Short-term holiday lets can be an attractive option if you own a property somewhere scenic and/or popular with tourists. In fact, holiday lets can be amazingly profitable, as landlords are able to charge much higher rents for short-term lets when a property is in a highly desirable location.
But renting out a property as a holiday let has some unique differences, some of which you may not be aware of. In this guide, we are going to explore all there is to know about holiday lets, so read on before listing grandma’s derelict cottage on Airbnb.
Do you need planning permission for holiday lets?
In most cases, no, planning permission is not required to let out a property for holiday use. However, it is wise to check whether there are any covenants in the deeds of the property, or in the terms of the leasehold if you don’t own the lease.
Older properties often have weird and wonderful restrictive covenants written into the deeds. Examples include not being allowed to turn your property into an ale tavern, tannery, or house of ill repute.
Leasehold properties may contain a clause banning sub-letting. This is more likely if the property is in a block of apartments, as sub-letting can be disruptive to other tenants.
The exception to the planning consent rule is when you opt to turn your property into a B&B. This constitutes a change of use, so planning permission must be sought and granted before you accept guests. Speak to your local planning department for more information.
Some mortgage lenders won’t permit short-term lettings
Most residential mortgage lenders don’t permit short-term lettings. Research carried out by the Telegraph in 2017 found only two lenders that allowed short-term lettings. Lloyds and Metro Bank both said “yes” to short-term lets but only for up to 90 days.
So, if you have a residential mortgage on your property, speak to your lender before you go down the holiday lettings route, even if you’re only letting out a room in your own home. You may need to switch to a specialist commercial lender.
Lenders that do allow short-term lettings require that the borrower asks for permission before they list the property.
Don’t make the mistake of going behind the lender’s back. If the lender finds out you’ve breached their mortgage terms & conditions, they could withdraw funding and you’ll be in hot water.
Location matters for holiday lets
Holiday lets live or die based on their location. Most people will pay over the odds to rent a cute cottage adjacent to a blue flag beach but would be very reluctant to pay any money to stay in a scruffy terrace in the middle of a council estate.
It’s pointless advertising your property as a holiday let unless it’s in a desirable area. Anywhere close to the sea, in an area of outstanding natural beauty, or near an attraction popular with tourists is a winner. Even properties close to major sporting venues can earn good money, especially when there is a major event taking place, such as Wimbledon.
Good looking properties perform better as short-term lets
How a property looks is just as important as it’s location. Quirky, historic, or luxurious properties tend to be more popular. If you live in an ordinary, modern, three-bed semi, it stands to reason you want to rent somewhere a bit different for your family holiday.
Log cabins, pretty seaside cottages, ultra-modern five-star houses, and anything a bit out of the ordinary stands out and attracts attention. As long as you price it right, you are sure to attract a steady stream of visitors.
Even if your property is fairly generic, don’t lose heart. The right location can make a huge difference, as people don’t mind ordinary if it’s right next to a beautiful beach or a few minutes’ walk from a major attraction.
Health and safety in holiday lets
Health and safety legislation is there to protect guests. Carry out a fire risk assessment and resolve any issues you find.
Like any landlord, you must ensure appliances are well maintained and serviced annually.
There must be smoke alarms fitted in the property and if you have any solid-fuel appliances, fit a CO detector.
Fit a fire blanket in the kitchen.
Chimneys should be swept once a year (if applicable).
Hot tubs and swimming pools must be cleaned and maintained. If the property has a swimming pool (unlikely if it’s in the UK!), be very aware of safety with regard to young children. Where possible, erect a fence around the pool, to prevent tragic accidents.
Provide torches if guests are at risk of tripping over steps or other obstacles at night.
Fixtures and fittings for short-term lets
In most instances a short term let won’t be your home, so be careful not to personalise it too much. By all means have a “theme”, such as seaside shabby chic, but steer clear of anything that might not appeal to the masses, such as leopard-print bedding, samurai swords on the wall, and psychedelic carpets.
Your best bet is to go for neutral colours and simple but comfortable furniture. Since sofas and beds will suffer significant wear and tear, be prepared to replace every 3-5 years. Avoid light coloured sofas unless you want to spend a lot of time cleaning them.
Furniture should be fire-rated, sturdy, and in keeping with the style of the décor. The overall décor should provoke a positive response and look great in photo listings. Dress the property with some tasteful paintings and ornaments (nothing too expensive). Invest in a few cheap paperbacks, local guidebooks, board games, jigsaws, etc.
