Landlords homeowners Info Pack
This is best read in conjunction with more extensive advice offered on or sister web site at holidayletsforsale.com You will be able to get a useful outline of the nature and the most useful information you will need to know to make your holiday venture a success. For more information, you can ring Country Holiday Lets on 01568 612900. Click the image for a direct link to the advice page.
Welcome to our landlords-homeowners-info-pack
Before acting on any information provided, please seek any necessary professional advice to ensure any steps taken are appropriate we are not legal or financial professionals but hope that this information will be of use to you.
The items, below, are intended to act as prompts and help you focus on the key areas for success. Please do not be daunted by the huge amount of information and what appears to be an endless list of 'this and that'. The fundamentals are quite simple. The aim of our landlords-homeowners-info-pack is not to deter new owners from setting up but to offer a helping hand taking a huge amount of uncertainty out of the process and, hopefully, making any venture much more pleasant from the very beginning. I say more pleasant... perhaps, the emphasis should also be on 'more financially rewarding'.
A holiday let in the UK benefits from special arrangements by way of tenancy. Residential tenancies in the UK are usually offered under A.S.T. (Assured Short Term Tenancy). In most cases if there is nothing to the contrary, new tenancies are, by default, considered to carry the rights and responsibilities for tenant and landlord under AST legislation. Before letting to a guest it is, therefore, important to ensure that they qualify as holiday let guests and that they do not qualify for Assured Short Term Tenancy. Other countries will have different arrangements and laws about tenancies and holiday lets. It is important to be clear what you are offering.
UK owners should retain a right to enter the property, with reasonable notice. They should check who the party leader is and ensure that every guest has a primary residence. If they have no other place to stay but the holiday let, it is quite likely that you have inadvertently entered into an AST without realising it. These distinctions are important. As ever, check with legal professionals to clarify these matters.
The main aim is, of course, to provide a great service which makes everyone feel they have a good deal. Quality and value are key but saying this is very different from getting there. As with most things, what looks complicated and challenging turns out quite simple and easy, once you know how. There's quite a bit to find out but once understood very little of it is difficult or beyond the understanding of virtually anybody who has taken the necessary steps. These areas shall be touched on:
Accounting and taking bookings
Arranging cleaning and maintenance
Appealing to the market
Sales and marketing
The way booking agents work
Health and safety considerations
Check lists, template, welcome pack template etc:
Health and Safety. This covers fire, electricity, moving and handling. More details are below under ‘Health and Safety considerations’ and will include reference to: risk assessments; fire precautions; emergency exits; smoke alarms; fencing for pools; regulations; legal requirements; electrical safety; pat testing; the danger of trips and slips; insurance; Landlords Gas Safety Regulations, and so on. The point of health and safety is to take reasonable steps to ensure dangers to guests are minimised. It is impossible to totally eliminate all risks and dangers but it is important to make reasonable efforts to not only minimise dangers, but to show that you have done so.
CHANGEOVERS and ARRANGEMENTS
This can be surprisingly complicated involving not only checklists for cleaners, but also quite an involved decision as to which days will be chosen for changeovers. Many cottage owners, now, offer 100% flexibility so it is possible for guests to arrive on any day and depart on any day. However, this has to be adjusted at Christmas to avoid changeovers on, for example, Christmas day. Changeover arrangements must also take into account the availability of labour to do the work and how you have structured your rates. More about rate structures can be found below.
This area can be quite fraught. Many vacation rental holiday cottage guests are quite used to being asked for a damages or security deposit. These sums are not intended to ensure all costs due to damage caused are recovered but are usually used to remind guests that owners care as much for their holiday lets and cottages as much as they care that guests have a really successful and happy stay.
ACCOUNTING AND TAKING BOOKINGS
The cost of running a holiday let can be quite complicated to work out
Several factors loom: should I do I need to register for VAT; what is the cost of building a holiday let or holiday cottage?; do you need planning permission, a licence or registration? Others include: What is the cost of fitting out; how do agency charges work (commission, fees and vat); what type of insurance and how much will it cost? Then there are the projections of occupancy, income, utility costs such as water, electricity, local authority business rates, council tax. An accountant can advise on what you can reclaim against costs before your declared income; the rules, here, can be a little complicated and vary from other conventional businesses.
