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Expert Interview Series: How to Grow Your Vacation Rental Management Business with Expert Kim Bergstrom

Kim Bergstrom, owner and proprietor of The Houses On Manzanita Beach, grew up commuting to the beach on weekends, holidays and vacations after her father bought a dream vacation house in the small coastal town of Manzanita, Oregon. The independent, creative spirit of our beach community became part of who she is.

When Kim's father retired in 1996, she and her husband took ownership of the house and turned it into their first vacation rental, hoping to offer a unique coastal experience to others looking for a genuine Oregon beach vacation. The couple has learned from experience, carving their own niche and have since added two more homes to their business.

"My love of both the area and helping others encouraged me to blog about our beautiful area and the wonderful array of places and activities on the north Oregon coast, and my blog, Manzanita Beach Life was born."

Vacation Rental Management Expert Advice

Here Kim offers advice on managing oceanfront rental properties.

What advice can you offer to others interested in owning oceanfront rental properties on selecting the right home? What do you look for? What do you steer clear of?

For people looking for an oceanfront vacation rental property, I would offer the same advice I would suggest to anyone interested in purchasing a vacation rental - find something that makes your property unique amongst all the competition. Research your market, compare what's currently available.

What is it that will make your own vacation rental stand out from the others?

Superb location? Does the floor plan work for your market? Or, is it easily reconfigured to make it perfect for your guests? Is it well designed and will photograph well? Look for the unique - something so appealing that people will book your place rather then others nearby.

It would follow that the potential properties to steer clear of would be those properties that aren't unique, that don't have appealing location or don't offer a potentially wonderful experience to guests.

What types of amenities do you believe it's important to offer in a vacation rental property?

First and foremost, as previous mentioned, a unique experience not found at other nearby Vacation Rentals. Then one drills down to the particulars:

  • Well designed interiors.
  • No cast offs or hand-me-downs.
  • The days of the vacation rental as a run-down vacation home have passed.
  • Appealing decor.
  • Extremely comfortable beds and fresh bedding.
  • A well designed kitchen superbly stocked.
  • Clean and fresh bathrooms.

It's important to anticipate the needs of your guests. My goal is for each guest to arrive at a house that looks like they are the very first guests, and to make their experience as seamless and stress free as possible.

What advice can you offer on writing a rental contract?

Research as much as possible, then seek the advice of an attorney experienced with vacation rental contracts.

What should property owners do to protect themselves and their properties from damage?

I make sure the items in my vacation rental are replaceable. Because items do become damaged, broken or go missing.

My next step is to create decors that are not "fussy," with things the can be easily broken. With items that are breakable, I keep them to a minimum so guests can easily move them away from kids, pets or anything that might cause the items to break.

Other than that, I simply work on the assumption that I will need to continually replace or fix items within our houses.

How have you gone about marketing your vacation rentals?

In marketing our vacation rentals, my number one frontline tool is still the larger listing sites. However, as with all the marketing methods I've used in the past, things change. I need to stay on top of the trends, and through trial and error try new marketing methods.

What have been your favorite or most useful tools in marketing your properties?

I would go as far as saying serious vacation rental marketers need to have a strong social media presence. There won't be immediate payoffs, but it will strengthen your presence in the long run.

Writing a blog keeps me in touch with my potential and current guests, and allows me to stay on top of the travel trends in our area.

Our latest endeavor is our professionally produced video. It's not just a marketing tool for our houses, but it also gives our guests a very good overview of the whole experience of visiting our houses, and showcases our wonderful area. And the feedback has been wonderful.

From an administration standpoint, a channel manager such as Kigo is a must. It allows me to easily and smoothly keep on top of our bookings, and respond quickly in a professional manner from the outset of a conversation with a guest. This sets the tone of our relationship, and goes a long way in showing potential guests how you will respond in the future.

In other words, is this vacation rental owner or property manager going to be there to problem solve in the middle in the night when the fire alarm is going off, the plumbing breaks, or the automatic lock system breaks?

Setting the tone from the outset is key.

What are the biggest property management lessons you've had to learn?

How to motivate employees and subcontractors to work toward our extremely high standards.

I've heard this from other vacation rental owners who have properties in predominantly vacation or tourist areas. Many workers living in these areas are there for a slower pace of life, But when you're running a business, especially where there's an extremely busy "high" season, work has to be done quickly, standards have to remain high, and good communication needs to be in place.

For instance, one of our houses is a three-story, 100 year old original beach house recently remodeled for today's guests. It sleeps up 20 guests, and we often have a full house.

This house needs to be thoroughly cleaned and restocked within five hours. Including all the linens. In this scenario, you do not want to hear from the guests there aren't enough towels, there aren't enough wine glasses because the prior party had an accident, or the door lock isn't working.

Can you imagine cleaning your own house from top to bottom in five hours, let along a huge three story house recently vacated by 20 vacationers?

Being as organized as possible and having procedures in place is a must.

How can vacation property managers get constructive feedback from renters?

I follow up with guests after their stay with an email thanking them for staying with us and indicating that I hope their stay was restful and wonderful. This gives our guests an opening to tell me if there was a problem.

Be open to listening. If one guest has mentioned you don't have enough cookie sheets, that may be one person's opinion. If you're hearing that from more than one guest, it's time to do something about it.

Respond positively to feedback from your guests, whether it's good feedback or not. People want to know they're being listened to.

Apologize when it's warranted, and if there was a problem let your guests know what steps you will or have taken to rectify the situation.

I worked in management in a local department store where customer service was the first priority, and they quickly grew to become a national prominence because of it.

I try to do the same. Customer satisfaction is my first priority.

What's been your favorite part of owning beachfront rentals?

What can be better than offering guests an incredible vacation spot and hearing all the wonderful comments from guests?

The best part is working with returning and regular guests. Last year we had our first booking by a guest who had spent family vacations during his youth at our first vacation rental. He's now studying to be a doctor, and enjoyed some much needed rest.

How wonderful is that?

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