Guests will expect all mod-cons when they go on holiday. The kitchen should be well fitted with a good selection of dinnerware, cookware, pots, pans, cutlery, glasses, etc. Dishwashers and other white goods are essential. Invest in an appliance repair policy, so if anything breaks down, you can have it fixed fast.
Broadband is a must-have these days. Many people won’t even look at a holiday let without internet access. Even if they think they want a break from work and social media, they still want the option to stream Netflix and surf YouTube. And if your property is a family home, good luck expecting anyone with kids to rent it when there is no internet access.
Guests will also expect a working TV. Ditch the old TV and buy a decent flat screen model. Consider adding SKY or Cable if you want to attract families. The more entertainment options your property has, the more people it will appeal to. Family properties will definitely benefit from a games console, although parents may disagree.
Extras such as a wood burning stove and a high-end coffee machine can work wonders if you want to go the extra mile. We all appreciate the little extras when we go on holiday, and in the colder months, a toasty log burner is a definite plus.
Don’t neglect outdoor space either. People on holiday want a nice garden where they can relax and unwind on a warm summer’s evening. Add a garden table and chairs and make sure the area is nicely landscaped and well-maintained. A gas or charcoal BBQ is a useful additional extra but remember to keep it clean.
For seaside properties, consider providing beach toys, such as buckets and spades, sunbeds, beach umbrellas, etc. Optional extras include kayaks, dinghies, bodyboards, and snorkelling gear. In short, anything that might attract guests and sets your property apart from others is a worthy investment.
If this was or still is your home, lock away any valuables and personal items. Either store them in a secure area, such as a locked room/cupboard or put them into storage.
Pets in holiday lets
Whether you allow pets or not is a personal decision. If you say no to pets, you are reducing your pool of potential guests. After all, we are a nation of animal lovers and many of us can’t bear to go on holiday without our beloved pets in tow.
However, if you do allow pets, there will be more wear and tear, not to mention some extra time spent cleaning. In addition, people who are allergic to animals won’t want to stay in a property where pets have been.
If you decide to welcome pets, be clear about how many pets are allowed, and if you have any restrictions on where they are allowed to roam, state this on the booking form. For example, it’s perfectly acceptable to say you welcome up to two small dogs and they are not allowed on the furniture. However, don’t be too surprised if guests completely ignore the “no furniture” rule!
Check your insurance policy to make sure it covers pet damage before you allow pets in your property. And if you are happy to welcome pets, feature it as a selling point.
Advertising a holiday let
Once your property is ready to let to the general public, the next step is to create a listing.
Photographing your holiday let
Remember, photos sell a holiday let, so your photos need to be top-quality. Dress the property to impress. Imagine you are trying to sell the place, so stage it to suit your target audience.
Beds should be made up with attractive linens, the dining table set up for a dinner party. Place a bottle of wine and two glasses in the kitchen, add flowers to vases, etc.
Choose a nice sunny day to take photos, so the property is presented in the most flattering way. If you want to emphasise any special features, such as a log burner or open fire, take photos at the most appropriate time (i.e. in the evening when the fire looks cosy and inviting).
If you aren’t good at taking photos and all your pictures make the property look small or dark, invest in a professional photographer. The photos are one of the most important ways to attract visitors to your holiday let.
Writing your holiday let advert
Write some suitably persuasive advert copy to accompany your photos. The aim is to let guests know what to expect, paint a picture of an idyllic getaway where they can forget all about the stresses and strains of modern life. Use bullet point lists to highlight the property’s best features, such as sea views, ample parking, a garden, a log burner, and whether you accept pets.
Personalise the ad. Write how much you love staying there, what the area has to offer, and why guests will enjoy your home as much as you do. Personalised copy tends to resonate much more with visitors than generic platitudes that could apply to any property in any area.
If your writing skills leave a lot to be desired, pay someone to write the copy for you. It could make the difference between regular bookings and significant void periods. There are many places to find copywriters without having to pay through the nose. Take a look at popular freelance websites like Fiverr, Upwork and People Per Hour to find a reasonably priced freelancer.
Where to advertise your holiday let
Advertising is necessary if you want a steady stream of guests beating a path to your door. The following are your main options.
- Word of mouth – this is the cheapest way to advertise your holiday let. Encourage your friends and family to spread the word about your wonderful cottage/beach house/log cabin. If you’re lucky, this will lead to quite a few bookings.
- Social media – Create a Facebook page for your holiday home and encourage people to share the page with their friends and family. Keep your page updated and add photos, links to local attractions, good reviews from other visitors and anything else that’s relevant. It’s also a useful place to deal with questions and enquiries from guests. Feel free to build a presence on other social media sites too. Instagram is perfect for photos. If you live locally, you can post images of the local views.
