Guest Blog: by the owners of Towering Pines
My wife and I have been cottage owners in Haliburton for coming up on two years and have just completed our second season of cottage rentals. The original plan was for the acquisition of a cottage to be the end game of a sequence that was to begin with my retirement, proceeding to sale of home, and then downsizing to a new and smaller residence. Owning a cottage for rental to others did not fit anywhere into this scenario.
However, two summers ago when we were staying at a friend’s cottage on Redstone Lake we saw the perfect property for sale and the entire plan got turned on its head – we bought the cottage first. So until I retire and we are in a position to make more full time use of the cottage, we have decided to rent our Haliburton cottage out. For us, rental means that related revenue can help carry the cost of the cottage while we still get use of the property for ourselves and our family.
From the start, we have had the mental framework that renting the cottage should be more akin to having guests in our home than simply a landlord-tenant arrangement. We outfitted the cottage the way we would like to find it. Having rental guests arrive to a clean and welcoming cottage with a well outfitted kitchen, and comfy beds was what we set out to achieve.
To date our experience in sharing our Haliburton cottage with renters has been largely very positive. We take satisfaction in the positive rental reviews that we have been getting and a great deal of pleasure in knowing that families are having really great vacation experiences at a place we love. One of our guests wrote that she had had a special experience teaching her son to paddle using the canoe that we have available for our guests. These are the type of memories that we like to think are being formed by the families that stay at our Haliburton cottage.
So it is on the topic of feedback that this blog will touch. Working through All Season Cottage Rentals has numerous advantages for both us and our renters. As our Haliburton cottage rental agent, they deal with all of the promotion, screening, administration, etc allowing us to focus on ensuring that the cottage is a welcoming and pleasant place to stay.
One possible downside however, is that, as a property owner, you have very little direct contact with renters unless something goes wrong or there is some incidental connection as you finish preparations and they arrive. My wife and I really want to know some detail about our guest’s stay so that we can use this feedback to make the cottage rental experience even better for others in the future…enter the feedback form.
Our feedback form is a short document with a series of general and specific questions. There is room on the form for written responses and renters have the option of writing anything from a few words to a few paragraphs. We start by asking about the cleanliness of the cottage on their arrival. In our first season of cottage rentals my wife and I were coming up to do the cleaning and preparation ourselves so we had a very good notion of how the cottage was left by one renter and what the next renter would find when they first arrived.
In our second season, we contracted with a local Haliburton individual to do the cleaning and preparation in the few hours between one cottage renter’s departure and another’s arrival. She does an excellent job and we have been very pleased with the working relationship we have with our service provider. While it was always the exception when we would meet arriving or departing renters when we did our own cleaning, even this infrequent contact is lost to us now. The cottage rental feedback form is now the only vehicle we have through which we can get a sense of what guests might think when they come through the door and during their stay.
We have been gratified that the comments received through the form confirm that the cottage is presenting as we would like it to. If there are any suggestions regarding the readiness of the cottage, we are able to relay these to the cleaner. So in this regard, the feedback form completes a feedback circle that allows us to also provide feedback to our contracted service provider.
The form also asks generally whether there was anything that was missing from how the rental cottage was outfitted. This question allows the renter to put down anything they can think of. For example, in our first season of rentals, one renter told us we did not have sufficient dresser space for guests to unpack. We were already conscious of the limited space and this feedback validated our plans to acquire some additional items of furniture for the cottage. It helped us to set priorities and make plans. The Haliburton cottage rental is better for this issue now having been addressed.
Smaller items of feedback have covered a range of issues that, while small, might improve a cottage experience if addressed. For instance:
- One cottage renter suggested that we provide unbreakable, acrylic glasses for use on the dock. This suggestion is a very good one and we are looking for something suitable before next summer’s cottage rental season.
- Prompted by feedback we have moved to improve bedside table reading lamps and intend to do more on this suggestion.
- Extra chairs for sitting around the fire pit area were also provided in response to feedback.
- A simple suggestion that a splatter guard be provided for the fry pan was easily followed through on and might make things even better for future cooks in the kitchen.
Subsequent questions on the form focus on individual rooms or areas of the property and mechanical systems allowing us to get more detailed feedback. Even if the form does nothing other than tell us that the cottage rental experience was wonderful for our renters, this alone gives us useful information.
The feedback comments have also given us ideas on how to improve instructions and information in our cottage renter’s binder – a collection of resources and instructions that come with the cottage. Sometimes there are things that renters have been uncertain of that we can fix for future renters by providing a bit more information or clarifying what is already there.
In some instances the form has been filled out by one person, in others, it seems to have been a family affair reflecting perspectives and suggestions from everyone including the children. The feedback has at times been lighthearted and comical reflecting perhaps differences in opinion…one comment on the need for a dedicated beer fridge was to some degree lightheartedly rebutted by the wife of the person making the suggestion.
While often validating our perceptions, the feedback received has also at times made us see things differently. For instance, the deck facing the lake does not have stairs allowing guests to go directly down to the water without going through the cottage. We saw this as a weak point. The feedback from renters however, has demonstrated that some see this as a positive, since they know that young children or pets that are out on the deck cannot find their way down to the water unsupervised. Nobody has commented on this aspect as a negative. One child’s feedback suggestion, that we install a firefighter’s pole on the deck, is still under consideration.
One thing that is worthy of thought with regard to putting together a feedback form is that, as cottage owners, we don’t want it to replace positive reviews that might be left on the cottage web page. Commentary and recommendations from past cottage renters is something that future renters look for when deciding to rent your place. Sometimes, if someone has filled out a feedback form, they may be less inclined to leave a positive review on the web page, thinking that they have already given feedback directly.
To address this risk, at the start of our feedback form, we ask people to use the form provide us, as owners, with constructive feedback to improve the cottage rental experience but also encouraging them to leave a review for other potential renters on the web site.
Our success rate in getting feedback forms has varied a bit over the first two years of our cottage rental experience. In the first year, almost all renters filled out the form. In our second year of rental this dropped to about half. We are not sure why there has been this variation although the number of renters we had in the second year was higher. We would also like to think that the fact that we have addressed previous feedback has reduced the need in people’s minds to provide comments.
Certainly, there has been some feedback that we have chosen not to address. For instance, one renter suggested that the addition of a dishwasher in the kitchen would be good. We hear that, however have decided to defer any consideration of this until we undertake a future renovation.
In closing, the cottage rental form has been a very useful tool for us. Based on the time that people have taken to fill it out, I also believe that it is something that renters find value in. People like being asked for their feedback and it gives them a chance to reflect on their holiday. The comments left have been completely positive and suggestions for improvement have always been framed a constructive and positive way. The form has permitted us to feel a bit of a connection with our renters even though we have not met.
We would recommend this to anyone who is renting their cottage.
Cottage Owners at Towering Pines