Few would argue against the statement that a vacation rental operator’s most critical function is handled by the cleaning and maintenance teams. What can be debated is whether it makes more sense to have these duties handled in-house or through contracted services.
Joe Refosco of Taylor-Made Deep Creek Vacations in the western tip of Maryland and Jesse Karp of national operator kasa discussed their companies’ approaches to maintaining their properties during Breezeway’s Elevate Operations Conference hosted virtually March 10-11.
Karp’s ratio of maintenance staff and housekeepers varies. A community that has 20 to 100 units will employ a hybrid of the two; while one that has just five or 10 units would get one person who does both.
“We leverage the leasing teams to help with some services,” Karp said. “Our operations and maintenance staff members are aligned with casa’s overall experience and culture. For something like cleaning, that might be a full-day’s work for several people. We contract it out because we wouldn’t want that many staff doing just that over the course of a day.”
Karp says that because he operates in 35 markets, he has to look for service partners that can grow with his company. He’s also looking into trying to redeploy some of his staff to his properties in other markets.
Refosco leans for most everything to be done in-house.
“We’re a long-standing family operated business with 13 managers and 230 employees,” he said. “We’ll contract out for some specialty things such as installing an HVAC system or to build decks, but our staff will service HVACs and repair decks. There’s a community college nearby and our team goes there for training and retraining.”
His employees wear logoed shirts and an ID so that guests know who they are. This avoids any sense that a stranger is working on their vacation rental.
“Our cleaning staff is trained in customer service,” Refosco said. “They probably talk to more of our renters than I do.”
Refosco says it can be challenging to find good workers in his area.
“Most live 20 or 30 or more miles from our property,” Refosco said. “We pay them in piece rates, so we make sure we have plenty of work for them to do to make it worth their trip.”
Taylor-Made Deep Creek is an “away from it all” kind of location, so he’s been doing brisk business throughout the pandemic.
“We are extremely busy and have been for a while,” he said. “We have 450 homes and we’re 98 percent booked. We could have 500 to 800 service orders over a weekend. We’re hiring more staff. We’ve had no layoffs. Our housekeeping staff is getting a bit burned out. We give incentives.”
There are some regulatory fine lines when it comes to how you can manage outsourced firms versus employees.
“With contractors, it’s easier to get rid of them if they are not performing well than it is to fire an employee,” Karp said. “For our contractors, we describe the outcomes we are seeking from our service partners to try to establish standards. Everything is data-driven and based on reviews and scores. We share scores and guest feedback such as subjective comments with our teams and incentivize them based on scores. For training and coaching we use checklists on work to be done.”