- Bespoke website – Not everyone wants the hassle of managing a website but setting one up is easier than you think. All you need is a domain name and a hosting package. Install a content management system like WordPress, pick a theme, and you have a bespoke website. To set up an online booking system requires some specialist knowledge and is beyond the scope of this article, but as long as you add contact details and update the online availability calendar as soon as you receive a verified booking, you don’t need to offer online bookings. Remember to optimise your website for SEO. There are many ways to do this, but one of the most important is to add suitable keywords to the copy. For example, holiday cottage in Devon or log cabin in the Lake District are the kind of things people will search for when they want to find a holiday rental. Again you can use freelance web developers to help you with this or use popular web builders like Wix and Squarespace to build nice and fully functioning sites with no coding knowledge.
- Holiday let websites – there are dozens of them out there, many of them linked to specific geographic locations, such as “holiday cottages in Northumberland”. Do a search based on keywords you are targeting and see which sites appear first in the rankings; these are the ones to try. Try a range of keywords. Start with the most competitive and then move on to more specific ones, such as “dog friendly cottage in Ambleside”. The bigger sites such as Airbnb and booking.com will likely dominate the listings, but it’s worth trying smaller, niche sites too. As always, read the T&Cs before you commit to placing a listing on any site. Find out what fee the site charges, what service they offer, and how much work they actually do for the money. Smaller sites usually charge an annual subscription fee whereas it’s free to list on the larger sites; they make their money from a 3-15% commission on each booking made via the site.
- Local press – Ads in local community magazines and newspapers can sometimes pay dividends. These tend to be more effective if you are targeting the older generation, as they are more likely to look in this type of publication.
- Shop windows – Put a postcard in your local shop window, along with a photo. You never know, it might yield a few bookings.
How much rent should you charge for a holiday let?
Calculate your costs first, including advertising the property, cleaning, maintenance, insurance, and anything else that comes out of your pocket. Next, look to see what other properties similar to yours charge in rent.
Take into account the different seasons. It’s customary to charge a lot more during high season and school holidays, much to the ire of parents everywhere. Be willing to charge mid-week stays and weekend lets as well as full weeks. So, you could have a pricing structure for Friday to Friday, Friday to Monday, and Monday to Friday. Mid-week and weekends are typically charged at 70-80% of the full rate. Shorter lets tend to be popular out of season and can boost your income.
Consider offering a discount for longer stays, such as two or more weeks.
Don’t be tempted to undercut everyone else in an attempt to attract more bookings. Charging too little is a bad idea for many reasons. Firstly, it suggests there is a reason why your property is so cheap, and secondly, you will attract a lower-quality customer, who might not take such good care of the place.
Remember, it’s better to have fewer guests who pay premium rates and treat your property with respect than more guests who create extra work and trash the place.
Also, if you pitch your prices too low, you’ll dissuade happy guests from making repeat bookings when you do decide to hike your rates to a more reasonable level. Instead, start off high and offer discounts and special offers if you have fewer bookings than you would like.
As long as your property represents good value and has plenty to offer discerning guests, they will be happy to pay an enhanced rate. Your aim should always be to offer a “quality product”. People want to feel pampered when they go on holiday, and if your property has an air of luxuriousness about it, they won’t mind paying a bit extra for the privilege of staying there.
Factor in increased demand during special events, too. For example, property rental prices in Edinburgh usually spike during the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival and over New Year. If you don’t take this into account, you could end up missing out on extra rental income.
Preparing your holiday let for visitors
Once you have your first booking in place, it’s time to prepare for your visitors.
In the world of holiday lettings, cleanliness is next to godliness. The property must be thoroughly cleaned before guests arrive. Go through the place and scrub until you would be happy to eat your lunch off the kitchen floor. Once everything is clean and sparkling, make the beds with fresh, clean linens, add clean towels, soap, toilet roll, etc.
Open windows to let some air in. Light a scented candle or pop some fresh flowers into a vase. Your aim is to make the place feel welcoming when guests arrive.
It’s a nice touch if you leave a few basics for your guests, such as milk, bread, etc. Small touches like this cost very little but really make a difference. Nothing beats a small basket of goodies, such as locally made fudge, jams, and shortbread. Go the extra mile for your guests – it encourages them to leave positive feedback, which in turn, helps with new and repeat bookings.
Remember, some guests will have travelled a long way, so they will likely be tired when they arrive. By making them feel welcome, their holiday starts off on the right foot.
Create a welcome pack for guests. This should include essential details, such as your contact number in case of problems/emergencies, the Wi-Fi password, details of local pubs, restaurants, etc., instructions on how to work the central heating, TV, and appliances, and anything else guests need to know. The more information you provide, the less likely you are to be hassled with questions.
