Managing the Onsite Challenges of Short-Term Rentals
When short-term guests stream into your apartments, both residents and staff feel their presence. Here’s how to overcome the problems commonly associated with temporary renters.
When AMLI Residential decided to experiment with renting apartments to short-term rental operators, onsite disruption was the company’s first concern. To limit potential issues, it was careful about choosing partners.
“We put them through a vetting process,” says Maria Banks, President and CEO of AMLI Management Co. “We chose partners who professionally manage the units, meaning they perform background checks and install noise monitors. We believe they’ll be responsive to our needs should something come up.”
By conducting thorough research, apartment firms attempt to limit the onsite issues typically associated with short-term operators, but that doesn’t mean issues won’t still occur. Whether it’s existing customers becoming concerned about transient guests entering the building or short-term residents converging on the concierge desk to ask for help settling in, there often are hiccups with these new occupants.
Sometimes, the solutions—such as adding more signage for short-term guests—confuses long-term residents, who might wonder whether their building is morphing into a hotel. Still, simple things such as good communication and proper, specific signage can limit conflicts, keep things running smooth and even turn those short-term guests into long-term customers.
“Our goal is to provide [short-term rental operator] Lyric’s guests with the same level of customer service we’d extend to our residents and their guests,” says Tarah Tankersley, Director of Multifamily Operations for Hines. “As a result, Lyric guests have requested to tour the community, and this has actually led to them making lease referrals.”
The challenges for onsite personnel when serving short-term guests often begin when the guests enter the community. Not knowing where to go or what to do first, they usually end up at the concierge desk.
AMLI found that the largest source of confusion among short-term visitors arose when they received their keys and tried to find their way around. Sometimes, onsite personnel were asked to assist them.
“We needed to look at how we could better streamline or improve building access,” Banks says. “People were kind of getting hung up in finding their way, so we found a better way to use signage. But other than those issues, it’s been a positive for us.”
After these kinks are worked out, Banks doesn’t necessarily see short-term rentals as a disruption to AMLI’s leasing staff.
“We’re working with our partners to help guests have a better front-end experience getting into our building and minimizing the disruption to our staff during check-in,” Banks says. “[Short-term rentals] are not taking a drastic amount of time away from our onsite teams. I’d expect some level of management interface in helping manage the partner and/or their guests.”
With its stated goal of delivering great customer service to all its guests, Hines embraces helping its short-term visitors.
“The Lyric team provides management with a daily roster, which includes check-ins for the day and the total number of documented guests on the reservation,” Tankersley says. “The concierge staff is responsible for validating the guest names on the reservation. If approved, the guest is then escorted to the apartment home. Instructions for check-in are provided by Lyric in advance.”
Some apartment owners question whether short-term rentals will require more staffing.
“One client is considering adding an admin person to our staff who can help manage the flow of people coming through and help be the liaison between the short-term-stay operator and [us], which could be really helpful,” says Khushbu Sikaria, Vice President, Innovation and Product Development, Bozzuto Management Co. “This is at a community where short-stay rentals haven’t been implemented, but they’re in the advanced stages of negotiation.”
Many short-term-stay operators have staff onsite to manage guest questions and handle apartment unit upkeep, assuming they control enough apartments to make the numbers work.
“We do the regular maintenance on the unit that we might be doing on a periodic basis anyway, but, other than that, they handle all the cleaning on the particular units they rent,” says AMLI’s Banks.
The Guild, like some other short-term providers, keeps staffers onsite to help usher guests through their stay while also doing services like monitoring cleanliness and pool usage.
“We have a significant onsite and local presence,” says Chris Herndon, Co-Founder of The Guild. “It’s good to know [when] something’s going wrong, but it’s even better to be able to do something about it.”
This onsite presence from short-term providers has been effective in limiting associated onsite management issues. Both Banks and Lisa Newton, Senior Vice President of Multifamily Operations at Hines, say they haven’t encountered short-term guests causing problems in common areas.
“We’re not experiencing issues any different than we would with a regular resident,” Newton says. “If anything, I’d say the percentage of issues from Lyric guests is less than from our residents.”
Herndon says there’s even potential for short-term operators and management firms to share resources such as housekeeping. Short-term operator Locale is thinking along similar lines.
