So You Want to Run a Vacation Rental: Cleaning Secrets
When I used to tell people that we were going to buy this house in Maine and manage renting it ourselves (remotely) people kept their opinions to themselves but largely looked skeptical. Certainly, operating Sadler House has been a huge adventure and one I wouldn’t trade for anything. We were ready for much of what came our way, because we did our research. Not surprisingly, however, a few things caught us off guard. If you are planning to undertake this type of project, you have to expect the unexpected, as the saying goes!
One of the biggest fears that kept me awake at night was managing cleanings between guests. If you live in the same town as your vacation home, you have the luxury of checking the home before guests arrive. You can clean it yourself, or you can cover for your cleaning service if they don’t show up or if someone is sick.
We can’t do that.
I knew from the beginning that we would be totally reliant on our cleaning service. That’s why I almost had a heart attack trying to find someone to do our vacation home turnover cleanings. Fortunately, thanks to the recommendations of good friends and local social media, I have been partnered with two outstanding cleaning services over the years.
If you are planning to operate a vacation home, you should do a little research about what cleaning services are available in the area. If you are in an isolated area, or a small town, finding someone to reliably clean your home could be a major obstacle — especially since the majority of weekly summer turnovers all happen at the same time every Saturday! Don’t put yourself in a bad spot by assuming you’ll find a cleaning service and then realizing there is nobody to do this for you. If, due to a lack of cleaning companies, you will need to hire an individual who is local to the area, consider how you’ll find that person and what you’ll require for back-up in case of illness or emergencies.
Have a Contingency Plan
Luckily for us, even though our cleaners are not a large company, they have backups for their backups. Consider that if you hire a very large cleaning service, you will probably always have back-up, but you may not have expertise. The person who cleans and resets your house for guests should, ideally, know all about your wishes and your needs. For example, we have a Nespresso machine, and the milk frother has to be spotless. This is not something a stranger would think to do! If you are using a larger service, consider making a checklist of cleaning needs and placing it inside your secure closet where the cleaning supplies are kept. On the other hand, if the same person cleans your house all the time, make sure that person has a plan for when the flu hits or a flat tire strikes.
Get a Personalized Estimate
When you meet with your cleaning service for an estimate, the representative or owner will probably want to tour your house and talk to you about what will need to be done each time. In fact, you should be leery if they are not interested in those things. At Sadler House, it was our wish to have freshly laundered duvet covers each week, and to have all beds neatly made up when folks arrived. This adds to the estimate, of course, and you will definitely want to discuss laundry with your cleaning service. One thing I learned at my first meeting with my cleaning service was that we’d need two sets of all towels and linens so that one could always be at the laundry and the other in use in the house. Ultimately, I was happy to make that investment in order to keep the house running smoothly, and our cleaner takes our linens to the laundry and picks them up again. This system has been perfectly functional for us and we’ve never had a problem, yet! However, it wasn’t something I thought of before they suggested it. Meeting with (and listening to) your potential cleaning service is so important!
Recognize Value and Don’t Be Cheap!
Not all cleanings are created equal. If you look for the least expensive cleaners, chances are you will get a less-than thorough result. I am truly amazed by how our cleaning staff gets the house to shine! They do a much better job than I would be able to do, even if I tried, and the way they make the beds look so nice is a mystery to me. I used to worry before each guest’s check-in, until I learned that the cleanliness of the house was always assured. That is the type of reliability that you want! Don’t nickel and dime your cleaning service, because this type of quality service will save your life as a vacation home owner. A great cleaning service means good reviews and, hopefully, repeat renters for you.
You may also want to consider how you will communicate with your cleaning service. We have ongoing reservations and sometimes special requests (like putting out baby items). My cleaner Sue and I discuss these via e-mail. Whenever I get a booking, I e-mail her right away with the details, and then I add it to a google document we both share. This way, she can always refer to the google document to see who is coming, how many people will be there, and if there are any special notes. Not every cleaning service will be interested in this level of communication and spreadsheet-sharing, so you have to find out what will work for you and make sure the system won’t fail you. The most important thing is that it works for you and for your service…whatever it is!
After guests check out, our cleaning folks come to clean and reset the house, and then they e-mail me with any concerns (like a damaged item) and an all-clear to return the renter’s damage deposit. This communication is so important in allowing you to return that deposit very promptly!
As a vacation home owner — especially a remote one — your cleaning service will be an absolutely crucial piece of your business. If your home isn’t clean, it doesn’t matter how many other amenities you offer…people will not want to come back. If the cleanliness of your house delights your visitors and they write you great reviews online, you can bet that will influence future potential guests. Now that is an investment I can get behind!
For more lessons learned and advice on vacation rental best practices, see my other posts about choosing furnishings , decorating your vacation rental , and creating the perfect bunk room.
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