The Future of Vacation Rental Pricing

If I have learned anything over the past 15 years in the vacation rental industry, it is that change is a constant. This might not be as evident from the consumer (guest) side as it is from the owner/manager side, however, it is the changing market dynamics and guest expectations that are really driving this change.

While certain things like smart home technology, mobile communication tools, and new software systems are great for streamlining logistics and operations, they do not really drive the needle when it comes to pure rental income growth. With all the new operational tools we’ve seen come out over the past few years, one thing that has been frustratingly missing has been something that can help optimize and adjust rental pricing on a data-driven level. That is until now.

Over the past year and a half, we have been analyzing a revenue management tool that will help us optimize our pricing specific to each home and each week of the year, with the ultimate goal to achieve maximum annual revenue and occupancy for your Topsail Island vacation home.  As you can imagine, it’s getting progressively harder to price a home out more than a year in advance. Our goal is always a full calendar with repeat guests that treat your home as their own.  However, as your professional manager, it is also our job to make sure we are doing everything possible to accurately price your home to maximize the return on your hard earned investment. So, what’s it all about?

How Does it Work?

Similar to the revenue management tools that power hotels and airline pricing, this tool allows us to set and manage participating home’s rates based on a dynamic algorithm that tracks supply and demand for every week of the year, as well as comparable market factors particular to a home: special events, seasonality, day of the week, etc. The data used to analyze and adjust pricing comes from 3 main places: 1) our own historical data for your house (i.e. rack rates), 2) similar properties within our own portfolio, and 3) similar homes from the major marketplace OTA’s (HomeAway.com, VRBO, AirBnB).  The “rack rate” that is established is generally what we already have in place, which means it is what the increases or decreases are based off.

What Does This Mean For You?

When using a more data-driven pricing strategy, as a homeowner, your rates would be more fluid in nature based on minimum and maximum levels that we control. Rates for a given span in the future may change day to day based on the algorithm powering the pricing tool.  Be advised we can set conservative minimum pricing rules for each home in this system, so you will not see prices that fall below what we have agreed upon/what you have seen in the past.  In fact, the tool tends to price higher than we would anticipate for some periods, especially during holidays and high demand local events.

Why The Change?

We are entering a new age in the vacation rental marketplace of increasing pricing transparency and eCommerce speed expectations for consumers.  As with all change, this poses a new challenge for us, and we do not take this industry evolution lightly. There has never been a time where we have had access to some much specific data and information as we do today in the vacation rental market. By combining this data access with our oversight, we feel this combination will give us a huge competitive advantage over the rest of the field on Topsail Island.

Please note, we will have more information on this very soon. Our goal is to get everything ready for 2019 by October so we can hit the ground running and start confirming your bookings for next year!

Mike Harrington, President/Owner

Cancellations, How Do They Work?

As we all know, sometimes life happens and our plans don’t pan out quite the way we were hoping or expecting them to.  This often happens in the vacation rental business – jobs are lost, accidents happen, blizzards come through that keep kids out of school for weeks in the winter that they’ve got to make up at the end of the school year.  When issues like this arise, they can, unfortunately, impact travel plans for many families.  As we have had several occurrences of this nature in the last few months, I thought that it would be helpful to address what happens on the owner’s side of a cancellation.

When a reservation is canceled, the guest acknowledges our cancellation policy that they will lose all funds paid unless the week is rebooked.  This means that the owner will receive the funds for all of the rent collected from the tenant.  If the final payment has not been made, the owner will get half of the rack rate for that week, or they will receive the full amount of rent if the reservation has been paid in full.  If the week is rebooked at a discount, the original tenant is responsible for the difference in cost between the rate that they booked the property for and the rate the new tenant.  For example, if tenant A has a canceled reservation with an owner rate of $1,000/week and the tenant B books that week for $800/week, then tenant A will be charged $200 so that the full rent that they agreed to pay is furnished to the owner.

There are special circumstances where we will reach out to owners to see if they would be amenable to the tenant moving their stay to another week, or perhaps to see if the owner would like to handle the cancellation differently and issue a refund where one normally would not be permitted.  As some of you are well aware, we have guests that come back year after year to the same property, developing a relationship with both the owners and Topsail Realty.  Due to that, we will sometimes reach out to the owner and leave it at your discretion as far as how the cancellation and refund will be handled.  We always strive to ensure that our owners are protected – your business is our business!

