16 Short-Term Rental Mistakes to Avoid (with Advice from the Experts)

STR mistakes

By The Hospitable Team

Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” And if you make enough vacation rental mistakes, your business won’t survive either. 

We want to help you avoid those common mistakes that can cost you money or your reputation as a short-term rental host. So we’ve spoken to short-term rental (STR) experts, as well as referenced our ongoing research on the best ways to run an STR business, to compile helpful tips for avoiding mistakes.

The result is the following list of 16 common errors (and solutions) that both new and seasoned vacation rental hosts can learn from. 

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Automated messaging, channel management, and smart pricing will help you run your STR business more efficiently and with fewer errors.
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Mistakes to avoid when investing in a STR property

If you want your short-term rental business to be successful, you need to get off on the right foot. Watch out for these mistakes so you can be sure you’re making the best possible investment decision. 

1. Not paying attention to local regulations

Even if you find a fantastic vacation rental to invest in, your investment could be wasted if local regulations are restrictive.

Our solution

Read up on local short-term rental laws and regulations before deciding to buy a property. Be sure to:

  • Look into zoning laws that restrict what certain spaces can be used for
  • Familiarize yourself with permit and licensing laws
  • Research what taxes you have to pay as a host: The better you understand the system, the more effectively you can minimize STR taxes

But just because an area is free from vacation rental restrictions doesn’t mean there’s no chance of the local government passing laws in the future, so stay on top of the latest developments when investing in an area. 

You can do this by joining local Facebook communities of hosts, following local news publications, and seeking out the latest on local public meetings, advisory committees, and hearings.

2. Investing in an area with low demand

If there are no short-term rentals in a city or neighborhood, that may be for a reason. While you may think you’re cornering the market, you might also be walking into a market with low demand.

Our solution

We spoke with Tony J. Robinson, who has built a multi-million dollar portfolio in just a few years, for a recent short-term rental investment masterclass. He stated that he “usually wants to see at least 200 – 300 listings in a market to even consider analyzing properties there.” 

Use a tool like AirDNA to research potential markets and analyze metrics like nightly rate, competition, and occupancy so you know you’re investing in a high-demand area. 

AirDNA’s Market Minder tool gives you a clear overview of the potential of any market with metrics like average daily rate, occupancy rate, and revenue.

3. Basing investment decisions purely on intuition

Walkthroughs can be captivating—you visit a property and the minute you step in it you see its potential as an incredible Airbnb. But when it comes to property, you need to be confident you’ll get a good return on investment (ROI).

Our solution

Analyze the potential of properties with a tool like Mashvisor. You can estimate ROI for any given property by analyzing metrics like rental occupancy rate, cap rate, cash-on-cash return, and projected rental income. 

Plus, using a tool like this allows you to analyze various properties side by side, even if they’re in different markets. It’s a data-driven alternative to relying on a potentially misleading gut feeling when making an important investment decision.

4. Spotting major fixer-upper issues too late

While fixer-uppers can be a great way to invest in a short-term rental for less, make the wrong call and you could be entering a world of pain. Don’t make the mistake of only noticing serious and costly structural issues deep into the buying process. 

Our solution

When we spoke with Rick and Carly of Michigan-based STR company Fresh Coat Flips, they emphasized the importance of “getting your home inspections upfront” because “big ticket repairs can be easily missed on a walkthrough, which can be one of the biggest pitfalls of buying and renovating properties for short-term rental.”

You can see more of Rick and Carly’s tips in our recent article on purchasing and renovating STR properties

Common mistakes with creating a STR space 

The job isn’t done once you’ve found your perfect vacation rental to invest in. Be sure to also avoid these common pitfalls when designing and creating your STR space. 

5. Outfitting your STR with expensive furniture

Let’s face it—guests don’t treat your vacation rental as they would their own home. So look to save hundreds, or even thousands, when furnishing your properties by shopping wisely for affordable, durable items.

Our solution

You can create a beautiful, design-forward space without overspending on furniture and decor: Don’t be afraid to buy lightly-used second-hand furniture! Shop unique, affordable vintage items at thrift stores, estate sales, and flea markets. 

