Welcome to the OBX Rent Direct Homeowner’s Blog!  This is a place where Outer Banks vacation home owners can share ideas and learn from each other.  My husband and I own a home in Waves, NC on Hatteras Island.

One year ago, our home was listed with one of the large management companies on Hatteras Island.  We were losing money, based on comments we received, our guests were unhappy and we sure were unhappy too!  Even if we wanted to, we would not have been able to sell our home for what we had paid for it just 2 years prior.  Unsure of what else to do, we decided to sever our relationship with our management company and ‘Rent-By-Owner’.  It was the best decision we have ever made.

We now rent and manage our own property with much success.  I post regular entries  on this blog pertaining to the Vacation Rental Business on the Outer Banks based on our experiences.  I welcome other OBX homeowners to ask questions of myself and the entire homeowner community, or to share their own experiences.

This blog was created in an effort to create a community of Outer Banks Homeowners.  It is an online forum where your questions and comments are welcome.

To ask a question or start a new discussion, click ‘Ask a Question’ at the top left of the menu bar above and post your question.

This is our success story.  We want to share it so other OBX homeowners realize they have options.  We can all learn from each other in this online community where questions and comments are welcome!


Homeowner Question-Housecleaning Recommendation?

A fellow Outer Banks homeowner, Cyndi, recently asked the OBX Homeowner Blog about a recommendation for a housecleaning company or individual on Hatteras Island.

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Since my Outer Banks rental home is located on Hatteras Island, I have some personal experience and opinions in this department!  I would highly recommend Shore Details.  This company has handled the weekly housecleaning (as well as many other cleaning and maintenance issues) of my OBX home for the past 5 years.  I think that statement says it all.  Prior to finding Shore Details, we changed Management/Housecleaning companies 3 times in 3 years!  No, I’m not that difficult to get along with, but the poor service we received from the rental management companies forced us to find another solution.

Shore Details is a leader in the Outer Banks cottage care industry, providing exceptionally high quality and reasonably priced service in the areas of housecleaning, maintenance, pool care, and guest concierge services.  They have made Rent-by-Owner (and ultimately financial success), possible for many Hatteras Island homeowners.  Please click here to see my OBX Housecleaning 101 post for more information about Shore Details and what makes them successful!

OBX homeowners, please share your comments and recommendations with Cyndi!!  And keep the questions coming!  The OBX Homeowner Blog is here to help!

Homeowner Question-Tax Advisor Recommendation?

A fellow Outer Banks homeowner, Barbara, recently asked the following question of the OBX Homeowner Blog:  “Would appreciate any OBX owner to advise us of a tax advisor with familiarity with vacation rental tax strategies and ultimately if necessary short sale tax advice.  We get almost no tax deduction from our rental although we have accumulated huge tax losses which have been carried over.  If we rent by owner through your program, are we considered in the rental business and able to take all losses on our tax return as opposed to renting through a management company where we are only able to take partial losses?  I have many more questions and am pleased to find your website!  Please advise!  Thank you!”

First, I would like to thank Barbara for her question.  I hope our OBX homeowner community can help you out!

Second, I agree that you need the advice of a tax professional.  That being said, I don’t think it necessarily has to be someone on the Outer Banks or who works only with vacation rental tax situations.

I would recommend that you research accounting professionals and tax advisors in the city/town of your permanent residence.  Remember that you want someone who can handle all of your tax questions, preparation and filings; who will be easy for you to call and meet with.  Your Outer Banks home is just 1 aspect of your whole investment portfolio or financial situation.  It should be dealt with by someone who understands your entire financial picture and can advise you on various strategies.

A recommendation for a local Accounting Firm could come from friends or business associates, from your local bank and/or the bank who holds the mortgage on your Outer Banks home, or from Google.  Just search for “Accounting Firm in City,State” with your own location specified.

When you have some recommendations, interview them for the job.  You can do this either in person or over the phone.  Ask questions about their knowledge of vacation rental real estate, short sales, and North Carolina tax laws.  Ask who would be preparing your tax return, who will be your main point of contact if you have questions and how much do they charge for their various services.