Some aspects can be quite esoteric such as the position of holiday lets property for the purposes of inheritance tax. In the UK, aspects of this matter are still settling with what is called The Pawson Case. The problem centres around whether a holiday let property will be considered by the Inland Revenue as exempt for inheritance tax purposes and what conditions are necessary to make it so.
Profit and loss for holiday lets businesses can be quite complicated and it is important understand how costs vary depending on, for example, the seasons. Heating costs can be radically higher in the low season than in the summer. Knowing these variations apply is one thing, but knowing the figures much more exactly will enable you to plan operations and set rates. Some basic things do need to be considered: Before starting make sure you record all your outgoings clearly and accurately. Date when you take readings of meters and keep a clear diary of bookings. When you take a booking do not just enter it on the date it will take place, but note when the booking was taken. More importantly note when you were unable to take a booking because there was no availability.
It is important to keep records of all booking enquiries. The information this will give you will tell you how the market behaves, whether you need to raise or cut prices for particular periods and whether other sources of booking are either not doing so well or are doing too well blocking off periods you could be getting for yourself. Keeping this sort of record in a thorough and careful manner will be hugely useful as business develops. It is surprising how easy it is to get incorrect or inaccurate views of trends without the hard figures show you what really happened. This area is where financial accounts overlaps into management accounts and overlaps into sales and marketing. This above is a scratch but a useful scratch on a huge area of information which will help you along the way.
A LITTLE ABOUT THE LAW AND OTHER ASPECTS OF RUNNING A HOLIDAY COTTAGE
You need to consider finance, local planning, municipal requirements as well as the rights and duties between guests and landlords. If you choose to employ a booking agent to assist you, or as the sole source of bookings, the law can get a bit more complicated. Similar considerations need to be made if you choose to use a full service agent for your holiday let. There is a continuum from a person who decides to do everything themselves, through to someone who may use an agent to help them get some bookings, to using a sole agency agreement, to using a sole agency agreement but still managing the day to day operations through to a full service management contract.
The relative advantages and costs of these arrangements depend on the circumstances and needs of owners. Clearly, doing everything yourself could be the least costly although it may be difficult getting a respectable income with many bookings. At the other end, a full service management contract could easily end up costing at least 50% of all rental income. The law in all this can be complicated and this can be matched by the nature of financial arrangements.
For instance, if a holiday cottage owner uses a booking agent there are at least three bank accounts involved:
1. The owner's trading account.
2. The agent’s trading account and
3. The clients' or home owners' account, managed by the agent.
The agent collects money on behalf of owners; this is a logistical exercise because the money is not the agent's. Consequently the agent does not ’pay’ owners the rent when a transaction is settled. They make a rental balance transfer from the home owners’ account. In this process and agent will usually deduct their commission plus any tax due. The commission is what an owner pays the agent but the agent does the deduction. Once a rental balance transfer is made to an owner a good agent will then, and only then, transfer the due commission plus vat to their trading account.
Meanwhile most agents charge a booking charge to guests which is a contract between the guest and the agent. Should a guest ask for a receipt for the sum paid for their holiday, two receipts are required. One for the booking charge which will have the vat number of the agency and, the other issued on behalf of the homeowner, for the full rental sum paid. The money paid by the guest is, therefore, a composite payment.
Once clear, this distinction is not so confusing but it is important before employing an agent to be aware of such niceties. It is useful to know how local property taxation treats vacation rental holiday lets. In the UK, many holiday lets qualify for 100% exemption from business rates making it well worthwhile (it is a legal requirement) to change over from domestic Council Tax to business rates. In this way, council tax does not apply and there are, often, no business rates chargeable thanks to rate relief.
The law on taking damage or security deposits for holiday lets in the UK differs from that applicable to ASTs. Thus, the requirement to participate in Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme for Landlords does not apply to damage or security deposits taken when letting holiday properties. Other legal aspects are worth knowing about such as the Pawson Case, what qualifies as a holiday let, the number of days you need to let out to satisfy tax regulations, the number of days a holiday let needs to be available for letting and so on. How much and whether you can claim expenses is another key area to check.
Self-catering only gets complicated if you are not aware of aspects. You do not necessarily need to know all the ins and outs and detail but knowing what to be aware of and checking before taking decisions is a great help.
