Photo: Chatham Estate
Every winter and spring, swarms of tourists show up in Phoenix, my neck of the woods. Many other parts of the country are popular in summer and fall.Increasingly, savvy travellers — especially families — prefer to stay in furnished homes. They’re larger and more comfortable than a hotel. Private homes and condominiums are usually quieter, and they’re generally a better value, too.
Could you make money renting your home to tourists? Keep in mind, you don’t need to own a cabin in the Rockies or a cottage on the beach to play this game. Your home could fetch $200 per night or more if it is close to a popular national park or a major tourist attraction. Cities such as Denver, Chicago, New York, Orlando and Washington, D.C., are magnets for summer travellers.
Is there a big music or food festival that temporarily swells the population of your town each summer? Or perhaps a major golf tournament or NASCAR races at certain times during the year? These can be excellent opportunities to make your home available.
There are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, too. For instance, thousands of delegates from around the country will be flocking to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., in late August and early September this year.
If you plan it right, you could rent out your home and use the money to take a free vacation of your own! These three websites will help you roll out the welcome mat:
— Airbnb is a good place to start. Just set up a free profile page and start connecting with potential renters.
You can offer your whole house, one bedroom or just a fold-out couch in the office. As the name implies, it’s perfectly acceptable if you stay in the property when you rent it. Think of it as a B&B: You add value as you play the role of tour guide, recommending local eateries and attractions.
Although your listing is free, Airbnb does take a 3 per cent cut from each rental.
To really make your listing stand out, Airbnb even offers to send a professional photographer to your house at no extra charge.
— Home Away is a subscription-based site that may be a good choice if your home is in a prime location. Rates start at $329 for a single annual listing. If your home can pull high rates and you’re looking at renting for a long season or most of the year, it might be just the ticket.
If you don’t receive at least one successful booking during your one-year subscription, HomeAway will refund your money. The subscription also includes a professional review. One of their representatives will visit your rental property and offer tips on how to improve your listing.
You can upload photos and then attach a Google Map to your property page. It’s a good way to point out all the nearby amenities and attractions.
Another advantage of HomeAway: Owners can set different rates for high and low seasons.
— FlipKey especially caters to professional property managers, but the $300 annual rate makes it attractive for casual users, as well. FlipKey also offers short-term subscriptions for about $30 a month. That’s perfect if you want to advertise your home for only a few weeks or even a couple months out of the year.
FlipKey allows you to upload unlimited photos. Reviews on this site are limited to those written by verified travellers, to prevent spam issues on your property’s page.
As a bonus, listings posted on FlipKey are automatically added to the popular travel site TripAdvisor.
How much should you charge for your home? These sites double as research tools. Check out listings similar to yours and take a look at the rates. Also pay attention to what extras are offered (Breakfast? Bottles of water? Wine at check in?) and any typical limitations (What times should you set for check-in and checkout? Will you allow children? Pets? Smoking?) You’ll soon have a pretty good idea of what’s reasonable as well as the decisions you need to make.
Keep taxes and insurance in mind if you decide to become a part-time innkeeper. Your state and city governments may require you to collect sales and tourism taxes. Check with your local government agencies for more information.
The rent you collect is, of course, income — so keep that in mind as you decide what to charge. If you rent your primary home for fewer than 15 days during the year, however, you need not report that as income to the IRS.
Make sure your insurance covers your house as a rental. Though most rental sites will reimburse you for damages or theft, it’s just smart to have the added security written into your policy.
Kim Komando hosts the nation’s largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. To get the podcast, watch the show or find the station nearest you, visit www.komando.com. E-mail her at techcomments(AT)usatoday.com.