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The OwnerRez Blog

Security deposit auto-release, hosted website menu customization and Channel Bridge manual mode

A large update went out yesterday afternoon, and I wanted to drop a quick note about some of the major changes that were part of that release.

Security Deposits now automatically release in [x] days

For many years, users have been asking for this and we finally got around to it.  Instead of being emailed every day endlessly, the system will now automatically release security deposits based on your settings.

You are still reminded - once after departure and then again the day before release - that the release will happen, but there's nothing you need to do in order for the release to happen.  If you take a look at your property rules, you'll notice that the security deposit rules have changed a bit.

The Release Days field is still there but now it's the number of days after departure when the system will auto-release instead of the system just emailing you.  We updated the Release Days setting for all properties, system wide, to be 7 more than what was there so that you have plenty of time to adjust it before your first set of open security deposits are automatically released.

You can turn off the Release Reminder email if you don't want to get anything, and you can select the type of email template the guest should get when the auto release happens - system default, nothing or a custom template.

If you want to extend the time period for a particular booking, holding onto the funds a bit longer, you can do that too.  Go to the open security deposit and you'll see an "Extend" button that you can use to push back the release period.  The Extend button only shows if it's 7 days or less until the security deposit is going to be released.

We have a lot more work to do with security deposits - like adding refundable deposits instead of only holds - but we are excited about this update and believe that it will help users a lot with their post-departure workflow.

Menu customization for Hosted Websites

This is another frequently-requested update. You can now customize the menu bar on your Hosted Website to nest menu options inside other menus, easily indent and re-order and create menus that link to other pages or websites.

Let's start with the easy one.  Instead of having to type in a numeric order on every page to change the order of the menu, there is now a special Menu Layout button above the list of pages:

Clicking that will take you to a drag/drop page showing the current list of menus in order and showing their indent level.

To change the order of the menus, click on an item and drag it up or down in the list.  You can also do this on touch devices, such as mobile phones or tablets, by long pressing on an item for a second until you see it move and then dragging your finger up or down in the list.

Clicking the little indent button will move the page under a parent menu if that is available for that particular page. You can only have one indent level - that is, each menu can only have one menu inside it. We do not support multi-level menus.

It's important to understand that "pages" are now different than "menus".  Previously, the menu bar just showed pages.  Now, you can create menus independent of pages.  Each page has a setting for it's Parent Menu.  If you want the page to be the menu itself, select "Main Menu" as the menu.  If you want the page to be underneath (or inside of) a different menu, you would select that other menu as the page's parent menu.

Menus can be clickable, linking to a page on the site or some other page on a different site (ie. a URL that you enter), or they can have a list of items inside them.  If they only have a list of items inside them, when you click the menu, it opens to show what's inside without redirecting away.

In the picture below, the "Raw Menu" menu is an example of a menu that only has a list of items inside it.  It opens when clicked to show those items.

In the picture below, the "Properties" menu is an example of a menu that is both clickable and has a list of items.  Clicking on the word "Properties" directly will redirect away, while clicking on the caret to the right will open its menu of items.

Play with the menus and let us know what questions you have!  This should solve a lot of problems that users have had with nesting items and being able to link away to other sites.

Manual Mode for Channel Bridge bookings

Another user-requested enhancement was to make it so that charges can be edited for Channel Bridge bookings.

Previously, when Channel Bridge imported the charges for a booking, those charges were not editable.  We did this on purpose so that we could separate and keep track of the charges from the channel versus the ones you add yourself.

However, there are many times when you need to change the charges from the channel because of things like channel errors, bad imports or special situations that Channel Bridge doesn't translate correctly.

To solve this, we have added a "Manual Mode" button that will put the booking into a mode where you can:

a) edit the charges directly
b) make sure that future Channel Bridge imports do not overwrite your changes

To find the button, go to a booking's charges and click Change.  You'll now see a little button above the charges for Manual Mode.

Follow the prompts and warnings and then you'll be able to edit the charges.

Please be aware that once you go manual mode, there is no way to go back to Channel Bridge mode for the booking.  You are responsible, from that point forward, to keep the booking's charges up to date.  Payments, refunds and fees will still continue to be imported via Channel Bridge, but the charges will remain in manual mode.

That's it for now!  Lots of other minor things were fixed or updated, but these are the big three.

Airbnb bookings no longer showing guest name, phone and email

As many of you have already noticed, Airbnb bookings are coming in (via the calendar import) without any guest name, phone, email address or other details on them.