Areas can be diverse including: where to buy bedding; are EPC (energy performance certificates) necessary?; planning permission requirements; holiday home insurance; public liability; safety and hot tubs, wood burner safety; terms and conditions between owners and agents; booking terms and conditions; claiming back vat; occupancy rates; how much to charge; can you charge for wood?; how do I arrange Wi-Fi; how do I control central heating and electricity use (remote heating control / Wi-Fi thermostats)?; whether it is a good idea to charge for utilities; landlord rules and regulations; the safety of children; swimming pool and lake safety; where to get good flooring, bed linen, lighting, kitchen and furniture packs; it is worth being pet or dog friendly?; carbon monoxide alarms; refuse or trash collection arrangements; handling complaints in a positive way; access statements, disability discrimination, wheelchair access, is it worth getting Visit Britain stars and what is the cost?; what do you need to be rated five star?; booking cancellations, handling them and what charges; data protection; refunds; offering deals and discounts; handling enquiries, learning from negative feedback, what are the pluses and minuses of sofa beds and hot tubs, how do I set up a good web site (Weebley, Wordpress, simple cms, bespoke constructed, to DIY or not to DIY), is there a way I can take card payments, and so on?
This can appear quite complicated. Again, if you take steps, things can turn out relatively simple, once you know. Much more complete guidance can be found on www.holidayletsforsale.com, our sister web site. The fundamental thing is not to guess at rates but use a system to reveal demand. Setting initial rates involves checking what is locally charged in relation to the quality on offer and how well booked out different vacation rental holiday cottages perform. The market responds in relation to quality, how many can stay, location, management and the style and presentation of the sales pitch.
Many factors apply, including good photographs, simple easy booking, clear information, and a sense that the apparent quality of the offering is matched by the quality of the agent (where applicable) and the management ability and approach of the owners. Rate structures should take into account: the seasons; local and national holidays including Bank Holidays; school holidays; religious holidays; significant local events; changeover arrangements and short breaks; numbers of people to stay; But how many a let will sleep will have an impact. Thus, for a sleep 2, school holidays will be less significant, but for a sleep 10 they will be very significant.
ARRANGING CLEANING AND MAINTENANCE
Cleaning pitfalls include: not giving clear instructions to change over people; failing to be clear about their pay so controlling costs; Clear instructions can include a check list or you can use a template. Examples of the sort of item to include:
In each room work from the top downwards using the simple principle that dirt falls.
check and clean sofas, clean carpet, empty waste bin and put in new liner, return welcome information and leaflets to the usual place, clean windows, check and replace any broken lights, return furnishings to original positions, check and clean wood burner, replenish logs, check TV and check remote is working (replace batteries when necessary), clean table top and return any placemats to their usual position, clean skirting boards, dust, etc:
Remove linen for cleaning. Check mattresses, pillows blankets and / or duvets as well as any cushions used to add colour and style to the bedroom. Make beds with fresh linen ensuring bedding appears crisp and pleasing when beds are made.
Remove waste and any items left by the guests ….. etc:. There are some useful tricks of the trade that you will pick up on the way. These range from using a solution of caustic soda crystals (take great care: eye protectors and rubber gloves) to clean wood burner glass through to choosing the most economic yet high quality linen . (King of Cotton is one good source—August 2013). Another really good source of information and tips comes from websites such as www.laymyhat.com; this one has one of the most useful forums anywhere highly focused on running holiday lets. It has taught us a huge amount.
APPEALING TO THE MARKET
This can be quite difficult to do and owners must take care to avoid using their own aesthetic sense of style to override with the market wants. Current practice used by top end as well as budget hotels and in the successful vacation rental holiday let cottage sector is to use a relatively bland background and then add colour with accessories. This reduces maintenance costs, enables low cost refreshing of rooms as fashions change and is easy to manage. It is important to try to use neutral colours for all major items including linen, tables, chairs and even beds.
If any major item has a distinct or vibrant colour, it will partly determine the colour scheme for the rest of the room. On the other hand, a neutral room can easily be made more colourful at low cost with accessories. These could range from lampshades, to blinds, to simple coloured ornaments and, of course, cushions on beds. Although these are usually utterly useless, they do add colour and style to otherwise bland and very neutral rooms. First impressions count and these things are also very important in selling holiday cottages from pictures which is what the internet and 90% of all holiday cottage marketing is all about. More about this can be found in greater detail on www.holidaycottagesforsale.com, our sister web site.
