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Country Holiday Lets specialise in Holiday Cottages in the Herefordshire, South Shropshire and Mid Wales area, however the information we give on this page is valid wherever you are in the UK.
This page is to help home owners learn more about renting out a cottage or letting a holiday home in the UK. You are welcome to copy or print it in its entirety for your personal use, for your own holiday cottage letting operation or to pass it, or the page link, on to others for their personal use or for their own holiday cottage letting operations.
Many try to keep secrets for fear of helping competitors or encouraging home owners to go it alone. One agency, not a direct rival, has been quite upset about this. The Internet has put an end to the usefulness of this dated behaviour; we do not believe in unnecessary barriers or delays to getting things done. Service and value are what matters.
The key is to pick up as much as possible to avoid the cost of learning from grim experience. We looked at how the market responded and changed our business model to meet what the market wanted: the benefits of a booking service without the restrictions and many of the charges and costs, until now, applied by large national agencies. Meanwhile, we see that advertising and listing web sites often offer little added value and their formats can restrict higher quality cottages from showing their true worth. High quality can suffer when in the company of moderate or poor quality offerings.
The message is very clear: homeowners want value, service and quality; as important, they want to feel their holiday home is theirs and to keep it fully under their control . Of course, we would be delighted to get bookings for you but, if not, we do hope all this will be useful.
Subjects touched on include: (click on any of them to go straight there)
They are usually not onerous. Essentially, they show homeowners have given sensible thought and care before letting out their properties.
Homeowners need to attend to health and safety matters, these include attention to:
PAT testing of electrical items; checking furniture adheres to regulations; ensuring fire precautions are adequate and covering essential health and safety steps using risk assessment procedures. Provision of appropriate insurance is essential- this need not be costly; some home insurance policies offer this as an add-on but professional specialists in holiday let insurance are available and can often be the better choice. One specialist is Cottage Sure
Contrary to popular opinion, health and safety is a reasonable and sensible system and does not necessarily present a huge barrier to operations. We all have a duty towards our own health and safety as much as to that of other people.
The important thing is to seek and act to practically minimise or eliminate risk, whenever possible. Where it is impossible to minimise risk to acceptable levels, steps should be taken to ensure vulnerable people are either excluded or, in some other way, are protected from encountering those risks. The latter is, of course, much more preferable. Thus, for properties close to deep water pools, many holiday let owners explicitly say that children under a certain age are not permitted. A section on general health and safety advice is included at the base of this page.
Recent changes have created 'Energy Performance Certificates'. The certificate is good for 10 years, does not cost a huge amount to acquire and can guide you to further insulate. However recent changes now say that if you let under a 'licence to occupy', and most holiday lets can fall into that category, an EPC will not be necessary.
It is essential to prepare to run your holiday let so that there are no surprises.
Until recently, the standard advice was that the most effective days are Friday and Monday. This is because the arrangement opens up not only seven night rentals, starting and ending on Fridays, but seven night rentals starting and ending on Mondays, as well as short breaks from Friday to Monday and from Monday to Friday.
These options open up much more of the letting market for most UK cottages, bringing in more income for homeowners.
In certain cases, for popular holiday cottages, homeowners opt to only for seven nights or longer periods during busy periods. This prevents the danger of small unoccupied periods in peak seasons. However, pricing of short breaks can make it more profitable to offer short break options in peak periods, depending on the intensity of demand. Short breaks are normally priced the same for the three nights of a weekend break as for the four nights of a weekday break. (Monday to Friday).
However, with growing competition and a more demanding market we now advise that greater flexibility for start and finish days will generate more income, especially in mid and low season periods. To that end we offer, and advise owners to do the same, the option to book 'arrive any day' and 'depart any day' in the week using a logical method of setting rates. To do this, we use a method assisted by our in house developed 'Rates Tool'. Our web site now can offer automated booking for any periods in a week.
More about this is covered in the section on Rates below.
Owners should arrange things to make this easy and practical. High quality bedding and towels not only last longer but tend to be easier to work with. It is a good plan to have at least three and, ideally, four sets of sheets and towels. Egyptian cotton is a good choice. (Some will choose a lower quality of bedding saying it saves on ironing. This is a trade off. There is no doubt that many (mainly women) will spot cheap bedding and it will have a direct impact on income. A compromise could be mixed fibre. People sense and do not like lower quality items for the sake of 'practicality'. It says guests come second and is a typical sign of low quality cottages and management attitude).
It is essential to plan, to ensure the few hours between one group leaving and another arriving are used to do all the necessary cleaning and maintenance. This part of running a holiday let is often the most difficult because there is never a guarantee that every Friday, for the sake of argument, will call for this work to be done. Some holiday let owners pay a retainer to assisting staff to get over this problem, but in areas of low staff availability, the problem magnifies. We have seen some holiday lets refuse new bookings for several weeks as their owners make new arrangements to cover this necessity.