A good Accountant is a key component in a successful Vacation Rental Ownership experience.  They can offer guidance and advice to maximize the financial benefits of your investment.  The peace of mind you get from knowing your taxes are being filed appropriately and in your best interest can’t be discounted either (lets face it, who doesn’t have a little spike in their blood pressure when they think of taxes and the IRS?)!  Which is exactly why Barbara’s question is so important and timely.  April 15 will be here before we know it!

Outer Banks Homeowners – do you have any additional advice for Barbara?

Your OBX Vacation Rental – Its the Little Things That Matter to Your Guests

Its been a busy, busy week as I scramble to make final preparations for our family’s spring break trip to our Outer Banks vacation home.  We rent our home for most of the spring, summer and fall but during April and May we always try to enjoy a week or 2 of vacation ourselves.

During this time, although we love to relax and enjoy the Outer Banks, there will be some work to be done too.  I have scheduled a few maintenance visits and I will have a car-load of updates and upgrades.

One area that I feel annual updates are especially important is in the kitchen.  I’m not talking updates of counter tops or major appliances.  When I have rented vacation homes myself, I find its the little things that matter the most.  I like when the house has a good corkscrew and lots of wine glasses.  I like when there are sharp knives that can actually cut a piece of meat or a fresh tomato.  I like when there is a good, working can opener (manual is fine) and a vegetable peeler that peels.  Lots of clean, stainless steel cooking utensils like serving spoons, spatulas and ladles are also important.  To me there is nothing worse than a wooden spoon or plastic spatula that look like they have 10 years of old food soaked in or burned onto them.

Since we have a large family and we often vacation with aunts, uncles and cousins, I like plenty of large serving bowls and platters for our big family meals.  Its also important that there are BBQ tools – a spatula, tongs and a fork are necessities along with a good grill brush for cleaning up afterwards.

In the bedrooms, nothing is better than a new quilt.  It looks crisp and fresh and can brighten up a whole room!  Some replacement pillows, blankets and mattress pads are also part of my usual updates every year Because we have 8 bedrooms and it would be quite expensive to purchase new bedding for the whole house every year, I use a rotation system.  First, I keep my eye out for sales of pretty quilts and pillow shams.  When I see a sale on good quality bedding that will match our color scheme, I buy it whether I need it at that time or not.  Then, I update 3 or 4 of the bedrooms every year during the off season to keep the whole house looking updated and fresh.  I use the same system for pillows, blankets and mattress pads.

In the bathrooms, I supply the little things like liquid soap dispensers (and some refill soap), a small trash can and hooks behind the door for wet towels and bathing suits.

These are the things that make a vacation home easier, more fun and more user-friendly.  They are generally small, inexpensive items that matter to me when I am on vacation and so I think must matter to the guests who stay in my house.  These are the personal touches of a homeowner who wants people to enjoy a wonderful vacation in her rental home on the Outer Banks.

Large rental management companies tell homeowners that guests want TVs in every room, exercise rooms and tiki bars.  These things are certainly lovely but I have a different opinion about what matters most to OBX vacationers.  The most important thing is relaxing with family and friends on the beach.  And its the little things that make life easier on OBX!     

OBX Vacation Rental Payments – What’s in Your Wallet?

You own an Outer Banks vacation rental home that you work hard to maintain, advertise and rent to vacationers.  If you accept credit cards for rental payments from your guests, something that won’t be in your wallet is all of your weekly rental income!

Credit cards are easy, convenient and are used to pay for just about everything.  Many vacationers will happily pay for their OBX vacation with a credit card and to make life easier and in order to receive payments more quickly, many homeowners now accept credit cards.

But, for all the advantages of accepting credit card payments, it is important to think about the disadvantages as well.  The number one disadvantage at the top of my list is the cost.  The 2.5 to 3% discount rate which a merchant (in this case the homeowner) is required to pay may not seem like much.  It may seem like a small price to pay for the convenience.

For an Outer Banks homeowner who charges $5000 to $6000 per week for prime rental weeks and who rents 25-30 weeks per year, these fees can really start to add up.  In 2012 I paid $2500 in credit cards fees!  That’s a lot of money!  And its skimmed right off the top of my rental income by the credit card processing company.

