How to Choose the Best Agency to Manage Your Holiday Let Cottage
So, you’re looking to hire a holiday home letting agent. This probably means one of several things: either you are new to the business, you’ve realised you don’t have the time to manage your holiday let, or perhaps you’ve realised it takes a lot more expertise than you’ve got for your holiday let to reach its full potential.
The task of choosing a holiday cottage agency can be a rather daunting one. In most areas, there are quite a few to choose from – so what should you look for?
The overall goal is to maximise bookings and profit, but it’s also about forming a business relationship that works for both sides. You need a property manager who understands your needs and is willing to go the extra mile to ensure that you and your guests are satisfied. Finding the right agency for your property is paramount to its success.
Here are our top tips for choosing the best agency to manage your holiday let.
What does a holiday let property manager do?
Exactly how much you want the agent to do depends on your budget, your time constraints, and your goals. Typically, there are two holiday let management options; owner-managed, and agency managed.
Those owners who live near to their holiday home and would rather be more hands-on with the day-to-day running of the property can opt for an owner-managed service. This is where the owner or housekeep is responsible for cleaning, laundry, changeovers, and maintenance issues.
The agency takes care of marketing the property managing the bookings and 24/7 guest support.
The agency managed service means the agency takes care of everything – the cleaning, laundry, changeovers, checking the property before and after bookings, arranging key collection and property maintenance. The agency can also help with legislative requirements such as gas safety checks and fire risk assessments.
The agency also takes care of marketing the property managing the bookings and 24/7 guest support.
Most agencies are willing to work with hosts to tailor a management solution. It all depends on which tasks you are happy to do, and which will be the most cost-effective to outsource.
How to find the best holiday letting agents
Google is a useful starting point for your research. Search as though you were a potential guest looking for a holiday cottage in your location. Use search phrases such as ‘’holiday cottage in …’ or ‘dog friendly cottage in …’
Which agencies dominate both the paid positions and the regular search results?
Are they a small local agency or a national agency with thousands of properties? A small local agency is likely to have specialist knowledge of the area whereas a large agency is likely to have more resources (and marketing budget) to reach a national market.
Typically, a quick overview of the letting agency’s website should give you an idea of their success. Pay particular attention to:
– How many similar properties they list in the same area
– Whether their rental rates seem realistic (too low/high)?
– The occupancy rates
Do they manage several similar holiday lets in the same area as your property with good forward bookings? This is probably the best testament of the fact they’re providing a good standard of property management.
However – there is more to a letting agent than just their ability to get bookings. Now you have a shortlist of agents, it’s time to do some further research.
What holiday home owners need to know before choosing an agency
Trust your first impressions. After meeting/speaking to the holiday letting agent, did you like them?
Were they helpful and professional when you first contacted them? And did they answer your questions satisfactorily and without delay?
The general rule of thumb is that you need to be certain that you would want to book a holiday with this company. If you think they are anything less than perfect, then you must also ask yourself what your potential guests may think.
How much commission and booking fee does the holiday letting agent charge?
Holiday let management agents typically charge fees ranging between 20% to 50% depending on whether they just advertise the property and manage the bookings or fully manage the property.
Make sure you get a crystal-clear idea about agency costs:
- How much commission will they charge you for each booking?
- What services will this include – marketing, administration, cleaning, changeovers, property management, call-outs?
- Are there any extra charges?
- Is there a minimum annual fee?
- Will you have to a pay setup fee in advance to have your property listed with them?
- How will you be paid? When a booking is made, or after the rental has finished?
- If the customer cancels what amount are you entitled to?
When you’re comparing agency fees, remember to compare like for like and bear in mind that you usually get what you pay for.
Whilst a good letting agency may charge you more commission, they could end up saving you a lot of headaches and hassle by providing a high level of service for your guests and maximising your holiday rental income.
Check the contract
Ask to see the contract you would sign with the agency and read it carefully. Is it flexible to allow for changes in circumstances? How long is it valid and can you exit (without charges) before the expiry date if you want to?
Also ask to see the booking terms the guest would sign with the agent and read it carefully. Does it protect your interests and your property?
The terms of the contract are likely to favour the agency and their commission. Before signing up, you should consider taking legal advice to check the contract.
Rental rates – be wary of agents who maximise occupancy rather than profit
Beware of agencies who market rental rates that are significantly below their true market value. They may sell more weeks have high occupancy levels and generate more income, but this usually means a lower bottom line, more work, wear and tear.
If the agency was letting at a higher realistic rental rate, they’d achieve the same revenue letting fewer weeks, plus you would avoid commissions, changeover and running costs. A lower occupancy level can yield a better return for less work if priced right.
All in all, you want to be assured that your managing agent has their finger on the pulse when it comes to analysing pricing trends and market conditions, so they can deliver more bookings and increased profit. It’s almost a science, and with so many factors to weigh up – from location, the season, local competition, features and size of the property… you need an agent who has a proven track record doing it successfully for others.
One of the reasons to hire an experienced holiday cottage letting agent is to gain access to their marketing expertise.
Take a good look at the agency’s marketing strategy and how professional they look online.
- Do they have a modern, mobile-friendly website that’s easy to navigate?
- How are the properties presented – are they visually appealing?
- Does each one include professional photos that showcase the property’s best features, a catchy headline and engaging content that describes the property’s unique selling points?
