Don’t neglect a critical part of your business.
It’s not so long ago that the process of choosing and booking a cottage was difficult and time consuming for the guest and extremely arduous and expensive for the agency. Hundreds of thousands of expensive glossy brochures were sent out with printing, post and packing making these costs very high. Of course once your guest had the brochure and chose a cottage the process was just beginning. There was no way of seeing availability so the only way to find out was to call and check and the later in the season the longer the conversation would be as your first, second or all of your choices could already be booked. Finally the booking and payment process was manual and involved quite a few letters, forms and cheques going back and forth.
On the other side of the coin 10 or 20 years ago most holiday homes were looked after by a wonderful lady down the road who cleaned and did the laundry assuming you were upmarket enough to provide sheets. She might put a pint of milk in the fridge and if the guests had a problem they had to go and bang on her door or find a payphone to call and you probably paid £20 a changeover.
Fast forward to today and things are very different, the majority of bookings are online with customers finding, selecting, booking and paying without speaking to us at all. Confirmations, balance reminders and arrival details all go out automatically and most traffic to the site is from natural search or via other platforms such as Trip Advisor or Airbnb.
Caretaking however is a very different proposition indeed. Nothing less than a totally spotless property will do. Quality crisply ironed sheets, decent towels, goodies and there are plenty of luxury properties providing an experience as good as any high end hotel.
Guests expect high standards at the property but what has really changed is the assumption that issues will be dealt with immediately and somebody is available at all hours. Owners doing their own thing with a local caretaker find themselves increasingly called out of dinner parties or interrupted at work to deal with a crisis that just can’t wait such as bad TV reception or a failed dishwasher! This has resulted in the rise of the caretaking company with supervisors and a range of people on call and solid growth for full service agencies combining marketing and caretaking.
My previous piece about reviews only serves to emphasise how crucial it is to get things right. Everyone can have a bad day or an unreasonable guest but even 2 or 3 reviews consistently saying the place wasn’t clean will knock a big hole in your bookings and cost you a lot of money.
Caring for your caretaker
First of all remember that whether you are using an individual or an agency there is a person delivering the service who is not doing it for fun, they will be relying on the income and small things may make a big difference to them.
You need to pay a fair price but think very carefully before taking a cheap option- £30 a changeover might save you £500 or £600 a year but a bad job could cost you thousands in lost bookings. It might seem clever to pay off books but it means that effectively you are paying the tax at your rate on the money.
Pay for a full clean when you stay yourself. Yes I know you always leave it nice but what you are doing is taking away the work from your caretaker.
Don’t beat down the price if your friends or mum stays and only use one bed etc. Most people pay a fixed fee and if you don’t pay extra for a difficult clean you need to pay up for an easy one. The travel, inconvenience, childcare etc involved means that the fair rate for a clean is not proportional to the number of hours spent.
Be considerate with last minute arrangements- calling to say you’ve decided to stay a few extra days when the caretaker has made arrangements to come is bad form. Make sure the tools and facilities for cleaning are good and don’t avoid replacing the hoover just because you think it’s fine (or it was for the ten years you used it before you sent it to your second home!).
Most of these points are actually more about respect than money. Despite everything said so far my overwhelming experience is that normal market forces don’t apply. You will almost never persuade a caretaker to leave another owner by offering more money unless they are not feeling valued. Send Christmas presents, have a deep clean in quiet times to give extra work, give a little bonus at the end of a tough season. I appreciate you are able to own a holiday home because you don’t waste your money or run an efficient business but there will be a time when you really need to call upon the dedication and goodwill of your caretaker and you’ll be really glad that you are in a position to call in that favour.