Rental Applications and Brain Injury

July 8th, 2013

Today I got an angry call from someone who was turned down because their application was incomplete.  A desk clerk checked the app and thought he had everything he needed, but when it came to me to process, I saw incomplete sections which results in denial.

Now let me explain the applicant has an opportunity to resubmit, but in this market, it’s very tight and often 2-3 people or more are vying for the same property, so if there is something incomplete the person usually doesn’t get another chance.

The burden is on the applicant to make sure.  There is a detailed list of what to do attached, and the proof of income was missing as well.

Angry?  That’s an understatement, and once again we are at fault and subject to all the bad word of mouth this person will spread about us because of their mistake.

Regrettable?  Certainly.  We don’t wish to offend.  But this is how angry our society is now.  If we don’t get what we want, exactly as we want it, we pop off, explode, tear down, and try to attack.

Let me add, the desk clerk is continuing to recover from a head injury.  When this person had it explained to her, she snorted “good luck with your business” and hung up.

This action got me to thinking about the wounded vets coming back.

Everyone has sympathy for them, right?  But try to deal with a person who had brain trauma?  That’s another thing.  Impatience, disgust, misunderstanding…all a few of the things I regularly experience from people who don’t understand and don’t give a damn about it.

I’ve written this before, but can we try and put ourselves in another’s shoes?

People with head trauma move more slowly.

They forget. They need to be reminded often.  They don’t like to admit their challenges and appear to understand, but we need to help by asking “can you repeat that back to me”.

And by the way?  The desk clerk with head trauma?  He’s my son, and I chose him, every time, even if someone gets a little mad.

I’m glad he’s alive.

JULY 4TH WEEK IS HOT HOT HOT IN WINE COUNTRY

July 1st, 2013

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Sonoma County is experiencing a series of 100+ degree days, expected to continue through the 4th. When the “Cool down” comes, it’s only supposed to drop to mid-nineties. We at Sonoma County Vacations would like to provide guests with a couple of items to help make their stays enjoyable.

1. If you have no pool at the home you’re renting, see about turning the hot tub down so you have a dipping pool of sorts;

2. Make sure to turn air conditioners off at night so they don’t freeze up (in which case you’ll have no air or you could break the system).

3. Most home air conditioners are not sized for industrial strength like hotels. When it’s this hot, they lose some functionality, and no matter how low you turn it, it’s not going to cool down. In fact, setting it below 75 could freeze it up. Be sure to give the A/C a break, especially between the hottest hours, 4-8 p.m., set it a little higher.

4. At night, after the sun goes down open all windows and doors which have a screen, and leave open until early morning, then shut everything, close drapes, blinds, etc to keep the house dark and cool.

How to use a vacation rental

June 26th, 2013

Many of the complaints and bad reviews we get are when we have to withhold a guest’s security deposit.  We HATE withholding money from others, and do NOT keep one dime to pad our own bank account.  It ALL goes to repairs or to the property owners to settle a neighbor’s complaint.

So I would like to write about the proper use of a vacation rental home.

1.  Pay attention to the contract you’ve signed.  Many homes do NOT include heating the pool in the price you’ve paid and you will need to pay extra.  If the pool is heated by propane, especially, it is expensive.  Our start up costs are $300 to bring to temperature and $100/day to keep at temperature, and that’s typically 83 degrees.

2.  Be sure to touch base with the owner or management company for questions ahead of time.  Many times your concerns or extra needs can be handled effortlessly if each party (guest and property owner/manager) has the time to respond.

3.  Get your contract signed and returned immediately, discuss any questions immediately, so you’re not waiting for key or gate codes as you’re trying to arrive.

4.  When you arrive, read the guest book which typically goes over how to operate anything tricky.  Walk around right away to make sure you understand where things are, then call right away if you don’t understand or see something you thought was there or should be provided.

5.  Don’t wait until evening to call for a repair or needed item unless it’s an emergency.  Vacation homes are not like hotels.  They do not have 24/7 staff available for repairs.

6.  When you vacate, follow the list of instructions.  Typically these include putting furniture back where you found it, especially outside, turn off, lock, secure windows and doors and air conditioning or heat.

7.  Vacate when you’ve agreed to vacate.  Housekeepers and inspectors may not be seen, but they’re often they’re waiting for you, and if there’s no agreed delay in check out, guests may be charged for the additional time they’ve used.

I hope this helps, and thanks for reading.

