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    Owning Our Expertise – A Journey to Happy Owners

    For the third time this year, a guest has complained and threatened to leave a bad review because of the condition of one of your rental properties, but the owner just won’t spend any money fixing it up. Meanwhile, you’re giving refunds, losing guests, and wearing out your staff with a problem that shouldn’t exist. It’s enough to make you go full Anna Faris and run screaming through the office, “Wait a minute, am I being Punk’D? Oh my god! Ashton! Ashton?”

    Now, this being my first piece for VRMA, I should make clear that if you don’t understand any pop culture reference made herein, that is a shameful indictment of your own personal failings. I take no responsibility. OK. Ground rules established. Let’s continue.

    Over the last decade, our homeowners have changed dramatically. Gone are the days of Memaw and Papaw’s vacation cottage with hand-me-down furniture and pictures of the grandkids on the walls. Today’s owners understand the property may be their second home, but success means managing it like a business. The problem is when they think they know how to manage the business better than you. You blame unreasonable homeowners, but maybe, like my girl Tay, you should be singing “It’s me. Hi. I’m the problem. It’s me.”

    Let’s step back and look at how we got here. When you’re a small property manager, as the business owner, you typically manage the homeowner relationships yourself. You are the face of the company. You pride yourself on your knowledge of the industry and of your ability to be a problem-solver for your homeowners. When done well, that combination of expertise and high-touch service builds trust. Over time, happy owners breed more happy owners until one day the only option is cloning or hiring staff to help.

    Assuming you’ve reached the point where your staff manages the day-to-day homeowner relationship, it might be worth a moment for self-reflection. How much of your knowledge and expertise have you built into your owner management team? What about your owner acquisition team? Can they talk shop? Do they know the “why” behind your operational processes? Can they talk rates? Do they understand your marketing? Can they provide recommendations to your homeowners that will help them improve their property, guest experience, and revenue? Can they have a difficult conversation where they advise a homeowner against making a bad decision or kindly tell them they have terrible taste?

    I ask all this because so many in our industry have placed homeowners in front of staff we’ve trained to know little more than what can be found in a work order. It’s wonderful that these team members can perfectly stage every pillow, but if they can’t talk shop, why would you expect a homeowner to believe your team knows more than they do about how to make their rental successful?

    We built these roles to cater to Memaw and Papaw and sent our team out like Grant Proffitt courting Joanna Stayton. These are sophisticated modern owners, and it’s only a matter of time before they remember that.

    Here’s another question: Do your owners have to ask for an adult, err… “manager,” if they want to have a serious conversation? Do you think that instills a lot of confidence? At this point, we are all acutely aware that, as property managers, we have been handed investments worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Like it or not, we are fiduciaries. We are not simply renting and maintaining a property. We are managing assets, and we have an obligation to provide sound advice and to steward their investment by applying our knowledge and expertise on our homeowners’ behalf. Let’s build our teams to meet that challenge.

    The beauty of our industry is all the various ways we succeed in meeting the unique challenges of our local markets, so I won’t patronize you and claim to know the solution to all your problems. I will, however, offer a few thoughts on how to create your roles, develop your team, and establish an identity with your owners that may help guide your future decisions.

    Job Descriptions

    It takes a lot to train your team members on one aspect of the business, so it probably sounds unrealistic to train your owner facing teams to know it all. Certainly, you can’t invest that kind of training on a role with high turnover. Many make the mistake of believing money is the only factor that will retain staff, but there is a lot more to an employee’s decision to stay or leave. As Marty Byrd said, “Money is not peace of mind. Money is not happiness.” Consider these when evaluating your organization:

    • What factors may be contributing to employee burnout?
    • Do team members feel empowered to solve problems they regularly encounter?
    • Does your staff feel that they have the training and materials necessary to succeed at their job?
    • Have you created any roles that require contrasting personalities (e.g., administration and sales) that may make hiring an ideal candidate especially difficult?
    • What quality of life factors may be decreasing employee retention (e.g., inconsistent schedule, long hours, etc.)?

    Training and Development

    We all understand the importance of training our team members when they’re first hired, but how much energy are you applying to the continued education of your staff? Consider these opportunities to grow your team:

    • Identify key team members from all departments and invite them to participate in industry events, webinars, and trainings that extend beyond their current role.
    • Ask department leaders to provide their onboarding or a department 101 training to team members from other departments.
    • Invite your owner facing team members to regular marketing and revenue updates and encourage them to participate with questions.
    • Identify opportunities to cross-train entry-level staff to encourage their growth and development.

    Embrace the Role of the Fiduciary

    Spend less time asking permission and more time explaining what needs to be done. Imagine your financial adviser calling to ask, “Would it be OK if I put some of your money in a retirement account?” Why are we calling to ask a homeowner if it is OK to do the right thing for their investment? Your job is to give homeowners good advice and reframe their expectations according to their willingness to listen to your guidance.

    • Establish yourself as the expert by developing your team and empowering them to solve problems for owners.
    • Don’t ask for permission. Explain and advise, then confirm agreement.
    • Bless and release. If a homeowner does not want your expertise, that’s their prerogative but not your responsibility. You are not a housekeeping service.

    My last bit of advice: Spend your time developing what your owners need, not what they want. We all want to make our owners happy, but you know better than anyone what they need to have success. Happy owners have happy guests renting well-maintained, high-performing properties. Until you are meeting that standard at every property, anything else is a distraction.

    Dusty Church is the senior director of sales marketing and integration at VTrips LLC.

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