This is rarely a job that people relish, but it is key to prepare a simple and effective way of recording what you spend and what income you receive. It is absolutely essential to set up an efficient diary system to be 100% certain and clear when the let is booked, who is coming with their contact details and any special arrangements, and to check all payments are made, as and when due. When doing your sums, remember that booking agencies may say they charge a percentage of rental to you, but they often leave it for you to discover that VAT has to go on top of their charge. Thus, if we charge, for the sake of argument, 20% for a high quality 'easy to let' assignment, the real cost to the homeowner is really 20% + VAT. The reality is that what appeared to be a 20% charge is from January 2011, in fact, 24%
Although owners do not strictly have to know, it is usual practice for agents to charge a booking fee, sometimes topped up with holiday insurance as guests pay for their holidays. Booking agents charge guests for use of the booking system. (They do not act for guests). Booking fees vary from around £15 and can go up to £30 and more. Our current fee is £22.50 plus VAT. At 20% this comes to £27.00.
Many booking agents charge to inspect properties, charge a joining fee and charge, even, for changes to web site details. Some even charge for more than a standard number of web site pictures and (astonishingly) levy commission charges on some private bookings. Country Holiday Lets makes none of these charges.
Every holiday cottage should include a Guests' Information booklet. It is important to include certain items:
What to do if something goes wrong with the property, such as lights failing, heating problems, problems with kitchen appliances and so on. Contact numbers and back-up numbers should be supplied. If there are particular safety aspects, these should be listed. For example, if near a lake, the need to supervise young children should be pointed out. This may seem commonsense to country people, but for visitors who do not know the country, it can be a mistake to assume something is commonsense when, in fact, it is knowledge acquired through familiarity. This sort of approach is essential for cottage quality.
Information how to contact the local doctor and hospital should be included.
Local maps of walks and the area are always appreciated. People often do not use public footpaths because they fear straying off the path when they do not know where it goes. A list of local pubs, restaurants and attractions should be available.
Instructions on how to work the appliances or how to treat a wood burner are important. For example, it is important to say that wood burners should only burn wood and rubbish must not be put in them. Take care if you supply wood and coal; when burnt together, temperatures can rise to the point of causing damage to your burner. Certain types of wood, such as Ash, burn better than others, such as Poplar. It can be an idea to offer, perhaps, two baskets free of charge and then ask for payment then on.
Do not forget to supply your own contact details and the name of the owner of the holiday let. Confirm latest departure times.
The information pack should also include any please 'dos' and 'don'ts'.
It should be noted, that although we may have introduced the guest to you and collected the rent on your behalf, you still have a direct contract with the holiday guest as the home owner. The information booklet is, therefore, a good place to note any terms in your contract with the guest that you wish to make explicit. In our booking terms we note that cottage owners' terms will apply. But if you are directly taking bookings, it is important to make their existence known to the guest before any booking is finalised. Tick boxes are sometimes used for this purpose.
We make it plain on our terms that any problems with the accommodation should be informed to the owner without delay, so they can be attended to at speed. We strongly recommend this requirement is included in the booklet as a direct term between homeowner and guest. For our home owners, we can supply a copy of our terms to the holiday guests which might be of some assistance.
We usually advise on the best rate structure to get results but, equally, benefit from listening to the experience and observations of homeowners. Agreed rates are normally reached by consensus after discussion of pros and cons and different possibilities. If we feel that suggested rates are a little too high or low we will not hold back from saying so, in the interests of all parties, to maximise the income from the holiday let. This approach contrasts with the common practice of booking agents setting prices and refusing to flex outside of rigid bands often to the detriment of income and bookings. We have a more sophisticated, methodical process based approach to arriving at the most effective prices.
Our members benefit from 'The Rates Tool'. It provides a systematic and logical way to calculate rates for any combination of start and finish days based on the standard rate for a week and chosen percentages to apply to each type of period. It is a valuable and useful tool to apply logic to setting rates whilst retaining flexibility and freedom to set the much as you would prefer.
The main factors determining price
The fundamentals are: Occupancy, Quality, Facilities and Location. Marketing presentation, such as the quantity, quality and choice of photographs can radically improve bookings and even increase rates you can charge. Do not make the mistake of setting rates on the basis of quality and facilities alone. For instance, a top quality holiday let in central Hay on Wye (famous for its book festival) can command significantly more than one of equal quality a few miles away in a beautiful rural location. The Internet will give you a good initial indication range of the level of prices you might be able to charge, then you need to sort out the best ones suited to your cottage, its location, quality and facilities.
This may sound obvious but it does need to be said.
Selling a possession is not like renting out a holiday let. If you wait for someone to come along and pay the price you want for something you are selling, it can be profitable to hold out for several months to get the asking price. If you hold out the same way when renting a cottage you can end up seriously out of pocket. We advise new cottage owners to set initial rates lower than the eventual target rates. The idea is to feel out the market and raise rates to maximise bookings and revenue. Excepting cottage terraces (rows) or large purpose built developments, each is individual, so they do benefit from individual treatment. Feeling out the market may cost owners in terms of lost edge on rates, but the cost of lost bookings by going in too high could be far greater, as you wait for weeks or months before inching rates downwards to get bookings.