Because of this, I have changed my payment policy for 2013.  Even though I still accept credit cards for last minute reservations and certain situations, I’m now encouraging guests to pay for their vacation with a good old fashioned, hand written check.  Its not as easy and I don’t receive the money in my bank account as quickly, but when the check does clear, at least I get to keep all of the money!

I can think of a lot of different things to do with $2500 than give it to the credit card processing company!  Owning an Outer Banks vacation rental home is like owning a small business.  Its important to control costs and expenses and maximize income in order to make a profit.  Credit card processing fees should be carefully considered by homeowners before accepting this type of payment.


Outer Banks Cable TV – Do we have other options?

We have owned our Outer Banks vacation home for nearly 5 years now and we still find it hard to understand why TVs are such an important amenity for a vacation rental.  Who wants to watch TV when they are surrounded by family, friends and the beautiful scenery and outdoor activities of the Outer Banks?

The cost of providing these electronics also has me wondering.  Last year we paid over $800 in cable bills.  With new equipment and repairs, our total outlay for TV entertainment was about $1500.  For 1 year!   To watch TV!

I can understand a TV in the great room and the game room  so that families can gather at night or on a rainy day for a movie.  But is it really necessary to provide a TV in every bedroom?  Is this just another thing that the large rental management companies decided was something we all must provide?  Are there any homeowners out there who do not have TVs in every bedroom?  Is this something that would deter guests from renting a home?  I’m considering phasing out the number of TVs in our house by not replacing the bedroom TVs if they stop working.  I will keep you posted on the results.

I am also interested in what would happen if we did not provide cable TV.  This is an expensive amenity and must be paid for year round.  Is it really necessary?  There are now internet TV sites available for under $10 per month (rather than $65-$79 per month for basic cable) and with WiFi ready TVs and dvd players, it could easily be accessed though our home’s wireless internet.  No, guests would not be able to watch live TV or maybe their favorite show or baseball team, but they would still have access to movies and many regular shows that could keep them entertained if it rained.

I would love to hear comments from homeowners who have tried sites like Netflix or HuLu either at their own home or at their vacation home.  Does it work well?  Are guests dissatisfied?  Please share your experience if you have tried this.

OBX Rent Direct Homeowners Blog is a place for Outer Banks homeowners to learn and share.  Your comments and questions are welcome!


Outer Banks Window Cleaning – A Must for Your OBX Vacation Rental

If there is one thing all Outer Banks homeowners like to brag about, its the ocean views from their OBX vacation rental home.  Whether its oceanfront, ocean view, sound view or pool view, we all want vacationers to know what they will see out of the windows of our home.

The Outer Banks is a beautiful area and offers some spectacular views of sunsets, waves crashing, dune grass blowing or dolphins jumping.  These are the views vacationers are looking forward to enjoying when they rent a home on the Outer Banks.

It goes without saying then that one of the most important off season maintenance items should be window cleaning.  It is something that is often overlooked but the sun, salt and sand on those ocean-facing windows can have a real impact on your views.  A small investment in annual window cleaning will keep vacationers wanting to come back for more tranquil and relaxing views year after year.

To keep my windows looking their best, I use Barbara Gaskins on Hatteras Island (252-305-1649).  She is honest, hard-working and her prices are reasonable.  I usually call her by early February to schedule my window cleaning because her days book up quickly.  This year we spoke a few times before the actual work of cleaning the windows was done.  I explained to her that I am trying to manage and control my expenses as much as possible and she did not hesitate to work with me in that area.  We discussed the different options and decided to clean all windows that face the ocean side of the house, all windows in the kitchen, great room and dining area.  The other windows that did not seem dirty or did not offer a view of the ocean but instead looked out of the bedrooms toward the back of the neighborhood, we would skip this year.

My intent was to save a little money on this maintenance while still making sure that guests could enjoy the ocean views from the most-used rooms in the house.  As usual, Barbara was great and accommodated my requests.  My windows and the beautiful views they offer are now ready for my first guests to enjoy.

Call Barbara Gaskins at 252-305-1649 if your OBX windows need cleaning.  You will not be disappointed.

