How to use data to find the best investment opportunities?​

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I am glad to bring you another insightful episode of The Accommodation Show. This episode has been in the wings for the right time. I actually just got off a call with a client and we were talking about the ‘Airbnb Bust’. Is it really happening? Is it happening all over the world or only in some locations? This week’s episode is not about market conditions, but it is about data. Using data effectively helps you make decisions rather than going on a hunch or using ‘experience’ to decide.

Nowadays, we have incredible access to data, we need to find ways to use and analyse it. Many companies use data to improve their operations and others are using it to create sound investment strategies, particularly for investors seeking to maximize their portfolios. When complex data is presented, it can strongly impact your decisions. For example, it can show which markets are ripe for investing and which to avoid. You can analyze current and past trends to assess income potential. You can also learn things about other competitors in the market, such as how many there are or how much they’re making. You don’t want to enter an over-saturated market, nor do you want to enter a market that’s not profitable for other investors.

In this episode, I had the pleasure of a sit down with Jonh Bianchi, founder of Point Analytics, and geeked out over how data analytics is being applied in the hospitality industry to create operational efficiencies. We also took a deep dive into the fundamentals of revenue strategy and how his platform, Point Analytics helps property owners understand their markets and how to grow and increase their revenue. We also discuss some of the specific project areas where analytics can be applied and how teams can work together across the business to ensure lasting impact.

In 2017 John Bianchi sold his $10 million dollar investment portfolio to start an Airbnb Arbitrage business at the age of 24. Within two years he was managing 15 cash-flowing Airbnbs in Chicago, IL. However, more importantly, he had created a process of sorting through Airbnb data so well that he could find highly profitable properties anywhere. John then started teaching people his process and has continued to since then, so much so that he has become known as ‘The Airbnb Data Guy’. Now, John creates reports for short-term rental investors looking to find the most profitable Airbnb location anywhere in the world.

Data alone will never be the answer to successful decision-making. But you must have a data set that you trust and believe in in order to make good decisions.

I absolutely loved recording this episode and I hope you love listening to it too. What – A – Legend.

Topics we cover in this week’s episode:

  • How to determine which neighbourhoods to invest in within your chosen market.
  • What people are looking for in short-term rentals in your area.
  • How to analyze data to locate the best places to invest in short-term rental properties.
  • How and when to scale and automate your short-term rental business.
  • How to evaluate operating performance and value-add potential of an STR before buying.

📣   Listen to the episode here
👓   Watch the episode here

Transcription:

Bart: Hello and welcome back to The Accommodation Show. We help accommodation owners like you get the knowledge and skills you need to grow your business, improve your guest’s experience and increase your profitability. 

Okay, everybody, welcome back to The Accommodation Show. Today I am joined by the wonderful John Bianchi from Point Analytics where we will be talking about how to create an amazing short-term rental portfolio. I know it’s a little bit broad, but welcome to the show, John.

John: Thank you appreciate you having me.

Bart: I’ve been looking forward to this episode for quite a while because we’re gonna be talking about all things data and all things unique selling points for properties. So what that actually means for those of you that are listening is we’re going to be talking about the things that make your property stand out. And when you’ve got two properties that are alike for example on a real estate website, or when you’re looking at two potential properties that you might take on as a property manager. You go this one’s got five rings. This one’s got five roofs, which one should I pick? Oh, gee, John is going to help us answer that question today. So welcome to the show, John, how are you doing?

John: I’m doing good. I really appreciate it and I’m looking forward to sharing as much information as I possibly can. 

Bart: I always like people to sort of give a bit of an introduction as to how they got to where they are now and what they’re up to in the industry at the moment. So how about you kind of give everyone a bit of an idea as to who is John?

John: Sure thing. So I am the head of data for sucrose Labs, which is a short-term rental investment fund. That’s what I kind of do a nine to five, right? But I’ve also created a company called Point Analytics, which helps people with short-term rental data, figuring out where the most profitable properties are that they could possibly purchase. And you know, I come from obviously an Airbnb background and my own Airbnb portfolio. But now I have this full-time business that I’m growing. And yeah, that’s where I’m at today. 

Bart: Yeah, that’s quite kind of fascinating actually, because we’ve had a bunch of different data people on the episode, we are learning more and more about everything from data to pricing of the actual property to increase occupancy, automation, we’ve got the right kind of occupancy, we’re looking at data. In terms of purchasing a property. We’ve got tools like energy and air DNA, transparent, beyond pricing. Where do you fit into the mix? I mean, in terms of data and understanding data?

John: Well, there are a lot of great tools out there. And there’s a lot of, you know, CEOs who run those companies and they create these software tools and they essentially give it out to everybody to figure it out. Right. So like I’ve talked to people at Air DNA, and they say they want to stay impartial to the data. They just want to give it to you, but they don’t want to tell you how to use it what to how to look at it and what to think about it anything right? And that’s really where I’ve really made my name for myself because I taught people a process, right I showed people how to actually take this data, harness it and make sense of it. That is actionable. Right? So I don’t have my own software that I’m building out right now. But I help people understand exactly what they need to know to be able to make the best decisions.

