real estate

Rent your vacation home offseason

While renting out your vacation home in the summer may be a no-brainer, you may be missing out on a lucrative stream of income letting it sit vacant during the offseason.

Vacation rental properties are a $24 billion business in the U.S., the equivalent of more than 20 percent of all hotel room revenue, according to a study this year by PhoCusWright, a Sherman, Conn.-based market research firm.

Considering that a high percentage of foreclosures across the country has been on vacation and second homes, those beleaguered owners may find a life raft of sorts through offseason rentals.

While vacation rentals may provide a source of steady income in the summertime, the travel market is down during the winter, particularly in regions that are not suitable for winter sports such as skiing, says Christine Karpinski, author of "How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner."

But you may be able to lure travelers to your vacation home in any season by trying these tactics:

Lower the price. "One big mistake people make is they don't price according to the season," says Karpinksi. Your vacation home may command top-dollar in the summertime, but fewer winter travelers will mean more hotels and vacation homeowners are competing for the same few customers. Likewise, winter travelers are often more budget-conscious than those who travel in peak season, Karpinski says, so price may be an important factor in their decisions.

Reduce the minimum stay. Vacation rental properties often have, for example, a seven-day minimum stay requirement during peak season, but offseason it's better to have your property rented out some of the time than none of the time. By allowing people to stay for three nights or a long weekend, you'll cash in on budget-minded travelers or those looking for a quick getaway, Karpinski says.

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Team up with local businesses. When you rent out your vacation home, local businesses can benefit from increased business. "Call your local restaurants, ski resorts, marina, water parks, amusement parks, movie theaters and arcades for discount or free coupons to add to your vacation package," says Marie R. Ferguson, author of, "Breaking all the Rules: How to Rent Your Vacation Home." Tell those businesses how often you have renters and how many people tend to visit per vacation. "In times like these, they will welcome the business and be excited to throw in freebies -- anything to get more sales," Ferguson says.

Increase and update advertising. Though you may be tempted to cut back on advertising when there's less money coming in from your rental properties, the slow season is the time to ramp marketing efforts up, Karpinski says. Find ways to make a winter vacation seem more enticing. Emphasize winter-friendly amenities such as a fireplace, Jacuzzi or hot tub. "If you have these features, make sure that's front and center in your advertisements because it's something people are looking for," Karpinksi says. Words that describe a warm, cozy winter wonderland can also capture the imaginations of vacation-goers, leading them to choose your vacation home over another.

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