This is happening because, sometime yesterday, Airbnb changed their calendar sync engine (the iCal feed) to remove all of the guest information.  They have not offered any explanation for this; the guest info just disappeared.  They still show the Airbnb reservation # and dates but nothing else.

Will Airbnb put the guest information back in the calendar sync?

We don't know.  It's possible that this is a temporary glitch and Airbnb will fix it soon, but that's a pure guess on our part.

If you have a contact at Airbnb, try reaching out and asking about this.  Many PMs are part of a "Airbnb PM support group" that you can email directly with questions - see what they say.

Our guess is that Airbnb did this, on purpose, for security or privacy reasons.  Frankly, it was always strange that Airbnb included the guest's phone number and (proxy) email address in the calendar feed.  This is unusual for iCal feeds.  No other major channel did this except for Airbnb, so it was probably a matter of time before they plugged the hole.

How do I get the guest's name, phone and email?

Two words: Channel Bridge.  Our Channel Bridge tool will continue to find and download everything about the booking regardless of what the calendar import (iCal) includes.

The reason we created Channel Bridge was precisely for situations like this - VRBO and Airbnb do not provide users with guest and booking data, and the data they do provide is often incomplete.  Channel Bridge attempts to correct this problem by logging in to your channel account, as the user, and normalizing and downloading all the information possible about the booking.

We are continuing to make Channel Bridge better.  We are days (hours?) away from releasing a "manual mode" for Channel Bridge that will allow you to make manual tweaks to the charges that Channel Bridge creates in case you need to fix something.  We are working on a "direct injection" process where you can bypass the Excel file download and have Channel Bridge do direct imports.  We are also designing a future "auto" mode that will run every 10 or 15 minutes on your machine.  So lots in store for Channel Bridge.

We are tracking updates to this Airbnb sync issue on our forum here.  So if you want to ask questions, to us or other OwnerRez users, or provide updates that you find on your end, please do that so everyone can stay on the same page.

2018 Year In Review

New Years is a great time to look back on the year and plan for the next year. While reviewing our blog, I realized that we've added so much new functionality to OwnerRez, but hadn't always announced it here. So I figured I'd take a quick trip down memory lane and put together a list of the major items we added this year.

WARNING: this is going to be a long blog post 😁

CHANNELS

Adding channel integrations was our primary focus in 2018. We started off the year with a bang, adding booking.com API integration and Channel Bridge booking import for HomeAway and Airbnb. More recently, we've rolled out TripAdvisor API integration and have been hard at work on HomeAway API integration (due out by February).

Quick side note on terms:

"API integration" refers to a preferred communication method between our servers and the channel's servers. All API integrated channels can push rates and availablity automatically as well as receive bookings back from the channel automatically. All channels have percentage based rate adjusters which allow you to increase the rates on a per-channel basis. Some API integrated channels can also push listing content (description, amenities, photos, rules etc.), receive inquiries, or integrate with the platform messaging.

HomeAway, Airbnb, and TripAdvisor all have a 5+ property minimum for API integration (Booking.com and CanadaStays do not).

"Channel Bridge" is a proprietary tool that we've developed that logs in to your channel account through your browser and downloads booking information and reviews and pushes rates directly. This sidesteps that 5+ property limitation, so all users regardless of size can keep their OwnerRez bookings up to date

  • Booking.com - This integration can push rates and availability and receive back bookings (including verifying credit cards to make sure they're valid and then automatically processing payments).
  • Channel Bridge booking import - For HomeAway and Airbnb. Downloads full guest info, invoice charges, guest fees, host fees, payments, and channel remitted taxes and populates that data into your OwnerRez bookings.
  • TripAdvisor - This integration pushes rates, availability, and full listing content and receives back bookings.
  • VRBO/HomeAway - This integration is a full integration that pushes content, rates, rules, everything and receives back bookings to OwnerRez.  This currently in testing with a small group of pilot users but will be available to everyone in February 2019.
  • Channel Bridge Airbnb rate push - You can now go into an Airbnb Synced Channel and push your OwnerRez rates directly to Airbnb
  • VRBO rate push - Same thing with VRBO.  You can configure a VRBO Sync Channel in OwnerRez and push your rates (and fees and taxes) to VRBO.  This only works if you have calendar rates in VRBO and not the older "period" rates system.  Contact VRBO to change you over to calendar rates.
  • HomeAway/Airbnb listing import - We added an listing import tool that can populate your OwnerRez listing content (description, amenities, photos, etc.) from your listing on HomeAway or Airbnb
  • Centralized API Integrated and Synced channels - Channels, iCal, inquiry parsing, custom channels etc. used to be spread around OwnerRez in different areas. It is now centralized in the Channel Connections area under settings.

