Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, vacationers have been booking their rental homes much earlier in the booking season. Inventory was lower, and they quickly realized the need to secure a home of their choice as soon as possible, especially for the very popular mid-summer weeks. It is not unusual to see vacationers booking their next summer’s rental as far ahead as the previous August or September!
Here’s our advice about handling inquiries and bookings that occur prior to January of the rental year.
- Make sure your listing is active and up to date.
- Determine your pricing for next year.
- Determine your policy regarding repeat guests: How much time will you give them to commit? How much of a deposit will you require?
- Enter your pricing and availability for the following season, only marking dates as unavailable if you have received definite commitments/deposits from past guests.
- Use Booking Management to record “tentative” bookings. A tentative status still keeps the calendar open in case the tentative booking falls through.
- Remember to keep your calendar date stamp updated every few weeks.
- Be ready to respond to inquiries for long-term rentals as they are most likely to happen in the early part of the booking season. (Learn about some of the pros and cons of Longer-term Rentals.)
- Review your lease and especially your cancellation policy. You want to be sure to protect yourself when you are booking so far ahead of the vacation dates.
Payment schedules for early bookings
We recommend that you require an initial deposit, along with a signed lease, to reserve your home. How much is up to you and might depend on the popularity of the weeks requested and how large your home is – both of which would justify a larger deposit (larger homes are more difficult to book at the last minute).
A common policy any time of year is to require 50% of the rent with the lease at time of booking, with the balance (rent, security deposit, and tax) due 45 – 90 days in advance. Another option for very early bookings is to require 1/3, 1/3, and 1/3, each at the dates of your choosing.
If your home is on the Islands, ferry issues make it very difficult to rebook a late cancellation. So, you’ll want to require a big enough deposit to assure that your early bookings remain committed.
Tips: Remember, whatever funds you receive for the following season during the current calendar year must be included in your income for the current year, not the year of the rental.
One of the greatest challenges with early inquiries comes from the desire to protect your valuable repeat guests. They are less risky and more apt to continue to return multiple times. Many homeowners are reluctant to ask for a commitment from their past guests too soon after they depart. But given the current trend towards earlier bookings, it’s really necessary.
Here are a few options to consider
Shortly after your guests’ departures, let them know how much you enjoyed having them stay at your home, and that you will be renting your home again next year if they are interested in returning. A good practice is to include this in your follow-up email, when you also let them know that their security deposit is on its way back to them and you ask them for a guest review. If you are planning to raise your rates, perhaps offer them either the old price or a rate in between the old and the new.
Create a deadline by which you need to receive a commitment. But don’t be too lenient! In the past, some homeowners used to wait until January 1st. But given the early booking trend, your reserving multiple weeks for past guests until then could result in many lost bookings if any of them decide not to return. It’s not unreasonable to require a commitment by September 15 or October 1.
You can also allow your repeat guests a “right of first refusal.” As soon as you receive a new inquiry for a week tentatively held for a repeat guest, respond right away that you just need to check with your former guests. Give your repeat guests 24-48 hours to commit, and then confirm either way to the new inquirers.
Just keep in mind that your delay in letting the new inquirer know could cost you that new booking as they may not be willing to wait. Often they have inquired about other homes as well and are anxious to book.
Thus, you have to judge the “value” of your repeat guest. What is the likelihood that they would return? If they have already returned at least once, you might prefer to give them more of a grace period to confirm than a guest who has only stayed with you once.
If your former guests do inform you that they’d like to return, make sure you require a deposit and a signed lease.
Occasionally, vacationers will inquire over a year in advance. This means that current season guests haven’t even arrived in your home yet, so you can’t ask if they’d like to return next year. You are then faced with a choice. You could either accept the booking, or you could let them know that your policy is to allow your current season’s guests the option to return before you commit to future bookings. Offer to contact them within “x” days of the current guests’ departure.
Handling regular inquiries and bookings
For a more comprehensive look at booking techniques in general, read our post Successful Vacation Rental Booking Techniques.