Jessica Scarborough, Accounting Administrator

Coming Soon, New Owner Portal Dashboard!

While Topsail Realty has spent a lot of time improving a streamlined website, tools for our guests, and ease of completion of documentation and payment, in addition to those important items, we are always hard at work with the development of distinctive ideas and methodologies for providing additional and advantageous options to our Topsail Island vacation rental owners.

We are excited to have been provided with the opportunity to deliver to you a new, improved, and easy to navigate OwnerWeb Portal!

At a glance, you’ll be able to see:

  • The year overview calendar including reservation types including owner blocks, owner guest blocks, confirmed reservations (paid), and pending reservations (not yet paid). This allows you to see the current year and up to 2 years in history.  2016 data is not in our current software so 2017 forward is the date range of data available for us, even via our current Owner Portal.
  • Guest Details including guest name, reservation number, arrival and departure dates, number of days of stay, the reservation type, and the gross owner rate for that stay, and we also hope to add information to indicate if the guest is planning to bring dogs for those dog-friendly homes!
  • Booking Totals gross owner income and dates booked data

At the click of a button, you’ll be able to view:

  • Current and past news information we post for our owners
  • Statement Information – both Monthly and Year to Date
  • Inventory Data – you can add and change information for purchased appliances and similar items with purchase dates, warranty information, serial # information, and any notes for our collective records
  • Past Agreement and Addendum PDF files stored in your owner account for ease of reference
  • Any current Agreement or Addendum data for completion can be completed and submitted directly through the OwnerWeb Portal!
  • Property Specific Documents including your preferred vendor information and related items for Property Services

Automated functionality within this new OwnerWeb will allow us to send the following to notify you of changes to your home’s availability:

  • Reservation Confirmation Notification Emails when reservations confirm
  • Reservation Cancellation Notification Emails when reservations cancel

We are eager to announce this forthcoming update! We’ll be getting in touch with you once we are ready to roll this out and you’ll be able to see that the information available to you once you log in is valid, helpful, and not to mention easy to find and utilize!

Jennifer Lewis, Rental Operations Manager

TRV Storm Season Action Plans – What to Know

Atlantic hurricane season officially began June 1st and is ongoing until November 30th.  We would like to remind our owners that we recommend using the National Hurricane Center’s website www.nhc.noaa.gov for storm preparation information and for up to date bulletins.  Please take the time now to become familiar with www.nhc.noaa.gov; www.penderem.com the Pender County emergency management website; https://www.ntbnc.org/ for North Topsail Beach; http://surfcity.govoffice.com for Surf City; and www.topsailbeach.org for Topsail Beach.  These websites offer valuable information regarding hurricanes and re-entry procedures which you as an owner should be familiar with.

As a storm approaches, we will also continue to closely monitor the weather forecasts and projections for any impacts in our area.  We would kindly ask that owners do not call our team asking for information that is readily available from public news and weather sources directly such as those on the websites listed above – please go directly to those sources for information so that you are as well-prepared as you can be as an owner.

Action Plans for boarding up or shuttering should include provisions for promptly un-boarding or unshuttering when the storm has passed.  We STRONGLY suggest you make specific plans with a licensed and insured contractor in advance.  The advantage of having this plan in advance is that the contractor acting on your behalf would most readily be available after the storm to make your property safe for guest occupancy, or if necessary to perform repairs to mitigate further damage if your property happens to sustain any. In creating the plan, be sure to include instructions to check windows and doors to make sure they are locked and to secure exterior furniture.

As for boarding up windows and doors, Topsail Realty cannot make the decision to board up or shutter for you.  With the hectic pace of communicating with our guest, homeowners, and vendors, we are not able to also take on the responsibility of contacting your contractor and relaying any requests to board up or shutter or otherwise secure your property.  That said, we will be happy to coordinate and work with owners as best as possible to carry out storm preparations with the understanding that during such a time things are hectic and we have a variety of details we must be concerned with simultaneously. PLEASE keep us informed of your plans in writing via an e-mail including your house name for our mutual reference to our Property Services Team at CustomerServices@TopsailRealty.com to avoid confusion.

Trip insurance, if a guest has chosen to take it, is effective when a mandatory evacuation is declared.  Prior to a mandatory evacuation being declared, once you decide to and begin to secure your house, your guest is required to vacate the premises – in this event the guest will be entitled to a refund from you as the owner because he/she is not permitted by safety regulations to stay in a home that is boarded or shuttered and therefore considered unsafe for occupancy.  Contractors who you may work with to secure your house generally work on a first come/first served basis giving priority to their existing customers or those with already established plans.  As a storm gets close, at some point the local workforce stops work and leaves the island to prepare their homes and families for the storm.

