Attendance was higher than ever before at our fall Homeowner Forums this year, including the Vineyard Forum, whose attendance was nearly double that of past years.
Undoubtedly, the impact of the new lodging tax was responsible for the enthusiastic response from homeowners. But the 1 ½ hour Presentation by our staff also provided information about the state of the 2019 Cape and Islands rental market, as well as some practical tips about how to successfully manage and market a vacation rental home in this constantly evolving industry.
For the first time in our long history of offering Homeowner Forums, the second Forum of the 2019 season was held at a new venue in Falmouth. The Museums on the Green provided a lovely setting with ample parking and a modern and attractive meeting space.
A review of the 2019 season
COO Jim Reese opened the Presentation by taking a look at the 2019 season, including inquiry and booking trends as well as the impact of the short-term lodging tax. He reported that, prior to the passage of the lodging tax, the fall of 2018 had seen a marked increase in inquiries, including a record 44% increase in December over the previous year. Although inquiry totals also increased by 7% in January over 2018, subsequent months dropped around 9%, until a rebound was seen starting in June. With all of the ups and downs of the booking season for 2019, however, the overall inquiry numbers resulted in a -2% drop from January-August, and a -0.7% drop from January-October.
Vacationers are planning earlier these days
A trend in which vacationers book their vacations earlier than in the past will continue, Jim believes. From this July through October, there was a 36% increase in inquiries for the summer of 2020! Thus, Jim emphasized the importance for homeowners to reach out to their past guests earlier than usual to avoid missing new inquiries and bookings.
The lodging tax
Co-owner Joan Talmadge spoke about the impact of the lodging tax this past summer and the inevitable adjustment period for both vacationers and homeowners to this “new normal.” She indicated that 40 states now have a short-term lodging tax and that vacationers will come to expect and accept the tax.
Joan also warned owners whose rental is in a town with a local tax of 4% that there may be a rate increase to a 6% local tax. In addition, the Vineyard and Nantucket may join the Water Protection Fund, which would mean an additional 2.75% tax. Because the tax is determined by the date of occupancy, not the date when the lease was signed, the homeowners who could be affected were advised to add a clause to their lease indicating that there was a potential for a tax increase and that the tenant would be responsible for the additional tax.
How homeowners should adapt to the new normal
Next, Elizabeth Weedon focused on some specific, practical recommendations from both managing and marketing perspectives. Today’s vacationer is savvy, busy, often young, and has increasingly higher expectations both of the homes they’re renting and the booking process itself. In order to meet those demands, it’s important for homeowners to provide as “frictionless” an experience as possible for their guests, before, during, and after their stays.
She also provided some marketing tips to help homeowners successfully market their homes during this new rental environment. Providing great pictures and plenty of current guest reviews is no longer enough to make your listing stand out from the pack.
Some samples of our marketing opportunities
At all but the Vineyard Forum, we presented a video of our first ever Home Makeover. Our marketing team had worked with the homeowner and an interior designer to transform a Harwich home into a light and bright Cape Cod charmer.
Becky Fischer talked about her photography service (she’s photographed more than 600 of our homes!) and her other onsite consultation services. And Jennie Sparrow introduced our latest EsCape TV episodes. So far, we’ve recorded 30 episodes, featuring various Cape and Islands towns and some of our vacation homes.
Co-owner, Jeff Talmadge, concluded the Presentations with a brief explanation of our company’s commitment to preserving the fragile Cape and Islands environment. He encouraged homeowners to complete their listing’s “Green Amenities” section.
As usual, the formal Presentations were followed by open Q&A periods when attendees were encouraged to ask questions and share advice with their fellow homeowners.