Rate structures vary, depending on the markets your holiday let appeals to. The ideal holiday let will appeal to as many niche markets as possible with emphasis on the times of year people prefer for their holidays. For high occupancy, the ideal is to appeal to the demand during the school holiday periods as well as to cater for those who often take breaks outside of the school holidays. In many cases, people actively choose not to take holidays during the rush periods as they wish to enjoy quieter and less frantic arrangements when the bulk of the younger people are back at school.
The link between occupancy and rates is complicated. For instance, cottages with occupancy 3 will benefit from niche markets such as: professional couples, elderly couples, walkers, couples + 1, young families with one child etc:. But these niche markets are different sizes. Thus, if you price for three, which might command a higher rate, you are in danger of losing the far larger market and bookings which will be generated from couples. To maximise revenue, it is a better plan to price close to the couples rate even if there is an extra single bedroom. This way, you will gain more bookings although those booking for 3 may have been willing to pay a little more than for couples.
On the other hand, the market for occupancy 4 benefits from strong niche demand from the two couples market; thus, the market rate difference between occupancy 3 and 4 is often far greater than any rate difference between occupancy 2 and 3. Occupancy 6 niche is smaller than the occupancy 4, but larger than occupancy 3; the choice of whether to price for as if occupancy 4 is more difficult but in most cases it could pay to do so. It can be a costly error to price in proportion to occupancy.
The size of markets for the different niches will vary depending on the area. Niche demand, for instance for occupancy 6, may well be higher in coastal areas. Supply is also significant... thus, occupancy 10 or more could be a better proposition than occupancy 6. Hard times will create a demand for low cost per person per night with families deciding to make holiday savings by sharing large lets.
The above is from our experience in Herefordshire, S Shropshire, Mid Wales and small parts of Gloucester and Worcestershire.
The UK cottage break market has established a general template towards rate structures. However, we do come across holiday lets run as adjuncts to Bed and Breakfast operations. The result is, frequently, a B&B style rate structure applied to self-catering, renting out by the day, in many cases. This approach tends to encourage short breaks and they often straddle popular letting periods; one short break can write off a full week and, even worse, could even straddle two periods, so eliminating the potential for two full week lets.
The problem is made worse when starting out because, quite naturally, taking any rentals is important. The trick is to be highly flexible at the beginning and to know, as demand picks up, when to adopt tried and tested rental practices. Making the right decision is very much a matter of judgement with a little luck thrown in. We tend to find that in high season sticking to the self-catering rate structure is often for the best, and more flexibility can be a good idea in less busy periods.
If you run an automated booking system, it is possible to get the best of both worlds by setting the system to the self catering rate model and then inviting people to ring, if they are seeking to book for other periods. For instance: Saturday to Saturday, when the automated system will only accept Friday to Friday, Friday to Monday or Monday to Friday. Automated systems can have the direct effect of giving homeowners between 20-25% more revenue; many people actively do not want to speak to someone when making a booking, particularly those under 40 years old.
Our web site now can be arranged to accept automate bookings starting and finishing on any day of the week up to 31 days in length. The Rates Tool we use produces a logic to do this working on a standard week rate and percentages you can choose to ratchet out the rates for every combination of days avoiding the danger of absurdities where a six day break including a weekend could end up costing more than a seven day week break. This Rates Tool is available to all our members but is sufficiently valuable not to be made available to all enquirers. The general trend in the market is going towards a requirement to be this flexible, at least, in the shoulder and low season periods.
Throughout, it is important to arrange your cottage to appeal to markets it is most suited to. Dealing with any 'red flags' (see below) is an important first step. One holiday let owner found their family bookings went up by over 50% when they hit on the idea of putting a fence around their swimming pool. Simple steps can have a radical affect and these are easier to identify if you have a clear view of the markets you want to attract. These, of course, have a significant relationship to the rates you can charge and the occupancy you can expect.
Detail on setting ratesThis is the one area that causes more concern than anything else. Setting rates for holiday cottage rentals need not be such a dark art once the basics are understood. But there are some common mistakes that need to be avoided. There is a little repetition here with other parts of this advice page... please forgive this.
Country Holiday Lets does not become involved in these as they are best taken directly from the holiday guests by the home owner or their representative. A common way is to take a cheque or cash on arrival and then to refund the sum by cheque or bank transfer within seven or ten days of departure. The chosen procedure should be included in the holiday let details on the web site. The point of a damage deposit is twofold. Firstly, to recover any costs due to undue damage caused by visitors. Secondly, and by far the most important, is to show that you care for your holiday let as much as you care that every visitor has a really good holiday. In the majority of cases it is, simply, not worth claiming for small sums, and most deposits will not pay for badly stained carpets, leaving the only really significant argument that these deposits are to underline that you care.
People nearly always depend on pictures when renting out cottages. This means getting the style, quality and presentation right is absolutely essential to maximise the attractiveness of your holiday home and , of course, the income you can get from renting it out. This is why Country Holiday Lets takes great care over presentation on its web layouts of holiday cottages. Content is everything.
The vast majority of people choosing self-catering in the UK expect the same or better levels of comfort, quality and contents in the holiday homes they visit as they have at home. Guests are more aware of design and style from the TV and property sections of the newspapers: they expect quality. Fashion plays an important part. Certainly, the vast majority treat clashing colours, out of date decoration, low quality appliances, poor quality patterned sheets, and other aspects as warning signs. These negative signs cause objections to booking.
