Built by owners, for owners.

The OwnerRez Blog

A blog about our thoughts, services, upcoming features and the industry at large.

The OwnerRez Blog

Introducing the "Vacation Rental Tools" project and importing reviews in bulk

As great as our new Reviews feature is, we knew from the moment we released it that we would have to follow it up with some tools to help get reviews into the system faster.

Manual entry sucks! You don't want to have manually copy/paste every review you get into OwnerRez, so we set out designing ways of making it easier.  To that end, we have two big things to announce.

You can now import reviews in bulk using Excel.

The import screen is similar to, and located near, the other import screens and pretty self-explanatory.  Take a look at this support article for all the details:

Storing Reviews by Importing Them in Bulk Via Excel

But even though you can import via Excel, that still means you have to manually fill in the Excel spreadsheet, right?  That's where the next part comes in!

Introducing the new "Vacation Rental Tools" lab project!

For awhile now, we've been dreaming up a way of providing better tools and tighter integration with listing sites while not having to wait on listing sites to develop that access on their own.

"Vacation Rental Tools" is our answer to that problem.  It's a Chrome extension you can install in your browser that will provide you extra features for the listing sites you work with.  And it's free for everyone to use whether you're an OwnerRez customer or not!

Visit the new website at http://VacationRental.tools or take a look at these support articles:

If you use TripAdvisor, you'll be able to use Vacation Rental Tools to download an Excel file of all your TripAdvisor reviews in a click of a button.

That same Excel file can then be imported into OwnerRez in another click, meaning no manual entry.

Hundreds of reviews moved from TripAdvisor to OwnerRez in just a few seconds. Awesome, right?!

Get ready for more great browser tools coming to Vacation Rental Tools and help us spread the word!

Another month, another Gallimaufry

Following up on the Gallimaufry post from June, and July/August, here's what we've got for September.

Gallimaufry (n): A collection or hodgepodge of things with no apparent unifying theme.

One of the bigger features we've already announced was tracking and displaying reviews. We've got more to announce on reviews in the next couple of days, so keep your eyes peeled for that!

New listing sites

Overhauled renter agreement section

More docs on renter agreements can be found in our Renter Agreements and other legal agreements support article.

  • Allow setting agreement to sign when generating a link for the guest
  • Add listing site criteria on renter agreements so language can be altered for different listing site policies
  • Add verify contact info page on signing link (including booking checkout custom fields)
  • Require email address to be not a listing site double blind on contact info verification
  • Apply theme header/footer on booking forms

Portal access

  • Make calendar permissions a set of flags vs a level so they can be independently selected
  • Add allow all properties option
  • Add guest name permission for calendar and owner statements
  • Add notes button and permission

Hosted website

  • Enhanced loading snappyness on photo slider
  • If too many menu items to fit, put them in a more menu
  • If site name too wide, give it an ellipsis
  • Allow setting book now button caption via tab name

Mobile responsive enhancements for Bookings tab

  • 15 day view for ribbon mobile portrait
  • Allow left/right swiping to switch months
  • On ribbon, measure text and tighten up layout on small screens to save space
  • On month, make rows scrollable if too many bookings to fit
  • Layout buttons and filters to fit on one rows
  • Grid responsive to hide/show columns

 

And all of the other stuff...

  • Overhaul booking payments and refunds into new Transactions section
  • Add booking cleaning date
  • Hover headers on grid to make sort visible
  • Add datepicker to booking calendar picker
  • Show cc icons on booking forms if PayPal only
  • Export all season rates in their own season even if there are other seasons
  • Add listing site fee report
  • Add travel insurance filter on bookings grid
  • Update RemoteLock codes instead of new each time
  • Allow setting RemoteLock code
  • Add address to convert block to booking form
  • Add Airbnb transaction history import
  • Clarify that Air can do calendar sync
  • Add non commissionable amount on booking charges
  • Add booking charge linked expenses
  • Add nightly taxes
  • On date or property change on quote or booking, ask if charges should be recalced
  • If there are guest fees, ask to recalc charges when occupancy changes for quote or booking
  • Default expire and pending day extension box values
  • Add payment and secdep request email templates and compose buttons
  • Add merge fields for listing site
  • Order season selectors by date vs. name

Reviews!

Have you ever looked at the reviews you get on TripAdvisor, VRBO, Airbnb and Facebook, and wished you could collect and store those in one place?  And show them on your own personal website?

Now you can collect, store and display your reviews in OwnerRez through widgets and hosted websites!

One of our users stored 20 reviews and put the widget up.  Take a look.

