Table of Contents
Fully Managed Options?
We are not financially wealthy by any means, so we knew we would need to rent out our vacation home to make owning one a reality. So I immediately began to research the options. I read all I could about VRBO and Airbnb as well as just the Short Term Rental market in general. I really felt this was doable.
Like most people that live some distance from their property, the first avenue I looked at was the fully managed property management companies. They sound so wonderful. You purchase the property, and then you just tell them how often you want to rent it and they take it from there! They hire the cleaners, they perform maintenance, they handle the marketing and all client communications. Sounds awesome right? Well if my Dad taught me one thing in life, that is, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Sure they will do all these things but at what cost? Well the going rate for most of them is 35% of your bookings! They do claim that it ends up paying for itself as they will get you more bookings at a higher rate than you could get yourself. Not sure if I believe this claim, as you will see in the summary later.
So for our size home the average going rate may be $250 a night. Lets say they book it out at a 75% occupancy rate. That would be 22 days in a 30 day month at $250 which would be $5,500 a month! Wow that sounds great, but now they take their 35% commission and you are left with $3,575. Now most of the homes of this size in the area are selling for close to a half million dollars, so after you pay the mortgage, insurance, utilities, amenity supplies, etc etc. You are probably lucky if you are breaking even. Which for some may be great. You get a vacation home with little to no worries and hopefully little to no c to ost. The downside I see to this though, is if you are barely breaking even you will be less apt to actually enjoy your own property because you will feel obligated to rent it out more and more to keep that occupancy % up. I just thought I could do better, So I kept looking,
Partially Managed Options
The next option I looked into is still a Property Management company, because I really felt I would need help. When we were telling people we were buying a property 9 hours away from us, the first question everyone asked is who is managing that for you? So in my research I heard of Evolve Vacation Rentals. How they differ is instead of charging you 35% they cut back on some of the services and only charge you 10% of your booking price. Basically you are now responsible for the onsite things like cleaning and maintenance, but they will handle all the marketing, booking, and customer relationship portion of things for you. This would probably be a great option for people that aren’t necessarily internet savvy and maybe lived close enough to clean or do the maintenance themselves. For me though, I just got thinking, how can someone in a call center somewhere, who has never been to my property, market it and talk to customers about it better than I can? Why give up $500 to $1000 a month in revenue to someone to do a worse job than I could do myself? Not only that but with both these options when they market for you, they own your listings on the channels like VRBO or AirBnB. So if you ever decide to leave you lose all the reviews you have received on those platforms. Once again their claim is that this is a no brainer because they will get you more than 10% extra bookings than you could get yourself. Their sales reps try to scare you into thinking managing yourself will be very difficult and it will be hard to market it well enough to keep it occupied.
Self Managed with a PMS (Property Management Software)
Luckily I am in the position where I work from home and have some free time. So I came to the conclusion if this venture was going to be worthwhile for us, we would have to make this a true business and roll up my sleeves and do it myself. People thought I was crazy, but I just thought, I will give it a few months and if this is too difficult to do myself then I can always sign up with a Property Manager later. So once again I kept researching and there were two main elements that drove me towards wanting a PMS Software vs just listing directly with an OTA like VRBO. One was the fact that I didn’t really know how to start pricing my rental. So I knew I wanted something that had Dynamic pricing. Basically a software that looks at the supply and demand of the area and changes the pricing for you based on market levels and seasonality. The other was I wanted to have a mechanism that allowed me to easily accept rentals directly on my own website so I could rent to friends and family without having to send them to a channel like VRBO. To me the channels are great, but they are marketing partners. I shouldn’t make guests who I found through personal contacts pay an extra 15% just to use VRBO or the like.
So I signed up for free trials with Lodgify, Hostfully, iGMS, Guesty and many others. You can see a whole list of them here. And one by one I found things I didn’t like. Some were too expensive, requiring a % of your bookings. Others just didn’t have the features I wanted. Most had sales reps who were ready to sell you the world, offering sales demos via zoom. But when I asked specific questions, most of them didn’t even know their own product. I was starting to get discouraged. But then I tried OwnerRez. To be quite honest I hadn’t looked at them at first because to me their website looked a bit like it was from the 90’s. The software from the outside looked like it did a lot, but it just didn’t look as polished and as pretty as some of the others. But I figured I would give it a try and I am so glad I did!! Not only did this give me the options I was looking for it gave me so much more. And at a fraction of the price of many of the other options.
