Home is where the heart is, yes, but now more than at any point in the past 50 years, property owners are also sharing their digs as long-term renters, while also sharing their space with short-term guests. Two active trends are at work here. Pew Research Center notes that the number of households renting their homes in traditional fashion, as landlords, is currently a mighty 36.6 percent—just a smidgeon below the historic peak of 37 percent in 1965.
In addition, Airbnb has created the fortuitous short-term rental economy. The company began humbly enough 10 years ago in San Francisco, with the intent of creating a website for city guests to connect with homeowners willing to lend an air mattress to combat the high cost of lodging. Today, Airbnb offers 5 million listings in 191 countries, with accommodations that exceed the top five major hotel brands combined. The number of listings for short-term rentals in the Old Dominion has grown 172 percent between 2016 and 2018, while the Smith Mountain Lake community boasts some 236 Airbnb properties.
It goes without saying that our “Jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains” is a sought-after destination for vacationers, with world-class fishing, boating, Smith Mountain Lake State Park and 20,000 acres of water along 500 miles of shoreline. For traditional vacation renters, the community offers a multitude of cabins and cottages, lodges and inns, B&Bs and golf resorts—even houseboats!—for rent.
THE NUMBER OF LISTINGS FOR SHORTTERM RENTALS IN THE OLD DOMINION HAS GROWN 172 PERCENT BETWEEN 2016 AND 2018, WHILE THE SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE COMMUNITY BOASTS SOME 236 AIRBNB PROPERTIES.
For those looking to rent out their homes, the Smith Mountain marketplace certainly remains robust, although make no mistake, there is no shortage of inventory. Residential growth has been ticking along at a steady clip since the mid-1980s, with increasingly upscale lakefront houses, condos and multi-housing communities situated on golf courses. Commuters are drawn to the municipality from surrounding Roanoke, Lynchburg and Forest, while Smith Mountain Lake has also become a retirement haven, with its idyllic climate, water and cost of living luring many to relocate from the Northeast.
Converting your space into a rental property for the longer haul requires, shall we say, a brave transformation. The most important mandate: Recognize that your property is no longer your home. Let’s review essential tips and tools that will lead you to prosperity.
First, remove all personal effects. Clocks are great; your “I’d Rather Be Golfing” sign, not so much. Declutter and then declutter some more. Next, begin a checklist that goes something like this: Apply a fresh layer of paint on the walls as well as trim where necessary; check/replace heating and air conditioning filters; clean windows and sliding doors; if necessary, have carpets professionally cleaned. Get those cobwebs off of ceiling fans.
Another imperative: All appliances should be in good working order, including the washer and dryer, dishwasher, sink disposal, hot water heater, and the HVAC system. If you haven’t painted your baseboards, give them a thorough scrub along with showers, bathtubs and all bathroom fixtures.
“Rent-ready” means that the property has been cleaned, repaired or remodeled, and that it’s in habitable condition for new tenants, according to Zillow. This real estate resource offers an online checklist to make sure you are ready to put your house out there, including even more practical matters. First, re-key all outside doors, but even more savvy, add numeric code locks to the home. Not only is this convenient for your renters, but your master code will allow you to enter the property as well when the need arises. Consider installing energy-efficient bulbs throughout the home, which reduce costs and don’t need to be replaced as often.
It is worth considering bringing in a professional cleaner who may be able to see beyond your own vision of “tidy and neat,” from scrubbing baseboards to cleaning out the refrigerator and oven.
Now let’s move outdoors. First impressions are fundamental to impressing a potential renter to feel like your house could be their home. Here too Zillow provides a checklist which includes cutting the grass, trimming the bushes, pruning the trees, pulling the weeds, fixing broken sprinkler heads, replacing dead or dying shrubbery, and adding some new flowering plants to flower beds for curb appeal.
In addition, clean, repair or replace screens. Torn screens not only allow pests into your rental property, but they also make your home look shabby.
And in the better-safe-than-sorry column, it’s always a good idea to professionally spray for pests, before there’s an actual problem with bugs or insects, inside and out.
Smith Mountain Lake has a bounty of real estate agents that handle rental properties, given its appeal as a vacation marketplace. But if you decide to manage your own property, vet your tenants by asking for previous rental history, references, a background check and credit check, and, of course, a deposit at signing.
It’s also essential for homeowners who are renting their house rather than occupying it to make sure a current homeowner’s insurance policy transforms into a renters’ policy. In addition, it’s perfectly reasonable to also require that your tenants obtain their own rental insurance.
Other things to consider as you welcome new occupants: What is your pet policy, and will you require a pet deposit? When it comes to maintaining the yard, make sure tenants know if it their responsibility or if you as landlord are handling this task. Utilities are other aspects that need to be worked out: who pays for what? If something goes awry—the AC is out, the fridge is on the fritz—do tenants call for repairs and bill you, or do you reach out to your own trusted vendors?
The payoff of short-term rentals
The short-term rental realm is a bit of a different animal. The platform offers two distinct options: a “home stay,” where you as homeowner hand over the keys to your renter with you living elsewhere for that period of time; and the second—more adventurous—“home share,” where you remain present in your home during guests’ stay, offering private bedrooms and baths, typically alongside privileges to enjoy the public spaces, kitchen and outdoors.
The phenomenon has become such a success since Airbnb gained global traction that the marketplace now includes a number of competitors. Booking.com, Homeaway/VRBO and MisterB&B are prominent, while Expedia also now includes short-term stay properties.
Airbnb homes are available on Smith Mountain Lake for as little as $69 a night for a mountain cottage that holds six guests. There are also lakefront condos, cottages, farmhouses and more in the area’s rental market.
To have success as a host on Airbnb, listings must set themselves apart, given Smith Mountain Lake’s bounty as a vacation destination. What makes your home stand out from the competitive lakefront property or inn down the road? Indulge in professional-grade photography indoors and outdoors, and as your listing picks up steam, encourage reviews from your guests.
A few more details: As a homeowner sharing your principal residence, it is essential to replace your traditional front door key-lock with an electronic keypad. It’s easy enough to refresh the code for each new visitor.
Communication is a big deal on Airbnb, and you are held accountable in your reviews. As soon as guests book, welcome them, and let them know you’re present to answer questions. It’s a good idea to check in again two days before their arrival to obtain an estimated time of arrival.
Also, assemble a “Guest Handbook” to familiarize guests with your home and the area. Their first question is likely to be: What’s the Wifi password? If you are operating a home share, maintain a private password for yourself, and create a simple password for guests. Also, offer information about nearby grocery stores, drug stores, urgent medical care facilities and your favorite restaurants by cuisine. Provide takeout menus and brochures of local attractions.
And among must-haves for your guests: fluffy white towels and washcloths; shampoo, conditioner and body wash; a blow dryer; an iron and ironing board; tissues and plenty of toilet paper.
After following these tips and tools for both short-term visitors and longer-term renters, simply ask yourself the question: Does this feel like home to me? If you are able to smile and nod, it’s quite likely your tenants will also consider Smith Mountain their refuge, either now or for the long haul. ✦