We've built quite a bit of functionality into this, based on forward-thinking, and we have some upcoming features designed where we will be making the storing/entry part of this vastly easier (automatic imports, etc).  But no need to wait!  You can get started with this feature right away!

Take a look at the following support docs to get started.

Deep Thoughts on Security Deposits and Insurance

We get a lot of questions about the best way to set up security deposits, when to use damage protection insurance, travel insurance, etc. I've seen a lot of different scenarios over the years, both with OwnerRez clients and my own properties, so here are my thoughts (I'm not a lawyer, standard disclaimers apply, bla bla bla)...

Security deposits are the first line of defense, whether you do a security hold on a card or a refundable deposit charge. I'd recommend taking a secdep even if you also have separate insurance. Not only do you have access to the funds immediately rather than having to file a claim, it also gives the guest some skin in the game so they tend to treat your property with more respect. You can also charge a deposit for other items covered in the renter agreement -- undisclosed extra guests, pets, etc. "covered in the renter agreement" is the key phrase there -- if the guest didn't agree to it prior to the charge, you'll loose a chargeback if they do one.

That said, there are issues that a secdep won't cover. Damage for an amount more than the secdep for one. There's also a risk of chargebacks unless you're taking the deposit by check. You can win chargebacks, but it's a capricious system. If the bank doesn't like you and the guest denies having done the damage, the bank sometimes just ignores the renter agreement and tells you to take the guest to court if you don't like it. I wouldn't recommend doing an additional charge for more than the security deposit for that exact reason -- if you don't have documentation that the guest specifically authorized an additional charge, you'll loose the chargeback. For secdeps, they specifically authorized the charge so that'll typically stand up, but language in a renter agreement about charging an undefined additional amount if necessary doesn't meet the banking requirements -- you'd have to take the guest to court.

The biggest thing to do is document, document, document. Pictures of damage, video of more cars than guests authorized on the booking, statements of neighbors or staff who witnessed, etc. If possible written admissions from the guest. Police report if relevant. Take pictures from time to time of everything so you'll have a recent "before" photo. Timeliness is key here -- the closer the documentation is to the time of the incident, the more weight it will carry. When I encounter damage, I'll get copious pictures and send the guest a professional email asking if they know what happened. A good deal of the time they'll admit it and we can work out a solution.

All of the above is basically to keep honest people honest. It sounds like I'm suspicious of guests, but I'm generally not -- 95% of people are good guests and everything will go smoothly. The point of the above is to establish a process beforehand and know what you'll do, know how to collect all the documentation you need, and be ready to work through it.

The second line of defense is accidental damage insurance. A couple of clarifying points here... First off, damage insurance doesn't cover intentional damage. Sometimes there's a fine line between negligence and intent, but no damage insurance will cover intentional damage or vandalism. That's why I recommend taking both the secdep and the insurance, so you're covered in both cases.

Secondly, the insurance offered through Airbnb, VRBO, CSA, etc. is insurance for the guest, not for you, the owner. That's why the guest has to admit fault with those insurances, and the insurance won't pay out if they don't admit to doing the damage.

We did a bunch of research on different companies when choosing the damage protection product to offer through OwnerRez, and that's why we went with TravelGuard/AIG's ARDI. That insurance is for you, the owner, not the guest. You submit a claim directly to TravelGuard, not a third party. The guest doesn't have to admit fault -- they don't even need to know about the insurance. Of course, if you want to surcharge it back to the guest, you can.

To find out more about how our damage protection works and costs, check out our article on ARDI & Damage Protection.

Another option is to self insure. Charge $50/booking for a damage waiver and put that into a separate account, which you tap into when damage occurs. Of course, in that case any issues or amounts over the balance are on you vs. the insurance company. If you've got a high volume so your risk pool is larger, and a high risk tolerance, that can be a more economical option than a damage insurance policy.

Finally, there's also the option of offering travel insurance for cancellations because of weather, sickness, accident, etc. This is insurance for the guest, but offering it can also help you out as the owner. If you don't at least offer travel insurance, enforcing a strict cancellation policy can be awkward. For my personal properties, I offer travel insurance during checkout, and then also have a triggered email go out through OwnerRez after booking reminding them of the option. If they're booking during higher risk times of the year (in my case, snow in the mountains during winter), the email template language changes to identify the risk and strongly suggest they purchase the travel insurance if they don't feel comfortable in snow etc. That way, I feel I've done my due diligence in offering coverage options, and in the event of a cancellation I can hold strong to my policy. For travel insurance, we also use TravelGuard -- their All Seasons Travel Plan. 