Give your guests detailed information on how to find the property. The harder it is to find, the more specific you need to be, which includes listing key landmarks nearby and anything else that might help them find the property. Remember, not everyone has a sat-nav and not all sat-navs have accurate maps.
Be clear about when the property will be ready for guests. You don’t want new guests turning up at 10 AM when you’re still cleaning or the previous occupants are still in bed. Be clear about when guests need to vacate, too, for much the same reasons.
Tell your guests where to collect the key, either from you or a neighbour. Another option is to have a secure key drop box somewhere on the property. All you need to do is let guests have the access code, so they can retrieve the key when they arrive. Have at least two keys cut for guests, as people do like to go their separate ways and one person might need their own key.
Managing a holiday let
Guest changeover day tends to be the busiest day for holiday let landlords. This is when one party vacates and another one arrives. You’ll have to clean the property and prepare for new guests. The rest of the time, apart from dealing with admin, bookings, and being available to answer questions, you won’t have too much to do.
If you don’t have a full-time job, there is no reason why you can’t manage your own holiday letting business, especially if you live nearby or on-site. Guests often prefer a hands-on landlord who doesn’t mind answering their questions or is happy to recommend local attractions and amenities. The more personable and friendly you are, the better. But if you have other time commitments or don’t live in the local area, it’s wise to hire a manager to take care of the everyday property maintenance, admin, and meet and greet.
Customer service is important in holiday lets
Holiday letting is a customer-focussed business. Reviews and feedback can have a considerable effect on your trade. If you treat customers poorly, they are very likely to leave a negative review, which is not going to encourage future guests to hand over their money for a week’s holiday at your property.
Make it a priority to provide good customer service. Respond to booking enquiries promptly. Deal with questions and problems politely and professionally. Make sure the property listing matches up exactly with what guests get when they arrive. For example, if you claim the beach is a five-minute walk away but neglect to mention there’s a busy dual carriageway with no crossing points between the property and the beach, people will be understandably upset.
Try to be as helpful as possible, even if it means going the extra mile. It’s the small acts of kindness that guests will remember when they head home. Your aim should always be to encourage happy guests to make a booking for the following year. Some people are happy to return year after year when they find a place they truly love. These are the guests you want – they are loyal and less likely to cause damage or problems.
Be mindful that if your customer ratings are low or you upset your guests in a big way, you could end up being banned from property listing sites like Airbnb.
Make sure to respond to reviews when they are left. If you receive a negative review respond to it with respect. How you deal with negative reviews can end up encouraging people to stay with you. Responding to positive reviews with a thank you shows that you are a responsive holiday let landlord.
Tax and Insurance on holiday lets
Any income you make from letting out a property as a holiday let is taxable. At the time of writing, you can earn up to £7,500 tax-free by letting a room in your own property, but this doesn’t apply to a second or subsequent property. Small scale holiday letting ventures do attract some tax relief, but it’s wise to consult an expert to find out what tax you are liable for and how best to mitigate your liability.
Insurance is not optional. Whilst sites like Airbnb do offer some insurance cover for landlords, it is not intended to replace landlord insurance. Look for a policy that protects you from property damage. Be aware that ordinary landlord insurance won’t cover short-term lets, so look for a specialist insurance policy designed for holiday lets.
Vetting holiday guests
There have been numerous horror stories of Airbnb guests renting properties and then organising raucous parties. This is less of a problem with family holiday properties, but you still need to be vigilant.
Vet all guests thoroughly and check their ratings (if applicable) before you accept their booking. Be mindful about accepting large groups of men or women, as stag and hen parties are high-risk bookings. Small family groups and couples are less likely to cause damage than a large group of drunken men or women.
Respond quickly to reports of issues from the neighbours. If your guests have decided to throw an impromptu party in your luxury central London flat, the sooner you act, the better.
When holiday lets go wrong…
It would be remiss of us not to mention one or two tales of woe from landlords in the holiday let business.
One landlord reported that his guest had used a bathroom bin as a toilet after misinterpreting a sign instructing guests not to put anything down the loo…
Another guest stole all the curtain hooks from their holiday home and a third turned the heating up and opened all the windows before they checked out.
We sincerely hope you don’t end up with any of these clowns staying in your property!
Congratulations, you have now reached the end of our guide to holiday lets. We hope you found it useful and interesting!
As always, if you have any stories to pass on or would like to ask us a question about anything related to holiday lets or landlord life in general, feel free to get in touch. You can leave a comment below or reach out on social media.
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