And when buying new, look into signing up for a group purchasing organization like HostGPO. It gives you access to high-quality furniture and linens for a fraction of the retail price, which provides a more affordable way to outfit both standard and luxury vacation rental properties.

6. Using materials that aren’t easy to clean

Even if you successfully find ways to save as you furnish your property, fixing or replacing furniture is never cheap. That’s why you should avoid the mistake of outfitting your vacation rental with materials that stain and scuff easily. 

Our solution

If you plan on making renovations, consider installing more durable alternatives like laminate or linoleum instead of hardwood flooring, which easily scratches. And when selecting furniture, stay away from materials like leather and mahogany that can show stains and watermarks. 

Another great tip is to purchase dark-colored furniture and install darker carpets, which won’t show marks as easily as lighter materials. You can even paint your walls with stain-resistant paint, which will hide fingerprints and smudges much better than other paints will.

7. Creating a space without your ideal guest in mind

No matter how incredible your design is, it won’t matter if it’s not targeted toward your ideal guest. While you may hope to attract different types of guests, keep one profile at the center of your design and decorating decisions. 

Pro tip: “What’s often annoying for a traveler is people don't put enough hooks up, and they don't hang the hooks with the proper hardware. So target your niche, consider what guests need, and think about where they're hanging up their towels and bags!”

Our solution

So, before you even apply a lick of paint, create a profile of your target audience—this will be important for your marketing and in-stay guest experience.

Is it large families? Outfit your rooms with bunk beds and babyproof your rooms. Digital nomads? Be sure to create a designated workspace, complete with desk, suitable lighting, and comfortable chair.

Families traveling with kids will appreciate bunk beds, but a couple on a romantic getaway won’t. Know your ideal guest and design with them in mind when outfitting your property.

8. Ignoring the amenities guests love

Too many hosts design a beautiful short-term rental space but neglect to include the amenities that make a guest’s stay truly memorable. Failing to include these details may mean a good stay instead of a great one, and can have a negative impact on repeat bookings. 

Our solution

Again, focus on your ideal guest. If you know your guests are coming to the area for its abundance of outdoor activities, consider offering discounted rental sports equipment, like bikes and kayaks. Or if you’re located in a wine region, a wine cooler (perhaps stocked with a bottle of the local produce) and a selection of cheeses is a detail your guests will love. 

Pay attention to the details and don’t be afraid to get creative with your amenities! Your guests will appreciate the thoughtfulness and ingenuity, and you’ll see that reflected in their reviews. 

The most common STR management mistakes 

By maximizing efficiency in your operations, you’ll enjoy benefits like simpler staffing, cost savings, and less human error. Avoid these common short-term rental management pitfalls to run a more productive and profitable business. 

9. Letting guest communication fall to the wayside

Because managing vacation rentals can get so hectic, it can be easy to slip up on guest communication, missing a message here and sending a late response there. These missteps add up and can result in frustrated guests and negative reviews. 

Our solution

Building a message flow will help ensure you never miss a welcome message or check-out reminder again. Have a set communication process you follow for every guest to help you stay on top of communication tasks, even when things get crazy. 

You can use Hospitable.com to time messages, automate replies, and address your guests’ questions with speed and accuracy. That way, you know your guests are taken care of, even if you don’t have time to respond yourself. 

10. Doing everything manually

Guest communication isn’t the only place you can automate. Doing everything manually can result in costly errors like missed cleans, flawed pricing, and dissatisfied guests who won’t book again. 

Our solution

You can use tools to reduce your manual workload in numerous areas. Automate check-in so you don’t have to be present every time a guest arrives at one of your properties, and automate cleaner management to take the stress out of turnovers. 

Hospitable’s automation features simplify the parts of your job that eat into your time and can result in mistakes, like guest communication, task management, and review management. 

By creating templates for automated messages with Hospitable.com, you stay on top of guest communication without having to be glued to your phone.

11. Charging the wrong nightly rates

When juggling all the responsibilities that come with managing an STR business, it can be easy to overlook your pricing strategy. But failing to adjust your rates can have a serious impact on occupancy and revenue. 

Our solution

The good news is that you don’t have to research and adjust rates manually—there’s a tool for that! Dynamic pricing tools automatically adjust your rates according to the latest data on supply and demand, so your prices will be low enough to stay competitive but high enough to maximize revenue. 

