General

A place where practically anything can go.

We are just waiting now for a u-turn on the legislation requiring all foreign visitors to Florida, regardless whether their licence is in English, to have in their possession an International Driving Permit.. It has been announced that the Florida highway patrol will not enforce the law more or less as soon as this new law was discovered. This followed uproar from Canadian and UK  license holders. The car hire companies also followed suit saying they would not be requiring sight of the driving permit.

The main issue is that until it is officially off the statute books some insurance companies may use this as a “wriggle out” clause, by claiming that the person was driving illegally. Should be anytime soon!

It always surprises me the differing attitudes that some owners have when it comes to smaller parties wanting a larger property. I sometimes see annoyance in owners’ comments saying, or implying, these guests are wasting their time, Why? I know from my own experience, before I owned a villa myself, my wife and I used to stay in nothing less than a 4 bedroom property. We like the extra space and there are a lot of other people out there that feel the same and are completely willing to pay the extra cost for the privilege.

My advice to owners of larger properties is to treat the parties of 2, 3 etc just the same as larger groups and quote your rates, you may be surprised at the response.

 

 

How many of you remember your past guests at this time of year? It can prove to be very advantageous to show your appreciation for their past custom. All it takes is a card, thanking them for their past custom or you could send them a card saying “Wish you were here”, something along those lines. They will really appreciate it, don’t forget to add your contact details and let them know that you would welcome them back sometime in the future.

It never ceases to amaze me how protective some people are and how free with information about this site being good and that site being bad etc. What determines a good or a bad listing website? Is it a bad site because “owner A” hasn’t converted any enquiries into bookings, despite the fact that the site generates a steady stream of enquiries? Or is it a bad site because “owner A’s” property is sub standard compared to their contemporaries, perhaps their personal website is poor quality and their photos on both their website and the listing site leave a lot to be desired?

Some owners are quite blind when it comes to truly looking at their property without “Rose Coloured” spectacles on. I can see why this happens, they have formed an attachment, a bond with their holiday home and couldn’t bear to find anything wrong with it or that villa guests may find something wrong with it. Also, perhaps they have probably not noticed how things have slipped a bit since they first bought it, or how other owners have started to add some extras that were not even thought about years ago such as games rooms, home cinema’s and PC’s with high speed internet access.

“Owner B” could say a rental site is good when they manage to convert a lot of the enquiries they receive to firm bookings. That is something of a knack and not everyone can do it, so that doesn’t mean it would necessarily work for “Owners C, D & E”. Some owners are more proactive with their marketing and some are just more lazy, or do not have much available time to devote to marketing their villa. Either way they are at a disadvantage over someone that works long and hard to get their property bookings. There are just so many variables that come into play when we decide what passes for a good website for rental properties, so it is impossible to generalise.

So what makes a good rental website? Taking away all the variables, there is only one way to measure a website’s success and that is to see the volume of enquiries it generates. A poor website will not be in the public eye enough to generate enquiries. It is quite a difficult process for websites to maintain their visibility to the public in a very competitive market like this. So that is the job of these websites, it is to get people to visit the site and to make enquiries to owners. These are leads, it is then up to the owner to convert them into bookings, not the rental website. It is quite annoying to hear people saying “that website was no good, I got loads of enquiries but not one booking” and believe me I have heard that a few times!

By Steve Sewell

The key to successfully renting out your villa or vacation home is creating a great first impression. You have to make your villa attractive to the eyes and senses of your guests. You do this is a variety of ways, by the quality of your email response to am enquiry, the quality of your property, having an excellent website and talking directly to the guest. Let’s look at each one.

The quality of your Property
You obviously need to have an attractive, clean, modern looking property to start with. On the outside the landscaping needs to be well maintained, neat and tidy. Some people will think if the outside is a mess the inside will be too. Inside, try and upgrade the furnishings so that yours stands head and shoulders above the competition. Move away from the “palm tree” furnishings and cushions that so many homes have. Be adventurous with your décor and move up from the usual magnolia/white. You would be surprised what a difference these things make. Some homes now have games rooms, most of them are in the garage. If you do one make sure you get the floor covered and try to make it more like a room rather than a garage with a pool table. If you can get some way of cooling the room down as in the summer it will be pretty warm in there. You cannot change the garage structurally without the proper permission from the relevant department and some HOA require you get their permission. It is worth checking first. Other homes have home cinemas/theaters with large screen TV’ blu-ray players and home cinema sound systems. The thing is many of the folks that are attracted to that, probably will hardly watch it but the thought is appealing.

Your Email Response.
This may be the first contact you have with the guest, especially when you have received an enquiry from a rental website. This is your chance to out shine the opposition. Keep your reply brief but to the point, don’t write pages and pages as they will get bored but at the same time avoid the one liners just giving the rate. This is where you have chance to list all your villa’s special features and unique selling points. Make sure you use your spell checker before you send it as it doesn’t give a good first impression if the email is littered with spelling mistakes. Make sure you have a link to your “glowing” website in the email and encourage the guest to visit it for more information, photos and location map. If you get them to the website  you are well on the way to converting to a booking.

