Have you ever dreamed of owning vacation rental properties? I’ve definitely dreamed of this life! How cool would it be to own awesome vacation rental properties in the ski mountains, or on a Hawaiian beach, and have renters pay the mortgage and bills! That’s why I am so excited to share the story of two of my best friends that have turned this dream into reality!
Their goal is to buy awesome vacation properties in locations they want to retire at, and have renters pay off the mortgage during their money-making years. So when they’re totally retired, they’ll own vacation homes in some of the world’s most beautiful places that they can affordably travel to at any time.
Check out the living room of their vacation rental property below. Does this look like the cliche “slumlord” rental? In my opinion, this is how you invest in real-estate the right way: buy cool properties that make financial sense, and take care of them so they act like powerhouses in your long-term financial portfolio:
Before I begin the interview, I want to introduce you to the interviewee, Marlene. She is the wife of one my best friends who has made multiple appearances in this blog. I’ve referred to them as my friend, Torque, in the past. (You can click around in this blog to find more stories about our friendship if you’d like.) Torque and Marlene were my original inspiration to pursue financial independence because they made it look so fun and cool. So Marlene, let’s start the interview about your Summit County, Colorado Ski Condo you bought and renovated this last year: (At the bottom of this article, I’ll share a link to the Airbnb listing so if you ever want to visit Colorado, you can stay at an awesome place.)
1) So tell me about your property? Why did you decide to buy a vacation rental property?
My husband and I own a three bedroom, two bathroom condo in the heart of Summit County, in Dillon, Colorado. The complex is sound, with sturdy bones, and was in an excellent location – but the condo itself was distressed. Most of the interior was original so we completely gutted it and remodeled with upscale finishings. We designed every inch with the comfort and enjoyment of our guests in mind.
The idea of owning a vacation rental had been a long held dream of ours. We have been skiing Summit County since the 90’s, when my husband worked at the Vista-Haus Chalet on Peak 8 at the Breckenridge Ski Resort. Since then, we had imagined how wonderful it would be to have a vacation home in the area for friends and family to visit. Now that this has finally come to fruition, no detail has been overlooked. (Hey this is Bill, I wanted to add to this special memory. In college, Torque and I would travel to Colorado and live as ski bums for the month over Christmas break. Here’s a picture of us living our dream as broke college teenagers in Colorado in 2000. If you’re a broke college kid, there is hope! But start saving and investing now so you can own your properties one day! Ok, back to Marlene…)
We know the finer details matter to guests. We thoughtfully blended modern amenities with rustic charm so guests can enjoy the feel of a chic mountain retreat.
Since parties tend to gather in the kitchen, we created plenty of space with an expansive counter-top surrounded by wine barrel swivel stools so guests can easily mingle.
Over our years as guests through Airbnb, we’ve been keeping mental notes on the favorite aspects of our accommodations. Often, it was the little things that made the biggest difference. We didn’t overlook a thing. Each bedroom has shelves and/or dressers, hangers, luggage racks and bedside cord extensions for cell phone chargers. There are several hooks throughout which is crucial to keeping gear dry.
The bathroom vanities are separate from the toilets and showers, plus there are several full-length mirrors throughout the condo. This creates more space for larger groups of people to get ready for the day without having to wait for their turn for the bathroom. There are plenty of outlets, blow-dryers, irons and boards, kids toys and supplies. The kitchen has everything from measuring cups and wine glasses to blenders and rice cookers. Now that it’s all come together, we’re excited to welcome guests to our vacation rental property.
2) What has your Airbnb experience been like so far? How long did the learning curve take to figure out how to rent your vacation property?
Our experience with Airbnb has been excellent. The platform is intuitive, easy to learn and has a clever set up for reviews. The customer service is fantastic. The representatives are always available via email, phone or chat. They are helpful, cheerful and always follow up to make sure your issue was solved.
It took a casual day of playing around on the website to get our property posted and running. It was about a week of questions from guests to get all the finer details worked out; randomly putting in 10 – 30 minutes here and there. We are consistently updating images and information to better serve the needs of our guests, such as automated emails with instructions and information.
3) What is your goal with the property? To have it pay for itself? To have it cash flow for you? Etc?
Our goal is to make traveling to our favorite places more affordable. We’ve taken an annual snowboarding trip since the 90’s and always find lodging incredibly expensive. We had been patiently searching for a property that was in a good location and at a good price. We finally found one and jumped on it. We did most of the remodeling ourselves (with the help of good friends!) (Thanks for the shout out Marlene. Amanda and I did help paint all the trim in the pictures white:) to save on upfront costs.
