Self Catering - Organising the flat for guests
When running a self catering property it is essential that you get the practicalities organised efficiently. You must enable the guests to get access to the property either by meeting them or getting keys to them, and when the guests leave the property needs to be checked, cleaned and prepared for the next guests. In this section we outline what needs to be done and some of the options for doing what's needed. This includes:
- Keys - Getting keys to the Guests - whether to meet or not
- Damage Deposits - whether to take one and implications
- Changeover - Cleaning, Laundry and preparing the property for the next guests.
Access to the Self Catering Flat
When a guest has booked and paid, and you have the property ready, you need to provide keys or access to the property.
If feasible, perhaps the best approach is for it is very good if you, or your agent, can meet and greet a guests in person. This has the huge advantage that you can show people around the property, pointing out features and asking them to be careful. The catch is that this is time consuming, especially if the people coming into the property don't know what time they will arrive, and sometimes you just can't be there at the time required.
- posting keys - perhaps one of the easiest ways. We recommend if you do send keys to do so using registered post, and only in countries with a good postal service. Of course, keys should only be sent after you have received payment
- leaving keys with a neighbour or local business. This can work well, so long as you have a good relationship with whoever is looking after the keys and they are prepared to answer questions from guests. This method can hit difficulties when people arrive late, so you need a back up - we have heard of people leaving keys under mats - not an approach we are comfortable with!
- Key boxes or digital locks are a good option, and they are becoming increasing popular. A key box or digital lock needs to be fitted to the property. These have a code which provides access and the you simply have to provide the code to the guest. Like posting keys this has the great advantage that it doesn't matter what time your guests arrive. The big advantage over posting keys is that you can send the code to the guests via mail, email, or even text.
If you don't meet guests and show them the facilities, you should have good directions, and ensure that the instructions you have in the property are good - otherwise you can have guests who don't know how to use facilities and either call you frequently, or worse, damage facilities.
A damage deposit can be taken as a surety against guests doing any damage in your property. Typically people will take £2-500 depending on the size of the property and teh quality of the fitments. A guideline can be the excess on your insurance policy. The implications of taking a damage deposit are:
- you have to collect the money, keep it and account for it separately;
- you need to have a process for checking the property and deciding whether to repay the deposit or to retain some or all of the deposit. It is difficult to do this as guests leave as to do so, you would have to check the property whilst they were there - which is often not practical. Whoever cleans the property and prepares it for the next guests is usually in a good position to check the property;
- in most cases, you will be repaying the deposit a day or so after the guests have left the property. This can get complex if the guests do not have a bank account that you can pay directly into. If you have the facility to take credit card payments, a good option can be to take a payment on the card and then refund the payment onto the card;
- you may decide that you need to retain some or all of the damage deposit. In which case, you should contact the guest to let them know what you are retaining and why. Reasons why we have done this in the past include the occasional broken window, carpet cleaning after make up spilled, or properties just left in a very dirty condition so more cleaning than is reasonable was needed.
It is not essential to take a damage deposit. The administrative effort in taking the deposits, keeping track of them and repaying them is not trivial. The vast majority of damage deposits are repaid in full and sometimes it feels like more trouble than it is worth to retain some of the money. As a result, some very experienced short term landlords choose not to take damage deposits.
Preparing for the New Guests
The changeover happens after one guest leaves and before the next arrives. It involves:
- cleaning the property - most guests will leave a property fairly clean, so it's often not a big job, but every so often it is worth doing a "deep clean"
- laundry - often a bigger job than the cleaning. We recommend you have 3 sets of bedding, towels etc so that even with same day changeovers you have some spare in case of emergencies. If the laundry can be done on site, it is easy, but as doing the laundry usually takes longer than doing the cleaning, many people use a laundry service
- checking the property - if you've taken a damage deposit you need to check the property to decide whether you can repay it. Even if you've not taken a damage deposit, the property needs to be checked for minor maintenance such as light bulbs that need replacing, taps dripping, consumables (anything from toilet rolls to wine glasses) that need replacement. It's a good idea to have a feedback sheet in the property so that guests can tell you about any maintenance required.
- preparing the property for the next guests - this is really the final check to ensure that all is ready. Many landlords will provide a welcome pack with fresh milk, coffee, tea, snacks, fresh flowers. So placing these in the property and ensuring that the information pack about the property and the guest book (if you have one) are left in a prominent position.
We hope that you find this helpful, and we'd very much like to hear your thoughts and ideas about how to deal with the practicalities of running a holiday let business on our blog.