Let me first say, renting your home is not for the faint of heart. You have spent countless hours renovating, restoring, and refining a house to make it your own. This is your retirement, your dream, and it’s filled with blood, sweat, tears – and probably more money than you ever thought you’d spend on something like this. Now, you’re handing it over to strangers with the hope they will see the beauty in what you’ve accomplished as you hope and pray they will also respect it. Some will, for certain, but then there are those who will use it like they stole it. This was never far from my mind as I selected finishes and materials that were most likely to withstand the rigors of abuse.
At this point, I have had one partial summer of rental and finding myself feeling a bit jaded. Perhaps renting is not for me – but right now, it’s necessary. We found this home much sooner than we anticipated, so until we are ‘retired’ and can spend more months out of the year here than we do, renting will help cover the monthly costs of owning this property.
Renting is a carefully choreographed process – especially when you live over 3600 miles away. You will need a caretaker to greet guests, be a concierge of sorts and who will ensure the house is ready, be the person to contact with questions or issues and check the house after the guests have departed for any issues and lock it up. You will need a reliable housekeeper and you will need a list of reliable contractors who can intervene if necessary such as electricians, plumbers, carpenters, etc. If you have a courtyard and gardens, you will need a gardener on a regular schedule and if a pool, there will be someone to maintain the pool. Basically, you need an A-Team.
Depending on where this house is will determine the difficulty with locating these people. I happen to have a house near a tourist destination, Saint Emilion, and have been incredibly fortunate to have friends and allies surrounding me who will keep an eye on things. Between friends, local contractors, neighbors, and a security system, I have the ability to monitor much but ultimately am at the mercy of the renter in the hopes they will be respectful. Mostly they are…but occasionally they leave me wondering how they conduct themselves in their own homes. There’s the renter who will open every door and window fully – 24/7 during 90-100 degree temperatures, then manually override my climatization unit on the second floor in a sure to fail effort to cool most of the house. Anyone with common sense would know – if it’s that hot outside, you do not open the entire house up to the outside – especially in a stone house. Once you’ve done that, you will not be able to cool it down until hours after the outside temperature cools. That climatization unit was running all day and night and caused much stress for me because I needed to monitor it constantly, but with a 6 hour time difference between the US and France, I could re-set it to a reasonable temperature only to wake in the morning to see it had been manually re-set to its minimum (which is roughly 58-60 degrees Fahrenheit – yet the room and outside temperature was still very high. Why? Well because every window and door remained open!
When preparing to leave the house, I will remove any personal or valuable items I want to preserve and locate them in a locked storage room or cabinet. I then live with only the items left for use to ensure there are adequate accommodations. In our house, we have a ground floor (rez de chausse), a first floor (premiere Etage), and a second floor (deuxieme Etage). The ground floor has a very large kitchen, dining room, entry, toilet room, and a living room. The first floor has three bedrooms, a large bathroom, one additional toilet room, and a central entry. Then, there’s a second floor – which is the owners suite. The stairs deliver you to a large salon/office area with a locked door to the left which contains the owners private master bedroom, bath and toilet. Because the concierge I hired felt this second salon was essential to the rental, I conceded and allowed its use. partly because it’s not separated by a wall, door or any defining barrier to make it simple to close off.
If you are renting a property that is also your home, it is vitally important you have a place that remains private – where you can really feel it is yours. For me, having strangers in my private space is a challenge. During the construction, we had the foresight to reclaim a whole room that was wasted behind a wall allowing us to have a wonderful storage room complete with a small refrigerator to store a few items to have on hand when we return so we don’t feel the immediate need to get to a grocery. We also have a very large locked buffet cabinet in the dining room where I can store all sorts of kitchen items I want to keep separate. Let’s just say, the last time I left it also contained every remaining good wine glass I had! With only seven rentals I lost a total of twelve wine goblets to people using them outside on the terrace instead of the plastic goblets and glasses I had provided for outdoor use.
Never underestimate the callousness of a renter. Most are highly respectful – but it only takes one or two who will shift your perspective. Although I may have eyes and ears in the neighborhood who will keep me posted – you’ll probably only find out after the fact when something is amiss –
Case in point: During the course of construction we added a door where a window once existed in order to give us more direct access to the planned terraces, but due to the mason’s schedule, our budget, and just getting the property ready for our first rental, the stairs were not able to be built in time. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a perfectly good door and stairs exiting the kitchen – we were simply opting to add one. My mistake was leaving the key available to this door when I left in the spring. In hindsight, I should have locked the door, given the key to the concierge to allow her to open the shutters, thus allowing more natural light into the space, with the caveat to keep the door locked. Guests took advantage of this door by opening it all the way, leaving it as such, and moving terrace furniture in front of it so they could bounce down and out of the house directly to the terrace. No joke. I returned to broken furniture that had been suffering the constant impact of human weight having been used as a launching pad to the terrace.
My husband and myself have rented many times in several places so marshaled that experience into what we found helpful as we prepared the house for rental. The first thing is the “Welcome to our Home” notebook. It should share a brief welcome, something about the house, the wifi password and anything in particular about the house such as the best settings for the kitchen appliances (should I have included ‘how not to burn my kitchen down?’) In this notebook you should also list where the nearest markets are located, wineries, restaurants, shopping, places of interest, and emergency contact numbers. Keep it simple, concise and well-organized – otherwise, it will not be useful. Because this house is in France, we duplicated this in both English and French. I made sure to include websites, hours of operation, phone numbers and each year I will update it as needed. There is also a guestbook to give guests an opportunity to weigh in on what they liked and didn’t like. We received very positive feedback and a few very nice suggestions we will keep in mind as we continue to add to the house.
