Communications during a busy summer season

Here at the Captain Morse House we do everything we can to make sure our guests will be happy and that the house is prepared for their arrival. In order to meet everyone’s expectations I thought that I should give a little perspective on what it is like from inside the house.

Since 2008 we have been renting out our family home to around 15 families a year. As of 2017 that is around 150 different rentals. Everything from a small family to a huge wedding to a corporate retreat. In that time we have learned a thing or two about how to run the house and manage the rental. The biggest thing to realize is that with a Home Vacation Rental you are basically renting a house. It is not a hotel and it has no customer services built in. In other words a person that rents a vacation rental needs to be somewhat self sufficient.

It is always interesting to see how different guests interact with us and the house. The majority of guests come and go with barely a peep. We figure they want to have some privacy as well and won’t bother them with “how is it going” questions. For awhile they have the experience of really living in the home as if it is their own. Then there are the smaller percentage of guests that want everything figured out ahead of time. Some guests call us up and write us as many as 30 times with various questions about the house. Most of these are already written up in the manual or on the website. As the owner of the house I don’t necessarily mind this but it often leaks into the rental period as well and then it becomes a bit of a trudge. Don’t get me wrong, we would love to assist wherever we can BUT the facts are that this is not a hotel and does not have a full time staff. Finally there are the small percentage that want to waited on. I would love to have a customer service representative on island but the fact of the matter is that anyone in service on the island is absolutely flat out during the summer months. Our very nice and calm and happy cleaner runs from house to house and gets frazzled. Our caretaker is busy up island with actual home owners and not vacationers trying to get their bearings. Both of these people do not need the hassle of caring for a vacation home when there are plenty of people who don’t rent their houses out and are a lot more chill to deal with. The simple fact is unless I can make their life easier they might just decide that the Captain Morse House and our valued summer visitors are simply more trouble than they are worth. Needless to say that would be a disaster because there is simply a very limited supply of great cleaners and caretakers on the island.

The silver lining to all of this varied experience has allowed us to put what we have learned into our Welcome Page, our FAQs and our House Manual. Our guests can search these documents and find the answer to whatever question they have. If it is not in these documents then we have established an email address that is monitored by several people. We have decided that email is the only way we will communicate during a rental so that we can respond as soon as possible. It is a new system implemented in the middle of 2017 and I hope that it will work out well for all. Of course in case of Emergencies we are always just a phone call away.

In the meantime if you know of anyone who wants to be an on call customer service representative for the Captain Morse House in Edgartown Ma we are accepting applications. It could be the perfect job for someone who only wants to work a few hours a week, meet some awesome people (our guests) and manage the island’s very best vacation rental home.



Lawn Games and the Yard

Occasionally I get asked about the use of the yard for games. We think that the yard is a great feature of the house and want to encourage it’s use. Unfortunately the use of the yard can rise above what one might consider normal wear and tear. A bunch of 5 year olds running around will never harm the lawn. 10 teenagers playing Wiffle Ball over several days will wear a huge hole into the lawn at home plate.  Lawn wear, in this case, was exacerbated by playing during a rainy period.

Here is some background on our particular issues.
Our lawn was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain due to the shade provided by the surrounding trees. Increasing use of the home by vacationing groups add to the wear and can exceed the ability of the lawn to come back. This also makes repairs difficult as well. We obviously want to provide a nice lawn for each group that uses the house so your cooperation in minimizing hard use of the lawn is appreciated. Running and stopping style games are probably more than the yard can handle. Playing anything when the lawn is wet is also probably not a good idea.

In May of 2016 we had to re-sod the entire lawn as we could not bring the lawn back to condition for the season. The total cost was around $15,000. In July we had a group play Wiffle Ball on the lawn. They were pretty enthusiastic, played during inclement weather and wore right through the lawn at home plate. This caused  bald spot that took months to reseed and repair.

In October of 2016 I took out two large Dog Wood trees to open up the yard to more sunlight.

Spring of 2017 I bought a brand new Bocce and Croquet set for the house. These types of games are fine.

No kiddy pools, water slides or water toys of any kind should be used on the lawn.

Please enjoy our yard but try to leave it in good condition for the other future tenants as well.

Beach Chairs and Umbrellas

We have gotten out of the Beach Chair business. There are just to many cheap ones and we always have to go through them and toss them out in the fall. As of this writing I do not believe that we have any of them at all.

You will find the island stock so so and expensive.

I would suggest bringing your own or ordering them and having them shipped direct to the island.

Here are my recommend items – I own these and endorse them. If these end up at the house we probably will not toss them.

I bought a Sport-Brella XL and chair for $99 on a special direct from the Sport-Brella company.

