Interior Investments: Freshen Up To Optimize Rental Income
By Marcia Bradford
At the end of the busy summer season, after a steady stream of weekly renters moving in and out, many condo units near the gulf coast may be a bit worse for wear. Since tourism in this area usually slows down significantly during the fall months, now is the time to refresh and renew your condo interior.
Lori Bates, Interior Designer and owner of Lori Bates Interiors in Panama City Beach, Fla., said updating a condo after the busiest rental season is the best way to keep renters coming back.
“Units that are kept fresh with a clean and stylish appearance are the ones that people really want to come back to,” she explained. “People are creatures of habit. If they like the condo they stayed in this year, they want to book that same unit next year. But they want it to be kept clean, fresh and relaxing.”
Additionally, now that technology allows potential renters an advance look at their vacation spot, units that are clean and regularly updated will attract the most new business, according to Patti Waldrop, owner of Posh Interiors in Orange Beach, Ala. The Internet has made the visual appeal of a rental condo more important than ever, she said. “Vacationers are now able to view their options online, so units need to be camera-ready,” she points out. “If there is no photography, the potential renter assumes the unit has old, worn furnishings. You really need to stand out in this market.”
Emily Eiland Gonzalez, marketing director at Kaiser Realty, Inc., in Gulf Shores, agreed. “As vacationers become more and more Internet savvy, the full gamut of photos and virtual tours become key distinguishing factors in choosing which unit to stay in once they have decided on an individual complex,” Gonzalez said. “By website stats alone, it is clear that the properties that are well maintained and have upgrades rent better.”
She added that the topic of the property’s condition is inevitably brought up in every conversation a rental manager has with a property owner. “We pass along comments made by guests about the things they love about the unit as well as feedback such as ‘the TVs need to be upgraded, the sofa is looking worn or the under counter ice maker needs to be replaced.’ As a result, it becomes evident to owners that the more upgrades a unit has and the higher the overall condition of the property, the better it will rent. Upgrades bring a significant return on investment.”
Making the Grade
But in today’s economy, sprucing up isn’t just about looking better; it’s also about making an investment in future rental returns. Many rental management companies rate condos based on appearance and amenities. Gonzalez said a rating system helps reservation professionals work with customers to meet their expectations and budgets. At Kaiser Realty, she said the rating process begins with an electronic guest comment card.
“This allows owners to know immediately if the condition of their individual property is up to par,” she said. “Also, each property has a specific, individual, personal rental manager assigned to it. This ensures that the owner has a direct line of communication with us and the relationship develops into one of trust. Rental managers are in each property throughout the year for various reasons. However, these managers enter each unit annually, with the sole purpose of doing an on site evaluation to ensure the property maintains the “rating” it has been assigned.”
Gonzalez explained that each property is rated in comparison to the market as a whole. “First and foremost, our minimum “Standard” ratings are based on guest comfort and safety,” she said. “For a property to go from Standard to Deluxe to Superior, it must earn points. This is done both according to the amenities of a given complex and the condition of a particular unit.”
Following the evaluation, a detailed breakout of minimum standard expectations by room is given to each owner, along with recommended items that can increase property ratings, Gonzalez said. These might include upgraded appliances and counter tops, freestanding ice machines, upgraded fixtures and game tables. Additionally, several outside amenities that affect property ratings, such as pools, tennis courts, game rooms and fitness facilities, are evaluated.
“This gives the owner a true expectation for rate structure development for the next year, as well as expectations for return guests,” Gonzalez remarked. “The upkeep of an individual property can make a guest feel welcome and at home in their vacation rental. When this happens, they rebook the same property again and again.”
Easy, Economical Updates
Waldrop asserts that there are many ways to update a condo property, regardless of budget levels.
“Adding fresh, bright colors with throw pillows, art work and a new rug can completely revitalize the visual appeal,” she said. “ Have fun mixing colors and patterns with at least three to four fabrics, but don’t overuse a single print. Work in at least one Sunbrella outdoor fabric; they are available in hundreds of amazing colors and patterns and they’re perfect for dining seat cushions. With a staple gun, a few yards of fabric and about 15 minutes per chair, anyone can bring new life to their dining area.”
Bates suggested lamps and large pieces of art, either framed or wrapped, that are splashy and bold with a coastal feel, as an easy way to introduce color and style.
Fresh paint is also a great way to update a condo, according to designers. Bates recommended using a light, neutral color and making the unit color consistent, if possible. “Most units are small and the one-color approach adds to the openness,” she explained. “If you feel the need to change the color from room to room, consider keeping the same color while changing the intensity or shade. One of the design trends today is to use various shades of the same color. For instance if you are using blue, use several shades of blue and maybe just pop it with a small accent of coral.”
Neutral colors, such as a fresh beige with a little gold in it or a soft green or blue that gives the space a coastal feel, offer a more up-to-date look, she added.
If painting the entire living area is too costly, choose a single accent wall for color, Waldrop advised. “Colors such as pale avocado and wheat grass are both very versatile,” she said. “The avocado is great with the new yellows and grays that are so hot this fall, and the wheat grass works great with blues and greens, or with bolder purples and reds. If selecting multiple fabrics and a wall color is overwhelming, seek help from a design shop. Bring in a few pictures you’ve torn from magazines that showcase colors that appeal to you.”
Bedding is another area where minimum investments can achieve maximum results, Bates said. “We are using a lot of mattlesse comforters because they are light and fresh and can be washed rather than dry cleaned,” she said. “The look of your bedding can also be updated by choosing a white or beige mattlesse and introducing a “coastal fabric pattern” on a couple of euro shams, and possibly a bed skirt or long bed pillow.”
Bates also recommended adding a unique piece, such as an odd side table, coffee table or chest to create interest. On the other hand, “the armoire is a dinosaur in the units today,” she said. “Today’s flat-screen TV’s can be mounted on the wall, with a console installed under them to house the DVD player and provide a visual weight under the TV.”
Furniture style has become very mix and match, with less use of bedroom suites, Bates added. “Use a lot of different unique pieces mixed together to update and create a sophisticated style,” she advised. “Larger, bulkier, simpler pieces are in across the board and less is more. The slipcover look is big now and all of our vendors are showing the natural linens. We are also seeing the introductions of brightly painted chair frames.”
Additionally, she said, the dark heavy wood look is being replaced with the washed, grayed casual look. “The trend is toward a mixture of unique pieces, even white marbles and mirrored pieces, she explained “Also, we are seeing the use of vintage fabrics and antique silver. You can’t go wrong with a large piece of coral or a bowl of large shells. Colorful woven rugs can brighten up a space, add some color and an updated look.”
Condo owners should also consider getting rid of a few items, such as vertical blinds and silk trees, Bates said. “We see a lot woven wood blinds with drapery panels, even if they are just panels and don’t close. In the bedrooms, we try to use drapery that closes with a black out lining — vacationers like to sleep late. Silk trees get dusty and worn looking, so don’t hesitate to throw them out. Most of the silk plants we use are of the succulent type, that look like grass or aloe.”
Beyond the visual aspects, the comfort level of a condo unit is the next most critical step to insure return renters, Waldrop said. She recommended replacing old or inferior quality sofas, chairs and mattresses to keep guests coming back year after year.
“If they find a beautiful, comfortable unit and get a great night’s sleep, they won’t take a chance on a different unit next year,” she pointed out.