GUESTS

Early in the year we did a big overhaul that took the scattered contact info and centralized it into the concept of Guests. Each inquiry, quote, and booking has a Guest, tying them together and allowing you to manage the contact info in one place. You can also merge guests and bookings together to keep track of repeat guests, as well as picking an existing guest when generating a new quote.

We also added several other features to improve the guest experience:

  • Specific amount when making a payment request - Prior to this, you could only request a scheduled payment amount. You can now give an amount (and optional description) when sending a payment request to the guest. This is also accessible as an email merge field link so you can set up automatic payment requests and triggers.
  • Request Booking Clean-Up - On some channels, it's common to request a rental agreement signature and a credit card for the security deposit. This request option (and email merge field link) lets you request both at once, reducing the amount of work the guest has to do.
  • Request Review - You can request a guest review through the Reviews tab on a booking, or create a trigger with the merge field to automatically request a review.
  • Custom Travel Insurance Amount - We added the capability for you or the guest to specify the amount of coverage when purchasing Travel Insurance. This lets you remove items that shouldn't be covered by travel insurance, let guests purchase insurance for channel bookings even if you don't have the financials imported to OwnerRez, and guests to purchase additional insurance for other related items like flights.
  • Separate Platform Email - For channels like Airbnb, TripAdvisor, and booking.com, you get a "platform email address" with the booking, not the guest's real email address. We've separated that out into a Platform Email field. When sending emails, the system first tries to send to the guest's real email address. If none are available, it will send to the Platform Email. If you want to always send to the platform email, you can add the platform email address merge field to your email templates.

HOSTED WEBSITES & WIDGETS

Ever since we rolled out our hosted website feature in 2016 we've been continuously improving and refining it, and this year was no different.

  • Search widget filters - Enable filters for dates, guest counts, location, beds/baths.
  • Search widget calculate stay total - You can now set the search widget to calculate the booking total for the dates and guests entered vs. just displaying a rate range.
  • Search widget passes data to booking widget - When you search with dates, the widget will prepopulate the inquiry widget with those dates so the guest doesn't need to enter them again.
  • Search widget tile view - You can now show a Tiled view of properties in the search widget in addition to the default List view.
  • HTTPS standard on hosted - Security on websites is big, particularly with Google's emphasis on "Secure" or "Not secure" in the address bar. We added support for HTTPS earlier this year. We just rolled out a feature that makes HTTPS standard on all hosted websites.
  • Notification email on book now - In addition to tracking events in any Google Analytics or Facebook Pixel accounts you have connected to OwnerRez, you'll get a notification email when they start the book now process so you can follow up with the guest if they abandon the reservation.
  • Multi User Widgets - This allows you to combine properties from multiple OwnerRez users into one widget -- useful if you want to create a central link for owners in your area to share with guests that they can't help. Perhaps they are reserved for those dates and want to recommend others -- now they can just share that central widget that you have created with the properties of all OwnerRez users in the area. Currently requires us to set up that authorization, so contact us if you need this.

GENERAL QOL

We refer to the general improvements we make as "quality of life" enhancements. Here are the big ones this year.

