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    The Meaning of Clean

    A clean and well-maintained property is a key indicator of your company’s brand and level of professionalism.

    What does it mean when a property is “clean”? Vacation rental cleanliness is largely based on simple observation as opposed to scientific microbial assessment and, because of that, we all have slightly different interpretations of what “clean” looks like. If you have ever let an owner clean before a guest arrival, you have likely seen this concept in action.

    As property managers, our version of clean must, by necessity, be a more detailed and thorough version than what might be acceptable in one’s own home. Aside from furnishings, the level of cleanliness in a property is one of the very first things a guest will notice. In the era of COVID-19, some guests also more readily equate “dirty” with “unsafe.” If a property looks like it has not been sanitized properly, mere dissatisfaction can escalate to fear in some people.

    For even the most dirt-tolerant individuals, if they are a paying guest who perceives that a property is not clean, their experience will be negatively affected. Your bottom line is also impacted through costs of time spent handling the complaint, re-cleaning, or, possibly, (if it’s really bad) moving the guest. You may even lose that guest altogether, and a negative review may influence future guests.

    There are a number of factors that can adversely influence the guest’s impression of “clean.” A poorly maintained property will automatically lower the guest’s opinion of cleanliness. They will hardly notice how spotless the floor is when faced with issues such as broken amenities, ripped or stained furniture, peeling wallpaper, and chipped dishware or glassware. Other elements that will lead a guest to think a home is dirty include:

    1. Floors, counters, or other surfaces that are sticky or have a visible residue from the cleaning products used. 
    2. Fingerprints on walls or cupboards, dirty baseboards, or cobwebbed corners that cleaners might miss if they are rushing.
    3. Crumbs, hair, or someone else’s clothing (especially underwear!) inside drawers.
    4. Threadbare or stained linens or bedding, no matter how fresh out of the wash.
    5. An older home, or one that is filled with older or outdated furniture, can “look” dingy and dirty even if it is technically very clean.
    6. Clutter attracts dust and makes more work, which are already good reasons to get rid of knickknacks, fake plants, ripped paperbacks, old magazines, etc. On top of that, overcrowding a space with these sorts of items adds to the impression of a property being unclean.
    7. Having too much furniture in a room will have that same effect.
    8. Areas that get humid or damp, such as finished basements, can start to smell mildewy quickly. Air conditioning or dehumidifiers can help address this easily.
    9. Guests will always view ants or other pests that have come indoors as a sign that a property is unclean.
    10. Outside, peeling paint, dirty windows, overgrown landscaping, patio furniture or deck railings covered in bird droppings, and rusty grills will surely leave a bad impression.

    To combat these types of issues, you must work with your housekeeping and inspection teams, but also with your homeowners. For your staff, document the steps in the cleaning process. Define what goes into a refresh clean, a turnover clean, a deep clean, and any other cleaning types you may undertake. Your checklist should include steps that may seem obvious or easy to overlook, such as wiping out the inside of drawers or emptying the lint filter in the dryer. Make sure that the list is not so detailed, however, that it become impossible to complete within the time frames necessitated by your turnovers. The process of cleaning for your company should be realistic, repeatable, and revenue-generating (not revenue-eating).

    In addition, ensure that your team is properly equipped and properly motivated to do their best work. Your cleaning teams are your direct conduit to a positive guest experience, and their role in making your company successful should not be overlooked. Showing appreciation and creating a supportive work environment will go a long way toward hiring and retaining cleaners who can give you top-quality results.

    With regard to your owners, remember that they often need to be educated as to what it means to be partnered with you. The guests want a great experience; as such, the property manager and the owner must work together to make that happen. As a home becomes “used” over time, there will be changes or upgrades necessary to keep the home desirable, marketable, and comfortable. Owners don’t always know when it becomes time for maintenance or major upgrades, and it is on you to communicate with them effectively.

    While the property itself is the best indicator of a company’s cleaning, guests frequently seek out information on cleaning before they book. A 2021 survey taken by The Harris Poll on behalf of SC Johnson Professional found that 71 percent of Americans say that the transparency of the vacation rental owner/manager about their cleaning processes would have an impact on their decision to select a vacation rental property. Describing your cleaning process on your website will help set expectations for your guest and help to instill trust.

    Five-star reviews from other guests who comment on how clean your properties also help in decision-making. Guests will gravitate toward vacation rental options that they can be sure will provide a clean environment, and cleanliness is often equated with quality. Because of this, “clean” should be considered one of your most important brand attributes.

    Michelle Williams, a VRMA director and chair of Vacation Rental Housekeeping Professionals (VRHP), is general manager of Atlantic Vacation Homes in Gloucester, Massachusetts. VRHP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of back-of-the-house vacation rental professionals. For more information on becoming a VRHP member, visit vrhp.vrma.org.


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