When a storm threatens, Topsail Realty’s first priorities are to contact anxious guests currently occupying rental houses informing them of the Tropical Storm and Hurricane information page we provide in our Guest Services Directory at our homes so they know how to keep themselves informed and have a general idea of what to expect, requesting that they move any light deck and porch furniture inside or secure it outside.  In the event a mandatory evacuation is ordered, guests are notified that they are required to vacate houses.  We work to ensure guests pack up and vacate as quickly as possible so that homes can be locked and closed in advance of storm conditions.  We will maintain our team members in office and operate our office as best we are able to do so while taking care of preparations.  We will do our very best to continue updates on the situation from our perspective on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TopsailRealty/.

Once the storm has passed, our first priority is to get our office up and running as quickly as possible bearing in mind we may not have power, internet, and/or telephone capability.  Houses, including decks and walkways, need quick damage assessments prior to allowing guests to return.  We then must be concerned with coordinating repairs if any damages have taken place or relocating returning guests if needed if the homes they were to return to sustained damages making them uninhabitable.  Our next steps are to focus on the houses scheduled to be occupied for the rental weeks after the storm to determine if these houses can be occupied.

Because of your familiarity with your home, we highly recommend that you as an owner plan to come to check on your property after a storm in order to quickly assess any items needing immediate attention.  In the event of damages that might be filed on your homeowner’s insurance, insurance claims processing is less cumbersome if you have personally seen and photographed your home’s damages.  While we will gladly provide access to your home to insurance adjusters on your behalf as long as you have given us clear direct authorization to allow that access, Topsail Realty cannot take photos, do official damage inspections, or make any decisions or sign any paperwork with insurance adjusters on your behalf.  Homeowners are solely responsible for dealing with decisions for any damages to be repaired, claims adjusters, and insurance companies’ requirements – in the past insurance adjusters have aggressively tried to get our team members to sign off on claim forms on behalf of homeowners which we cannot do.

Unfortuantly, as every storm has it’s own set of problems, Topsail Realty cannot set in stone exactly what can and cannot be accomplished during extraordinary weather conditions. Needless to say and as I am sure you understand, it is a VERY stressful time for all concerned, though we do our best to keep our guests and owners happy with the services we provide.

Let’s hope for the best this upcoming storm season!

Jennier Lewis, Rental Operations Manager

 

 

 

Danny Williams, General Manager

 

Linens and Towels, A New Frontier!

The Property Services department is excited to announce some new changes that are occurring this summer. We have recently expanded our warehouse/housekeeping facilities to include a commercial laundry! Here, our housekeepers will be able to take care of all the sheets and towels in-house. In previous years, the linens were out-sourced to another company. The new laundry facility includes three heavy duty washing machines, six heavy duty dryers, a large folding table and a wrapping machine.

A typical journey for sheets and towels starts when the guests place their dirty linens in the black Topsail Realty linen bag that is provided with the guest directory at the property. Upon the guest’s departure, housekeeping comes in to clean and remove the dirty linen bag. The linens are returned to the new Topsail Realty laundry facility at the end of the day. Housekeeping removes the dirty linens from the black bag and places them in one of the three heavy duty washing machines. After they have finished washing, they are transported to one of the six heavy-duty dryers.

When they are dried, housekeeping removes them and places them on the folding table where they are then folded neatly. Each fitted sheet, flat sheet, pillowcase, towel, hand towel, rag, and kitchen towel is organized into their corresponding pile in order to be wrapped. The housekeeper that is running the plastic wrap machine carefully wraps each set with precision. After the linens are all wrapped up, they are placed on a shelf to await their departure to the next property!

As you can see, our new laundry expansion allows Topsail Realty to better control what is going into each property in order to ensure the best possible guest experience. Our new Field Operations Team Lead, Tia, coordinates laundry operations. With this new addition, we have hired extra housekeepers and have a staff running the laundry nearly full-time!

Our goal is always to find better ways to serve our guest and make your home shine! No other company can say they’ve made this type of investment in their operations to consistently deliver the type of guest experience that Topsail Realty can.  It’s not always easy, but we are 100% committed to making your home successful well into the future!

