have two key components of coverage — property and liability. Property insurance coverage protects the physical structure and belongings in the event of a fire or other damage. Liability insurance coverage protects you in case a renter or guest incurs and injury and sues for damages.


Your policy should include the following coverage:

  • Replacement cost for the structure and your personal property.
  • Personal liability coverage.
  • Loss of income coverage.
  • Supplemental coverage for pets, liquor liability and any damage caused by a tenant, including theft of the owner’s personal property.
  • Umbrella policy. A personal umbrella policy (PUP) gives you additional liability insurance beyond your existing coverage.
  • If there is a swimming pool or hot tub on your rental property, be sure to ask if additional coverage is required.
  • Purchase flood, wind damage, and hurricane insurance if your rental is in an area prone to these disasters.


How to find an insurance agent

Check around for the right commercial insurance agent by asking friends and family for recommendations. You could save yourself money and aggravation down the road. Try to find an agent that specializes in insuring vacation rentals.


When you compare policies, be sure to compare prices based on equal coverage limits. The financial strength and stability of an insurance company matters as well. Check the company’s rating from one of the four independent agencies: A.M. Best, Fitch, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s before making your final decision.


Deductible Expenses for Vacation Rental Owners

As a vacation rental owner, finding and deducting the expenses that are related to the operation of your vacation rental business can offer significant tax savings. Many rental owners fail to take advantage of all the deductions they are eligible for. Be sure to keep track of your expenses throughout the year so that when it’s time to prepare your taxes you have everything you need at hand.

Deductible Expenses for Vacation Rental Owners
Here are the expenses that you can deduct to save money on your taxes.

1. Rent. If you rent your home, your rental expenses are a tax deductible expense and can offer you one of the greatest opportunities for tax savings.

2. Utilities. Utilities, such as electricity, cable TV and internet, water and sewer, are tax deductible expenses.

3. Cleaning Fees. When you hire a professional cleaning service or purchase cleaning supplies to keep the rental clean for guests, deduct these expenses on your taxes.

4. Vacation Rental Commission Fees. You should obtain a statement of your earnings from the vacation rental company so that you have a record of the commission fees that were deducted from your earnings. These commission fees that are charged by the vacation rental platform are a tax deductible expense.

The tax man cometh.
5. Membership Fees. If you are a member of an organization that exists solely for educational purposes, such as VRMA, you can deduct the membership fees on your taxes.

6. Furniture. If you purchased furniture for your guests, you can deduct these costs. Special rules apply to deductions for furniture so consult a tax professional.

7. Amenities. If you provide food, toiletries or other amenities exclusively for use by your guests, these expenses are considered as an ordinary and necessary part of running your vacation rental business. Make sure that you keep track of the items that are used exclusively for your business separately from any personal items.

This list of deductions is designed to apply to the most common vacation rental host situations. It is not a comprehensive list. Consult a tax professional if you are a real estate professional, or if you also use the home for your own personal purposes.

Reprinted from Shared Economy CPA

How Current Economic Trends May Affect Property Management

There are times where we throw caution to the wind and go “all in.” There are other times to pause and carefully ponder the realities of what may be “coming around the bend.” Perhaps, after nearly 8 years of low interest rates and endless economic stimulants, we are now in the “carefully ponder” stage of economic realities. Now is a good time for property managers to be cautious. With patience and keen observations come immediate results. It’s the power of doing almost nothing.

How Current Economic Trends Will Affect Property Management

Recently we learned that the U.S. economy added only 151,000 jobs during August, giving the reluctant Fed justification to delay an interest rate hike until December. That’s the most likely scenario. This familiar posture for the Fed was exacerbated by the Chinese economic scare, plunging oil prices and spooked equity markets in early 2016. Then Brexit hit leading into the summer meetings and now the uncertainty of the upcoming U.S. elections.

“Lower-for-longer,” interest rates now look like “lower forever” unless the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) surprises and proceeds with normalizing monetary policy. This appears unlikely. Low interest rates benefit borrowers, including single-family rental investors. At today’s rates, investors will be able to leverage investment assets at historically low rates.

Meanwhile auto sales are turning south. After rising for 66 straight months, retail car sales have now fallen four out of the last six months. My sources say that this trend is likely to continue.

This and other factors suggest the making of a new economic trend and not just for the auto sector. The entire economy is beginning to show unmistakable signs of slowing.


When people are overwhelmed with financial uncertainty they buy fewer cars and take fewer vacations. They’re going to eat out less and cut back on noncritical spending and purchases.


In other words, the big drop-off in car sales could mean U.S. consumers are already cutting back. That’s probably why U.S. manufacturing is weakening as we begin the 4th quarter.


Last month, the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) reported that its Purchasing Managers’ Index fell from 52.6 in July to 49.6 in August. This index measures the strength of the U.S. manufacturing sector. When the index dips below 50, it signals recession. More importantly, the services and manufacturing sectors are now weakening at the same time. It’s significant that both indices would weaken so much at the same time.


The manufacturing index dropped to 49.4% from 52.6% in August and the ISM services metric slipped to 51.4% from 55.5%. The combined reading was also the weakest in six years. Look out below!
How Current Economic Trends Will Affect Property Management

Now’s a good time to upgrade and streamline your property management business. Have the best most efficient technology and software available to navigate your operations.