Bart: And look, I think that’s really important. And I think that there are just as many companies that I’ve worked for we’ve had massive troves of data that we could use, and a lot of that data analysis is always been something we aspired to look at and aspire to do and aspire to use. We could get this data and figure out all these cool things. And I guess what you’re saying is that we have these tools with all this great data. And now how do we use it effectively, to try to make some positive decisions about our portfolio of properties and folks, for those of you that are listening, we’ve got a this is going to apply pretty much to anyone out there, but particularly if you’re a property manager, and it can be any of the verticals. So if you’re going down the arbitrage path, if you’re looking at managing other people’s properties, and you want to figure out which ones you want to manage, if you’re looking at purchasing property as well, how do you make a decision on which property so you have figured out your market but how you’d make a decision as to which property you should pick up is what we’re going to be talking about today about the regatta roughly. right?

John: That is correct. Yeah. It also you can also use it as a sales tactic when you’re in property management because you go to people who weren’t even considering Airbnb and you prove to them that their homes gonna make more money, right with that kind of data and being able to really show that to people. That’s it’s a really great way to make a sale. I did in the past year.

Bart: Tell me, start breaking it down as to what we’re looking at and what we’re looking at doing. So sort of in there, the ideal world, we’ve gone and we’ve identified our market and we said, “Okay, so this is roughly where I want to invest. And now we’re looking at different properties.” Let’s do it from a buying perspective. Maybe that’s the best way to sort of start this and everyone can reapply to what they’re doing in their businesses. So we’re looking at buying a property and we can see how much property costs to buy. We can see from Air DNA roughly what AirDNA is estimating the revenue to be. What are we looking at from here?

John: So this is kind of the issue that I’m always telling people not to do, which is, you have gone into a market you’ve found a property that you like it’s in your budget, and you’re trying to then figure out if it makes a good Airbnb or not. Right. And I think this is the absolute reverse way of how you should go about it. It’s a very traditional way, but it’s the reverse way. So what I always tell people is take a look at your entire market all of the data within your market, get all that data, make sense of it, right, sort through it, organize it, and try to understand what it is in that market that makes the most amount of money whether it be a certain location, certain bedrooms, and bathrooms. 

But then on top of that, what is it about those bedrooms and bathrooms like what like do you need the pool? Do you need the view? Do you need a hot tub? What size backyard do you need? Do you need two living rooms you can add a pool table in there and keep kind of diving that down, create a list of all the different things that are driving revenue for a specific type of home and then go look for that specific home. You’re creating this Buy Box very specific to an Airbnb property. And the reason I think this is so important is because there are homes that can be side by side making $100,000 difference, the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but the way the home looks, the way it’s put together, the way the features and amenities that have will be so different, that there’ll be literally $100,000 difference. That’s no exaggeration. I’ve seen it implemented many times. Right? And so you’ve got to know that going into that market so that you know you’re picking up the home that’s doing $100,000 more and not the ones doing $100,000 less, right? And if you take the average of those two, that’s the worst thing you could do.

Bart: And why can’t we just use air DNA with the data that’s just spitting out to tell us what the average revenue is for a property?

John: So well, that’s the last little piece I said there, right? You can’t just take the average because if you take the average, let’s say let’s use the hypothetical numbers here where we have, there are some properties that are doing 100,000, some properties doing 50,000, right? They’re both, let’s say four bedrooms that are in the exact same market, and you take the average from air DNA and the average tells you it’s gonna be about 75,000 Right? Well for one you’re overpaying and for the other one you’re underpaying right or you’re not buying the property that you could buy because you don’t think it’s actually going to make enough money. So in other words, you’re losing out on the homes that you could have bought that would actually produce the cash flow, but you didn’t buy it because you thought it was gonna make 75,000 instead of 100,000. Right. So when you know very, very well, when you have a lot of confidence that your home’s actually going to make $100,000, you’re willing to spend the amount of money that it takes, and that opens up more properties that you’re able to actually purchase. Of course,

Bart: Yeah, that makes sense. So we’re basically bringing this down to looking at the different features of a property to really understand what the revenue drivers are, right? So we’re looking at 100. Generally, you look at the number of bedrooms and bathrooms and then compare with that. But now, where you’re seeing is dive a bit deeper and look at things in more granular detail. What can we do? What are we looking at in that granular detail? And how can we get that data and really start to make sense of it?

John: So that is, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Right? We’re trying to really see beyond just the bedrooms and bathrooms and the location of what it is that’s driving revenue. And, you know, the only way that I really know how to do this is to use sites like err DNA, right? And use the data that’s in there, just the good data, right? And sort of pull it out of our DNA and organize it in a spreadsheet one after another. And the reason you’re going to do that is so you can visually see a trend, right, and you can once you start being able to see a pattern, you realize that something could be repeatable because that’s all that data is. The reason people love data is that it finds a pattern that is repeatable, and it gives you a lot more confidence when you go to do something right so by extracting all that data, plugging it into a spreadsheet, you’re going to be able to see a grouping of homes that are all going to roughly be doing around 100,000. Right. So that’s awesome. 