OBX Spring Break?

We are nearly half way through March which is typically when colleges have their Spring Break.  Most students head to Florida or the Bahamas but there are always some budget-minded kids looking for a getaway on the Outer Banks.

OBX weather in March is typically cool and windy so its not idea of sunning and swimming that is attracting the spring-breakers.  Obviously, the beautiful homes that are close to the beach and have lots of amenities at a very reasonable price is the attraction.  These 20-somethings have been studying hard and they just want to get away somewhere.  The cheaper the better.

Its very important for a homeowner who cares about how their home is used (or abused) to screen March inquiries very carefully.  Some tell-tale signs that I look for to keep college-age spring breakers away are:

1. Any inquiry for the month of March.  Lets face it, the weather is not great this time of year on the Outer Banks.  I have rented to a group of fishermen or a group of ladies for a “girls getaway”, but other than that it not a highly desirable time of year on OBX.

2. Inquiries with large numbers of “adults” with no children.  These college students may be in their early 20’s so they consider themselves adults, but if there are 18-20 of them staying together in a home near the beach, their behavior may not be very mature.

3. An inquiry from an email address that ends with .edu.  There is a small chance this inquiry could be from a college professor looking for a spring break getaway with their family, but usually its a college student.

I have nothing against college students (I have a couple myself) but I do not want large groups of them staying in my house.  I screen all March inquiries very carefully and I suggest all OBX homeowners do the same.  The small amount of rental income from a mid-March week would not even begin to cover the costs of a major clean-up and repairs the might be necessary in the Spring Break aftermath!

Help! I Need to Replace Some Carpet in my Outer Banks Vacation Home!

In many previous posts I have lamented over the carpet in my OBX vacation home.  It was a light colored berber that had been trod upon by possibly thousands of sandy feet.  It was expensive to have the carpet steam cleaned several times a year and even with those several cleanings, it was impossible to keep it clean and nice looking.

So, one of my top priorities during this off-season was to replace the carpeting and give my vacation home a clean, fresh look for the 2013 season.  As with most upgrades, repairs and replacements done on the Outer Banks from my home far away, I was a little nervous.  Then a friend told me about Claudette at A and B CarpetOne in Buxton.

As soon as I called Claudette, my worries were over.  I told her what I was thinking of doing with the flooring and we made an appointment for her to go to my house and take some measurements.  Within a few days I had received her recommendations (along with photos) and estimates via email.  She presented 3 different options with price estimates for a commercial carpet that she said is her best-seller.  Claudette explained that the “Shopping Cart” style looks nice and is also very durable.  She recommended the color “Fountainbleau” because it would match nicely with my light blue wall color.  It is a dark enough color so that it won’t show dirt and stains but it looks “beachy” because it has specks of light blue, aqua and tan in it.  She quoted the prices in a way that I love – like a Chinese menu, so that I can pick and choose based on my budget and priorities.

Replacing the carpet on the stairs was a must!  I decided to wait til next year to replace the carpet in the middle floor hallway with laminate and I asked Claudette if the small pulls in 2 of the bedrooms could be repaired rather than replaced.  The bedrooms don’t get nearly as grungy as the stairs and I think they can hold out for another year or 2.

Then, being a visual person, I asked to see samples of the carpet in 3 different colors – just to make sure “Fountainbleau” was right for me.  I received those via overnight delivery the next day and was able to make my choice.  Claudette explained that she would place the order and schedule my installation when she received my 50% deposit.

Just the other day, I received an invoice for the final balance.  My new carpeting has been installed and according to my housecleaners, it looks great!  I can’t wait to see it myself next month!

I am lucky because I have a friend who told me about Claudette, but not all OBX homeowners have that.  This is the exact reason that the OBX Rent Direct Homeowner Blog is so valuable and important to us all.  Its a place where we can learn and share.  A place where we can offer recommendations, comments and advice about owning and renting an Outer Banks vacation home.

If you need help with replacing carpet in your OBX vacation home, I suggest you call Claudette at A and B CarpetOne at 252-995-6030.  If you have other recommendations or questions, please leave a comment or question.  We are here to help!

