Guest Screening

Our Mantra

If we would not rent our own home to this guest –
we will NOT let this guest rent your home. 
 

My three-year-old son cut his lip last week. He was jumping around at the playground and cut his lip. He’s fine now, but it was worrying at the time and resulted in a trip to the ER. Try complying with a mandatory face mask requirement for 3 a year old when the three-year-old is bleeding from the lip and in need of stitches.  

My first reaction was this is my fault, ‘I shouldn’t have let him run around like that’. A week later and I know that was flawed thinking. I want to be the best dad I can be and want to let my two boys grow up and explore the world not wrap them up in cotton wool – ‘safe’ but at the ‘cost’ of experiencing the joy and fun of living life.  

Everything we do has some risk involved with it. We were playing at our community playground – it is well designed and has rubber flooring. I was watching closely but also letting Sam do what he loves – which is to climb, run around, and have fun. I won’t stop taking him to the playground just because I know there is a small risk that he may hurt himself.   

Purchasing a second home or vacation home has joy and excitement, and with it some risk. Earning income from a vacation rental home is important. Whether the home is purely an investment, or an owner is looking only to cover the costs of their second home, it is as important for most second home / vacation rental home owners as play is for my son Sam. Renting your home to people you don’t know can indeed come with a risk. That risk is certainly not as significant as you might think. It need not stop anyone from enjoying the great benefits that income from renting brings – including the ability to own a piece of paradise here in Central Florida.   

As our client’s representative in Orlando, we take the management of that risk for our owners extremely seriously.  

It must be said that the vast majority of guests who want to stay in a vacation home are genuine vacation seekers who simply seek the comfort, privacy and space that a vacation rental homes offer – a quiet getaway. In the COVID 19 era, the great news is more people are seeing the benefit and safety of staying in a well-maintained private home versus a hotel.  

There may always exceptions but here at Shine Villas, we reserve and deliver hundreds of successful guests stays every month of every year. Exceptions are far fewer than you might imagine and far smaller than you would think. There are good reasons for this – and this includes that we take guest vetting extremely seriously.  

The word ‘Party’ strikes fear into the heart of a vacation home owner. The reason we see reports of a large street party in the media are because these are exceedingly rare. In fact, we at Shine Villas have not experienced a Party in this sense in the thousands and thousands of reservations we manage. That is not to say we don’t occasionally experience a guest who needs reminding about noise at night, or a family gathering over a holiday that is larger than we would want. But there is a difference between a party and a family on vacation grilling outside at 10PM and forgetting that they are staying in a residential community. We have strict processes and procedures for addressing any concerns with guests and we do. If ever we are in doubt, we err on the side of caution and we have, on rare occasion, had guests removed mid-stay where they are in breach of the rental agreement. We pride our company oh handling matters calmly and professionally in all instances. If necessary, law enforcement will assist with this and our relationship with local law enforcement, as a licensed hotel operator in the state of Florida, is precisely the same as it would be if the Four Seasons were to request assistance removing a guest from the hotel. Exceedingly rare but when we need to act, we do so in the best interests of our owners.   

The best ways protect your vacation home from guests who might leave damage, are looking to defraud an owner out of payment, or take or break personal belongings include, ensuring your management company truly cares about your home, that you and they are proactive and you can prevent these occurrences before they ever have a chance to happen.  

At Shine Villas we use technology, vetting and screening, contracts and the ‘feel test’. 

The ‘feel test’ is what it sounds like. If a reservation doesn’t ‘Feel’ ‘right, we will not allow a guest to stay. Our experience over thousands of reservations means as a business and as a team we have a sixth sense and the entire team is empowered to utilize this. If in doubt, no stay.  

Instant Bookings are an important factor in maximizing income for vacation home owners in the 2020s. This used to be a differentiator, in a more instant world and with reservations taking place closer to arrival dates than ever as COVID 19 has altered guest booking behavior, it is now a must if you want to optimize your income.  

This strategy can, if not managed well might increase the chances of an unforeseen incident taking place. Our job is to manage this process well.   

Having parameters in place and a process for managing instant, and close-to-arrival bookings reduces much of the risk associated with this.  

Our attorney writes our rental agreement. There is a reason for this, and it isn’t to make the attorney rich! Vacation Rentals in Florida are (rightly) treated in law in the same way as hotels and this can be complex. Service Animals, liabilities, discrimination laws and legal compliance are all areas where we take no chances with our owner’s interests. This includes ensuring that all guests are subject to the same level of screening which ensures no risk of perceived unlawful discrimination.  

Our agreements clearly define what is acceptable and what is not. Together with our partners we use technology to detect reservations at greatest risk. We have found proven ways to protect your property, at the same time we constantly update our processes and particularly during COVID 19, when travel patterns changed and so risk management procedures needed to follow. We never stand still.  

Online booking is now the norm, not the exception 

Successful vacation rental property managers need to be willing to accept bookings shortly after someone submits their credit card information. Trusting people without screening them first can have dire consequences and so it is important to have a team and a process in place to manage the screening process and quickly.  

Accurate vacation rental guest screening is one of the most important and difficult responsibilities property managers and homeowners face and this has certainly become more of an issue in the COVID 19 era where the vacation rental industry is greeting guests that had never previously stayed in vacation homes.  