  • Add to Home Screen - We've always been mobile friendly, but this year we develope an app based on Progressive Web App (PWA) technology. You can add OwnerRez to your homescreen on all major devices, including iPhone, iPad, Android phones and tablets, even Chrome OS and Windows desktops. Read our guide to adding OwnerRez to your phone's home screen.
  • Batch booking cancel/delete - Sometimes you just need to clean up bookings or redo your calendar. You can use the Batch button on the Booking List view to select many bookings or blocked-off times and cancel or delete them all at once.
  • Ribbon filtering - If you have many properties, the ribbon view becomes very handy. We've added filters so you can focus on a specific group of properties and/or bookings as you use the Ribbon view on the Bookings tab.
  • Saved filters - If you filter any grid in OwnerRez, it will save that filter and load it when you return to that grid. You can also easily show all items or reset to the default filter.
  • Current view on bookings - Sometimes you just want to see who's currently at your properties, in case you need to communicate with a guest or cleaner about the current situation. The Current view gives you a list for each property of who's there yesterday, today, or tomorrow
  • Gap night rules - Maximizing occupancy is key to optimizing your profit. Gap night rules let you target gaps in different ways, whether it be reducing minimum nights in gaps to sell those nights or disallowing small gaps to make sure you don't have unsellable nights
  • Lock payment method rule - If you offer multiple types of payment methods, like credit cards and checks, sometimes you want to lock the guest into one method. If you offered a check discount, you don't want them later paying by credit card.
  • Skip renter agreement rule - Sometimes you'll need to skip a renter agreement, or you have a third party signing service you use. This rule lets you turn off the renter agreement signing step for a property or quote.
  • Spot rates - Generally it is more powerful to do rules based pricing, but sometimes you just want to set a specific rate for a date range, perhaps to target an event or a last minute opportunity. Spot rates let you override the rules based pricing and are also used by dynamic pricing engines to set rates
  • Duplicate property - As you grow, you'll be adding new properties from time to time. The Duplicate button lets you copy an existing property to one or more new properties to make setup easier
  • Rules batch update - If you have lots of properties and make a rule change, that can be a lot of work to update every single property. That's why we added a batch update for rules that lets you update other properties with the new rules, or update existing quotes and bookings with those rules as well.
  • Processing Fee/Discount - If you offer multiple payment methods, like check and credit card, you can do a fee or discount for specific payment methods, like a check payment discount. If the guest chooses that payment method at reservation time, the fee or discount will be applied to the booking and the payment method type will be locked to the same type for future payments.
  • Property Private Code and Public Name - We added two new options on properties that will show a different name than the standard based on context. The Private Code is used on reports and calendar legends so you can identify a property at a glance. The Public Name is used on guest communications, hosted websites, and widgets so you can include keywords for marketing purposes.
  • Per-property theming - We've had headers/footers for email, forms, renter agreements, etc. Per property theming lets you create multiple "themes" which include logo, name, headers/footers, etc. and assign them to specific properties. Useful if you have properties in different areas or categories and want to project a specific brand for some properties.

OTHER INTEGRATIONS

  • PriceLabs - This is our first dynamic pricing integration. Read more about PriceLabs integration. BeyondPricing and Wheelhouse are coming soon!
  • ResortCleaning.com - If you manage your cleaners through ResortCleaning.com, you can integrate it with OwnerRez to pull booking info over automatically.
  • More Processor Accounts - We added OpenEdge (formerly known as “PayPros”) support. YapStone/VacationRentPayment is in final testing.

REPORTS

  • Line Item Pivot Report - Winning the worst named report award is the Line Item Pivot Report. It shows one row per booking, with columns for each type of surcharge, which is great for breaking down where exactly the money came from.
  • Insurance Report - This report gives you a birds eye view of both damage protection insurance and travel insurance on a per-booking basis.
  • Gaps Report - We added rules and trigger criteria for dealing with gaps automatically, but some times you just want to see where the gaps are. Maybe you want to reach out with a personalized phone call or email and see if the guest wants to add a night to the beginning or end of their stay. This report lets you find gaps by size and get a list of guests and contact info.
  • New report filters
    • The booking and tax detail and summary reports got an "Any stay during period" option that lets you find an overlapping stay for your filter dates, rather than just looking at arrival, departure or booked dates
    • Stay reports got an event type filter so you can find just everyone arriving, or departing, or staying, separately
    • Payment detail report got a multiselect payment type filter so you can do detailed payment analysis
  • New fields
    • Stay reports got guest contact, notes, cleaning date, property address and door code
    • Tax detail report got guest name, total nights, period nights, net payments, net refunds, fees
    • Booking detail report got add nights, adults, children, pets, and next payment. Next payment shows the amount/date of the next payment which is handy for tracking down folks who haven't paid yet
  • Credit Card Processing Report - We added a report that shows all credit card transaction history, no matter if the transaction was accepted or declined by the processor/gateway. This shows you low-level details about transactions which you can use to track attempts made by the guest or see a running history on what was tried and by whom.

EMAIL TRIGGERS & TEMPLATES

Email triggers and templates is another area where we've made massive improvements, from new events to new trigger criteria to forecasting so you can see what triggers are queued to be sent.