Kristen McCoy, Property Services Manager

Storms and Rental Income – What Happens?

With hurricane season officially underway, I thought it best to expand on what was mentioned previously in the newsletter, and remind owners of the policies of Topsail Realty regarding cancellations, closures, and evacuations in the event of a major storm.

In the event of an impending storm, there are three possibilities of what can happen with a booked reservation at your property – the guest may cancel versus risking getting stuck in inclement weather, you may choose to shutter your house in preparation for the storm, or there may be a mandatory evacuation of the island.  The only option listed above that would guarantee a refund of owner proceeds to the guest is if you decide to shutter your house before a mandatory evacuation is ordered.

If the guest has decided they do not want to travel due to an approaching storm or if there is a mandatory evacuation of the island, these are instances where the cancellation of the reservation is outside of the owner’s control, and therefore the guest must contact the travel insurance company in order to recoup any of the funds that were paid.  Some owners do opt to allow the tenant to book another week in the same year after the storm has passed, or in the following year, and the funds are transferred to another stay in the future.  However, this is at the owner’s discretion and if you choose not to do so, you are entitled to the funds paid by the guest regardless of whether or not they stayed in your property.

In the event that you shutter your property, the guest is entitled to a refund, as they cannot occupy the house with hurricane shutters or boards in place.  We will pro-rate the guest’s reservation for the number of days that they were able to stay in the house and refund the difference.  For example, if a guest checks in on Saturday and must leave the house Tuesday, we will pro-rate the owner rent for 3 nights and the guest will receive a refund for the remaining 4.  As mentioned previously, it is up to the owner to decide whether or not to shutter their house, and it is often a difficult decision – there’s no telling which storm will be “the one” that results in significant damage to a property, and with rapidly changing conditions, the wait and see approach can be a little nerve-wracking!

Hurricane season quickly turns into a stressful situation for both owners and guests alike when a storm is approaching, and we do our best to keep everyone apprised of what is going on here at the beach.  In the event of a storm, we will do everything we can to make the process as painless as possible for all involved, and continue to strive to provide great customer service across the board.

Jessica Scarborough, Accounting Administrator

Making Your Home Shine!

Happy Summer!  It’s certainly been a very busy “off-season” (not sure that term applies anymore) this year at Topsail Realty! Our focus from last year moving into this season has been laser-focused on improving our overall procedures and communication when it comes to the care and cleanliness of your home.

Over in the Property Services department, we are excited to announce a lot of changes and new tools that we are implementing to help with our in the field of communication and processes.  There’s nothing more important to us than making sure our guests walk into a clean and inviting home upon check-in. To help give us real-time oversight and the ability to instantly verify quality we have started using a new mobile app called Breezeway. Every cleaner installs the Breezeway app onto their phone and it shows them all information needed on the house they are cleaning. Breezeway has a custom checklist feature so each home can have a custom tailored inspection and cleaning process list that must be followed and checked off on before a cleaner can complete the job.

Another very handy feature is the ability for our cleaners and inspection Team Leaders to report any damages, with pictures, in the home and have it sent over to the maintenance team to be addressed. This means better documentation following guests stay and our goal of quicker response times to issues.

Additionally, to help keep all rolling we have Tia Feller who is our Field Operations Team Leader who works directly at our warehouse and with the cleaners. Rest assured, we are working daily to continue to make sure your home has that WOW factor it deserves each and every time!  As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to me anytime!

 

Kristen McCoy, Property Services Manager

Owner Statement Tips & Tricks

Hello Home Owners, and welcome to summer!

We have a lot of new owners that came aboard this year, so I wanted to take the opportunity to give a brief tutorial on how to decipher the owner statements, and give a few pointers on where you can look on the Owner Portal for additional clarification.

Each month, I will upload both a monthly statement and year-to-date statement for your property. When a reservation is booked, the guest is required to pay half of the rent up front, along with Travel Insurance if purchased. Our software posts transactions in real time, so when the reservation is confirmed, the first half of the rent will be posted to your owner statement. The second half of the rent and any pet fees are posted after the guest departs, and the full balance less commission as well as any expenses incurred, is paid on the last day of the month of departure.

Due to the first half of the rent posting when the reservation is confirmed, the monthly statement may only reflect half of the rent for each guest stay as the deposit will be on the statement for the month in which the reservation was booked. This is where both the year-to-date statement and owner portal can be helpful! 