Screen Your Guests Across all Booking Channels 

The best vacation rental managers know that listing properties and accepting bookings from multiple channels is the key to reaching new guests and growing revenue for home owners. Airbnb, VRBO, Booking.com, C-Trip, Expedia et all, as well as direct booking websites are all important sources of revenue. Each of these channels opens up different issues when it comes to guest screening. 

Airbnb says that it “does not routinely perform background checks on its users and maintain the platform is ‘built on trust’. Trusting this slogan would be a mistake. VRBO encourages home hosts to read previous reviews of guests and communicate with them directly. Neither company offers a comprehensive approach to guest screening and other channels potentially offer even less in terms of reassurance.  

Screening guests across booking channels requires a process that is repeatable, manageable and most importantly, actionable.  

“We don’t do this to go through the motions. We do it because if our screening throws up anything questionable then we will act. Ultimately this can mean cancelling a guest reservation if in doubt.”
— Sally Wallace, Chief Operating Officer at Shine Villas.

Not all reservations are equal and even when we deem a reservation ‘ok to proceed’, our care does not stop there.

“Where a reservation rates high on our risk profile but low enough to accept, we don’t just leave it there, we act and research.” 

We have more than 40 staff on the ground and in the area of our homes each day. We use this to keep a close eye on homes to ensure they are being treated appropriately. Our pool teams, AC team and cleaning teams (along with the others), all know to keep an eye out on a home when going about the day to day. We might drop additional linen at a home or perform an additional pool clean, in part to also enable that we can double check all is at is should be at a home. This is a riendly way to to let guests know that our team is around. We fully respsect guest privacy and nothing is ever reported unless there is evidence of a breach of the rental agrremment – for example too many people at a home. Our view is that itt is always better to be practive than reactive.  

Know Your Guest 

As a minimum, for each reservation we take, we require verifiable government photo ID. Furthermore we require selfie ID of every lead booker. This reduces risk in a number of areas including fraud (reduces risk of stolen payment and ID being used) and we can have confidence in knowing the home address of the person booking the reservation.  

We also take phone and email details for each guest and within every reservation ensure we have multiple communications prior to their arrival. We keep records of all text, messenger, and email conversations. This applies equally to late arrivals as it does to advance bookings. Where we have any concern whatsoever (the ‘feel’ test) we seek to learn more about who the potential guests are and the purpose of their stay. If we become concerned at any point, all our team members are empowered to cancel a reservation and prevent the guest from arriving at your home.  

By communicating directly with guest, we can discover their plans. If their plans are not compatible with our expectations for your home, then we work accordingly to mitigate the situation and redirect the guests to another property. 

For example, if a particular space is not suited for families and a group of two adults and five children asks to rent it, a quick exchange can mean we can help a guest understand why that space might not be a good fit but can help them find one that would be. We want to ensure guests have brilliant vacations and their expectations are in line with the space they reserve. Our first priority is ALWAYS to the home owner.   

We work with many different reservation channels and a selected number of booking agents and adapt screening accordingly.  

Regardless of the booking method, online search screening can help confirm a guest and guest plans.  

It is not difficult nowadays to find out a fair bit about most people with a simple online search. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn are all rich sources of information.  

Third-Party ID Verification: 

ID verification software can verify the potential guest’s identity through a quick screening method. This is utilized by some channels and closely selected trade operator partners. We utilize advanced address verification with our merchant payment provider also.  

In short, we ensure screening of guests appropriate to the risk associated with that reservation, what we know about that guest and that reservation channel. We confirm as far as is practical, that guests asking about a vacation rental  home are not potential fraudsters, meet the minimum age requirement to rent a home and will respect the property. We want to ensure the ‘wrong’ guests are turned away or better still put off trying to reserve your home in the first place. We remain mindful that we still want to encourage the 99% of guests who are great and will treat homes with care.  

Prevention and mitigation however is the key whilst remembering
the risk of occurrence is low.

No single screening method can ever claim to catch every ill-intention guest. Credit card fraud for example is an industry issue. Prevention and mitigation however is the key whilst remembering the risk of occurrence is low. In the event that damage does occur, having a comprehensive damage waiver or deposit plan in place to cover most eventualities can save headaches down the line. The industry has moved away from deposits in general on account of cost, credit card chargeback fraud, narrower booing to stay margins and and consumers less willing to wire funds.  

All guests placing reservations placed in Shine Villas vacation rental homes are required to hold an accidental damage waiver or insurance of some sort. Put simply, this means that when genuine accidents happen, and they do, then guests are covered for most eventualities, in the same way our visit with my little boy Sam to the ER was covered by our insurance.  

It would be disingenuous to suggest that renting a vacation home can be risk free. As with playing at a playground or crossing the road, everything comes with a level of risk and reward. The important thing is understanding the risk, do what you can to mitigate it, and not let a small risk prevent you from doing what is important to you and experiencing what you love. At Shine Villas, we understand the risks associated with renting a vacation home and we advise our clients accordingly; from the type of home and liability insurance that is a must, to the kind of vetting, screening and rental agreements our client’s guests should be asked to confirm prior to arriving at a home.  

Keep playing everyone, the rewards far exceed the risks.  

This blog incidentally is written by someone who once broke a bone in his foot playing golf!