Be the Snowbird Who is Welcome Back
BE THE SNOWBIRD WHO IS WELCOME BACK
How to Be Irresistible to Your Hosts
Snowbirds who rent their winter residences are plentiful and there is typically not a shortage of guests who want to stay in a great property, which means it is important to be the best possible guest to be welcome back. Now, with the added competition of work from wherever (WFW) types who are no longer attached to a traditional office environment, there's even higher demand for rental properties in a warm climate.
As is true of any guest, whether it is a stay in a someone's private home or a paid vacation rental, to be invited back is completely related to how well the relationship goes for the duration of the stay. Don't think for a minute that paying to stay somewhere is that much different than a friend hosting you in their own home, the concept is the same. Be the best version of yourself and the chances improve for a return visit.
Word of mouth referrals and internet searches stack the odds in favor of the rental properties to acquire and retain the best long term guests. There is a level of trust required of each because let's be honest, the owners are entrusting someone with their property on a long-term basis and the tenants are paying competitive market rates for the privilege and typically like to return to the same unit once they find one they love. When an owner and renter form a good relationship, the reward is loyalty to each other.
Based on my own personal experience as both a renter and a vacation rental owner, here's my insight to be welcome back.
PAY FAIR MARKET RATE
Most snowbirds who rent want a discounted rate and most owners want a fair market rate. It's OK to ask for the best possible rate for your winter home, that's fair. If you are staying multiple weeks or months, a discount may be granted. However, if the owner or property manager says the published rates are final, either accept it and pay the price or move on to something more in line with your budget. The days of deal making for the most sought after properties are not likely due to increased demand.
No amount of haggling is going to result in a change of policy if you are renting from a property manager, especially if they manage multiple units. They are busy and policy is policy. They can't spend their time negotiating with 30 to 90+ potential renters because it's a drain of time and energy that could be invested elsewhere -- meaning the guests who are willing to pay the published rate. Never assume there isn't a wait list for the unit you are renting.
To be honest, I felt relieved when talking with our snowbird neighbors who also rented from the same management company. For years they had asked and the result is no one gets a discount. Period. It put to rest the urge to try to get a better deal because "someone else got that deal." Everyone pays the published rate and that is the end of it.
ACCEPT ALL TERMS AND REQUIREMENTS
If the owner requires a minimum of two full calendar months, go with it or go elsewhere. Short term you may win a battle to stay less than the minimum, long term you will be replaced by a new guest who contracts for the terms as published. If your goal is to only stay one season, then ask for the terms you want without fear of becoming attached to the unit or being replaced.
PAY WELL AHEAD OF DEADLINES
Long term rentals are high risk to owners and property managers. If a guest backs out at the last minute, they're stuck with weeks of unfulfilled dates and dollars. Therefore long term rentals typically require a higher down payment and full payment well in advance of the check-in date. I've never heard of anyone accepting weekly or pay-as-you-go for a long term snowbird rental, but it's possible there are some units with those terms. Typically, it's too high of a risk to the owners. Therefore, if your payment due date is 60 days in advance, communicate well in advance to reaffirm your intentions and don't wait until the last second to mail your check. Send it at least a week or two ahead of the due date so your property manager isn't left worrying about what your intentions are and possibly lining up back-up offers.
DON'T BE SNEAKY
If you plan to bring a pet or two and think that the owner won't find out because they live hundreds of miles away, think again. Owners have eyes and ears on site, whether in the form of an HOA, neighbors of the property, housekeeping staff, trusted local friends and property managers.
If a unit is not pet friendly, don't bring your pet. Find a unit where your type/size/breed and quantity of pets will be welcome. If you bring your dog/s to a pet friendly unit, follow all rules to the letter, especially promptly picking up after them, keeping the noise and shedding hair to a minimum, and not allowing them to go in restricted areas such as the pool deck. If you or your pet damages the unit and you can't easily repair it, let the property manager know right away, apologize and offer to pay for the damage.
If the unit is no smoking or vaping, make sure you clarify if it's ok to smoke on the deck, patio or balcony.
BE HELPFUL, NOT CRITICAL
The Scouting adage of "leave it better than you found it" holds true for rentals. Many of my snowbird friends have casually mentioned that they've worked on their rental during the stay. By that, it may be cleaning corners of the bathrooms, wiping down baseboards or the track of the slider doors, dusting overhead light fixtures, replacing light bulbs, reattaching a chain in the toilet tank, tightening loose cabinet knobs and so forth. Not only does this make the guest happier about the condition of their rental during their stay, it helps the owners and property managers keep up with maintenance without having to disturb the guest.
If you have valid concerns that need attention, make a list of everything so it can be handled at the same time. Be cautious with the list to include only the most important issues. Avoid being demanding or critical and be flexible when help is sent.
One year we stayed in a unit that had recently been renovated with a new backsplash, under-cabinet lighting and lovely kitchen quartz countertops. We were so happy to be the first ones to enjoy the improved kitchen, however, we noticed the construction debris was still in the back of the cabinets underneath the countertops. We didn't say anything because we thought it would be cleaned up once we moved out.