So you get like five different listings that are all you know, five bedrooms are all within a certain location, and they’re all making almost $100,000 Well then at that point what you have to do is hit the study those listings, right you’ve got to try and understand every single feature amenity that they have. Because the thing is, is that they’re all going to be really really similar. They’re going to be there be like the same size again, same look, they’re gonna have the same they’re all they might all have hot tubs, they might all have pools or little pool heaters right? And what you’re literally doing is just creating a list of every single feature and menu that you’re seeing amongst these five properties that are all making roughly 100,000 And what you end up with is a checklist, right? You have a literal checklist that you can go out and look for those homes that are available on Zillow or whatever site that you use right now you’re just waiting for that property to show up that meets all of those requirements. And that’s the sort of like nitty-gritty detail that really helps you know, with a lot of confidence exactly how much you’re gonna make when you get one of these Airbnbs.

Bart: So, to me, it seems obvious if there’s a pool and no pool then the one with the pool is going to make more money right? And so we’re not teaching anyone anything new. Like you’ve just wasted 20 minutes of my life and I’ve learned nothing new. Let’s get a bit more practical, what are the trends? What are the different things that you’ve kind of noticed and you’ve picked up in time that is not obvious to people, but there could be quite beneficial to start to get people to really think a bit deeper about making those selections?

John: Perfect. So I’m actually going to explain this with a couple of different stories. Because I think it’s why probably one of the best ways that I can so the first one is that I got a couple of homes down in Scottsdale, Arizona, and I did the whole thing where it’s like, oh, I need a pool. You’re gonna be like the most obvious thing in the world like I need a pool right? And I looked at some other stuff. And this is when I was still learning and I was like trying to figure these things out, open up two rental arbitrage properties down in Scottsdale, Arizona. And both of them completely did not work out right. They did not produce the cash flow that I expected. And I figured out that the reason was simply that they did not have a Pool Heater. Right everything else. I got a hit it out of the park, but the one thing that was missing was the Pool Heater what I found out and realise over time was that the Pool Heater extended the market and the amount of time that I could be renting out that property. And it also made me really competitive within that market. And so because I wasn’t able to go deep enough in the data to actually realize that I needed the Pool Heater along with the pool. I ended up losing a bunch of money, right? So that’s one example. 

Now another one is that we have you know, for the company I work for and now we have two homes. They are quite literally a block away from each other. They are both the exact same bedroom bathroom count. They’re both immaculately designed, right? They’ve got all the same features. The only difference between these two is about like 400 square feet, and a backyard that’s about three to four times the size of the other one, right? And so because that backyard is so much bigger, it’s making $60,000 more a year. And so that’s a prop that’s it’s that’s a feature, that if we had known prior, we wouldn’t have bought the first property right, we would hold off and wait to find the second property because that’s extra 60,000. It’s just pure cash flow. And the beauty of it is that this the one that’s making $60,000 more did not cost a significant amount. More. Right. So so we’re getting a way better return on that property than we would on the smaller one with the smaller but actually one that’s almost the exact same but with a small backyard. Right so like it’s it’s those kinds of little nitty gritty details that you may just very easily overlook, but they ended up turning out to be really important,

Bart: Right and you’ll find it in the data, right? You can figure out where it’s at, and how to do so we do we do huge amounts of AV testing for our clients when we’re building book direct websites when we’re trying to understand the placement of a button. The loading speed of a website and a lot of AV testing to sort of see how users interact with the websites and then make decisions on how to build better so that we’re getting better returns with this kind of data so I can see what we’re doing. We’re grabbing the top, the top person percentile properties, and then we’re going okay, what makes them different? Why are they in the top percentile? And then you said alright, Pool Heater. How do we know that it was the Pool Heater that created that price difference, rather than another factor? Like actually one had better photography and one didn’t how do we make sure that we’re getting the source of truth and we’re not getting false positives?

John: So with that example, part of the process is to only use data that we know is along the same lines of what we’re going to be doing. Right so if the photos are good, the photos are bad. You’re getting rid of the one with bad photos because you know you will not be doing that. But truly it is extremely difficult to know if it is the Pool Heater that’s making the difference. Right like that’s not It’s not super obvious, right? Now, the way I kind of explained this is the top properties tend to have the most features and amenities right they have, they don’t just have a pool of Pool Heater. They have a pool with Pool Heater with a hot tub with a putting green with string lights all those little things right. And so because it’s so difficult to know that it’s the Pool Heater that’s making the difference without actually getting the experience, right? That’s how the experience is what allowed me to figure that out like talking to the actual guests. Without having that. 