Features of Owner Rez (OR)
I won’t lie one of the things that drew me to OR originally was the price. For my just one property it as only $35 a month and that included attaching to the channels via what they call Channel Manager. And it also includes free Website Widgets that allow me easily accept bookings on my own wordpress website. However, if you aren’t web savvy, no worries for $10 more a month you can always opt for their hosted website feature.
Other PMS options were charging 2-5% of your bookings. So once again if I got $5500 in bookings a month at 3% that is $165 a month or roughly 5 times the price of OR. Some had a decent monthly cost but wanted a $1000 setup fee that was non negotiable. However I am a firm believer of you get what you pay for. So the price just got me in the door. Next was how did it perform during the 14 day trial.
With every system I was looking at they all offered a trial period. For each one, as soon I hit submit on the email form asking for the trial. I had a sales support rep call me. Some wanted to setup zoom demos. Others just told me about the features and gave me their contact info should I have questions. OwnerRez, just a thank you email and the link to the demo account. No pushy sales reps, no grand promises. They give you full access to their software with all the features enabled so you can see how it works. Some people have expressed that they don’t like not having a sales rep. But personally I liked this approach. And I think not having a huge sales team is actually how they keep their costs down so they don’t have to charge an arm and a leg for their software. And truthfully they don’t need sales reps, the software pretty much speaks for itself.
As soon as I had my account profile created I went ahead and created a property. Luckily the old VRBO account was still active for the previous owners, so I just sucked in all the photos and what not from the old listing and I was up and running. Next I created a website using their hosted features to see what it was like. Then I created booking widgets and put them on my own site to see how it compared. In the end I went with a self hosted option just because I felt it gave me more control over the site. Allowing me to make it as I see fit and not have to be confined to their template. It allowed me to have this blog for instance using WordPress as my website backend and the OwnerRez widgets as the booking and availability engine.
During all this process I had many questions and I frequently checked their support site. I have worked in IT companies throughout my life and have had interest in computers since I was young. So software support sites are nothing new to me. And once again at first glance the OR site does not look very polished. But once you use thier search features I was genuinely impressed with how their site is indexed. A simple text based search not only brings up support articles, it brings up blog posts which are updated frequently. Also it brings up forum posts where other users may have asked the same question. Normally these systems aren’t indexed together and require three separate searches. Also they had many videos for those that may be more of a visual learner than a reader.
However, no matter how many support articles you write there are still going to be those outlier questions. I faced such a question and didn’t hesitate to email their support. Something you should try with any software you are interested in. Within the hour, Ken in OR support emailed me with a clear and concise answer. And additionally he even said he had looked at some settings in my account and made some suggestions for things I could do to make it work better!!! I emailed him back with a follow-up comment and a thank you, and he replied again!! In my experience with most support teams that just doesn’t happen. Normally you have to submit a question via a form and you are lucky if you get a canned reply that barely answers the question within the week. I ended up having a full blown conversation with his additional helpful responses all within an hour.
Now the downside is while they list a phone number for support, it is not a true support line. Once again they keep their cost low by not having dedicated sales reps or low level phone answerers. So if you prefer phone based support, OR may not be the choice for you. But if you are ok with email based support from a highly knowledgeable software engineer. Then keep reading!
One of the key features of any PMS on the market is Channel management. Most Short Term Rentals advertise with multiple channels or OTA’s (Online Travel Agencies). The biggest right now are AirBnB, VRBO, and Booking.com. Even if you only have one property this can become a pain because you have to manage each listing site separately. With OR all you do is fill in your listing info once in OwnerRez. Then through the magic of the software it automatically sends that info out to all the channels. So lets say you took a new picture that you want to make your main image. Before you would have to login to VRBO, make an edit. Login to AirBnb… etc etc. With OwnerRez you just edit the photo once and it syncs it to all the channels for you. Also as I mentioned earlier if you are already a VRBO user for instance you can also import existing listings to speed things up even faster.
Another important aspect is shared calendars. Without some kind of PMS you have to setup shared iCal links so that when someone books on VRBO someone can’t book the same dates on AirBnb for instance. These shared iCal’s aren’t always synced automatically so this can result in double bookings which cause cancellations and can lower your ratings. With OwnerRez when a booking comes in those dates are blocked across all your calendars instantly. Also while talking calendars. If you have multiple properties you can see all your properties availability on one screen. And can even provide booking availabilty widgets on your direct site that also show this. You can also easily share your calendar with your cleaner so they can check anytime to see when the next guest is due to check in so they can schedule cleanings.