Talking Directly To The Guest
If they included a phone number on their enquiry, then they expect to get some phone calls regarding their enquiry. Don’t feel that you are imposing on them. You can tell them that you have already emailed them with your details and thought you would contact them to see if there is any other information they might need. Ask if they have been before and offer any advice that they might need. This will hopefully register interest with them and your email reply will stand out more now. If there is no phone number when you respond, offer to give them a call or give them your phone number for them to call you if they wish.

Having An Excellent Website
I know this may sound like I am promoting what I do but, nevertheless it is still very important. Your website is probably the first time they set eyes on your little piece of Florida and you want them to see exactly what it is like in all it’s glory. It needs to be a clear and easy website to navigate, with details of all the features on the front page, so that it encourages them to want to look further. Avoid too much of the “chintzy”, gimmicky stuff, flashing objects and animated images can be a bit off putting and not very professional. Photo’s, make sure these are of good quality and look bright with vibrant colours. There is nothing worse than spending a whole load of money on the villa and furnishings, only to use a crappy camera that produces dark, dinghy photos with masses of gain effect on them due to lack of light. All the work and cash you have spent on the property is wasted because the images of it make it look nothing special. Here are a couple of tips if you are taking your own photos but if you can get a professional to do it, first tip is get a half decent camera. You don’t have to spend a fortune on one just ensure it takes good quality photos. Dress your rooms, set the dining table, have a bottle of wine on the table. Turn on all the lights in the rooms, try not to take a photo towards a window that has the sun streaming through, close the blinds if you have to. Take lots and lots of pictures form all aspects then use the best for the site. If the pool deck gets the sun for so many hours a day make sure you take a photo when the sun is on the deck. The same with the outside front of the property, it always looks better with the sun on it and preferably a blue sky in the background. None of this is done for any other reason than to appeal to the viewers emotion, to make them want to be and imagine themselves, there. If you can, get a video or virtual tour done, this adds a little more the website and gives a more complete view. Add a map to show the location but for security purposes, there is no need to show the exact location, just the community would suffice.

The way to look at it is ask yourself what would you like to see in a website or from a rental villa? Lastly beware if you try and do a website yourself, you could be missing many of the things needed to help promote your website in the search engines and it can take quite a bit of learning how to do it correctly. I have seen some pretty nasty websites out there and no matter how nice the property may be, it gives the impression that the website is unprofessional, so the home probably is too and they move on to the next one.

Good Luck and Good Fortune.

 

By Steve Sewell

If you are considering buying a vacation villa in Orlando or another Florida location, have you done due diligence? Are you fully aware of all the facts? This article will give you some food for thought and perhaps help you with your decision, one way or another.

Don’t get me wrong it is a great feeling to have your own little piece of real estate in Florida and can offer some great rewards. Many people have succeeded over the years but there have been just as many failures too. Hopefully this article will go some way to helping you avoid such pit falls.

Rental Income Vs Expenditure
The first thing to have in mind is that despite what you are told by your realtor, when looking at properties, is that getting rental income is hard work and not like I was told that “It should easily get 40+ weeks rental” Yes, in an ideal world and assuming that there are not thousands of other owners all chasing those same villa guests. It requires several hours a day to keep on top of things, reply to enquiries and send out your correspondence Vacation homes are very good value and can save large groups of travellers a lot of money and there are now many folks that will only stay in villas rather than hotels, so the guests are there it’s just finding them and getting them to choose you over all the others on offer. That’s where you need some luck and a lot of free time to market your property. Because of the difficulty in obtaining bookings owners try in two ways to out flank there competition, the first way and in my opinion the best way, is to make the home more attractive and appealing by adding some little extras such as Hot Tub, Games Room, Home Theater and so on. They can maintain a good rental rate and appeal to those that want the best for their Florida vacation. It could also be the location of the property, the view from the pool deck and which direction the pool deck faces. The latter things though need to be chosen prior to purchase obviously but these are things to think about before buying. It is surprising how many enquires we get coming through Perfect Florida Villas, that request a pool deck that is not overlooked or faces south/south-west. Quite a few ask for Games rooms, Wi-Fi and Hot Tubs/Spas.

Then there is the other approach, which is sad to see, reducing rates and trying compete on price alone. I am not saying that at times it’s not good business to offer a discount because it is, especially for extended stays or repeat business as an incentive to return next year. Repeat business is key to building a strong customer base, making it easier to fill your calendar year on year. Those that feel they have to compete on price, range from those that do not have a mortgage and feel they can ask less per week as they not need so much revenue but ask yourself why? Surely you would want to maximise your return on investment and not subsidise your guest’s vacation? Then there are those that feel their property doesn’t have the “bells and whistles” that other villas do so they lower their rates. Once you lower your rates you are effectively taking money away from the upkeep and improvements to the property. You need to be able to put some money in to replace things that get damaged through wear and tear as well as repainting the property, replacing carpets when necessary and so on.