What I always recommend to people is you’re creating a list of what every property has. And so one guy might have the hot tub with the string lights above it. And you know a bunch of other features then another person has all those features except for the hot tub but he has a putting green in the backyard. Right so now for my property. What I’m gonna do is I’m gonna have the hot tub with the string lights and I had the pool with the Pool Heater, and I’m gonna have the putting green with the with that in there as well and so what I’m doing is it’s almost like adjusting for risk, right? Like by adding all these additional things in there, you’re creating a property that has a combination of everything from all these different properties.

Bart: You’re pushing yourself into that percentile rather than figuring out what those ones or two unique things I actually think if I add all of these things I should push myself into that bracket.

John: Exactly right like how could you lose if you have everything whereas everybody else just kind of has pieces right? When we’re because like I always think about it from the angle of the guests when they’re going to book it, right? They usually have chosen three to five properties that they really like and they’re trying to decide between those. And so when you’re going head to head, you want to be the one with the extra things that they go ooh, but this guy’s got the mini pipe. So we’re just gonna take the mini cup because even though everything else is the same, right? So those are the those now mind you without breaking your bank without like overspending on absolutely everything. You can also be strategic about it. It’s like well, do I need a Pac-Man game in my home? Just because somebody had a Pac-Man game or can I put just a pool table in there and be good to go? Right? Yeah, so that’s kind of the way we think about it. And I think

Bart: That makes complete sense. And then on the other side of it, we’re talking about going back to the pool pump or the larger garden or yard. What in terms of us marketing it to prospective guests, right, like it’s all good and well having a bigger garden or having the pool pump. But then, you know if it’s just on the checklist on one of the listing sites saying it’s got a hot water pot, you know, hot water pool that might not really stand out, then you can do different things. So for example, you can put that extra you know, the top features in the title, you can put them into the body text of your listing. Is there any theory that you have for marketing it?

John: Without a doubt, right? So this is this sort of like the business one-on-one who’s your clientele, right? We’re depending on what market you’re in. You’re going to have a different group of clients, a different group of guests that are going to be staying with you and you want to really know their archetype. What do they care about? What are they like, what are they doing, why are they staying, and then take all that knowledge of those people and push that to the front of your listing? Right and make that like the most important thing so as some examples, we had some properties down in a certain area, and we added Pet Pet Friendly to the title, right? And just adding pet friendly to the title. a swarm of new bookings came in, right like it was It was like night and day. And, you know, we realized that we weren’t paying attention to our client at that time. 

We didn’t realize that so many people had dogs and that that was something that they really cared about. But once we added that, right in front of their face, they see and they go That’s amazing, right? And now I always tell people to keep the end like the guests in mind when you’re designing the home you’re picking out the home and when you’re marketing the home, but at the same time, are you are is you know one area like Scottsdale, bachelor and bachelorette parties go to the same place. So now you have to pick which one you’re going to have. And then you’re going to choose which photos are going to go up front to match those people as well. So you’re gonna design the home either really girly or really masculine, and then you’re deciding which photos those people care about more, right? Or families or children whatever it is, right?

Bart: Oh, cool, perfect example as well, which is, which is a big and big one in the middle of that. Yeah, cool. So so obviously what we’re considering are marketing things like that. So let’s go a little bit bigger. We’ve got a property management company, we’ve got 1000 properties on our books, and we’ve got probably way more data than most other people have that might have 2, 35, 10, 20 properties. And this kind of solution sounds or this kind of thinking sounds super useful to actually say Alright, how do we look at all of our properties and find the worst performing and the best performing and then start comparing them and how we can start to adjust them. Do you have any thoughts about some practicalities as to what those companies could do?

John: So the first thing that’s coming to mind is like is taking the same logic, right? So we’re gonna do the same process of looking through our properties, looking through the other properties in the area, and figuring out like what’s driving the revenue, and if you have a thousand properties you obviously can’t, you know, go all out on all 1000 different properties, right? But maybe there’s, there’s one thing that you’re really noticing is moving the needle for a lot of these properties. Maybe within your own portfolio, you realize there’s this one thing, right? And so what would make sense is if you take that one main thing and then you add it to as many properties as you can, and then once you’ve done that, you repeat it again, right? You’re like okay, what else can we do to give us another competitive advantage across all of our properties? And you see if that’s actually making a difference, because you’ll have all of that data within when you implement whatever it is, and you start marketing it or you change whatever it may be, you’re gonna see if there was a change for the better or not, right? Yeah, it’s the same process.

Bart: Beautiful look, I think from a high level, this makes complete sense to me and I completely understand the benefits of looking at this amount of data. And I think that the key takeaway for me is that you really do need a lot of data to be able to look at Tashi to make any sense, right? You know, you can take one or two properties on an individual level and make some assumptions that that’s doing better because of that, but you need that bigger data. So that’s where the tool is over-transparent. The error DNA is the GM pricing and whatever else that you’re using come into play to sort of help guide you in terms of those next steps. I feel that we’ve covered off what we wanted to talk about today. Is there anything that I’m missing John?