QUICK TIPS

May 8th, 2013

In the spirit of Memorial Day and summer coming, today’s blog is a series of quick tips.
1. If traveling in a place where language is a barrier for you, snap or upload a photo of the place/places you want to go and keep in your cell phone.

2. Pack everything in your carry on in clear plastic bags. If you need to open your luggage everything can be seen easily.

3. Do you have a large family or group getting together? Consider renting a home instead of several hotel rooms.

4. Keep the mosquitoes away with: garlic, electric fans, lemon dish soap, and watering the lawn.

5. Items you can use to c lean the grill? Dryer sheets, Newspaper, Orange Peel, aluminum foil.

6. Uses for a golf tee: Makeshift cap for tube of lotion, toothpaste, etc., Corn on the cob holders, garden markers (next to bulbs, perennials), or party stake to keep balloons from floating away.

7.  Off the beaten path — drive from Alexander Valley, Healdsburg, through Pine flat and come out at Cloverdale.  The old town (nothing left) of Mercuryville is a nice view point, and the Russian River can be seen in its wild and beautiful run through canyons.  Gorgeous when the hills are still green.  Take a picnic, have plenty of gas.  When in Cloverdale, try Hamburger Ranch, http://www.hamburgerranchandbbq.com , or Ruth McGowan’s Brew Pub.  Both are fun stops.

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YELP

May 6th, 2013

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An article in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat recently peaked my interest. It was titled “Is Yelp Really Just a Forum for Blowhards” and I must say, I’ve felt that way many, many times. Admittedly Yelp has been a thorn in my side, as they’ve allowed a former employee to rant about working here, and a post which simply said ‘they discriminate on young people’. These posts are not what Yelp is meant to do, which is help the consumer when considering their purchase. So, with that in mind, and a little taste of lemon puckering my lips at them, here is a summary of the article written by Sandy Banks, appearing in the Sunday, 4/28/2013 print.

It all started when Ms. Banks went into a restaurant, not checking on Yelp first, enjoyed her experience, then saw a sign in the window ‘Stop the Bully. Boycott Yelp’. She uses the site to get the low down on most everything she does, and later found the restaurant was rated a 3 of 5 stars and had 88 Yelp reviews. The restaurant suggested (and two lawsuits have suggested) that if they paid for Yelp ads, they’d be ranked higher, but instead the negative reviews were filtered to appear first.

The restaurant said their customers repeatedly submitted very good reviews that never show up on the web site. Yelp’s response to the restaurant “perhaps if you paid to do Yelp ads, we could help with this” and they couldn’t determine when asked, why the positive reviews weren’t showing up.

I agree. The same has happened here. We’ve had thousands of guests stay with us, most share a positive experience, and yet, the majority appear negative on Yelp. I gave up for a long time, assuming it was part of the new internet experience, where it gave a voice only to those that wanted to be seen, heard, and blast, not offering anything constructive.

I have a son that works here that has a traumatic brain injury. Now he is not necessarily the best in customer service, but he tries damn hard, and it’s part of his recovery to work. So push come to shove, who will I chose, even if my business suffers? Of course all the mothers out there know, it’s going to be my son.

But let me explain what happened with one review. A guest checked in early, miffed they couldn’t get into the home ahead of time. My son had his lunch on the desk, finishing up while leaving the door open (it was a Saturday and a very relaxed day with us) for potential customers.

Long story short, they gave us a bad review because he was eating his lunch, and delayed them getting in (even though they were early, mind you).

So that’s my bias, I admit, with Yelp. Too many people post to tear people down, rather than give constructive advise.

But on the other hand…????

Hot topics via PhoCusWright

April 17th, 2013

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Travel and Social Media: changing minds

Social media isn’t moving the travel needle, at least not yet. True, every travel company needs a social media strategy. Facebook is focused on making the travel vertical big business. How?

Interaction/commentary that is public, Google +, maps, TripAdvisor, reviews, You Tube flash. Lots of content attracts the traveler, quick responses, but still, nothing like the phone call and one on one interaction.

Reflecting on living in Northern California Wine Country

April 16th, 2013

I thought about writing yesterday, but in the wake of what happened in Boston, I decided that silence might be the best course of action. And as I reflect on it, I consider living in Sonoma County.

We are like a little country that could carve itself out of the state and sustain ourself. We have agriculture, cattle, fishing, job sustainability, mountains, lakes, parks, the ocean…we’re pretty damn lucky we can live here.