The below suggestions and observations are to guide. In many cases, the cost of getting 70% improvement can be quite low; do not be put off about expenditure until you have checked everything that could bring your let up to modern expectations. As with all such things, there are exceptions, but they are here to give you a general 'steer' to the most effective approach.
'Good enough for them' TVs
Certain aspects are major turn-offs. An old fashioned television, (not a flat screen) will often be associated with charity shops and refuse tips, leading to an unconscious suspicion that the holiday let is substandard. Perfectly good non-HD flat screen TVs are already appearing at council refuse tips, (the waste is quite upsetting), making old fashioned TVs look even worse. In 2013 this problem is rare but, astonishingly, there are still a few of these antiques to be found in holiday cottages.
Interiors appearing to date from the 1980s will lead many to simply dismiss the cottage without bothering to read the text. Patterned borders on walls are a particular turn-off for many. The fashion for varnished stripped pine, dating from that period, is not necessarily a potential problem but when any varnish has turned ginger, the impact can become quite serious. Logical or not, this happens; you may find it necessary to redecorate a clean and excellently presented room for no other reason that people will consider it old fashioned.
Out-of-date interiors, even if immaculately clean, of the highest quality and in perfect condition should be updated- unfashionable interiors raise intuitive suspicions of under-investment in quality, quite apart from the fact they jar the senses. Some people, more often women than men, may enter a cottage and think, 'what a shame, I would have painted that wall such and such a colour'. You need to avoid this as much as possible.
Do not, at any cost, give the impression any of the contents of a holiday cottage are 'hand me downs' or no longer wanted items from homeowners houses. Avoid dark brown furniture, except where it is high quality and fits in with the overall decoration of the house. The modern taste is for light coloured woods. It is true that there is a market for timeless interiors, but these must be high quality and the furniture has to be selected with great care. Relying on the chance that that bit of furniture you have at home but no longer fits in with your new decoration will be a success in the holiday let is usually a mistake. As your taste has moved on, it is quite likely that general taste and fashion has done the same thing. It is a good rule to never use cast-offs ; holiday guests are guests, they are not second class visitors. Anyone who as stayed at a few cottages will be highly sensitive and fully aware of the warning signs of a homeowner with a lack of respect; if there is the slightest suspicion, these people will, simply, book elsewhere.
Remember not to over personalise the interior; people like high quality but also like to make a place their own. If the taste of guests coincides with yours then all's well, but there will be a good chance that this will not happen (good or bad taste). Avoid over-dressing the interior of holiday cottages: if in doubt, avoid flowery decoration or chintz. Decoration should, ideally, be neutral to the point of bland. Highlights such as pictures or 'objects' can liven things up. Floor coverings should be as consistent as practical with exceptions for kitchens and bathrooms. This gives a feeling of flow and ties the holiday let into one area.
Some choose to use white bed linen throughout to standardise and make things easier to service. Highlights are supplied with coloured cushions or bedspreads tied into highlights on the walls and some other items in the rooms. Each room is often given a different highlight colour theme. Walls are given the same neutral treatment as the linen with a tendency towards shades of white. This creates flexibility as fashions change, simplicity and easier maintenance. Fashions do change, cushions are 'in' now but could well be 'out' in the future. In terms of utility, except for decoration, they are virtually useless in bedrooms.
On the matter of colour themes. Even if done in a subtle way, many will notice that you have put some extra thought into the decoration and style of the rooms. This gives confidence that you have done much the same for the cottage as a whole. A side effect is that any objections will tend to be lessened or ignored because it is clear that the cottage owner has made more than usual efforts to make the place right. Small but thoughtful touches can have a significant positive contribution to booking decisions.
A common error is to supply childrens toys and games on shelving in lounges. Bright primary colours and clutter create a decorative disaster. Toys and games are an excellent idea, in most homes they are put away in cupboards or in games rooms, do the same in your holiday let.
Do not make the mistake of trying to make a holiday let feel 'cottagey'. The rural ideal of 'roses around the door' and frilly curtains with bits and pieces of pottery around the house accompanied by corn dollies etc: has long gone. Today, the general wish is for a pretty outside but for a high quality, modern interior. The general health of the cottage market has been fuelled by a radical improvement in the standard of cottage accommodation. Homeowners who do not invest and recognise this trend are paying dearly for failing to keep up-to-date. Some still say, 'they are only on holiday so they will not mind roughing it a little bit'; they could not be more wrong. Very often, they back up their remarks, as if by way of excuse, by referring to kind words in the visitors' book.
The days are long gone when holidays were a welcome break and the quality of the accommodation was not that important. Quality is absolutely essential. It is still all too common to see homeowners buying 'new' for themselves and palming off 'second-best' to the holiday let. Some of the most successful lets are of equal or higher standard than the homes of those who own them. People, rightly, do not like being treated as second-best, and they can be surprisingly sensitive to detecting this attitude. Old fashioned TVs, in 90% of the cases, would have been on the tip but are instead considered 'good enough for them'. No wonder people are deeply unimpressed when these antiquated things are pressed into service long after their 'sell-by date'.