A year later, the chunks of debris were still there and we felt compelled to let the property manager know in part so future guests would not have a valid complaint about it. We emailed the PM and also added several other issues that needed attention such as a broken overhead light fixture in the shower area, a wall clock with an expired battery, a badly stained dust ruffle in the primary bedroom and some additional deep cleaning that needed handled. I regret sending that email mid-stay because the result was that a very sweet housekeeper came over right away and we spent the day trying to stay out of her way. We ended up taking our dog and ourselves off site for the afternoon and wished we had simply said it could be handled once we checked out.
FLY UNDER THE RADAR
As mentioned, don't bring unnecessary attention to yourself or your needs. Everyone is busy and no one wants to get a call that you have yet another complaint or problem unless it's absolutely necessary such as a plumbing issue or safety concern. If a unit is getting new furniture or anything else while you are there, be cooperative and accommodate the delivery crew. Same is true for fire extinguisher inspections and other needs of the HOA to access your unit.
If you don't like aspects of your unit, you don't need to ask permission to make temporary changes. We have moved game tables to create "desks;" rearranged couches; relocated wall art and a zebra-striped chair into a spare room or closet and stuffed lime green throw pillows into spare drawers because the unit functioned and looked much better without those things. If you rearrange the furniture and relocate ugly items you dislike, simply put it all back where it was before you depart. Leave no footprint.
BRING YOUR OWN STUFF (BYOS)
If you are picky about certain things: kitchen linens, bathroom linens, bedroom linens, special knives or utensils, bring it! There's nothing wrong with that and it will help your hosts by less wear and tear on their linens and kitchenware.
BLEND IN WITH THE NEIGHBORS
Neighbors who permanently reside in the same complex as your rental are typically dialed in with your property manager and/or owner. If they observe you not following the rules, you and your property manager are going to be hearing about it. Likewise if they compliment you for always being polite and unobtrusive, it may eventually get back to the owner as the years go by.
CHECK OUT ON TIME
Checking out on time is much easier said than done. Anyone who has ever packed for an extended stay knows it's a lot to handle. Our first few years we had no idea how to properly budget our time to pack our stuff, clean out the fridge/freezer/pantry, remove the trash, replace all of the items that were moved around and load the car. Plus keep the dog calm while all of this is going on. Dogs are very perceptive and they know when you are stressed, they are also stressed. Our dog becomes panicky and clingy, which makes everyone's stress off the charts.
Practice helps, but there's one tip I suggest. If you fail miserably to properly budget your time, focus on getting everything moved to the exterior of your unit and then load it into your vehicle from there. Always assume housekeeping will arrive the minute of your departure time and consider it a blessing if you get any extra time to move out.
RESERVE A YEAR IN ADVANCE
The best snowbird rentals are often taken before they become available on the market. Snowbirds are known to refer their friends and even friends-of-friends if they don't intend to come back to the same place. I've personally witnessed snowbird friends trading the same unit back and forth over the years and a good reputation is essential. Most snowbirds let the owners/managers know their intentions a year or more in advance and happily pay the deposit to hold the unit. Owners know they have a reliable guest and snowbirds know they like a unit and want to keep the continuity.
BE PREPARED FOR THE WORST, PLAN FOR THE BEST
If you have a valid complaint, handle it privately with the proper persons. If the problem is partly your fault, apologize. If it is not your fault, accept the manager's apology, then move on and don't bring it up again. Mistakes and accidents happen, there is no perfect rental anywhere.
Do-not-rent lists are real and they are standard industry practice. Before you decide to publicly blast a unit with a bad online review, be prepared for the worst. You may win the battle and lose the war. Not only is it likely you will be banned from returning to the same unit, you can also be banned from returning to every unit in the complex and/or every unit that your property manager handles as well as their business associates. Yes, it does happen.
Think about how you would feel if you were the owner. It is an insult to select a place based on accurate online photos and description, then post publicly that the place isn't "upscale enough" for your preferences. Or that there is "mold in the bathrooms" when that is an outright lie. Treat the owners and property managers the same way as an old friend: with courtesy and respect or be prepared for the consequences.
Some of the reasons for being added to the do-not-rent lists are unfair, petty online reviews, not following the rules and otherwise creating reasons for an owner and/or property manager to decide you are too much risk for the reward.
Most guests who end up on do-not-rent lists are not typically snowbirds, this is far more common with weekly rentals. Overall, if you put your best version of yourself into the stay, you will likely be welcome back and that is a win-win for all involved.
LET YOUR HOSTS KNOW YOU APPRECIATE THEM
A handwritten thank you note for your host is always a lovely gesture. If it's not practical, send an email or make a phone call to say thank you. Hopefully, they will also let you know how much you are welcome and appreciated.
If you are happy, your host will be happy and vice versa if you are not happy. It takes a lot of trust and respect to allow someone into their home for weeks and months at a time. Behind every property manager, there are owner/s who invested both emotionally and financially to share their home with you. Snowbirds who rent their warm weather homes need to appreciate that trust and convey how much they enjoy the home that means so much to both parties. Until I became a vacation rental property owner, I didn't fully understand this relationship, now I do.
"Doing your best is more important than being the best.”
-- Zig Ziglar, American Author, Salesman, Motivational Speaker