John: No, like these are this is that’s a lot of the message that I really wanted to get out there and talk about. I think that it’s really important, though, that people understand to not use averages, right? And that you know, spending an extra hour or day getting really nitty gritty with detail will make a world of difference on your investment over the next like five to 10 years. Right. And if you’re using those averages, you’re going to kind of be shooting yourself in the foot. In the long run, if you do that. It’s just it’s something that I talked about. So often. 

So I just want to make sure that it’s anyone listening, who is considering this may be like, oh, that’s way too much work or I’m not gonna I don’t want to go that deep. Like if you spend the time you can make it you could be making a $60,000 difference on the property that you decided to get, right? And I think to me that just makes that’s a great return on your time. And so it may be a little bit of work. And it’s a really good skill to pick up as well that you can apply to every single property in every single different area that you go into. Or you can just teach it to somebody in your team and get them to really understand it so you can make even better decisions with every single purchase property purchase. So that’s you know, I can’t harp on that enough.

Bart: Thank you so much for sharing those insights and some of that some of the things that you see and that a lot of people that I know are not doing at the moment, what’s the best way for people to reach out to you?

John: The best way is actually just to email me. So I’d like to get on a call with each person to do a free consultation, you can email me at [email protected]. Once again, that’s [email protected]. And when you do reach out, I just asked that in the subject line you mentioned Bart and you mentioned that you found me from this podcast and video. And if you do reach out to me with that information, I’ll be giving you a 10% off, discount for anything that you move forward with.

Bart: Thank you so much for listening to the show. You can find this at theaccommodationshow.com where you can find all the show notes and links to resources we’ve talked about in transcripts of the show. I really do appreciate you listening and if you’d like to support the show, please subscribe. Leave a comment and share it with others.

We are in an Instagram, Facebook and TikTok era. Interior design has never been so important to get right. Your guests will be impressed as its fantastic interior design creates a positive first impression and improves their experience. 

Interior design is so much more than just dashing lines and luxury pieces of furniture and accessories. It is not enough to fill a room with nice decor and seating options. With careful curation of furniture, fixtures, and equipment, you can create a unique and authentic atmosphere that keeps guests coming back for more. 

So, we did this insightful episode of The Accommodation Show to give you expert tips about interior design. 

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Valerie Malone, founder of Quill Decor, who after designing eye-catching interiors for nearly 20 years, Valerie has secrets to share. We talk about how to combine eye-catching design, and lighting with high levels of functionality. Where to splurge and how to save. During our conversation, Valerie outlines several helpful frameworks for how to think about the design style of your room and shared advice on how to effectively and efficiently craft a memorable experience that compels a 5-star rating.

What we cover in this episode:

What are the most critical design elements of a room?

What styling choices will appeal to your target guest?

How to use your space to maximize comfort, ambiance, and flow.

Why you should invest in high-quality furniture.

How to pick and where to get inspiration to style/theme your property.

How you can use art to make a space more meaningful.

How to create magic using lighting.

Valerie has a bachelor’s degree in interior design plus 16 years of experience practicing both commercial and residential design in the U.S. and abroad. In 2018 Valerie focused her firm, Quill Decor, on the art of short-term rental design. Valerie now runs a design consulting business helping others all around the globe perfect the decor in their short-term rentals so that they may attract the best guests and earn higher nightly rates. She wrote and produced a unique online course, Design Your BNB, to give hosts a complete step-by-step guide to designing and decorating a rental themselves from start to finish.

So many useful tips in this podcast. It is a must-watch/listen!

📣   Listen to the episode here
👓   Watch the episode here

Transcription:

Bart: Hello and welcome back to The Accommodation Show. We help accommodation owners like you get the knowledge and skills you need to grow your business, improve your guest experience and increase your profitability.

Bart: Okay, everybody, welcome back to another episode of The Accommodation Show. I am joined today by Valerie Malone from Quill Decor. Welcome to the show.

Valerie: Thank you, Bart. Thanks for having me.

Bart: Thank you for getting up super early in the morning. I think that you’re in Cambridge in the UK. Is that right?

Valerie: That’s right. Yep. Bright and early. Yeah.

Bart: I always appreciate it when people can break their schedules a little bit to come and talk to us. So it’s much appreciated because we’re obviously here in Australia. Welcome to the show. Today we’re going to be talking about all things, mistakes that we make when we design properties because you are from a design background. That’s why I put you on the show. Funnily enough, I think you’ll be in roughly around about two and a half years. You’re the second person who’s actually going to talk specifically about designing short-term rental designing of properties. And the reason why I reached out to you, is because I know that you’re enthusiastic about what you do. I look at your social media and makes me smile and makes me happy. And I think that you’ll have a lot to share with our audience. Tell me a bit about your background about your business.

Valerie: Sure. So I live in Cambridge, England. Now I’m from America, obviously. And I started out focusing on short-term rental design when my husband and I had a rental ourselves. And we were staying in rentals all over the place all over America all over the world and Australia even and it just there was nobody several years. Ago paying attention to the design of these rentals and you see this industry growing and I just looked at it from the perspective of I have so much to say I have so much to say to help improve these rentals. These people are anybody can start a rental and not anybody can design a hospitality space hotel. So I thought there’s you know, there’s a missing link here there’s a gap that I think I can fill. 