The theme of modernity and quality is particularly important in kitchens. Antiquated cookers (unless AGAs or similar), mismatched dated cupboards or cupboard and drawer handles are major turn-offs. Very often, relatively low cost improvements can have a major impact, such as replacing worn, mismatched or dated handles. Poor or dated lighting is not expensive to alter. Sometimes, I still come across unshaded strip lighting; this is as bad as an out-of-date television. Modern lighting can be bought easily and at low cost. Guests will feel there is no excuse for quasi-industrial lighting in cottage kitchens.
It is good to have matching knives, forks and spoons along with robust sensible plates, mugs cups etc:. Similar guidance can be applied to bedroom furniture. Beds should be easy to make, it is usually a good idea to avoid a base board as this makes bed changing more difficult and tends to reduce the feeling of space. It can be a good idea to standardise bed linen as far as possible, individualising bedrooms with throws or cushions on the beds tied into colour schemes. (Cushions are the current fashion).
If you provide twin beds, greater occupancy will result, if you use a Zip Link system or a less expensive alternative such as CreateaKing Before buying twins, make sure that they can be put together. Sometimes, the design of the bed posts leaves too large a gap to push beds together. The key is flexibility. Many people used to a double bed will not book if only twins are on offer. This opens up the couples market, as well as the family and children plus walkers markets, so catering for more than one niche.
'Practical' carpets, tired sofas and bedding
Don't fool yourself. Guests will see straight through this ploy. Do not install lodgers' carpets (sometimes called pub carpets). They may be great at hiding up stains and a multitude of domestic spills and abuse... but they look horrible, are a decorative disaster and if not cleaned as well as less 'practical carpets' have been known to stink. They shout meanness and reveal an attitude towards the guests of 'they can put up with it'.
Tired sofas are a major deterrent to booking. Most see a quality sofa as absolutely essential.
Likewise, if you cannot bring yourself to go for Egyptian Cotton because the ironing is such a battle, do not then choose chocolate coloured nylon bedding. Yes, I have seen this in what was otherwise a four star let near Hay on Wye. 'Practical' need not be bad, but do not let it justify lower quality. Country Holiday Lets does not feature holiday lets with 'Lodgers' carpets' or chocolate coloured nylon bedding because they are some of the worst 'red flags' of all. Even if the linen were cotton, chocolate would be a significant booking barrier.
Certain things are not optional if you get them wrong you will pay a heavy price in lost bookings, regardless of the other features of your holiday let.
Letting out your private holiday cottage / house for the first time
A growing number of private holiday homes are now being used for holiday lets to earn some money in these difficult times. If you are doing this, it is absolutely essential to invest in quality. What you may find homely and quite acceptable may appear out-of-date and poor quality on the open market.. This can be a tough as financial pressures may have contributed to trying to earn something from your holiday home, so spending more at this stage can be a tall order. However, if you do not ensure the right standard and quality, you will find yourself competing in what is considered the moderate quality market which is facing growing over-supply with existing lets and many new lets, just like you, joining in. Demand and rates for quality holiday cottage remains good, but rates and occupancy for lower quality cottages are under growing and severe pressure. (August 2011).
It is important to keep up-to-date. Seeking excuses not to do things is normally the cause of poor quality.
Excuses range from: 'people will abuse it and I could lose my Internet', 'it will be costly' or 'I cannot afford another telephone line'; 'people come here to get away, they do not want the internet' etc:. Most of these can be overcome. WiFi will give you the edge over all those who do recognise the selling advantage it provides.
A repeater can solve some of the problems. Examples of repeaters can be found at Faculty-x but we strongly advise you to shop around. You can set up the wireless system so there is 'guest' as well as your own computer access. The 'guest' access will have different name and password. This will identify abuse. People staying will note the 'guest' aspect. People booking using credit cards can nearly always be traced and held responsible.
Parental controls can lend added control over inappropriate downloading. There is a marginal element of risk that a guest will abuse the WiFi but the benefit of the draw it offers should be noted. Bookings will be lost without WiFi; it will soon be come as essential to quality as providing a television. It could be an idea to include in your terms that you cannot guarantee WiFi service in the case of 'outages' outside of your control or unforeseen circumstances.
The negative image of out of date technology such as old televisions has been covered under Red Flags . For larger lets, there is a growing demand for a second flat screen television so the children can use their Wii. This may soon have the same draw as WiFi has for families and shared holidays.
A good test for quality is that if you rent a holiday cottage and hit a week of really bad weather, to consider two contrasting possibilities. The cottage was high quality, so you went home disappointed but rested, and, the cottage was not pleasant and was out-of-date. In the latter case, you spend a week inside looking at things which do not give a good feel, but jar and make you feel worse, rather than better. Consequently, you go home not only disappointed with the weather but feeling unrested and short changed by the whole experience.