Develop a “wait and see” strategy that takes into consideration the perspectives and preferences of your clients. Take the time to know what they are and invite their feedback now, not later.


Doing “almost nothing” incorporates prudence, calm and careful analysis. It doesn’t invite procrastination and should empower you to prioritize your work for the months and year ahead.

Reprinted with permission from PropertyManager.com. Marc Courtenay author.


The Ultimate Guide to Finding Shells, Sharks Teeth, and Sea Glass on Topsail Island

If you’ve ever gone hunting for Shells, Shark’s Teeth, or Sea Glass on Topsail Island, you know how overwhelming it can seem at first glance. Looking down the island’s long expanse of shoreline that’s covered with sea-life, you absolutely must know what you’re looking for to be successful.

Lucky for you, I spent every summer of my childhood on Topsail Island with my Grandmother – a full-fledged shell/shark’s tooth/sea glass collecting addict.

Every morning, we would take a walk down to the shore, where we would hunt for these items until we found something she could add to her incredible collection.

On every shelf and every table in her beach house, there sat a glass jar filled to the brim with treasures. Of course, I have some fond memories of this time in my life, but I also learned a lot about collecting – which I can’t wait to share with you.

finding shells sharks teeth sea glass on topsail island

Time & Place

The number one thing to consider when combing the beach for treasures is the time of day. More specifically, it’s the level of the tide. Without question, the best time for beach combing is low tide.

That’s because the low tide is when you’ll have a much greater chance of discovering something good since the actual surface area of the shore is larger. Also, if you are searching over the course of a few days, low tide is when the beach will have “refreshed” itself with a new set of shells to comb through.

Because the cycle of the moon influences the tides, low tide happens at a different time every day. Don’t worry though, here’s a link to the Topsail Island Tide Chart.

Finding Shells

Topsail Island is well-known for its beach, specifically the fact that it is unusually shell-covered. But of course, we all know that more doesn’t necessarily mean better.

The shells that finally made it to the shore for you to collect have been through quite a journey, and it’s no surprise that the trip broke the huge majority of them – it’s just how the ocean works. But without these shells, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the beauty of unbroken shells, which are more of a rarity.

Going back to the opening of this piece it’s all about knowing what you’re looking for.

That’s why I decided to think back to my childhood and figure out the top 5 shells I remember finding on Topsail Island. These were Scotch Bonnets, Conchs, Sand Dollars, Scallops, and Slipper Shells (or “Lady Slippers” as my Grandma used to call them).

Scotch Bonnet




Sand Dollar




Slipper Shell (Lady Slipper)


I’ve been finding these particular shells my whole life, and my Grandma filled her jars with them. That’s how I know they’re out there, primed and ready for you to discover.

Finding Shark’s Teeth

Shark’s teeth are notoriously hard to find. Going back to the fact that the ocean breaks most shells before they reach the shore, it’s easy to see why.

Think about it for a moment. Broken shells are often small and sharp, exactly like shark’s teeth. So it makes sense that the teeth would blend in with everything else, making them difficult to find.

That’s why you should know the most common sharks in the Topsail Island area, and specifically how their teeth are shaped. They’re actually pretty easy to remember, and just think how impressed your friends will be when you can say, “That tooth came from a Bull Shark,” with absolute certainty!

So, the most common sharks that can be found near Topsail Island are the Bull Shark, Tiger Shark, and Sand Shark.

Bull Shark Tooth


Tiger Shark Tooth


Sand Shark Tooth


Growing up, my uncle (an old sailor) used to take the shark’s teeth I’d find and fashion them with a piece of wire for me to wear as a necklace.

I ended up having so many of these necklaces that I started giving them to friends, so I know that the shark’s teeth are there for those who know what to look for.

Finding Sea Glass

When many of us think of Sea Glass, we imagine it exactly like normal glass – shiny and sharp. In reality, the sea glass has been through the same difficult journey to the shore as the shells and shark’s teeth went through.

This process transformed the once “normal” glass into “sea” glass, which is smooth and opaque. Knowing this fact is the first step towards a successful sea glass hunt.

But you’ve got to know more than the shape and feel of the sea glass to become a beach combing master – you’ve got to know the colors to look for.

Theoretically, sea glass can come in any color imaginable, but three colors stand far above the rest in their popularity. These are white (which is just clear glass that has been “opaqued”), green, and brown.

White Sea Glass


Green Sea Glass


Brown Sea Glass


Sea glass was always my Grandma’s favorite thing to collect, and she even had a table top made entirely from the glass she had collected over the years. That’s how I know it’s out there waiting for you to bring home the next time you’re on Topsail Island.

After everything I’ve described in this article, it’s possible that you’re even more overwhelmed than before. But if there’s one aspect of “beach combing” that I want to leave you with above all others, it’s this: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

This is a cliche’ phrase for a good reason – it’s absolutely true.

Do you think I knew the difference between a Bull Shark tooth and a Tiger Shark tooth all those years ago when I was walking the beach with my grandmother? Not in the least, and yet those are some of the happiest memories of my life.

My point here, to bring it all home, is that every human being is unique, exactly like every shell, shark’s tooth, or piece of sea glass. That’s why, when all else fails, don’t get overwhelmed – just search for the things that make you happy.