We want to have a vacation rental property that we can enjoy, but have some of the costs covered by renting it out when we’re not using it. We also look at the venture as a long-term investment with the idea that we would have retirement income from renters after the mortgage is paid off. Initially, we didn’t even worry about breaking even on the mortgage, but we’ve been so successful with Airbnb that we will make a profit in our first year and expect this to only increase moving forward. We purposefully priced our rental low so we could be fully booked and obtain reviews. With that, we are planning on increasing our prices next season so we will be making more profit.
4) What has been your best experience with your vacation rental property?
The whole experience has been great. I enjoy interacting with the guests and hearing about why they are visiting Summit County and where they are visiting from. We’ve had a couple wedding parties, family reunions, and groups of friends celebrating milestone birthdays.
I think my best experience was with one of my first guests who was an independent contractor traveling with a group of guys Monday through Friday. They needed a place to stay for an indeterminate amount of weeks, one week for certain but potentially nine. They were working on a budget and they had a lot of special requirements. Without getting into too much detail, I spent a lot of time figuring out the Airbnb system because they had so many specific needs as far as booking and billing. They also had unique parking requirements, so I was able to work with our condo association and learn a lot of information on that end.
Prior to staying with us, his group was in some budget motel and were miserable. Not only were they away from their families earning a living, but their accommodations were uncomfortable. It was so rewarding being able to offer them a nice home to relax in after a long day’s work. This guest was so kind and wonderful to communicate with, plus he was really appreciative of my efforts in caring for their individual needs. He gave excellent feedback on our place – public he raved, and privately he told us about a negative experience with a neighbor’s smoke. Bonus, because of his booking, we were sold out for nearly two months during the hardest time – spring season on weekdays.
5) What has been your worst experience with it?
We’ve hardly had a bad experience so I’m not sure I can come up with a worst experience. We’ve had a couple minor bumps. For instance, the tenants below our condo were smoking excessively, which bothered our guests. We talked with the condo association management and the owner of the condo and the issue it was quickly resolved.
6) Would you advise someone else investing in a vacation rental property? How should someone best prepare if they want to do it?
I would recommend start by hosting your own home on Airbnb, depending on your financial and living situation. If a homeowner is looking to move and can afford the down-payment on a new house without selling their old one, Airbnb could be a good option if they live in an area where people may need lodging. If someone has a spare room, a desire to build a tiny house, or have an RV parked on their lot, they could easily invite guests in. Or if someone is interested in investing in real estate, they should look for a good deal in a touristy neighborhood. Don’t be afraid of construction – just hire good people, ask a lot of questions, and expect things to go wrong so you can take it in stride when you do. Do some research on what is important to guests and think about your own experiences traveling and what makes your stay enjoyable. People travel for all sorts of reasons and Airbnb is completely disrupting the hospitality industry creating opportunities for people with vision and fortitude.
I think the biggest hang up for people, after the financial aspects are sorted out, is whether they can trust strangers in their home. People seem to have greater respect when they are in a peer’s home rather than in a hotel own by a huge corporation. People want to be honest and trustworthy. The Airbnb community is full of people who want to explore the world and those in it – not destroy homes. 🙂
7) Has it been a good investment for you? Financially? And lifestyle wise?
Yes, it has been a good investment financially and for our lifestyle. We love having a place to visit that feels like home and being able to welcome friends on vacation. (This is Bill: THANKS MARLENE!!! Haha!) And with our personal items in a locked closet, we don’t even have to pack a suitcase. We just find cheap plane tickets and go!
8) Now that you’ve had it for over a year, what would you have done differently?
I would have invest more money on pillows and bedding and less money in furniture. We found a lot of good deals on craigslist and Tuesday Morning for items like bed frames and the dining room table. But we bought a new couch from a boutique vendor that was very expensive. We should have spend more time looking for a better deal.
9) Would you buy a vacation rental property again?
In a heartbeat. Now that we have a ski pad, I’m eyeing beach communities!
So that’s it! Cool, huh? I remember when they bought their first investment property ten years ago, and now they are experienced real-estate investors are starting to buy vacation properties in awesome locations so they will eventually be fully-retired and free to travel affordably throughout the year. We all need inspiring role models to learn from as we begin to create our own journey and dream life. I’ve been following their financial footsteps the last five years, so hopefully it’s only a matter of time before I own my own nearby vacation condo, renovate it myself, and we can be ski and beach bum friends and feel like we are happy teenagers for the rest of our lives.