And so I started focusing my design firm’s efforts on the short-term rental design several years ago and just consuming all of the podcasts and everything I could. Also while being a consumer and a short-term rental host myself. Yeah, not long after that. I designed a four-bedroom house or sorry, a three-bedroom house as a short-term rental. And then I filmed a case study essentially, which I turned into an E-course to teach people exactly how I did this step by step how did I create this space to make it hospitable and beautiful and highly functional, as a hospitality space as a space that caters to guests but it’s also beautiful and functional? That kind of checks all the boxes. So here I am. So now I’m in this world and in the short-term rental world, the hospitality world and it’s, it’s absolutely my favorite place to be in the design realm because you get a little bit of everything.

Bart: Yeah, and it’s evolved and it’s changed so much from what it used to be. I mean, even if we think about short-term rentals, I mean we all had kind of vacation homes, and then they’ll have that kind of timeshare II type thing where people would go and spend time with the holiday home. I remember in my family it would always be there’ll be a noticeboard atmy parents work and someone would have a property and then you’d go and stay in that place. And then it evolved into Airbnb and they did the big push where I was kind of a spare room and then holiday homes. And now I guess where you were ahead of the curve was realizing that there’s this huge opportunity in the professionalization of the hospitality experience, but also in the environment that people are actually visiting.

Valerie: Yeah, exactly. There just seemed to be such a missing link and you’re right that the game has changed so much over the years from even in the past. Five years to you being able to you know, leave for a summer holiday and just rent your space out even now. That’s like the Airbnb of old or the short-term rental of old, whereas now it needs to be this professional place. You need to have all of your personal items removed even if it’s just you’re renting it out. For a few weeks. I think there’s decision additional pressure to make it the professional quality of a short-term rental.

Bart: Yeah, that’s right. So folks, today and we’ve been talking a little bit before we started recording. We wanted to make sure this episode was one that would be relevant. If you’re new to the game if you’re new in the industry if you’ve already been in short-term rentals for a while. If you’ve got one property if you’ve got 10 properties all to apply if you’ve got 100 properties or more or five but also, to all the hotel folks that are listening to this make sure that you pay attention because there’s a lot that can be learned from the principles of providing great guest experience through fantastic design. And if you don’t believe me then make sure the jump on onto your social media Valerie. It’s incredible to see what you’re doing out there. So if you are tuned in and if you’re listening in then make sure that no matter which industry you’re in, there’ll be parts that were going to help you with now. When you approached me, you said hey there are these different mistakes that people are making within their within setting up their, their design, and you kind of narrowed them down to four kinds of major points that we’re going to go through today. Do you wanna kick us off?

Valerie: Yeah. Okay, so the number one main mistake that you see made in the short-term rental space or hospitality space is not investing in quality furniture upfront. As we all know, we can purchase anything for any price online now. So no matter what country you’re in, there are your wayfarers. There are your Amazon’s there are you have the quality from A to Z? So how do you know what is quality? For a rental on quality enough, right because this is a business we don’t just want to go throwing endless amounts of money at the furniture you want every dollar that you invest to be worthwhile to make a really solid return on your investment. You want furniture that is high quality that lasts that doesn’t cost a fortune. So depending on where you are the answer to where you find that furniture is different so we’ll go specifics I won’t go specifically into you know the different brands since we’ve got people listening from all over the world. But I think just really do your research and make sure that what you’re getting is hospitality grade and not the cheap, you know, metal bed from Wayfarer that costs 100 bucks. That’s not it. That is not going to work it is you’re going to be replacing it and you do not want to be replacing furniture for many reasons, right? Because that’s wasted money. It’s wasted time and it’s your reputation.

Bart: It will get you a bad review at the end of the day, right?

Valerie: Yeah, so just pay a lot of attention to that quality.

Bart: Yeah, so when we talk about quality and quite often it can be really difficult to understand what quality actually means because of we look at it and we say well, just because it’s expensive. It doesn’t mean that it’s great quality. Conversely, just because it’s cheap, doesn’t mean that it’s bad quality, but when you’re talking about quality, you’re talking about durability, so making sure that things are going to last for a long time and I think what I liked that was that kind of hospitality grade and making sure that it’s going to get to last so finding the right suppliers that will provide furniture that is hospitality. Grading is one of the keys is that kind of what you’re saying?

Valerie: That’s absolutely right. And even I’ve noticed over the past two years, what you see on the main sites on Wayfair is you’ll see that something is hospitality grade. Or let’s say commercial use. So that means automatically that it’s going to be more durable, more long-lasting. And then look at your warranties too. Don’t forget to think about like what does the furniture what does the furniture manufacturer willing to own up to what’s really important, so just do your research.

Bart: Gotcha.