We have left dozens of dvd’s and several games from backgammon and simple cards to murder mystery sets and wine tasting challenges. There are maps and tourist guides – you will want to keep these current. If you leave games – it is not likely you will find them intact when you return. I spent the better part of a week re-assigning game pieces to their proper boxes!
You will also need to provide: toilet paper in all bathrooms, a roll of paper towels in the kitchen, garbage bags, and a few coffee pods as the bare minimum. I have also left miscellaneous boxes of tea, basic spices and dried herbs, dish liquid and a small amount of dishwasher soap. I no longer leave laundry soap and excess provisions. All good wine goblets have now been stored away when we leave as well as our best cooking implements, good silverware, and knives. (The set of knives we provided had clearly been used for more than cutting, so cross that off the list of nice things to leave…and this was just seven rentals.) We only recommed dollar store glasses now after having multiple expensive goblets broken. What was I thinking, right? Here we are in wine country so I had wanted to provide a beautiful glass to drink wine – well, it was a thought.
Having a linen and towel service is a good idea – while it is an expense, it allows you to keep your own sheets for you and your private guests and assures your rental guests will have beautifully clean and fresh linens that are taken offsite for cleaning. This is not a ‘wear and tear’ you want on your small stacking washer and dryer.
Now, without being able to prove miscreants such as this beyond the evidence of damaged furniture (yes, this behavior was witnessed by a neighbor) – I was forced to replace these items. Mind you, this had been new furniture used for only weeks, now damaged beyond repair.
It was advised I leave several provisions in the kitchen with the thought things were generally replaced to some extent by guests. Well, it was a thought. I had left the kitchen quite well stocked: paper products, plastic wrap, foil, storage bags, laundry, dish, hand, and dishwasher soaps, trash bags for all compartments, etc. When I returned four months later, after seven rentals the only remaining item was ahalf a roll of plastic wrap without the box – so no way to tear a piece without getting out the scissors. This time, when I left, there was adequate dish soap, the same roll of plastic wrap, and garbage bags. No longer shall I leave the kitchen fully or overly stocked. Trust me – despite what my concierge suggested, they will use every last item and will not replace it.
If you have a washing machine – it may or may not be used…or it may be overused. During the very first month of rental, I needed to contact the plumber because the washing machine had leaked all over my kitchen. While I may never have the full story, I can say I lived there for six months with no issue, yet renter number one or two seemed to be doing an inordinate amount of laundry (possibly overfilled the small machine?) and the force caused a connection to rupture. Again – you will not be there, so cannot determine whether misuse is responsible for failures. Unless gross negligence is evident, you will be forced to pay for such repairs. I do find it hard to understand how seven renters can make their way through two liters of concentrated laundry detergent. Again – many will use it like there’s no tomorrow and unfortunately will color your view of renters as a whole because you will not know until they’ve been there if they’re prone to being abusive. I’ve rented several homes myself and in most cases been a bit disappointed with the provisions available to me upon arrival, finding myself spending precious vacation time in a grocery store purchasing cleaning products, plastic or paper products or basic provisions such as salt and pepper. With this understanding, I tried to be the consummate host and ensure all of these basics were stocked, and then some. Funny how experience realigns your perspective.
It is also highly recommended you provide both mattress and pillowcase covers and have those stripped and cleaned periodically since they will greatly extend the life of your bedding!
DAMAGE WILL HAPPEN…
Keep a list. If you have a renter who leaves the place very soiled or is abusive – do not let them re-book. Of the seven, I have two. I think that’s a fairly high percentage, but I have pictures to prove the damage if questioned. One guest literally pulled my drapery hardware off the wall; when all was said and done, I needed a contractor to repair the broken hardware and my drapery contractor to repair three sets of curtains.
Then there’s the broken terrace furniture, the washing machine repair, and the last one – my brand new stainless steel, gas range. Yeah – the pictures taken by my cleaning person would lead one to believe someone had set fire on top of the range because every component was blackened.
Was it cleanable? For the most part. Is there permanent damage? Yes, some that will always be a reminder of someones harsh use and surface scratches from the need to clean aggressively. Will this person be invited back? Not a chance!
After the first season of rentals, we made the decision to close the owners suite completely. We only rent to a maximum of 6 people, so if a huge kitchen, formal dining room, living room, three bedrooms, one full bathroom + 2 toilet rooms, entry’s and a very large courtyard with terraces and swimming pool isn’t enough, then maybe a different house is for you. On the now closed floor is the master en suite that is locked, and a second salon and office area. This is also the floor with the climatisation units. Because the stairwell deposits people directly into this space, we’ve given instructions to the concierge, placed a sign on the stairwell indicating the floor is closed to guests, and have installed a very thick drapery at the entrance to the space. The hope is with the verbal instruction and the visual of the drapery guests will respect this space is off limits.
Problems on this floor with renters ranged from mis-use of the climatisation and permanent carvings etched in the new desk top where I work when at the house. As I indicated before, we have climatisation on this floor because it is a very tall stone house and this top floor – that is technically in the roof lines gets inhabitably hot in the summer. As air circulates, the stairwell provides a chimney of sorts and deposits additional heat into this space. As you can imagine, keeping the temperature relatively cool in this space has proven to be a big challenge. I have remote access to these climatisation units, so I can monitor the spaces on this floor and keep the temperatures reasonable, but found I had guests removing the cover and manually overriding my settings on a daily basis. The second climatisation unit is locked in the master en suite – these two units need to be controlled carefully as they are on the same system.
Our hope is in addition to being a physical visual barrier, the heavy curtain will stop the flow of excess heat into this space and make it a bit easier to manage.
I’ll let you know if it worked…