- Can you easily see what the property’s like, where it is, its current availability and what it costs?
- Would you want to stay there?
- How easy it is to book online?
Then, go and find out if the agency has a social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest etc.). A good agency should be making use of social media, as it’s a great business tool to reach guests and identify what travellers want.
Do they syndicate their listings to portals such as Airbnb, VRBO, Booking etc for maximum reach?
What’s their unique selling proposition
The most successful property management companies have a unique selling proposition that sets them apart from other letting agents. How can the agency create a 5* guest experience at your rental to go above and beyond for guests, so you get positive reviews, referrals and returning guests?
- Offer concierge services such as scheduling excursions, in-house spa treatments, access to a personal chef, food delivery services or making dinner reservations on behalf of your guests.
- Provide small gifts for guests that surprise them.
- Offer discounts for local attractions.
- Ensure everything is always in good working order e.g. oversee hot tub maintenance and provide firewood.
- Provide you with detailed reporting along with suggestions for improvements and any maintenance issues.
- Utilise technology to help you stay ahead of the competition. Do they have a concierge app which provides guests with local recommendations as well as practical information like how to work the TV, what the Wi-Fi code is, or where to find restaurants nearby?
Check the reputation of your chosen holiday let agency
You can gain some wonderful insight from reviews and references. Any reputable agency will have no trouble providing you with a few references so you can check the agent’s track record and credibility.
Another great tip for helping you choose a property manager is to ask other holiday let owners their thoughts about the management companies you are thinking of using. This should provide some recommendations (and also highlight who to avoid!).
Online forums and Facebook groups have become an invaluable resource for hosts to ask questions, make observations and start discussions with their industry peers.
We’d recommend that you visit these resources, especially the Facebook groups and Lay My Hat forum and search for relevant discussions relating to choosing a managing agent. It’s the place to go for honest advice and opinions if you’re a holiday home owner. You can ask forum members about their experiences – good or bad – with agents you might have on your shortlist.
Then take a look at company statistics and their PR – how long has the agency been in business? How many clients do they have? Are they growing?
Lastly, do a quick search for the agency on Google and review sites like Trustpilot or Feefo to see what kind of feedback they have and whether they have won or been shortlisted for any awards.
If there are negative reviews, are they a result of the property manager’s skills? If it’s things like ‘dirty property’ or ‘bad communication’ then that’s not a good sign.
Any agent you choose will, by default, become a representative of your business, so it’s therefore critical that you know that any company you choose to manage your guests will hit the ground running and leave a great impression.
- Ask the agency how they vet guests to ensure you are only renting to respectful people (and avoiding stag and hen type party bookings)
- Do they have a strategy about which guests they accept or decline, or do they just pack them in to get the booking?
- What do they do about problematic guests?
- Do they hold a security deposit on your behalf, in case of damage or breakages?
- How do they deal with guest complaints? Who takes the blame when something goes wrong – is it you?
- Do they have processes and protocols in place if the unusual or unlikely were to occur during your guests’ stay?
- How do they deal with any maintenance emergencies during a rental?
- Reviews from past guests and owners can give a good overview of their customer service levels.
Pretend you’re a guest, email and call the company with a couple of queries about properties (this is similar to ‘mystery shopping’, where the target business doesn’t know who you are).
Are they helpful? Could they answer your questions promptly and professionally? Did they seem to know the property and area well? Did they convince you to book?
And what about out of office hours – is there someone available to reply to enquiries 24/7? Call the office out of business hours, how soon does someone get back to you? People need to be on hand to both assist your guests and/or assist you 24/7 should any unexpected situations arise. For example, if a guest loses a key.
To summarise: questions to ask before you hire a holiday home letting agency
- What are the charges? e.g. set-up fee, commissions, photos, brochure, a charge to inspect, annual charge etc? (don’t forget the VAT)
- What services are included in the price?
- How long is the contract?
- Is there a cost if you terminate the contract early?
- When will you be paid?
- How will they market your property? Holiday rental websites, AdWords, social media, print, PR, emails?
- What income/occupancy rate do they estimate? (20 to 30 weeks per annum is the average)
- How will they price your rental?
- Are you free to use your cottage as you wish and get your own bookings?
- Do they ask for exclusivity so they’re your only letting agent?
- How quickly will your property be live on their website and available?
- Will they take pictures (is this an extra cost?) and will you own the copyright?
- How are enquiries and emergencies dealt with during out of hours?
- How do they screen potential guests?
- Do they charge guests a booking fee?
- How will they create a 5* guest experience at your holiday home?
- How do they manage feedback from guests/deal with complaints and damage?
- What makes them different from the other property managers you could hire for your property? Ask for examples of how they’ve gone the extra mile for other clients.
- Will they send you regular performance reports for your property?
- Do they employ their own cleaners or outsource? (a dirty property it’s the number one guest complaint and will cost you dearly). Will they send the same cleaners to your property to ensure consistency? Do they randomly quality check cleanings?
- How many properties do they manage in the area?
- How experienced are they in the area?
- Can they provide references?
Building a relationship with your agent
The strong relationship between you and the letting agency is essential for running a successful holiday let. Using a good agency can be an absolute godsend. They can deliver a better ROI (return on investment) than you could potentially obtain on your own, plus it allows you to avoid all the hard work and hassles of running a holiday rental and concentrate on what’s important – whether that’s work or family.