How Often Should You Update your OBX Vacation Rental Online Calendar?

An Outer Banks vacation rental home is a wonderful spot for your family vacations, holidays at the beach, potential retirement home for you and your spouse and its an investment.  Very few of us purchased an OBX home so that we could lose money.  Thats the reason we are renting the home to vacationers, to help pay the bills!

With that in mind, the best way to maximize your investment and your rental income is to rent as many weeks as possible to vacationers.  The websites VRBO and OBXRentDirect are great tools in reaching this goal.  They allow us to post pictures, descriptions, pricing and our rental calendar.  The thousands of vacationers who view all of this information online spend hours and hours on these sites looking for the perfect vacation rental home for their family vacation.  They usually have a specific location, budget and date in mind.

Imagine their frustration if they find a house that meets all of their criteria, but they don’t know if its available because the online calendar hasn’t been updated in months.  They very well might cross this home off their list of possibilities bacause of the uncertainty.

They might think – Why bother sending an email?  If the homeowner doesn’t bother to update their calendar, they probably won’t bother to respond to my inquiry.

They might think – Why bother sending an email?  I don’t want to get my heart set on this place only to find out that its already booked for the week that I want.

They might think – Why bother sending an email?  If the homeowner doesn’t take care of their online listing, they might not take care of their vacation home.

The best way to avoid losing potential renters for your OBX vacation home is to UPDATE YOUR ONLINE CALENDAR!!  Updating your calendars literally takes minutes and its the easiest way to show vacationers that you care about your home and their vacation.

I recommend that you update the online listings for your OBX vacation home once a week.  Use this time to update your calendar with any new reservations.  If you haven’t received a new booking lately, check your online listings once a week anyway.  Take a few minutes to look over your listing, read the description, review your pricing and do a pulse check on your calendar so you can keep track of when guests are coming and going.  This will also alert you to any prime weeks that are still available that you might be able to book with a little extra effort.

Treat your OBX vacation home like the important investment that it is.  Maintain your calendar – potential vacationers will thank you and your bank account will thank you too!

Where Can I Buy Furniture For an Outer Banks Rental Home?

A new Outer Banks homeowner, Aileen, recently asked the following question of the OBX Homeowner Blog: “Where do you get furniture?  We recently purchased a vacation home and need to get a few pieces.”

In my past 5 years as an Outer Banks homeowner, I have had experience with a few different furniture stores that I would recommend.  They are all located on the Outer Banks and they have all been helpful and accomodating whenever I have dealt with them:

1. East Coast Game Rooms (252-491-2117).  There is a separate post on this blog about ECGR because they are unique in their business.  In addition to offering new, high quality game room furniture and accessories, they are a consignment store for used furniture.  They have several pieces for all rooms in your house that are being offered for re-sale.  Most of the pieces are from homes that have been foreclosed on in the past few years.  You can find excellent prices on quality used furniture and it would be worth the trip to Powell’s Point especially if you only need a few pieces to fill in here and there.  I have purchased a few items here myself.

2. Ambrose Furniture (252-261-4836).  A few years ago when we were very close to purchasing a foreclosed home ourselves and were in need of an entire house full of furniture on short notice, I called Connie at Ambrose Furniture.  She was extemely helpful, asked a few questions and “shopped” their showroom floor for me.  Then she emailed prices and pictures of all the furniture to me for my approval.  She asked her manager to hold all of these pieces until we closed on the property.  Unfortunately, the closing never took place and we never bought all of that furniture, but I will never forget how accomodating they were.

3. Manteo Furniture (252-473-2131).  Since my home is a rental that sees alot of guests coming and going, I occasionally need to replace some pieces of existing furniture sets.  My dining chairs and barstools just can’t stand up to that much endless use!  When I am in need of a replacement chair, I just call Marianne at Manteo Furniture, tell her the style and color of the chairs and how many I need.  She is very helpful with arranging payment and delivery of the furniture to my home.

These are a few of my “furniture store” experiences.  I would recommend all 3 shops depending on your needs and budget.  Are there other Outer Banks homeowners who have furniture store recommendations?  Please comment to pass along your experience.