I know I’m fortunate to also work here and not have to commute to the Bay Area to earn a living, and to have raised my family here as well has been wonderful with the good schools available.

I’m taking a day to thank the people who have stayed with us, given us their business, and the long term relationship we’ve established with many property owners, tenants, and guests.

Many of you know our son suffered a traumatic brain injury about ten years ago, and working here has been challenging but so rewarding watching him grow and become an able minded adult, loving and appreciative of his life. We also thank our customers for their understanding with his challenges at times.

As we go about our day today, perhaps we can allow a gentleness to wash through us when our patience runs thin, and our anger begins to rise and remember we do have our lives, with all the challenges that come.

Maintenance at Vacation Rental Properties

April 12th, 2013

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It occurs to us that guests may have no clue as to the preparation of a vacation home. Why isn’t something working when the company has supposedly checked the home prior to your stay? How come a light bulb is out where I need it most, or a faucet leaks, or cobwebs are in the corner?

Sonoma County Vacations/Healdsburg Property Management has one of the company’s owners personally inspect and prepare the property. He trouble shoots items such as smoke alarm batteries chirping, light bulbs that are out, overnight cobwebs (yes, they come up overnight due to the agriculture) and hot tub problems.

Even so, a house is just that, and systems fail and break and go out.

No company or property owner would ever want a guest to be without, or be unhappy, but these things happen. Is it fun to be set on having a hot tub and it breaks down? No, of course not. Some companies have written in their procedures and contracts that no discounts are given for systems that have failed. This is typical along the coast or at rural properties.

To get maintenance personnel out the same day, get parts, etc., sometimes isn’t achievable. Every owner or company does whatever they can and whatever is in their power, but for example, when we walk out the door after inspecting, a smoke alarm battery can fail. A dishwasher may start to leak. A bird may have made a nest in the chimney and because we do not make fires, leaving them to burn unattended in a fireplace, we won’t know about it.

Bottom line — we want our guests to be happy. Is it 100% achievable? No, but we keep trying, as I believe all companies and property owners do.

Vacation Rental Policies

April 11th, 2013

Sonoma County Vacations understands — There are hundreds of vacation rental homes to choose from, just in Sonoma County! How do you choose? Randomly pick one from an online sight? Call a reputable company? Why do they charge cleaning and tax on cleaning? “I’ll just pick one from an individual property owner who doesn’t charge all that, and I can save money” you might think. But what are the risks?

Reviews will tell the story? Not always, in fact, not nearly enough. Review sites are filled with extremes, both ways, negative and positive, and somewhere the truth lies in between. We’ve been reviewed negatively for not leaving spices out (which we never have in twenty years for liability reasons) as well as representing a property that was located on a busy street, even though we have a map, and ask for what the guests needs.

Suggestions? We have a 24/7 emergency/after hours phone and we live within ten minutes of most homes, and never more than 30 minutes whatever the case.

Would you like a walk through on arrival? We’re happy to oblige.
Policies? Payment in full 30 days prior to arrival, with 1/2 down upon reserving. Security deposit needs to be paid by check, secured funds, and returned within 30 days of departure.

Why so long? A security deposit is put down so the property owner has some security regarding utility usage as well as damage, and they need time to get the bills. We never want to keep a security deposit and I’ve personally paid a property owner many times over for small items to keep our guests returning. But that instance where hundreds of dollars of propane is used — I can’t cover that and a guest needs to be charged.

A property management company’s commission is a very small part of the total, and we typically do not have dollars to play with.

I can promise guests we go through every home prior to arrival and do a mechanical inspection to make sure everything is working, and is cleaned.
Coming in summer 2013?
Docusign for guest ease with the contract.
App for smart phones to download and have the house manual, directions, codes, etc.

We’re always looking to give our guests an easier way to reserve, and we have online 24/7 reservation service.

We hope this helps in your choices for reservation considerations.  www.SonomaCountyVacations.com

A Match made in Heaven

April 10th, 2013

Favorite Alexander Stop?  Jimtown Store for delicious sandwiches and treats.  My favorite lunch:  chicken salad on a baguette, chickpea chipotle and red onions, lots of peppercinis.  Pair with spicy olives, your favorite wine (so many nearby) Hawke Winery, White Oak, Sausal, Soda Rock, and Alexander Valley, and stay at our Jimtown House, in the middle of it all:  http://www.sonomacountyvacations.com/rentals1/jimtown-house.php .