VRMA

    Home Inspections as a Branding Opportunity

    A vacation ruined over a corn flake on the kitchen floor!

    Guests who pay good money to spend time in a vacation rental expect perfection and a perfect experience. This includes arriving at a perfectly clean home. A dust mote behind the bedroom door, a stray piece of dental floss outside the bathroom waste basket, a corn flake on the floor in the kitchen — even the smallest flaw will shatter the sense of perfection a guest believes they have paid for.

    The housekeeping staff is the first line of offense in a VR’s effort to build a reputation for perfection, and the inspection staff — those team members who make sure the home is ready for the next guests — are the people who, in effect, defend that hard-earned reputation. 

    “Your guests arrive with all kinds of expectations,” said Tim Cafferty, hosting a session at VRMA’s annual conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, called “Defending the Brand: Property Inspections and Marketing.” “That includes coming to a vacation home that’s super clean, cleaner than their own homes. When you meet that expectation, your brand gains real value.”

    Cafferty, who is president of Outer Banks Blue Realty Services in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, told the crowded room that the Disney corporation understands meeting expectations better than almost any other organization. “What do they call their staff in their parks? ‘Cast members,’” he said. “And what do those cast members say when they meet you? ‘How may I help you today?’ They are trained to meet your expectations even before you’ve said anything. They’re trained even to point in a direction, like toward the nearest restroom, in a certain way, with two fingers, because it’s more polite that way. They give you respect and friendliness and help, and that’s something you remember about your experience at Disney. That’s why it’s one of the most valuable brands in the world.” 

    Inspection staff at VRs, while they don’t typically meet guests face to face, can likewise be guardians of your brand’s reputation and value. “The kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom and their neatness and cleanliness — these are all brand opportunities,” said Cafferty. “Lie on the bed and look up at the ceiling to see what a guest would see. Sit on the couch. Think like a guest.”

    Inspection Dos and Don'ts

    Cafferty gathered thoughts and suggestions from several VRMA members and presented them during his session as a kind of compendium of inspection dos and don’ts. 

    Alan Hammond of Holiday Vacation Rentals in Harbor Springs, Michigan, told Cafferty that he tells his VR’s inspectors to approach the home with the mindset of someone who is looking to complain about something. “I tell them to look in the storage spaces, in the closets and pantry: How clean and organized are they?” When the room looks clean but the closets are dusty and disorganized, the whole home will seem unclean to a guest.

    Pirate’s Cove Realty in Manteo, North Carolina, trains its housekeeping staff and inspectors together “so each understands the other’s job,” Sharon Aldridge told Cafferty. Toby Babich of Breckenridge Resort in Breckenridge, Colorado, added that it’s important for a VR’s management to impress upon inspectors and housekeepers how integral they are to the success of the company. 

    “Find the one thing that will make the guests say the whole house isn’t clean,” suggested Ali Breaux of Sun Realty of Nag’s Head in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. That’s the corn flake on the kitchen floor or the bathroom sink that isn’t glistening and shiny. When guests arrive at a vacation home for the first time, there’s a “reveal,” the show business word for that moment when the full scope of the experience is, well, revealed — the “wow” moment. In a theater it happens when the curtain is pulled for the first time. In a vacation rental, it happens the moment the guests walk through the front door. That’s the moment when a VR’s reputation and the value of its brand is sealed. Inspections are all about making sure that moment is as wonderful for the guest as possible.

    Take Your Shoes Off

    Other suggestions for effective inspection programs from VRMA members, including those in attendance at the session, include:

    • Inspect the cleanliness of hardwood floors by shutting off the lights and opening the blinds or drapes to let sunlight into the room. Nothing will show dust like sunlight.
    • Inspect floors and rugs with your shoes off.
    • Squeegee rugs and floors to remove pet hair. Use latex gloves on furniture; the static electricity collects stray pet hair. 
    • Turn on the TV(s), check the Wi-Fi, see if your cell phone works in the home, check to make sure all the kitchen appliances operate properly.
    • Inspect with your eyes, nose and hands. Check the cleanliness of walls, the top of the TV, closet shelves, bureau drawers, the hood over the stove. (If it’s even slightly greasy-feeling, the whole kitchen will seem unclean.) 

    One small thing Lucy Kawaihalau at Kauai Vacation Rentals in Lihue, Hawaii, has her inspectors do is shift all the handles of the pots and pans in the kitchen so they’re all facing the same direction. “It’s a little thing,” she told Cafferty, “but it makes the kitchen look really organized, and guests appreciate that.

    Where do good inspectors come from? Chuck Steeg at Luxury Gulf Rentals in Orange Beach, Alabama, said that he searches for his VR’s inspectors among teachers looking for work in the summer, bank tellers, medical office coordinators — “People who have an eye for detail, people who know how to find the problems.” Luxury Gulf pays a premium hourly wage for inspectors, he added, about 30 percent above the market rate in its region. 

    “Inspect — don’t expect,” said Cafferty. Inspectors should not go into a home expecting perfection. This is not a reflection on or criticism of housekeeping staff, which works hard to meet guest expectations of cleanliness. An effective inspector, one who is a promoter of and ambassador for a VR’s reputation and brand, looks at a home as an opportunity to fulfill the promise the VR has made to a guest for a wonderful, memorable experience. The way the home presents itself to the guest is the centerpiece of that experience, and inspecting a home with this in mind is a huge step in ensuring a great presentation. 

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