Next in Channel management capabilities is Rates and Rules. OwnerRez allows you to set up seasons so you can set your own rates for different times throughout the year. For instance Fall is our peak time as everyone loves to see the fall foliage in the Ga mountains. But late winter can be a bit lighter as many guests don’t want to deal with the snow. No worries you can adjust your pricing accordingly and once again roll that pricing out to every channel instantly. Also OwnerRez has built in integrations with Dynamic Pricing engines, like PriceLabs or Beyond Pricing which uses algorithms to help you determine the best pricing based on comps of similar properties near you.
Customer Communication and Control
One of the key features of OwnerRez is the new found control you will now have over your guests data and how you communicate with them. Owners who just use VRBO and AirBnB never truly own the guests information. All communication with the guests happens on those channels sites. So if six months down the road you want to contact that guest to offer a repeat guest discount?? Guess what? You can’t. Well maybe you can do it through the dashboard one at a time and hope they are still logging into VRBO to check their messages. With OwnerRez (if you are API integrated directly with the OTA’s) you get the guests full name, email address, physical address, and phone number! So you can now directly market to your entire guest list any specials you may have for repeat stay customers. This will allow you to build repeat business of guests you know you can trust with your property rather than getting new guests again and again that you have to stress over. OwnerRez has a built in CRM, where you can add notes on each customer as well as add tags to help you catagorize your guest list.
Speaking of communication most of the channels do have basic message templates so you can send frequently used messages to guests. OwnerRez takes that idea and puts it on steroids with their email template and trigger system. You can make templates with dynamic data pulled directly from each guests booking data. Then you can create triggers so the templates are automatically set should the guests booking meet certain criteria you specify. So you truly can create a workflow that touches the guest automatically all the way from booking to checkout. So for instance once a booking comes in from VRBO, the system sends them an email thanking them and sends them your personal rental agreement to sign. In that agreement you can have fields to capture each guests name, ask them to send you an ID, and ask for a lock code of their choice. Then 20 days prior to their stay it may tell them they have their final payment coming up. At 15 days prior it collects that payment. Then once payment is received it sends them your guidebook with check-in instructions and travel directions. Then 3 days prior it sends an email reminding them of check-in times and the lock codes. Day of their stay it sends them a safe Travels message. Mid way through their stay the system sends a Hope all is well, contact us if you are having any issues message. Checkout day it sends a Good Bye message. 3 days post stay it sends a Thank you and Review Request message. All automatically. These are all things that without OR you would have to remember to do yourself. It is truly awesome. And I can’t tell you how many people commend me on my wonderful communication skills! Just another way OR helps you get those 5 star reviews.
Speaking of Reviews. Typically people leave their review on the channel. And you still want them to do that, as that is how you become Premier or Super Hosts and it helps your listing rank. But direct guests could never see how great these reviews were. With OwnerRez now you own your reviews, because you can import all your reviews from each channel. So instead of have 10 here, 5 there, and 5 over there. You can show all 20 in one place!! Also, in the channels you cannot really control the reviews. Have you ever received that review where you really did provide 5 star service but the guest was just totally unreasonable and left you 3 stars? It will still show on the channel site, but you can choose to just leave that off your direct site with OR.
Insurance and Damage Protection
One of the selling points and why they say they can charge each guest up to 15% fees is because they say they provide you peace of mind with their review of guests and they provide the host with problem resolution services as well as damage insurance. Well as any OTA host can tell you, the insurance is about as good as you can throw it. OTA’s are in the business of pleasing the guest. And unless you have 100% undeniable proof that they broke something, good luck in getting any money from an OTA. With OwnerRez they provide you an option that you can purchase damage insurance that is tied to each booking. There are three levels, I chose the mid level of $3000 of protection for $45. I pass this cost on to each guest in lieu of a damage deposit. Oh and btw, OR allows you to charge credit card holds for security deposits, something you can’t do if you are just direct with an OTA. More on that in the next section. In my experience, guest don’t question this fee and are happy to have the peace of mind that if something happens they are covered. Also, through OR you can offer each booking Travel Insurance, so should they need to cancel, they can get their money back. A very important feature in todays climate. Guests can also purchase this when they book with an OTA but it isn’t something generally offered and they don’t often look for it themselves.
