Bunnie Riedel answers questions about the creation of Virginia & West Virginia Vacation Rentals
Recently, an interview was conducted with Bunnie Riedel, President of Virginia & West Virginia Vacation Rentals on the state of the Vacation Home Rental industry. Bunnie created a regional Vacation Home Rental listing site, Virginia & West Virginia Vacation Rentals (www.VAvacationrentals.com). Here is the text of that interview.
Q: Given that the Vacation Home rental marketplace seems so saturated with listing sites, what compelled you to enter this arena?
BR: A major shift occurred in the online vacation rental listing industry in 2015. Prior to that, “home sharing” or “room” rentals had become very popular, as a model for home owners to create a side income by monetizing unused space in their homes. That popularity was competitive to traditional vacation home rentals, which rented an entire house, not just a room. The “home sharing” model of curating the entire home rental transaction, from inquiry to booking to payment processing, was noticed by what had been hotel booking sites.
Those large international sites saw that they could incorporate the Guest-to-Homeowner experience into their online travel offerings, which traditionally had been hotel, air and car rental packages. With a few acquisitions, they had an instant inventory of tens of thousands of Vacation Rental Homes, just in the United States.
Q: How did that affect the Homeowner?
BR: At first, it didn’t. Traditional Vacation Home Rental listing sites were very regionalized and a couple had become national listing sites. They were just listing sites, like advertising your car in the “Auto Trader.” You paid a yearly advertising flat fee, you Booked Direct, it was simply a way for Homeowners to have a collective online advertising site.
I first became aware of a change in early 2017, when I received a notice that my bookings would have to be processed by the site and I would not get paid until the Guest checked in. I called the company and asked “What is this?” It was a painful phone call because I realized that there was no way I could continue to advertise on that site, which for eleven years, had been very successful for me. I told them ‘I have one house, not 300 rooms to sell, if they don’t check in I can’t re-rent it at 6 p.m. on a Friday night.”
Q: So what did you do?
BR: Research! I tried to find “independent” sites and kept coming back to the same big company. It seemed they had not only bought the biggest site, they had acquired a lot of the independent sites and url’s that all pointed back to their site! Then I stumbled across a few Facebook groups of disgruntled Homeowners and boy, did I get an education! During that, I saw these Regional Sites being stood up and I thought “let me try Virginia!” which is where my vacation rental is.
Q: Was that the beginning of Virginia & West Virginia Vacation Rentals?
BR: Yes! It started off just Virginia, but then I added West Virginia as West Virginia Homeowners asked if they could list on my site.
Q: What is your model?
BR: The model is returning Homeowners and Property Managers to what we had known and was successful for us. Simply a listing site, a place to advertise your property, to control your property and provide the Guest a very personal experience. There are no “Call Centers” no “800” numbers to foreign countries to speak with someone who has no clue about the property or even the local area. The traveler is either speaking directly to a Homeowner or to their Property Manager. It is very local and micro, person to person, like we used to have.
The Vacation Rental business is a very personal business. The Homeowners and Guests are not commodities or numbers in a quarterly financial report to Wall Street. These are homes, not hotel rooms. With Virginia & West Virginia Vacation Rentals there are No Booking Fees on Guests, no processing charges on Homeowners; it is a Flat Fee and Marketing site, like advertising in the newspaper or radio. You pay for advertising space, not for the privilege of renting the property that you own.
Q: Do you set policies or collect taxes?
BR: No! I don’t think any company has the right to set policies for the Homeowners. These homes are personal Equity to the owner. And a lot of that is “Sweat Equity.” The Big Guy sites are never going to show up at my vacation rental and offer to paint it or replace the carpet or pick out the dinnerware. They are never going to offer to pay my mortgage. They simply use what someone else owns, but they are very quick to claim ownership rights! They tell Homeowners what they can or cannot do. They most recently enacted a state tax collection which I find very frightening! What if they don’t pay the taxes? What record keeping are they doing to prove your taxes were collected and submitted to the state?
Q: But isn’t it important for some agency, some company, to make sure Homeowners are doing it right?
BR: (Laughing) Vacation Home Rentals have been around for decades! In fact, before there were hotels everywhere, most people would rent direct from a Homeowner. This shift has only occurred in the last 3 years! Most of the people I have on my site are not “newbies” they are people who know exactly what they are doing, they know what is needed and they put a lot of effort into making the traveler happy. I would say a good 30% of Guests are repeat Guests; travelers often have favorite places to go and when they find a Vacation Rental home that meets their needs, they come back.
Q: What about “protecting” Owners from Bad Guests? Don’t the Big Guys provide a buffer?
BR: Not at all! In fact, it’s worse, because you can’t get the email of the Guest or phone number to speak to the Guest until they have already rented your house! You have no idea who is renting your house, whether or not it’s a scam or their intent is to throw a huge party at your place. The Homeowner has to have the ability to know who the Guest is, to correspond with the Guest, to speak with them even. For instance, I recently had a family of 10 try to rent my house in Chincoteague, Virginia. The limit on the house is 6 occupants! If I had a family of 10 rent it, I would be in violation of the Fire Code and could be levied a hefty fine!
When you rent your house through the Big Guys and then find out they want to put 10 into your house and you cancel that reservation, you get penalized by the Big Guys! Your property ranks lower in the search, you are regulated on how many cancellations you can do. It goes on and on.
It is critical for the Homeowner and Guest to communicate directly before the booking is taken and money exchanges hands. The Homeowner learns critical information and it allows the Guest to determine if they want to transact with that Homeowner. It’s a win-win for both parties.
Q: Where do you see the “Book Direct” trend going?
BR: Well, my traffic is up and there are many questions about the infamous Booking Fee the Big Guys charge. Guests are learning that if they go through the Big Guys they will pay an additional 15% to 20% just for the privilege of convenience. I had a Guest call me to ask about a property, he called me because the Big Guys wanted to charge him an additional $1,000 just in Booking Fees! The Guests are getting very savvy and word of mouth is spreading. In a collective effort by Homeowners and Independent sites like mine, we are doing a pretty good job of getting the word out to “Book Direct and Save.”
Q: What would you say to both Homeowners and Guests?
BR: To the Guests, come to Virginia & West Virginia Vacation Rentals (www.VAvacationrentals.com), Book Direct and Save! To the Homeowners & Property Managers…Your House, Your Cabin, Your Way!