It’s been an awful winter so far. There are floods and mudslides in the west.
The southeast is still rebuilding after the worst hurricane season in a hundred years. The Midwest is frozen under a blanket of arctic air.
Could there be a better time to think about what to do during summer vacation?
Not according to Christine Karpinski, a vacation home owner and landlord, and author of the book How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner: The Complete Guide to Buy, Manage, Furnish, Rent, Maintain and Advertise Your Vacation Rental Investment (Kinney Pollack Press, 2004).
Over the next two weeks, all of my properties in Florida, Tennessee and Georgia will be rented out for the entire summer, she said in an interview in late January, adding that her properties in Destin and Panama City, Florida rent out for 40 to 50 weeks per year.
Karpinski credits her success to the growth of vacation home rental sites on the Internet and says her success can be easily duplicated by other vacation homeowners. Her favorite sites to list properties include Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO.com), VacationRentals.com, and CyberRentals.com. She also likes PerfectPlaces.com. She estimates she spends about $600 per year advertising on the Internet.
“I never put any ads in the church bulletin or local newspaper classified section,” she said. “It just doesn’t work.”
Karpinski, who bought her first house at age 19, was a stay-at-home mom looking for something to do when she decided to become a vacation homeowner. She went to Tennessee on vacation and looked at properties there.
“They were inexpensive to buy,” she recalls. “I paid $140,000 for two vacation cabins and at the rate I’m going, each one will gross $35,000 to $40,000 in income this year,” she explained. “I expect they’ll be paid for in no time.”
But being a landlord requires work, especially since Karpinski does everything herself, from maintenance to bookings. Since some of her properties are located out of state, it poses a bit of a challenge when things go wrong.
Once, just before Christmas, there was a big snowstorm near her cabins in Tennessee. The well froze and there was no water in the cabins, which had been rented out for the season. Karpinski quickly refunded the renters’ cash and then helped them find another place to rent so their holiday wouldn’t be ruined entirely.
She went the extra step of following up to make sure everything had gone as smoothly as possible.
“I called them after the experience. They were so pleased that I had helped them that even though they had to leave the cabin they still recommended it to their friends,” Karpinski recalled. “Bad things can happen in any business. But how it ends up depends on how you handle it.”
Karpinski says the reason she started doing everything was that she simply couldn’t afford to hire a management company.
“And what would they have done if the well froze? Exactly what I did. What would they do if the toilet broke? They’d call a plumber. I figure I can call a plumber as easily and save the fees,” she said.
To keep house problems at bay, Karpinski does a lot of preventive maintenance on her rental properties. She has the heating and air conditioning systems serviced twice a year. She visits each property at least twice a year to replace toasters (“Those seem to die pretty quickly,” she noted), coffee pots, bed spreads and other items.
Clearly, dealing with tenants, cash, and maintenance doesn’t work for everyone. Karpinski says the most successful vacation home landlords are stay-at-home moms (or dads) like her who are looking for something to do.
“They have the time to do this. Women who love to shop and decorate will like it. It can be fun to decorate a vacation home,” she added.
These days, Karpinski is investing in new construction. She invests her cash at the pre-construction debut of a property, buying off the blueprints. She plans to flip these properties once the communities are built. Actively managing a small handful of vacation rentals takes up enough time.
“I have a cell phone,” she said. “I have to be accessible at all times in case of emergencies.”
She says that fear is the biggest reason more people don’t rent out vacation homes.
People are afraid of the unknown. It’s hard to understand until you experience it for yourself. You are never going to know how great it is until you try it for yourself,” she said.
Jul. 23, 2005.