SALES AND MARKETING
Over the last few years the internet has taken over massively in this area. Traditional media advertising is, now, very restricted and is constantly reducing in significance. Sales and marketing on the internet takes several forms.
pay per click;
display advertising on web sites;
individual web sites using organic SEO;
use of booking agents;
mutual marketing agreements;
a mixture of some of these items.
Getting it right is not easy; in the early days, aim for maximum flexibility and, unless there is no other choice, try to avoid being locked into one source of bookings. This is not the end of the world but you do need a good reason to choose this route. Seek advice and refer to websites like www.laymyhat.com as they are often first rate sources of information. Do not underestimate the work required taking bookings and making that sale. This is a common error.
Owners who choose to do everything soon find out that sorting out where to advertise is the easy bit. Dealing with sales enquiries and bookings is by far the most time consuming and it requires excellent record keeping. It is worth being ready for the emotional upset that complaints, justified or not, can cause; the more owners care the more upsetting it can become. Added pressure can come from enquiries from potential guests when through inexperience they sometimes use rather blunt negotiating techniques. The pleasure of a dozen faultless holiday stays can be wiped out only one or two upsetting experiences. With any luck, these will be very few and far between and being prepared can reduce some of the emotional distress. This is one area where a good agent can be useful.
If you are working with non-exclusive agents, they too, need to be informed so they can cease looking for guests on the dates you have filled. However, if you can get a reasonable number of bookings without the assistance of an agent, then do not be tempted to use one unless there are sound reasons to do so.
CHECK LISTS AND ITEMS TO CONSIDER
key terms between guests and owners,
how to use everything in the property,
what do if something goes wrong,
emergency information etc.
health and safety risk assessments
templates for guest information,
cleaning check lists,
request templates for security or damage deposits,
terms and conditions between guests and owners,
web site terms and conditions,
booking terms and conditions,
Arrival information, instructions and directions
fire safety including:
wireless smoke alarm systems;
emergency exit instructions and information;
are you an exclusive or non-exclusive agent;
what are your rates including vat or local taxes;
do you work solely on commission;
tell me all your charges;
how much notice do we give to end a contract what is required if we have to end a contract early; (what are the exit terms)?
how will you account for your work;
what is your out of hours service;
who takes the photographs;
are they refreshed from time to time;
what income do you estimate we can reach on a conservative basis;
what can we do to make the let more attractive to the market, (divide between low and high cost);
when and how are rental balance transfers made;
how does the card payment system work;
is the homeowners' or client account indemnified;
how do statements, invoices and balance transfer advices work;
what other services do you provide;
what are the most important terms in your terms and conditions;
who are your main rivals, (this is a bit cheeky but it is sometimes worth asking);
how do you manage feedback from guests;
are you a member of Revoo, Feefo or some other feedback service;
where and how do you advertise;
what happens in the event of a double booking;
do you charge for bookings we may find ourselves;
what is the process and time schedule;
EPC Energy Performance Certificate
PAT Portable appliance testing
AST Assured Short Term Tenancy
DPS Deposit Protection Scheme
EASCO English Association of Self Catering Operators
PRS Performing Rights Society (Licences for public use of music) Owners of large holiday lets might be expected to have a licence
more information about this can be found at the bottom of this page on Holiday Lets for Sale
LMH Lay my hat. (a first rate source of information)
VRBO Vacation Rentals by Owners
CCL Climate Change Levy
HL Holiday Lettings
TA Trip Advisor
OD Owners Direct
COSHH Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (you may come across it when dealing with gas safety)
AONB Area of outstanding national beauty
POA Payment on arrival
Simple checklist / Holiday let planning:
Holiday cottage Welcome pack
Diary and records
Directions and access information
Health and Safety including risk assessments
Wi-fi and internet Television and radio
Business profit and loss Accounts and bank account
Sales and marketing
Booking agencies and listing sites
Holiday Cottage Web Site Rates / Rents Planning and regulations and laws
Terms and Conditions
If you have read all this and arrived here you can now mop your forehead. Many of the questions raised are answered on Holiday Lets for Sale but the list alone, we hope, will be enough to ensure there are fewer surprises or unforseen complications for new holiday cottage and holiday let businesses.
We wish you the best of luck.
Country Holiday Lets Ltd is independent. It is not connected with 'Country Holidays.' It is not a trading name of Hoseasons or any part of Wyndham Worldwide. Last update: 20 August 2013