To the uninitiated, buying a vacation home in a popular destination seems like a brilliant business move. You’ve got your own special place to escape to anytime you want—and you can rent it out and make money when you’re not there. Talk about a win-win!
And during high season, it probably is: Whether you have a lakefront bungalow or a cozy ski condo five minutes from the area’s top runs, you likely have no problem getting potential renters fighting over your listing each week.
Unfortunately, as soon as the leaves begin to turn things might start to get a bit icy (or the last of the snow melts, and skiers hang up their gear). You’ve tried a price reduction, but you simply aren’t getting any bookings, even on the weekends.
“People look for deals during the offseason; a person who cannot necessarily afford a luxury home in the summer can possibly afford it during the winter,” says Barton, who rents out vacation homes year-round in 50 locations worldwide. “The key is to highlight the benefits that these locations bring during the offseason.”
1. Heat things up with a hot tub (or at the very least, a game room)
During the offseason, luxury amenities are key for getting renters to bite, Barton says. If you’re struggling to make your home stand out, consider installing an indoor sauna or an outdoor hot tub. Without fail, these vacation amenities draw in the crowds, he says.
So if going luxe isn’t in your budget, don’t despair—there are some cheap(er) tricks to try: “Make a designated game room with pool tables, a huge shelf of board games, and a pingpong table,” Barton suggests. “Or create a cinema room set up with tons of movies.”
And don’t forget what’s outside, either. Stock your home with sleds, snowboards, kayaks, and other gear for renters to use.
“Make sure your amenities are of the highest caliber,” he says. “This will make any guest feel like they are on vacation, no matter the season.”
2. Market to different audiences
If you’re struggling to fill the vacancies in your vacation home, it might be time to think outside the box: “A home can be used for more than just a vacation,” Barton points out.
In the offseason, he suggests, you can offer up your luxury home as a spot for a corporate retreat. Or consider hosting a writers workshop, or rolling out the yoga mats for groups looking for a wellness weekend away.
Just make sure you bone up on the rules and regulations on using your home this way. In some markets, you might have to add the owner of the event to your insurance and/or purchase extra liability coverage.
3. Sell the location, no matter what time of year
Jennifer Nelson, an agent with Realty Executives in Phoenix, says her clients often have trouble renting out their Arizona vacation homes during the summer, when temps can regularly reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Still, she says, there are always ways to lure renters—if you know how to market the location.
“It’s a smart idea to promote local attractions in conjunction with your rental,” she says. “For example, ‘Get the best tickets of the season for the Diamondbacks game!’ Or your town’s local auto auction, state fair, or whatever.”
While you’re at it, take the opportunity to play up any advantages of visiting the town in the offseason.
“In the winter, [you can] showcase that there are fewer crowds, easier access to high-end restaurants and local services that would ordinarily require a long wait,” she says.
4. Offer exclusive, ‘act now’ discounts
Of course, you can lower your nightly rates to draw in renters, Nelson says. Really want to be booked solid? Put some urgency behind it, and make it clear that this is a deal that’s too good to pass up.
Start by emailing renters who’ve already stayed in your home and gave it rave reviews, Nelson recommends.
“Offer them expiring, ‘act now’ pricing to attract attention so it doesn’t get lost in their email inbox,” she says. “For instance, ‘Book by the end of this week only for a special offseason rate! Extra discounts for stays of longer than seven days!’”
5. Sprinkle in a little holiday magic
Everyone dreams of a getaway somewhere far, far away from Aunt Edna around the holidays. If you can offer your beach or lake house for a bargain price that time of year, capitalize on that, Nelson says.
“If winter is your offseason, consider offering a holiday promotion and highlight your local Christmas fairs and horse-drawn carriage rides,” she says. “Tenants love to envision the whole getaway, not just the home, so the more you can expose them to, the better.”
6. Paint a pretty picture
Perhaps most important, remember that a picture is worth a thousand words—or in this case, thousands of dollars of rental income in your pocket, Nelson says.
“Update your photos to show off the season,” she urges. “For winter tenants, consider putting some cocoa and mugs on the counter, show the local Christmas lights on the rooflines, and show off how magical your town looks in winter. Show off the brilliant fall foliage in autumn and the dreamy spring sunsets over the water, too.”
Then sit back and watch as your booking calendar fills up.