“When we approach the 30-unit mark at a property, we prefer to place a Locale concierge in the lobby, to support both our guests and the building’s residents,” says Nitesh Gandhi, Locale’s Founder. “It’s a benefit for property managers because we’re bolstering the building’s amenities, and, at that scale, having an in-person presence helps ensure a smooth onsite operation.”
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Potential crossover between the management’s personnel and the short-term operator’s might pose a problem, however, if the apartment firm wants to ensure that its brand is distinct from that of the short-term company’s.
For instance, a big selling point for many short-term operators is the services and benefits they can offer existing residents in an apartment building. The Guild, for example, cleans its own apartments and can also provide those services for residents.
“Cleaning is a big thing because we’re already there cleaning our rooms, so we can clean at a very affordable price [for the apartment company],” Herndon says.
Some apartment operators are happy to have their residents take advantage of these onsite services, but that sentiment isn’t universal.
“One thing we’ve asked our providers to not do is sell additional services to our residents,” Banks says. “We don’t want them to engage our residents in trying to upsell cleaning services or dog walking or whatever. If there’s some communication that needs to be sent out in relation to whatever, that’s coming from us.”
Banks is even careful with her onsite events, though AMLI has allowed parties at three communities with a large concentration of short-term residents to answer any questions its customers might have and help them understand what’s happening regarding guests in their building.
“We co-brand some events—we co-branded the introduction of The Guild, for instance—at those properties, but I’m very careful about the perception,” Banks says. “I don’t want people thinking short-term rentals are 50, 70 or 80 percent of a building, because it’s not even close to that. So, I’ve been very cautious about how we brand, what signage we allow and that sort of thing.”
Signage presents another instance in which brand confusion can occur, forcing apartment managers to walk a tightrope of sorts. Signs can be helpful to short-term guests who may get lost and not know where to go, but too many signs for The Guild, Lyric or any other short-term provider can lead regular residents to wonder whether they’re living in a hotel.
“We limit how much [short-term operators can] brand, because we don’t want to feel we’re mainly a Guild building,” Banks says.
Communication Throughout the Chain
While onsite glitches with signage and the occasional confused short-term resident can be managed easily enough, the real key to a successful relationship with temporary occupants is communication.
“A key for success in this model is absolute collaboration and open communication between the apartment manager and short-term rental operator,” Bozzuto’s Sikaria says.
It’s also important to share information within an apartment firm. That’s a lesson Kristen Pope, a Camden District Manager, learned early on.
“We hadn’t relayed the info about our relationship with Lyric to our Camden Contact Center in the beginning and had a snafu early on, but everything since then has been great,” Pope says. “Communication with all parties is key, from our contact center, marketing, onsite team and with the assigned rep from the provider.”
Pope also recommends having regular meetings with the short-term operator. “We have a standing biweekly call with Lyric to get updates and communicate any issues, and they send daily emails detailing number of check-ins, guest info, length of stay,” she says.
When problems do arise, Pope says onsite teams need the contact information for the short-term operator’s local manager. “We’ve had a great partnership so far—relatively few issues with their guests—which is notably different than Airbnb leases that we have had to send violation notices to,” she says.
Compared with long-term residents, communication with the short-term provider is easy. When existing residents see unknown people entering a building, however, it can prompt concern. Without proactive communication to residents about short-term rentals, issues can quickly become public on review sites.
“Early on, we had a review or two posted saying that one of our buildings was an Airbnb building,” Banks says. “They didn’t mention that most of the units are still residential units. [But] I haven’t seen that type of thing bubble
When Lyric first came into a building managed by Bozzuto, Sikaria says residents expressed concern about a “hotel” being in their community. “To counteract that [misperception], our management team spoke with the residents,” Sikaria says.
To keep such concerns from appearing in the future, AMLI focuses on proactive communication and helping manage misperceptions about short-term rentals. “We’ve had resident meetings and residents have had questions, but, overall, we feel the partnerships have been positive, and we continue to work with our [operators] at these buildings,” Banks says.
Offering a sweetener for residents can also help sell them on their new short-term neighbors. Lyric, for example, hosted several open-house events for Bozzuto. In the process, it supported Bozzuto’s onsite team.
“It allowed the residents to learn about [Lyric’s] service, and it gave them direct contact to the short-term-stay operator,” Sikaria says. “It also gave the residents and their friends and family a discount. In the end, [Lyric] just repositioned themselves from a disruption to an amenity.”