The choice is between, 'the weather was bad, but the cottage was marvellous' or 'we had a bad holiday at that cottage'. There's a strong tendency to blame lower quality holiday cottages for everything else that goes wrong, including the weather. This tendency is usually eliminated when the cottage quality is modern and 'up to scratch'.
To get the most from your cottage you must give the market what it wants; this is about cottage quality. Take steps to find out what you need to do and, where funds permit, do it. Do not let emotion get in the way and never search for excuses not to improve. New cottages now coming on the market make many older ones look out-of-date, tired and sub-standard. There is no substitute for quality; the main cause of failure is an 'its good enough for them' attitude. Cottage owners who do not treat guests as guests are in the wrong business.
The are several routes you can choose: Go it alone with website and your own direct marketing activity; advertising web sites; employ an agent; use a combination of two or more of these. Depending on the holiday let, a choice of any one could be the best decision. As we are bound to be biased towards our service, their relative merits are not covered here. However, we strongly advise that you establish a web site. Do not make the common error of spending more on the IT than on the content.
Cottages depend on Location, Quality, the number of occupants, good holiday let management with a flexible marketing strategy. Some national booking agencies fail to provide this insisting on exclusivity and, in some cases, even try to charge commission on private lettings. We do not follow their example.
Content and photographs are everything, the expenditure on these should be far more than the vehicle which presents them. Good photographs and good text make the sale. We constantly refresh the presentation of members' cottages on our site to improve bookings and it works. This cannot be stressed enough. Show the photos to friends and ask their opinions. If a room does not look good in a photograph, either take another or improve the room. Do not make excuses not to do things because people have left positive remarks in the visitors' book; note the remarks and improve further, trying not to detract from the aspects that they particularly liked. It is well worth looking at forums such as www.laymyhat.com
The internet is changing fast. The future of marketing is uncertain, but you do need to keep abreast of development of an increasing visual element. A simple video on Youtube is worth an experiment. Remember to use the tags carefully. At the very least you can use a link to the video on the signatures to your e-mails.
It is a common marketing error to use the name of the holiday cottage in a web address. People do not know the name of your let until they have found it on the Internet. It is true that there will be a small brand effect relevant to return visits, but using a web address such as mylittlecottagenook.co.uk does nothing for searches or to generate new business. Far better to use the name of an area. One operation does well with shropshirecottages.com but they were lucky to get that web address.
It is surprising how some quite useful web addresses are still available but you do need to be careful as search engines may not take kindly to something as obvious as shropshirecottages.com in new web addresses for cottages, only because the name may contain a key word: 'cottage'. There was, until recently, a distinct advantage to using 'cottage' in the web address; now the situation is not so clear. It does seem strange that a web address (URL) that describes what you do could have a negative effect... but the way search engines work is strange indeed.
Anyone who claims to know exactly how they work is either mistaken, unaware that they are mistaken or indulging in less than honest sales techniques. The vast majority of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) services should be avoided; only a very few are worth speaking to and the rest could end up being a costly mistake to employ. It can be an idea to employ a neutral computer expert to advise you on which SEO service to employ if you are determined to go down this route.
Over the last six years starting up a new business on the Internet has become significantly more costly and difficult . The trends are continuing in the same direction.
The view some home owners have of how things are done can be confused because their outlook is from a different perspective.
For instance, many homeowners find the practice of booking fees charged to guests as poor practice. A good booking agent deserves booking fee payment because the guest found the cottage through them. Quite naturally, where the more competitive agencies work in parallel with homeowner private bookings, guests can feel a bit short-changed if they discover they could have paid less by going direct. However, the point is that the agency had arranged good quality marketing and paid for it to get their interest in the first place. In addition, a good booking agent will take time and effort to make the booking process easy and informative; a good booking agent will be available for this throughout the week and not just office hours, so taking significant work away from cottage owners and taking more bookings. All this increases bookings, but it does cost money which is paid for, in part, by the booking fee.
Homeowners may be attracted to services that do not charge a booking fee, but the revenue lost to the booking agency must be raised, instead, from the homeowner. Thus, where we may charge between 20% and 25% commission on rental, this could easily rise to 25% - 29% if we were to abandon booking fees. Although some potential guests will be put off by a booking fee, they are few in number compared to those homeowners unwilling to pay for this out of their rental income.
As with most things, there's a balance to be struck. Some agencies charge up to £30 and more for booking fees and sometimes add holiday insurance on top, where others, such as ourselves, have a lower fee. It is quite natural for guests to be fed-up finding out they could have saved money going direct, had they known... but they only found out because the agency did the work it was paid to do.
The two most significant factors are:
It is worth listing these but I shall not go into any great detail but to suggest anyone using a booking agent should be aware of them to make the best of the relationship. It can get quite complicated:
In this complexity there are several 'types' of money: Rental collected on behalf of owners. Booking Fees charged to Guests. Credit card charges to guests and at least three bank accounts. The rental collection of homeowners' account run by the booking agent. The trading account of the booking agent and, of course, the bank account of the homeowner. Different disciplines apply. For instance: homeowners are not 'paid' the rent by the agent; they receive transfers of rental balances. Any commission charges to homeowners (another 'type' of money) should not be removed from the homeowner's account until the relevant rental transfer to the owner is assured and, ideally, completed.