And since pricing tools like PriceLabs and Beyond Pricing integrate with Hospitable.com, your automatically optimized rates will get instantly pushed out across multiple channels. This not only improves your bottom line but can also help you bring in more last-minute STR bookings.

12. Double bookings and inconsistencies across channels

Listing on multiple channels is so important for your booking calendar, but without the right tools and approach, mistakes like double bookings can hurt your reputation and profits. 

Our solution

Use a channel manager to centralize all your bookings from different channels in one place. Also make sure you have double booking protection, which Hospitable offers, so your calendars are instantly synced across all your channels. 

Your channel manager should also allow you to manually add direct bookings to ensure those dates are blocked out across all the OTAs you list on.

Classic short-term rental marketing mistakes

You may have a stellar property and solid operations, but it won’t matter if no one can find your short-term rental! Keep an eye out for these vacation rental marketing mistakes and create a strategy that will bring in more new and repeat bookings. 

13. No direct and repeat booking strategy

Bringing in new guests is only half the battle. Repeat and direct bookings can be a huge source of income and security, and if your direct booking strategy is lacking, you could be missing out on some big opportunities. 

Our solution

Create an attractive and engaging direct booking website with a specially designed platform for STRs. Hospitable.com’s direct booking site builder can help you get your site up and running in minutes. But you have to do more than just build a great website if you want to drive repeat direct bookings

Collect guests’ email addresses and build out a repeat guest email marketing strategy. Additionally, set up a vacation rental loyalty program to incentivize guests to refer their friends and family to your properties.

Pro tip: With Hospitable Direct you’ll be able to:

● Easily create a website from a range of templates
● Automate guest screening via our Autohost integration
● Save time and money with our payment processing solution
● Get covered for each reservation with insurance by Superhog

14. Poor images and descriptions on your listings

Even the best properties won’t get many bookings if their listings don’t properly convey their value. And according to Airbnb, hosts with professional images in their listings can earn up to 20% more than other hosts in their area.

Our solution

Airbnb states that photos are in the top three reasons that guests choose to book, so be sure to get yours professionally taken or do some research before snapping and uploading images to your listings. You can check out these vacation rental photography tips for more inspiration.  

But it’s not all about the photos. You also want the copy on your listings to be descriptive, inviting, and helpful. Also, keep a list of common questions you get from prospective guests, like whether there’s parking available at the property, regularly updating your listing to provide the answers. 

Include detail shots, as well as images of the entire room, in your listings for the best results.
Source: Huntsville, Ontario Airbnb listing

15. Not concentrating on an ideal guest profile

We talked about focusing on your ideal guest when designing and creating your short-term rental, and this is just as important when marketing it. If you try to be everything for everyone, few guests will find a compelling reason to book with you. 

Our solution

Be open about the guest you want to attract! Use the descriptions and images in your listing and on your direct booking website to speak to your ideal guest by highlighting the amenities and features of your property that will be most compelling to them. 

So if you want to capitalize on vegan tourism, showcase your property’s cruelty-free products and decor in your listing. Or if you’re looking to attract couples, talk about the romantic restaurants in your area. 

16. Neglecting SEO and social media

Sure, guests will find you on OTAs. But too many hosts ignore SEO and social media, which are key channels for bringing guests to your website for direct bookings. 

Our solution

Facebook, Instagram, and even TikTok can all be great places to build your brand image, grow an audience, and attract guests. Social media can also be a great resource come time to market your STR during the off-season. 

Also, use local SEO tactics to make your website more likely to show up at the top of search results when people look for a short-term rental in your area. You can find more information about harnessing the power of social media and SEO in our guide to marketing vacation rentals

Don’t let vacation rental mistakes get in the way of your business

We understand there are so many aspects to running a successful STR business that sometimes making mistakes can be inevitable. But thankfully, you don’t have to make all these vacation rental mistakes to learn from them.

Be proactive and put these error-prevention practices into place to run a smoother, more successful vacation rental business, and give your guests a better, more consistent experience. 

Avoid costly vacation rental mistakes with Hospitable.com

Automated messaging, channel management, and smart pricing will help you run your STR business more efficiently and with fewer errors.
Start today with a 14-day free trial.
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