The year to date statement will group all transactions for each stay together, showing all of the rent and commissions for each stay as well as pet fees. Another spot to easily find the gross rent and commission for each stay can be found on the booking summary on the owner portal. When that link is clicked, you can filter the results to be grouped by month. This will show both the gross rent for each stay, as well as the net rent. Pet fees and expenses can be found on the monthly- and year-to-date statements. With all transactions posting in real time, the first payment of the season may include expenses for work orders that were closed in a previous month.

We apologize that we have not yet been able to upload both of these statements to the owner portal. I spoke with support on Monday and there is a ticket into development to fix the issue. If you would like a copy of the year-to-date statement or did not receive the monthly statement when they were sent via email, please let me know and I will manually send one to you. I know that the statements generated by our software can be a little confusing at first, so if any additional clarification is needed, please don’t hesitate to call or email me and I am more than happy to assist!

We’re looking forward to a great season, and thank you for choosing Topsail Realty to manage your property!

Jessica Scarborough

 

Jessica Scarborough, Accounting Administrator

 

An Effortless Vacation “Experience”

I guess Bob Dylan was right, “The Times They Are A Changin”. Topsail Island is certainly seeing rapid change! The rapid growth in real estate both residential and retail is astounding. Just a few years ago we thought that Harris Teeter was a big deal. Now we have a Walmart and a new Publix. The boom in new construction on the island is certainly creating more competition in the vacation rental business.

To be successful we have to embrace change and try to stay ahead of the trends in the vacation rental market. At Topsail Realty we pride ourselves on doing one thing well. We only do vacation rentals.

People these days want instant gratification. It starts with a state of the art website for ease of online booking, and a secure Guest Payment Portal for electronic payments and e-signatures. Guests love the convenience of keyless entry. They appreciate checking into a property with a complimentary linen package with beds made prior to arrival. This year Topsail Realty has invested in our own commercial laundry facility. We now provide our own sheets and towels.

What we are trying to do is create a “Turn-Key” vacation experience. Life can be stressful. We all could use a vacation from time to time. Topsail Realty wants to make it easy, for both your guests and you!

Please do not hesitate to email or call me if I can help you with anything. Have a great Summer!

Danny Williams

 

Danny Williams, General Manager

 

Operations Corner – What’s New!

I would like to personally thank you for giving Topsail Realty the opportunity to manage your vacation rental home!

As always, we continue to invest time, energy, and funds in ways to ensure that our website and other chosen advertising venues present your homes in an engaging way while providing premier exposure of your homes and the amenities offered for vacation goers hoping for a holiday in an idyllic beach setting!

A great deal of thought and effort went into the development of our recently launched website’s newly designed search with filters and methods to streamline and simplify the search process. It allows those looking for potential vacation homes to more quickly locate choices with availability to suit their needs both when planning in advance as well as when making last-minute getaway plans!

Additionally, we are partnered with Homeaway.com and their related sites so our properties are also advertised on those outlets including HomeAway.com, VRBO.com, VacationRentals.com, as well as international vacation rental sites that are part of the HomeAway family to provide even more exposure and advertising outlets. For those owners that do not want to have their homes advertised on the Homeaway.com family of sites, we have the option to not include specific properties at an owner’s request, though I would like to reiterate that our advertising on those outlets are at no additional cost to our owners!

The yearly owner renewal process will be upon us again before we know it!  While historically this process has been done during the Fall and owner agreements do automatically renew each year on October 1st, we would like to ascertain general availability for 2019. If you know of any dates in 2019 that your home would not be available for rental that you would like to owner block, please use your Owner’s Area to create those blocks or send us an email at Info@TopsailRealty.com to take make us aware of those dates so that we block them in advance.

We do currently offer guests the opportunity to make advance plans for 2019 by making Advance Reservation Requests for past weeks in 2018 for comparable dates in 2019.  As always, these are subject to the owner making the home available for rental and we generally would not confirm these with agreements or request for the first payment until January 2019.

Additionally, as part of the renewal process regarding owner rental rates particularly, we hope to introduce new concepts applied to the vacation rental marketplace that would allow for us to optimize your homes’ rates at all times, centered around local market trends, local availability, and local demand – all specific effects that impact vacation rentals in our area directly. More details will be forthcoming in the next few months on the renewal process as we explore those possibilities!

Jennifer Lewis with Topsail Realty

Jennifer Lewis, Rental Operations Manager