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How COVID-19 Affects VRBO and AirBnB Owners

Now renting sign on a building
Here are some things to keep in mind.

If you own and operate a rental property, you’ve probably been hit by changes in your rental traffic. It’s hard to know just how rental properties will be affected by the global pandemic and our “new normal.” While many of us aren’t flying to big vacation destinations this summer, a home rental in a beautiful location may be a 2020 substitute for a big beach or international vacation. As an owner, you always have a responsibility to provide a safe, clean environment for your renters. During the current global pandemic, short-term rentals have seen a big downturn, but experts agree that clean spaces can be OK for a summer getaway, as long as certain precautions are taken by both owners and renters.

Here are what major rental groups like VRBO and Airbnb are advising their property owners.


Expect Travel Disruptions

Travel has never been trickier, especially for renters who’d planned a trip far from home. If your renter was coming to your property from out of state (or out of the country) they may be unable to make it. Companies are slowly adjusting cancellation windows for those who booked this last spring. For example, as of a June 2, 2020 update Airbnb was offering full refunds on rental deposits for reservations booked on or before March 14, 2020, for rentals until August 15, 2020. That end date has been slowly moving forward in time as the global pandemic continues. So while a month ago you may have thought your late summer reservations would move forward, by mid-July you may be looking at more and more cancellations.


Plan for Stricter Cleaning Protocols

When you decided to rent a property, you knew you’d have to get someone in between reservations to clean up, change the linens, etc. But now in the “new normal” of COVID-19, a deeper clean is mandated by major rental companies. This allows renters to feel secure in their first steps inside your home/cabin/apartment and also helps to slow the spread of any viruses that could have been left on surfaces. Since many cases of COVID-19 are asymptomatic, or don’t appear for weeks, one or more renters could be in your property sick and not realize it.

Airbnb has always offered cleaning protocols to set a level of care for owners, but now it has adjusted that checklist to provide a deeper sanitization of properties between guests. To make guests feel more comfortable, owners who pledge to adopt this new higher standard will be able to display a new badge on their rental properties as a promotional highlight. VRBO is also adding more cleaning and sanitizing protocols to its owner center, including those suggested by the CDC and WHO. They also suggest owners limit the number of back-to-back stays to allow for enough cleaning time of the property.


Shift into High Gear for Customer Care

Instead of relying on customer ratings, which might be in short supply if you end up with a lot of cancellations, some companies are offering ways for owners to still get bonus points. As owners work with customers to provide either a smooth cancellation process or a stellar rental experience, VRBO, for one, is providing an increase in search rankings for owners who go above and beyond to be helpful and supportive.

Owners of some properties can also list what specific cleaning protocols and socially-distant services they now offer as a listing bonus. For example, VRBO is offering a listing promotion of your property’s “contactless check-in and check out” instead of a face-to-face key handoff. Airbnb is offering a printable checklist that can be left for guests, so they know exactly what was done to clean and disinfect the space, and they also encourage owners to leave extra items for guest use so they can continue to feel confident in the cleanliness of the space during their stay.


Prepare for the Unexpected

As conditions change, you might find your beachfront rental available then suddenly closed as new cases of the Coronavirus appear. You’ll want to not only keep an eye on local and state conditions, but also stay in touch with your renters so they know what’s going on as well. While it’s unlikely that roads would ever get shut down, local amenities like restaurants or amusement parks might be open one day and closed the next. Especially if your property is located away from your own home base, you’ll want to keep up on everything going on by your property.

In small towns like summer resort favorites, it’s important to know what the area is experiencing in terms of renter traffic, too. Too many visitors, and local grocery stores and other services can become overwhelmed. If you want to pace your renters and not allow long-term stays, you can make that decision and explain your property’s limitations. You could encourage renters to bring supplies from home, like shelf-stable food and other items so they don’t strip shelves bare. Or offer they limit their in-person interactions in the property’s shared areas like a pool or condo gym or in restaurants and bars to limit their (and your property’s) exposure to germs. After all, being a good neighbor and property steward is always appreciated, no matter where you are.

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