Here are some of the out going expenses you could expect to pay, of course it will vary depending on factors such as where your property is and your mortgage payment if any but it should give you an idea.

  • Mortgage. This will vary depending on how much you borrowed and at what rate. I understand that things aren’t as easy as they were before the economic crisis to get a mortgage without putting a bigger deposit down.
  • State and County Taxes. You must register with the state and the county to pay sales and tourist taxes, this is around 11% of you gross income, including pool heat and any other extras you provide.
  • Management Company Fees. Most owners have a management company that carries out the after stay cleans, arrange or carry out pool cleaning, pest control and if your HOA don’t provide it, arrange for landscaping. Again these rates can vary depending on what you get for your money but you can say that the monthly rates for pool cleaning will be around $80-$90, pest control around $25-$30, Landscaping $80-$90. There will be charges for things such as quarterly changes to Air Con filter at $20 and annual servicing of fire extinguisher at around $50. The management company fee will be around $130 on top of those charges. Lastly there are the cleaning charges which range from $75 to $110 depending on bedroom size and whether you have a single or two storey property.
  • Annual Property Taxes. This is payable annually normally at the end of the year and can be around $2000 – $3000, many mortgage companies add it to your mortgage payments and hold it in escrow until payment becomes due, so another monthly payment to allow for.
  • HOA Fees. The Homeowners Association fees can vary quite a lot, depending on how many properties are on the community and what it is the provide. My last HOA fees were $470 a quarter, but it did include the lawns and landscaping, so there was a saving there. For other communities I have seen a lot more than that and a lot less also.
  • Property Insurance. This is something that is a necessity. This is your cover for any damage to your property by storms, break-ins and personal liability. It is quite hard to get cover these days for STR (Short Term Rentals) and therefore expensive. Could be around $1500 yearly and as with the property taxes ours was added to our mortgage payment and paid directly to the insurance company when due.
  • Accountancy Fees You need an accountant to prepare your annual tax return. It is quite unlikely that you will make a significant profit but you still need to submit one. You also need an ITIN number and it is handy to have someone help you with this. You need one to register for paying your taxes. These fees would be around $450 annually.
  • Hotels Licence. This is to allow you to rent out your villa and costs around $100.
  • Utilities Gas, Electricity and Water are more expensive in Florida than in the UK and you can reckon on an average of $700 per month for these including Telephone and Cable TV. Not all communities have Gas but I had a Gas pool heater which was more efficient but a bit more expensive to run. The electric pool heaters can struggle in the very cold periods as they use a heat exchanger system and if the air temperature is very low it is hard for the pump to heat the water to a satisfactory degree. Water bills can be cheaper if you are on reclaimed water for your sprinklers. When it is warmer in the summer months, pool heat will not really be necessary but you will find an increase in your electricity bills because of your Air Con.
  • Termite Inspection This should be done and you could also take out an insurance policy against damage caused by them. The inspection costs around $150. These critters can cause a nightmare of damage to your home.

So we are somewhere near where it needs to be to give an accurate picture of the expenditure. Bear in mind that there have no ad hoc expenses for things such as replacement items and repairs etc but take note that a new pool heater could cost in excess of $3500.

Rental Income.
Getting the rental rates you want will take a lot of time and effort, some owners opt for handing that side over to things over to management companies that do offer bookings to their clients as well as the day to day things that the other companies offer. They may do this for a variety of reasons, it could be that their work doesn’t allow them the free time to respond to enquiries and to market the property. Or maybe they are not computer literate and find it totally confusing, perhaps they are not good at communicating with people that well. So they hand the rentals over. There is a big down side to this and that is that many if not most of these companies offer low ball rates as they have to take their cut and in some cases the tour operator that uses them has their cut too so by the time it gets to you, it is quite a lot less than you could have got yourself. Many of these Man Co’s also offer to pay your sales taxes and utility bills for you, which is great and means less work for you but…. at the end of the day you are responsible if payments are missed and it is you that the companies and the government will come after to get what has not been paid. There could be numerous reasons and scenarios as to why this could happen, it could be anything from an admin error to the company going bust.

Advertising your property
I am going to cover this more in another article because I feel it is to big a subject to deal with here. Using online villa advertising companies is one option but it is a bit like a “catch 22” situation, the better ones have waiting lists to get on and it those that you need to be on in order to get some visibility. Using flyers and strategically placing them in your local area is another way, word of mouth, getting your own website (a must) and I am not saying that because I do them for people, it is your showcase, your shop window so make the most of it. I will continue later with more on this subject but I hope it has given you something to think about.

 

By Steve Sewell

Hello and welcome to my Florida Villa Owners blog. This is quite exciting for me as this will be different to other blogs that I have written in as much as this is not so much for the visitor to Olrando but more for those that own or are considering owning a property in the sunshine state. I will attempt to leave comments open unless they continually get spammed by people that still believe that it is the way to go but who need to wake up and catch up with what Google have been doing recently.

I hope to be able to share some knowledge and views with other like minded people. Feel free to contact me.