VAT on holiday cottage rents and agents' booking fees.
It is worth noting that VAT usually applies to rental commission charges and credit card charges but does not necessarily apply to renta,l unless the cottage owner is registered for VAT. If a guest wishes to receive an invoice for their stay, it should come directly from the homeowner or be raised on behalf of the homeowner by their agent with full homeowner details on that invoice. This means that if a guest reclaims vat, they will have a vat invoice from the homeowner with the vat number of the homeowner on it. A guest should never reclaim vat on rental from an agent's invoice. However, if a guest wishes to reclaim vat on an agent's booking fee, they need an invoice from the agent with their vat number to do so.
It is important to be clear about these distinctions, they are not niceties. If a guest claims back vat incorrectly, it is an offence. Although it may be an administrative trial, if a guest stays at a holiday cottage and books through an agent they will need two separate invoices with two separate vat numbers, one from the owner and the other from the agent, to cover the vat on rental and the vat on the agent's booking fee.
Owners who are not registered for vat cannot reclaim it and must not charge it. It is, normally, a good idea not to register for vat, if you can, because vat on rental usually far exceeds any benefit in reclaim, even in the early days of operation and it can easily make your rents uncompetitive. If your turnover exceeds the legal maximum, there is no choice but to register. Do not confuse the limited legal provisions to set costs against revenue for the purposes of income or corporation tax with vat rules.
This is included to help reduce some of the uncertainty and mystery behind health and safety rules, regulations and practices.
Do not panic, just because a guest stays in your holiday cottage, it does not mean that they do not have any personal responsibility for health and safety. The important thing is that you take reasonable steps to ensure health and safety. If a person unscrews a light bulb and stick their fingers into a live socket in the vast majority of circumstances you will not be held responsible... even if you had not plastered warning stickers all over the place. Likewise, if someone fell over a threshold bar when they were running from room to room, again, it is more than likely that they are responsible because they failed to act in a reasonable way to ensure their own health and safety.
On the other hand, if there was a rotten floorboard and they jumped once causing a leg to disappear below the floor... then the homeowner is more likely to be open to a claim. Simple and sensible precautions assuming guests do their bit in respect to their own Heath and Safety responsibilities for themselves and their charges will see you through. Health and safety is largely a matter of applied common sense and reasonable care. If you can show that you have done this and have taken any reasonable steps to forward this end, following health and safety guidance, you should be free from any significant liability.
Notes on risk assessment
This is a procedure to ensure the basic logic is applied to identifying dangers, those exposed to danger, ways of limiting or eliminating danger, checking the quality of actions already taken and to be taken and making appropriate review arrangements. Any careful person applying commonsense will usually go through similar processes.
There are four basic elements to a risk assessment:
1. Identify dangers
This can need professional competence where danger may not be obviously clear. For instance, the danger of fire crossing voids in roofs of older buildings or finding easy spread up stair wells. However professional competence is not always needed. Furniture or fittings catching fire; the danger of electrical leads, fittings and appliances. Even the potential danger of a rug on a polished floor could be relevant.
2. Identify those who may be at risk
This should include the type of occupant, for instance 'visitor', members of your family as well as a guests, or cleaners, visiting trades people etc:. It should also take account of disability, the elderly, the young, those with health or, in some cases, anyone with mental health problems, dementia is also a potential concern. The state of people within the building should also be considered such as, 'awake and aware', 'sleeping', children at play, people who are unwell and so on.
3. Consider the different types of person and their states in the light of identified dangers in para 1. Consider how the dangers might be minimised (taking fire as an example) by;
Such steps could include the use of smoke detector alarms in all bedrooms, the main lounge and the kitchen. (Heat detectors are now preferred in kitchens). The detectors should be linked if the building has been recently rewired, but wireless linked detectors are readily available for older buildings.
Where a larger building is involved, a full fire alarm system should be considered.
A powder fire extinguisher and a fire blanket in the kitchen area may be appropriate, along with a water extinguisher close to the main lounge area. There is an argument that a powder extinguisher may be a better choice where the danger of fire caused by electrical items is sufficient to justify it. However, water should be available if open fires are being used to avoid potential dispersal of hot embers by the force of the blast or their re-ignition, once the gas has dispersed. The choice of extinguisher should be carefully made in relation to water, powder, CO2 and foam variants.
The means of exit is important. Make sure doors to the outside are working and can be opened. Locked exit doors present a real danger in emergencies. There should clear instructions of what to do in the event of fire and exit routes.
The routes should be clear and thought should include consideration of the danger posed by such things a rugs on polished floors.
Consider the thoroughness of the assessment and steps taken. Have the risks been reduced? What is the possibility of any major areas being still unaddressed? When should you review the situation: ideally, this should be done at six to twelve month intervals or earlier if significant changes have been made to the property.
Who is the responsible person? Who is the competent person? Who did the assessment and when? It is quite possible for the same person to be all three. In some cases, where a trades person is working, the responsible person can, in fact, be more than one person for a short time.
