Holiday Lettings

Having worked in the service business for the last 25 years I thought I had become immune to the demands of clients (who are always right); it no longer surprises me when someone needs something done urgently for Monday morning and tells us on Friday evening – and then on Monday complains that what was requested to be black on Friday should now be white… but then it changes back to black again on Tuesday morning (and the deadline is miraculously extended).

It also became clear to me a long time ago that in my business the amount that we charge has very little relationship to the number of hours expected – basically, if a client is paying us, we are expected to do whatever he or she requires, irrespective of any hourly limitation (although, to be fair, it is usually those that pay the least that are the most unreasonable on this point!).

I thought I knew all about the stresses that were involved in providing a service and the often unreasonableness of customers, but then I entered the world of ‘holiday lettings’! First of all, I should have read the warning signs when I asked a ‘friend’ who we had allowed to borrow our lovely house in Spain for his holidays for three years running (for free!), to write us a reference on our new website to get the ball rolling. Asked to mark the house between 1 and 5 he gave it a 4. A 4??? When I asked him why not a 5, he said that it was because (a) the white sheets hadn’t matched the cream coloured pillowcases during his last stay, and (b) the beach towels that he had bought the year before had become a bit tatty. Stunning. Sadly he hadn’t noticed the newly installed satellite dish and microwave, or the fantastic new dishwasher… just the things that he didn’t like.

However hard we try to make the house ‘perfect’ it can only ever be perfect in the eyes of the beholder – something that is nearly always the case with marketing – I have had many young employees over the years who, when chased to get a move on with something, have responded ‘ah, but I am a perfectionist’ – to which I always respond that it is not going to be perfect if the PR goes out too late, or the brochure doesn’t get to print on time – what, exactly, does ‘perfect’ mean?

When it comes to holiday lettings, what is clear is that the price that is being paid is completely unrelated to the offer – the holidaymakers have paid their fees, and they want what is, to them, perfection. My friend in Prague who got me involved in this in the first place (yes, you know who you are!!), told me that we would have people that marked our house down because the walls in the sitting room were red and they preferred white – she was right. We once had an American couple that complained that we didn’t have an ‘egg lifter’ in the kitchen and marked us down for the kitchen being badly stocked… anyone know what an egg lifter is?!

What we have realized is that people that go on these holiday rental websites are obviously in cahoots – it seems that they all have discussed the process of making complaints on arrival in order to prepare their case later in the day for a refund or discount; we recently had a couple staying that, upon arrival, complained that the key safe didn’t work (even though a blind monkey can use it) that the keys then didn’t fit the locks (and then they did?!) that the place wasn’t clean, even though a team of very good cleaners had been in all day beforehand, that I had said it was a couple of minutes’ walk to the beach when in fact it had taken them five and so on and so on. We placed bets on how long it would be before they asked for a discount, and how nasty they would turn when we said no. I won (I said ‘very’).

Another good example is a group of five girls that morphed into nine on arrival (I had thought that five was pushing it, but they were Ok with sharing…). God knows how they managed with nine. But one thing that didn’t manage was the boiler that was expected to pump water in the bathroom all day long and soon gave up the ghost. They asked for a discount as we had assured them that we had good central heating and air-conditioning – but conveniently forgot that we also limited the number of people that could stay to five. And a group of boys that the neighbours complained about for making too much noise every night, who burned cigarette holes in our duvets and sofa and left the biggest mess you have ever seen – but still chased us as to when we would return their deposit. This holiday rentals business is not for the faint hearted!

What is strangest of all as far as I am concerned, is that these people are fussy about every little detail when they are preparing to depart and upon arrival, but then leave horrible messes when they, themselves, leave the house. Today I corresponded with a couple that left yesterday and said that they had had a fantastic time, that the house was great, blah, blah, blah.. but there were a couple of dirty plates in the cupboard on arrival. I have just arrived myself and found that they have broken the handle on the cloakroom door, stained the brand new pillowcases and pretty much destroyed the dishwasher. Incredible.

Along the way, though, we have had a few good renters; and those that are nice and appreciate of the fact that we are letting them stay in our home will find that next time they want to stay they will get a discount and all the other things that the ‘bad ones’ expect.

The morale of the story – there are a few. First, if you want to find fault in something you can always find something. But if you are looking for faults in order to get a bargain or a discount, then you are probably the last one that will get it. At least in my world. And finally… if you want to rent your house or flat out for money. Don’t do it!

And don’t even get me started on some of these holiday rental websites; if you want to make a fortune without lifting a finger, set up one of these – the nearest thing to a license to print money!