  • New trigger events
    • Renter agreement signed
    • Booking/blocked-off time canceled
    • Booking/blocked-off time dates changed
    • Booking/blocked-off time property changed
    • Booking/blocked-off time check in/out time changed
    • Booking/blocked-off time notes changed
  • New trigger criteria
    • Payment status
    • Security deposit status
    • Card on file status
    • Renter agreement signed status
    • Travel insurance status - handy for sending reminder emails for those that haven't purchased travel insurance
    • Adjacent available nights - target bookings with a certain number of gap nights available and send upsell emails offering discounts to add additional days
    • Booking pending status    
    • All booking criteria that have been available on surcharges, from number of nights, to dates, to number of guests.
  • New merge fields
    • PM and Owner stats like owner amount, PM commission, pre-deducted expenses, etc.
    • Platform email address and reservation number
    • Guest and host fee totals
    • Rent amount, net amount, net balance (after host fees)
    • Property max guests, adults, bedrooms, bathrooms, registration number, etc.
  • Trigger forecast - You've always been able to look at the Email tab of a booking to see what triggers will go out for that specific booking. The forecast lets you look across all triggers, or a specific trigger or template and see all bookings where it applies and the current send status.

PROPERTY MANAGEMENT (PM)

  • PDF Generation - You can quickly generate PDFs for owner statements which are then stored against the statement
  • Emailing Owner Statements - You can email statements directly from OwnerRez instead of using your own outside email program. Once emailed, the statement shows a “Sent” indicator that you can search/filter on.
  • More Field Codes - To help with emailing statements you can embed information about the statement including links to the generated PDF (which will auto-generate the PDF on the fly once the link is used).
  • Bulk Create Statements - Have many owners to create statements for? You can now create them all in one click.  You can save settings on each owner for what their default statement-generation settings should so that the bulk-create process know what to use for each owner.
  • Bulk Emailing - You can bulk email many statements at once instead of going one by one.
  • Custom Email Templates - You can create custom email statements for each owner so that when bulk-emailing statements, the owner gets the correct message tailored for their situation.
  • Attachments on expenses - You can attach documents or photos to expenses for tracking purposes -- invoices, photos of work done, etc. Those attachments will be included when Owner Statements are generated.
  • Grant Admin Access - You can now grant admin access to another OwnerRez user - useful for accountant access etc. This currently requires us to authorize the connection, so let us know if you need this.
  • Admin Access for Portal Users - You can also grant admin access to any portal users you create inside your OwnerRez account
  • Expense and Fee standardization - We merged the concept of payment fees, host fees, and expenses so there is a standard way to deduct fees from commission and owner payouts.

QUICKBOOKS

Our QuickBooks Integration went through two large updates this year, the last of which was a major overhaul.  We changed how syncing works to correct a number of bugs and also added transparency between OwnerRez and QuickBooks records so that you can see what is being created on both sides.  As I write this, we are actually finishing up another update on QuickBooks that will allow you to change settings for different surcharges, deposit accounts, invoice dates, invoice numbers and more.

Looking back, the list of what we did in 2018 is pretty massive, but looking forward, the list of what we’re working on (and going to be working on after that) is even bigger!

We love our users to death - most of you anyway. 😉

Thank you for your support and loyalty and feedback!

Ximplifi Accounting on Trust Accounting for Vacation Rentals

As many of you are already well aware, dealing with proper accounting and bookkeeping is a big frustration in the vacation rental industry -- whether you manage hundreds of properties or are an owner with just a couple.

Jesse and the team at Ximplifi Accounting have started a great blog series on accounting for vacation rentals. We are working with Jesse's team to create a long-term comprehensive solution in OwnerRez to the accounting problem. We push bookings and payments to QuickBooks already, but this is just the tip of iceberg in terms of what is coming.

Check out Jesse's inaugural article: Trust Accounting for Vacation Rental Managers

Quick excerpt:

Trust accounting for vacation rental managers (or property managers in general) ("PM") can be confusing. Add in the selection, set-up & use of VRM booking and accounting software and it can become all out dizzying! The below is not intended to be all encompassing, as the set-up, and specific accounting & reporting is dependent on many different factors. But, it is intended to provide a framework for VRM trust accounting and the different key considerations.

Continue reading

Integration with PriceLabs

We're very excited to announce our integration with PriceLabs! We've been hard at work on features to support this integration -- like the new Spot Rates concept that lets you "paint on top" of seasonal rates to set rates for specific days.

To learn more and set up the integration, follow the instructions in our PriceLabs Integration Guide.

PriceLabs is a powerful revenue management & dynamic pricing solution for vacation and short-term rentals. A data-driven approach, automation rules, and customizations to manage pricing and minimum-stay restrictions help vacation rentals increase revenues and save them hours in the process.

The customization options layer on top of market data help you automate things like cascading minimum stays (e.g., lower min-stay as a date gets closer, reduce min-stay to fill gaps), last minute discounts, orphan gap discount/premiums while still giving you good control over your pricing strategy. Learn more in this short video demo!

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.