Bart: 8:40 Yeah, that makes complete sense and it is a good starting point. I think that I think that you were talking before about having visited a short-term rental, but it was there as part of one of the big brands out there. And some of these things I think, I think maybe we’ve been talking about furniture weren’t up to par.

Valerie:  Yeah, definitely. We were in Paris just a couple of weeks ago staying at now one of the large hotel brands that has taken over a lot of rentals as we know and this particular one we booked through a major hotel brand and it just didn’t not all of the quality furniture did not live up to what this big brand would typically say they want their reputation to uphold.

Bart: So I guess what we’re seeing right is your furniture is part of your brand as part of that experience, right? So make sure that you get it right and you do some research through there. The other thing I’d like to know, personally, I don’t, I wouldn’t know myself whether it’s you know, what’s good furniture, what’s bad furniture and that sort of thing. I know that from a design perspective quite often. It’s great to have someone come in and give you a bit of a hand with figuring out what’s gonna work and what isn’t because you might be only doing it every now and then if you’re in a hotel, you have a procurement team that will be buying this stuff. But if you don’t have that team, would you advise people to get a consultant when we talk about our research? How do we do that?

Valerie: Yeah, absolutely you can hire someone to help you. You can hire a consultant. You can, you know if nothing else, the easiest thing to do if you are a small brand and you’re just looking to fill one property or a couple of properties, go to some actual furniture stores, get off of the internet and actually go visit some furniture stores and see touch and feel kick the tires so to speak, I think down on the bed, jump up and down in the bed.

Bart: Yeah, and then Okay, so next one on our list. What was the second thing?

Valerie: The second thing is okay, so the second main mistake we see when people are putting together short-term rental properties is that they create a space that is lifeless and sterile and a little bit too cold. Right, so you’re trying to put together a space you don’t want it to be cluttered. You don’t really know what you’re doing and you’ve filled your cart and you’ve bought all this stuff and here you are now you put it all in. And it looks a little bit like a prison cell or a dorm room. Right like so how do we avoid that? Do you know? Do you know what I mean? Like I’m wondering if you’ve ever….

Bart: A 100% It almost feels like a hotel. Room or it’s kind of like a badly designed showroom. Right? Like, there’s a yeah, you want that you want those little, those little touches. And that’s actually a really good one because when we’re selling a property, right, we don’t want any of our own personality to be there. So we appeal to the widest market. But I think that what you’re saying is that you want some of that but you also want a little bit of your own personality or a personal touch is that what you’re saying?

Valerie: It doesn’t have to be your personality. I think the number one question that people ask me is, how do I decorate a space to appeal to everybody? And my answer to that is that is not your goal. Your goal is to appeal to your particular guest avatar Who are you trying to attract? So, of course, you want to attract as many people as possible and you want your place booked up, but there is by and large when you’re planning a property there is somebody in mind there is this avatar that you have that you’re trying to attract. So think about that person. When you’re designing your decorating, you’re selecting your art, all of those things. Outside of that, some really tangible tips are to go for really big art. 

I know that there’s some anxiety around selecting art. This is something that I’m talking about with my core students right now because art is highly personal and it’s really hard to select something to appeal to everyone that feels really overwhelming. So you don’t have to be offensive with your art selections but you can still be interesting and different and not just the same. You know the piece you see from Target or wafer you know tribe tries to be a little bit interesting and the best tip is just to go as big as you can afford. So large oversized if you’ve got a huge blank wall and you don’t know what to do with that wall. Go Bigger, bigger, even bigger than your thinking. So it doesn’t have

Bart: How about this piece that I have right here. It’s a similar one. Yeah.

Valerie: We talked about that scale. Yeah. We’re gonna have to do some shopping for large art. Yeah, one. Wallpaper is another one. So think about doing some wallpaper. You can just do one wall you can do. The headboard wall is often done in the bedroom which is really great. Works really well to just have that one wall. Or you could think about doing an entry hallway just to give that kind of, well interesting Instagrammable moment to your property and to help give it some life. The other thing that can make places still sterile, especially when they’re photographs is to get about the color temperature of your lightbulbs. So you don’t want to do like daylight bulbs everywhere that’s too cold it’ll feel hospital like but you also don’t want to go like yellowy warm so you want to go kind of in the middle with just the soft white light bulbs if you can. And then I love to say if you are if you have the time and you’re doing like a small view of small scale business, I love to incorporate interesting vintage finds like or pieces from Etsy or secondhand stores just to give it this vitality and character that’s hard to fill into a sterile home otherwise.

Bart: In terms of our research. And so one of the resources that I found really useful was looking at Pinterest and actually getting inspiration from Pinterest where you’ve got other people that are like-minded and you kind of find that niche in that demographic, and get some inspiration and get some ideas especially if you’re not that creative. All right, cool. Let’s kind of all make sense or these are ideas that fit within the box. But one of the things you said was very important is appealing to the big avatar or demographic and making sure that we paint toward them. But let’s say we are looking at like families that might be easier. If we’re looking at a younger generation, we might be able to start you know, pick up some magazines to target that particular demographic. So we’ve got some ideas as to what to put in there. Where else can we kind of pick we know our avatar, where can we get inspiration to then we’re all right, this is kind of what I think that particular group of people is going to want.

