Can you successfully rent out your second home and still holiday there yourself?

Heck yes!  You can have your cake and eat it.  I for one should know!

That’s how I started out renting my holiday cottage. It was bought as a second home. And that’s still very much how I feel about it today – 11 years later.

When we first bought it, the kids were 5 and 7 yrs old.   Being taken to Spring Cottage (nearly) every weekend with its garden and nooks and crannies was so exciting.

Today not so.  At 16 and 18 they have commitments at home, plus they no longer want to share a room and a visit to a country cottage is so ‘boring’. Even with wifi!

So gradually we’ve been using it less and less as a family. And renting it out to paying guests for 9 years.  After only 2 years of exclusive usage (and an extension moving it from 1 to 2 beds) I felt we could earn from it.  At that stage the goal was to cover our running costs.

Hubby was sceptical. He didn’t think the income would justify having strangers in his home.  Until the money started to flow! And others were effectively paying for our holiday home.

What a delicious cake to sample that was!

I’d worked for a luxury self-catering agency so I knew what I had to do to turn it from second home to holiday home. But all the while keep it as our retreat. And keep a reign on the spend.

I didn’t want my holiday let to be a run of the mill, mass-market holiday home. If we were going to do this, we needed to focus on earning the maximum we could on each booking. That meant bringing a quality product to the market, to justify those higher weekly rates. But it didn’t been blowing the budget either.

How did I go about this?

Swat up on the legalities

No getting away from these, whether your holiday let is budget or higher end.

For tax advice I spoke to my accountants and for terms and conditions I had a solicitor write these. One off costs. Annual electrical PAT testing is not a legal requirement in England but worth getting done. The boiler service and chimney sweeping happened every year anyway.  We also kept on top of maintenance issues too so no work here for us. And have no gas in the property so an annual CP12 gas safety certificate doesn’t apply.

I had to ensure all soft furnishings had the British Kite mark.

The insurance had to change to a specific holiday rental one, to include public liability.  And a move to business rates instead of council tax was a possibility if the property was going to be available to let for 140 days a year. At the time it wasn’t, as were using it so much ourselves.  Make sure you check out local laws.

Get out the colour chart

My favourite part!

How the property is presented plays a huge part in convincing people to stay with you; standing out from the crowd and grabbing a potential guest’s attention.

The cottage was already painted in a Farrow and Ball scheme. All very neutral but a bit bland.  I wanted my holiday cottage to stand out from the crowd. For it to look memorable when guests came across it online.  I wanted to create the wow, on a budget.

My qualification in home staging gave me a head start.  I needed to apply home staging techniques.  The principal of

  • spending only where necessary, where value would be added
  • giving each room a cohesive decor scheme
  • providing the feeling of more light and more space
  • getting rid of any clutter (not that there was much as I’m a tidy freak)

I didn’t spend a lot – I didn’t have the budget. In the master bedroom for example I painted the wall behind the bed in a different colour to the rest of the room. And I used this blue colour in the accessories – throw, scatter cushions, artwork, curtains.

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For furniture I bought an oak bedroom frame and bedside cupboards from an oak warehouse sale.  The cream chest we already had but I painted it cream to fit in with the decor scheme.  It as an old fashioned mahogany colour.   What a difference that £20 tin of paint made. I kept the carpet neutral.

The wardrobe had to be built in the room by a joiner as the bend in the stairs wouldn’t allow a wardrobe up it.  Although a more costly option than a flat pack wardrobe I wanted it to last and feel quality. It  was worth the additional £200 spend.

If the thought of doing the styling yourself sends you into a tizz, fear not, I have more articles to help you with his, right here: <<Styling tips for holiday home owners>>

Make space for you

No more leaving our toiletries out in the bathroom, or a bathrobe on the back of the bedroom door.  Also we had some family photos on the wall which had to go.  Initially this did feel odd but we had no choice.

Each set of guests has to feel like the cottage belongs to them for the week. And a constant reminder of the owner’s presence is a no-no.

But it’s important to leave some of your personal items there onsite as that’s what you’re used to.  Just locked away in a cupboard. Isn’t one of the fabulous things about staying at your holiday home, the fact that you don’t need pack everything?  You only need to pack clothes and shoes as most of your other weekend items are waiting for you there.

Bring it to market

This was the steepest learning curve for me. I started using Owners Direct and paying their high annual fee.  I also used a luxury self catering agency with a 20% commission on each booking, even though geographically I was in a different location to its other luxury cottages.  They approached me and I was chuffed to be asked.  A few bookings resulted.  I soon realised that to truly maximise my revenue per booking I needed to get guest to book with me directly.  The national agencies were not for me and some even had restrictions on owner bookings.  Absolutely not what we wanted!

I taught myself how to build a website and how social media works.  But not just how to use it but how to optimise it.  Plus other marketing techniques too such as blogging, using video and nailing who your ideal guest is.

Niche listing sites that specialise in my area and my type of holiday rental were important too.    As that’s where guests looking for what I was offering, would be searching.  These smaller listing sites allowed me to show my contact details and website link. So guests could get in touch directly.

And I haven’t looked back.  I’m now more than covering our costs; making a healthy second income, yet still being able to use it when we want to (albeit fitting in around existing bookings).  But that’s fine.

I’m still tucking into our delicious, icing clad, fully decorated cake.  And it tastes great!

Do you want to be there too? Having your cake and eating it? Let me help you get there quicker than plodding on alone.

Book a one to one session with me, aka an Action Hour and I’ll help you to devour that wonderful cake of yours. Here’s what you’ll get  >> Action Hour <<

Karen