This may be one of my favorite features of OR and one I didn’t even realize until after I was signed up. Without OR, you pay the OTA’s 3% or whatever their fee is on top of their other fee’s so that they collect the guests funds for you. Then they have full control of when you receive the funds. Also if there are any guest issues they can choose when to refund and when not to. Once you are up and running on OR and are API integrated now the OTA’s no longer collect those funds. Instead when a guest books with the OTA they collect their fee from the guest then they pass all the guest info on to you including the credit card info!! So now you get setup with your own credit card processor and process the remaining payments yourself. Now you are in full control of the money, and can decide how and when you refund. This allows you also to set security holds as I mentioned in the previous section. Additionally you also are in control of filing your own state and local taxes so you now know you get the proper credit for paying the taxes. Sometimes when the OTA collected them for you, there can be issues with the taxing authorities not probably recognizing the taxes came from you. Also now you have a proper relationship with a credit card processor. So do you maybe sell extra amenities to your guests like a fruit basket or a spa certificate from a local masseuse? You can now bill them and directly charge their credit card.
Perceived Negatives of OwnerRez
While I feel that OwnerRez has greatly increased my ability to manage my Short Term Rental especially from afar there are a few negatives. I feel any review that only focuses on the positives isn’t providing a complete picture.
1. OwnerRez has a steep learning curve. If you are not technically savvy, or have the time to devote to truly learn how this software works then many have said they get frustrated by it. OwnerRez does offer a paid Concierge service that is supposed to help you with the initial setup and get things running quickly for you, but truthfully I don’t know if it is the smart thing to do. There is an Unofficial OwnerRez Support Facebook group that I am an active member of, and it seems like the users that have the most questions and in the end are the most frustrated are the ones that paid for the Concierge service. Most seem to think that since they paid $300+ in a setup fees they feel everything should be running for them with no input on their end. And since they didn’t really learn how to set things up themselves they don’t know how to make simple changes to make things run smoothly for them. Any new software has a learning curve. MS Excel has been around for over 30 years and most users still cannot make anything beyond a simple list. This doesn’t mean it is poorly designed software. Excel is one of the most useful software packages in the world. The problem is people want everything to work perfectly right away. In the end this is your business, if you want to make it work smoothly you need skin in the game and put in the effort to fully learn how to use your tools.
2. Integration with 3rd party apps – OwnerRez has some great integrations with certain 3rd party apps. And they do provide an Open API that can be used to integrate additional apps if you are an API developer that knows how to do such things. But I have been lobbying to get them to add Zapier Integration or something similar that would allow you to easily connect to 3rd party apps like MailChimp or Wave Accounting or other 100’s of other useful apps. The good news is OwnerRez does seem to listen to the userbase and are constantly working to improve the software. It has a very active development cycle.
3. Lack of Phone Support – As I mentioned earlier I feel the support OR does provide is excellent. The Online knowledge base is second to none, and the email support is superb. However, some users have voiced their displeasure at not having any real phone support. In 2021 it is hard to believe there isn’t an online chat option either. This is by far not a deal breaker for me, but for others it may be a concern.
4. Could stand to be modernized – Although I love the functionality the software provides, many aspects of it do look dated. I think they could probably attract a lot of new customers if the modernized the UI a bit. But of course as I discussed earlier they seem to try to keep costs low to keep the price low, so hiring a graphic designer to do a full software UI overhaul is probably low on the priority list 🙂
Conclusion and Summary
Here is a quick summary list of my Pro’s and Con’s of OwnerRez
I know that was a lot of information. But I am passionate about this software and feel it has really helped me to be successful as a new short term rental owner.
With the help of OwnerRez, we went live in August 2020. I only advertised via VRBO and I pushed my direct site in various local facebook groups. And in just 4 months of 2020 we had 20 total bookings for
86 nights which was roughly a 70% occupancy rate! Which was higher than I had anticipated as a brand new host.
If you are looking for a software to help you start a new short term rental or business or the help streamline your existing business I highly recommend that you give OwnerRez a try at least for the 14 day trial.
And if this helped you at all in your decision making process if you could sign up by clicking on the logo below I would highly appreciate it. As I am not only a user but they also have an affiliate program that will pay me some money for referring you.