If the guest didn't buy travel insurance, suggest they check their credit card policy. Some cards include travel insurance/cancellation coverage for trips bought on the card.

Do you have anything else to add? I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Gallimaufry of July and August enhancements

We got great feedback on the Gallimaufry post from June, so I figured it should become a recurring series. We do announcement posts for the larger features, but there are so many small ones that can get lost in the chatter if they're not called out and recognized.

Gallimaufry (n): A collection or hodgepodge of things with no apparent unifying theme.

First, the big features we've already announced over the past couple of months:

New regional listing site: New York Rental By Owner

Hosted Websites

We've done a ton of work on our Hosted Websites since we released them back in January and will continue making them better. Keep those ideas coming!

Here are the recent additions:

  • Video/iFrame embedding on pages. HT David K, Kent M.

    Check out what they've done with our hosted websites -- both have done a bang up job of including videos that make you feel like you are already on vacation:
    http://www.monplaisirvilla.com/
    http://hummingbird-vacations.hosted.ownerrez.com/
  • Uploading photos and files on pages
  • Add css setting to allow advanced control of layout and styles. HT David K.
  • Full screen content editing
  • Page title option
  • Hide page tab option
  • Allow scripts in footers to enable additional analytics, etc.

Widgets

The availability/property search widget we released in June was one of our most widely requested widgets. We released some solid updates to that this month, as well as a brand new and fully rewritten multiple month calendar widget that subsumes the 3 month calendar and year calendar widgets to a much more flexible and responsive widget.

  • New multiple month calendar that supports 1 to 24 months and uses responsive display to adapt to all screen sizes. Merge year calendar and 3 month calendar into the multiple month calendar. HT -- too many to list.
  • Show legend on ribbon calendar widget
  • Support display culture on inquiry widget and multi month calendar widget. HT Craig H.
  • Make rates responsive down on phones instead of across on the table
  • Listing overrides for sleeps and rate (property info tab). HT Barb S.
  • Search widget option to hide rate and min sleeps
  • Add css setting to allow advanced control of layout and styles
  • Search widget option to display results on second page. HT Lissa Y.
  • Break the book widget dates to two rows on phones
  • Remind guests to check their spam folder when they send an inquiry from the book now widget. HT Michael H.

Reports

  • Add check in/out times to stay reports
  • Add group by booking to line item summary report. HT John R.
  • Add reference columns to tax summary report. HT Chris P.
  • Add line item detail report
  • Add listing site filter to booking detail and summary reports

Lists, Grids, and Filters

  • Security deposit status filter on booking grid. HT ShenRent.
  • Add inquiry grid bulk mark as read/answered buttons. HT Brandon M.
  • Add listing site column and filter to bookings grid
  • Add booking status filter on booking grid and make column display clearer
  • Add payment status filter on booking grid
  • Add clear all filters button on all grids
  • Add email address and has email address filters on booking grid

All of the smaller stuff

  • Show actual values from entities (bookings etc.) on legal agreement and email template previews instead of using sample values. Sample values still used if no entity exists yet.
  • Show travel insurance deadlines to guest, in emails, and to owner in booking section
  • Automatically send travel insurance email to guests that request travel insurance but pay with a non-credit card method like PayPal or check
  • Automatically purchase travel insurance if selected on confirmation required bookings with first payment
  • Rename Seasonal season type to Recurring to clarify the difference
  • Enhance rates import/export
  • Show credit card icons and names if PayPal is enabled but no separate credit card payments are enabled. HT Dave.
  • Add calendar sync execution order and extend/overwrite option to handle properties with multiple areas that can be rented together or separately (lock off). HT Barb S, Kerry H.
  • Sync calendars every hour instead of a couple times per day
  • Populate listing site booking ids on calendar import for Airbnb and FlipKey/TripAdvisor
  • Link out to Airbnb reservation page from calendar imported bookings
  • Add BARRDAY and BDEPDAY merge fields for day of the week
  • Make check times granular to 15 minute intervals
  • Refer to Futon as a Sleeper Sofa. HT Amanda C.
  • Grey out blocked off times on ribbon view by default, add setting to user preferences to control. HT Kerry H.
  • Recategorize settings section
  • Put today highlight on standard date pickers. HT ShenRent.
  • Offer $50 off LockState products in our Door Locks section

Thanks to all of our loyal users who suggested many of these features!

What is OwnerRez?

We are an online booking service for vacation rental property that helps managers and owners save time, create quotes and bookings faster, look professional and keep detailed records without needing an accountant or staff.