This is not exhaustive, but it is to offer a framework of how to approach the risk assessment. No risk assessment can be totally exhaustive, but when conducted well, it can often go a long way to ensuring greater safety in times of danger.
Although the above has emphasis on fire, a similar approach can be used for other health and safety concerns. These can be put in such categories as moving and handling, electrical safety, kitchen safety, chemical and dangerous substances. (The general emergency instructions should not only include fire and what to do but also what to do if someone has a serious health concern, with contact numbers for the local emergency services and the local GP).
Such things as rugs on floors, the danger of, even, sharp knives in the kitchen along with the danger of children accessing bleach are examples of health and safety concerns. Electrical safety is also another major area. Although PAT testing is important, the length of cables, the danger of people tripping over them and other concerns is also relevant.
For small buildings, the matter of who is competent is blurred. If you take reasonable steps to find out basic information such as how different types of extinguisher work and their use and follow a clear effective assessment system and act on its findings, someone without formal fire training may be qualified to do the assessment. Again, there is no such thing as a risk free environment. The point is to identify risks and take reasonable steps to minimise them and to show that you have done this in a logical, thoughtful and effective manner.
The result is what is important and that you can show that you have taken reasonable steps towards the health and safety of all those occupying or visiting your holiday let. This being the case, should something happen causing harm which danger you have taken reasonable steps to guard against and minimise, there will be a strong case in your favour against any suggestions that you have not done the right thing. There is only so much any reasonable person can do to ensure the health and safety of guests, if they are determined to endanger themselves, it is virtually impossible to cater for this and they have a legal responsibility towards their own health and safety in this respect.
The above is given as guidance. As ever, seek expert advice to confirm or add to this outline information. The whole area of risk assessment involves many disciplines and for large buildings can call on the services of more than one competent person. Fire services could be a useful port of call.
Access needs to be given some thought. What seems simple and easy for many can be difficult or impossible for the disabled, infirm or unwell. In many cases, there may be no legal requirement to provide an access statement but in some it could be advisable. These will ensure disabled people will know important things such as whether they can manoeuvre wheelchairs in bedrooms and whether they can easily enter the building or exit it in case of fire or other emergencies. There are some good examples on the Internet which can be easily found with a search engine.
We have learnt nearly everything from our members, web-sites such as www.laymyhat.com , several professional journalists, publications and holiday cottage experts. We thank everyone for their generosity. Real progress can be made when the needless keeping of secrets is minimised by a generous approach to sharing information. A multiplier effect massively increases the benefit positive information can provide when it is freely accessible.
Remove items needing washing. (All towels including tea towels, bath mats. Check for stains on mattresses, sheets and towelling).
Start each bedroom from the ceiling downwards. Do the beds and then the floors in that order.
empty bin. clean where necessary. always use new liner
change bedding. before re-making bed where washing machine is on site, start washing bedding towels etc: now. If several bedrooms, do this before any other items in check list.
make absolutely certain the bedding is in good condition. this is a key booking quality factor
dust: beds, lights, side tables,
vacuum floor, skirting, beneath furniture.
mop flooring where necessary,
check and clean pictures and mirrors
air where necessary
surfaces, shelves, basin and taps inside and out, shower and all plumbing.
lavatory inside and out
empty and wash out bin
mop floor and clean mirrors
check and replenish shower gel etc:
replenish toilet paper and check reserve roll
air where necessary
empty and clean kitchen bin. then wash hands
check and clean beneath fridge
check plates and cutlery... for losses or damage
check glasses and clean where needed
check and clean cupboards
clean oven and underneath
ditto other sundry items
empty and wash out bin
clean coffee machine
check on washing liquid
put any new food into fridge or arrange new welcome basket
check tea and coffee, any conserves,
replace sponge. don't try to economise... they cost pennies and a tired sponge is a small but telling quality failure
check and clean cupboard doors
clean lights, switches, plug sockets
check fire extinguisher and fire blanket
check and replace table cloth, sofa cover
dust chairs, tables, tv, cupboards, blinds, curtains, pictures, empty bins, vacuum floor
check beneath all furniture.. vacuum there also
mop floor where appropriate
locate and check remote controls; change batteries when necessary
tidy up electric cables
locate and check guests book and / or guest information book
where relevant: clean wood burner (and glass... if necessary us a dilute solution of caustic crystals with gloves and eye protectors) replenish matches, paper, kindling ('starting sticks') log basket
constantly check the sofas for condition. this is a key booking quality factor
reposition furniture to standard arrangement where appropriate
air where necessary
clean inside and outside of windows
empty dustbin, renew bin bags, wash tea towels, oven gloves
check wi fi from time to time
where relevant, check wood supply and honesty box for wood use
check all lights and double check all plumbing including shower for leaks or potential problems
visual check of decoration especially for marks, scratches, damage to plaster, stains, or any sign of wall paper lifting
check reserves of toilet paper, bin liners, light bulbs, cleaning equipment etc:
if bedding etc: washed on site, remove and dry, iron where necessary, then store.
Where appropriate, report to owner that all is well.
Sit down, wipe your forehead and relax for a few minutes.
Thanks to www.laymyhat.com and Normandie Rentals for much of the change over check information.