Sport-Brella XL Beach Umbrella
Sport-Brella XL Beach Umbrella
Sport-Brella Beach Chair
Sport-Brella Beach Chair
Sport-Brella Beach Chairs
Sport-Brella Beach Chairs

These are pretty good models. I own two.

Tommy Bahama Beach Chair with cooler and backpack
Tommy Bahama Beach Chair with cooler and backpack

Amazon has a good selection too. Just search and enter Beach Chairs.


Owning a Vacation Rental

Owning a vacation rental property is no walk in the park. There are many challenges to overcome and many distractions you will encounter.

My first house was a three family home. I lived upstairs and rented out the bottom two apartments. As my family grew we took over more apartments and finally moved away to a larger house. I was now a absentee landlord.

I initially tried to rent it out for the summer and then again for the winter. These seasonal rentals are very popular in Newport Rhode Island where I lived while I owned this home. What I discovered was that the higher income in the summer plus the lower income in the winter was only slightly more than the income from renting the property year round.

At the time I was running a retail sporting goods store and this was really a 7 day a week 12 hour a day proposition. When I would get calls for problems or when rent was late or any of a million things that go wrong it was extremely upsetting. I simply cringed whenever there was a call. I deeply resented having to deal with these distractions. “Why can’t these people get it together?” I would think. Long story short I got out of this property as soon as I could.

Many years later I sold my store and bought a large home on Martha’s Vineyard that was owned by my mother. It was not the sort of thing one would choose to do. It had sentimental value, I had inherited 1/2 of it and I wanted to keep it in the family. I borrowed against the house and bought out my siblings 1/2 creating the need for income to support the mortgage. In addition I did not want to sell it in 2008 as the markets started to tank in the recession. It was not a logical “I should do this” decision. It was more of a “I have to do this” decision.

The first job was to take care of the tremendous deferred maintenance on the property. These were major items like a roof, bathrooms, kitchens, heating plant etc. The next job was to simply keep up with the painting and repairs. The home is very large and takes an amazing amount of work. The cost of maintenance of a home is not really known until you own it. It is also much more when you are not around to do it yourself. Here is a list of the improvements.

I had to find a caretaker to check on the house. I needed a cleaner to turn the house over in five hours from 10:00am to 3:00pm. I turned out that I went through several of these finding the right crew as the demands placed upon them is really high. I currently have very good people that do a great job at managing the house. If I lost them I would probably not be able to run the house.

Getting good contractors on the island is difficult to say the least. I have had several and some were really bad. Unless you are already a contractor you will certainly move through several and have disappointments. One of the biggest challenges here on Martha’s Vineyard is the huge number of properties being fixed up. The very best contractors have year of work booked and tend to stay with customers that have huge properties with unlimited budgets. A contractor willing to work directly with a homeowner on maintenance projects is a rare bird. People I want to hire are often busy or they quote really high simply to find the homeowners who are desperate to get the work done. I can’t really blame them. They live on a island that has pretty poor weather for 1/2 the year. They need to cram almost all of the work into the spring and fall so that client can enjoy their properties in the summer. Clients whose houses are not ready or to their liking can be pretty harsh and not fun. Good contractors and workers are out there but it takes time to find them. Currently I feel that I finally have a good group. It only took me 6 years or so to find them.

I had to come up with a marketing plan. The internet and vacation rentals were just starting and so I used local realtors to start. The cost of the realtors is 15% to 20% and that comes out of my end. The vacation rental companies take an up front fee. Google search takes their share and pretty much every way of publicizing the property has gotten very competitive and expensive. There are so many properties now playing in this space that I predict that people will begin to exit the business. We are definitely approaching an over supply. The Orlando Florida area, perhaps the countries top VR location, is seeing this happen now.

Bookkeeping, drafting leases, deposits, getting payments in on time, damage reports and return of deposits if all very tedious and time consuming. Managing all of this is much more of a job than I thought it would be. There is very little chance of getting anyone to do it properly for you as the cost of doing that is really high. Also, it’s your home. If you sub contract something as important as sussing out your tenants you are bound to get some huge parties and at least one disaster a season. I have been lucky for the most part as my property is expensive enough that it tends to get people that appreciate it however I do sense that some people treat it more like a hotel and a family home. That’s disappointing but a very hard thing to ferret out.

At the end of the year you are usually already booking hard for the coming season. This means that stepping out of the house and turning it back into a residence is hard. If the numbers are not working out you need to plan ahead to exit. With people booking 15 months in advance you are committed. Just like selling the house the rental business tends to be pretty illiquid and slow moving. Keep that in mind as well.

My goal is to eventually take the home back over again bit by bit and use the seasonal rental to assist with the upkeep. I am proud that I am keeping the house in the family and also very happy to share it with people that come to the island to stay for a week. There have been some great people here and it has been fun meeting the ones I have.