Valerie: That’s okay, so that’s a really great question. So I would start by going to my website and taking my style quiz. It’s totally free. It is catered to short-term rental and hotel design. So there are only about 10 or 12 outcomes. So it’s cool decor.com right-hand corner. It’s called a style quiz. And that is going to give you kind of an understanding of what is my design style that I need to be aiming for. You can then take so that’ll take you to an outcome page. It has some inspiration photos on it, but also you could take that design style let’s say you got a contemporary cottage style. You can then take that contemporary cottage and then go straight into Pinterest and plug in your style and say contemporary cottage living room and search that and it’s going to pull up the particular style, design style genre that you’re looking at and I’ll give you all kinds of inspiration images that should be catered exactly to the style you’re trying to create.

Bart: Fantastic. So the other reason why it’s a mistake to also leave things bland is how it appears externally because obviously you’re taking pictures of this and you need to differentiate yourself from your competitors. And this will particularly apply to hotels where it’s all same, same, same and you need to do something to stand out. If you start to stand out and at least you can start to pull more people, more people in Would you agree with that? But that’s kind of one of the main reasons why bland is bad apart from it being an experience.

Valerie: Yeah, I mean, think about I don’t know if you’re familiar with the hotel chain, the graduate, graduate hotels they specifically pull vintage into their lobbies to their hotel rooms, and every room is a little bit different. And they do that because they think they care about design but also they’re differentiating themselves in a market where everything is the same and sterile and so they’re trying to appeal to a different audience who really appreciates that niche appreciates you know, the creativity and the character that comes with these old vintage pieces and everything is unique. 

Bart: I mean hotels, we know this from a long time ago. There are different ways to build it. But you also have especially in the short-term rental space where you have a lot of people just kind of cookie cutting and doing the same thing over and over and over again, and where you get market saturation. But it’s great to have that differentiation point. I would recommend that you have a look at art house, Airbnb. The work that they’re doing over there is fantastic. Bring in unique art pieces of local artists and having them on the wall so therefore it’s no longer bland and there’s a designer going there.

Valerie: Are they selling them? Are they setting up a gallery space for them?

Bart: As well. Yes. Yeah, absolutely. So it matches the two, so the work is done by the artists to go and create the display of how they would like it to be in the property. And then you can purchase it on the way out as well and have that experience that you take home with you. So it leads into it to what you’re saying. Is there anything else to add on this particular point?

Valerie: I think that’s it. 

Bart: 1And number three, what’s the third most common mistake?

Valerie: So the third most common mistake I see is not thinking from the guest’s perspective. So not thinking about every decision you make and everything you do in creating this space should be done. So from creating an environment, creating it from the hospitality perspective for the guest, not for your business, but for the guests who do really saturate your yourself into the experience of the guest and create the space for them.

Bart: Yeah, that and that makes complete sense. So what we’re saying is that we add more of ourselves and we want to, we might not be able to put ourselves in the guests shoes as much as we’d like to. I think it goes back to the avatar as well and really understanding our guests and what that experience is going to be like overall is that kind of the angle that we’re going down?

Valerie: Yeah, I mean, I think how many places have you stayed in where it’s very obvious that the person who put the place together, doesn’t care about you? Doesn’t think about you doesn’t care about you is completely disconnected and then and then you’ve also saved in other places where you know, the person put everything together with you in mind because you feel what you feel cared for. You feel you feel catered to. So there’s a big difference and it’s pretty easy to close. that divide is quite easy to think about. Making your guests as comfortable as possible and think about everything from their perspective and part of it is just guests’ responsiveness or host responsiveness rather, during the guest’s stay making sure that the guest has everything that they need. So that part’s easy. But then there are also ways to add luxury touches that can take you take your place to the next level that doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive. 

So for example, in a hotel you typically have two hotels, two, sorry, two sleeping pillows, two sleeping pillows per guest, right? So that’s a minimum you need two sleeping pillows per guests with a pillowcase. Don’t make us go searching for it and you can leave. You can leave an extra one in the closet actually so that you don’t have as much linens to do but just give guests options. Make sure that they have that extra pillow. That’s a small, small luxury touch. Or, sorry, it’s a low-price luxury touch that can go a long way and another is having bathrobes upscale handsoap So just think about some things that make your place that don’t have to cost a fortune but they can take your guests experience up a notch or two.

Bart: Or three to the other level and that I mean that it will go even to coffee that you might have nice coffee appliances that you have in the place and all of that. One of the great pieces of information I’ve picked up in the past is when you’re setting up a new property is make sure that you stay there yourself. And that you know, maybe try a few different rooms or spend a few nights there and then you can get that real experience of what is actually like not what you think it’s going to be like what actually liked to be there. And then you go, “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if there was this.” so you realise that there’s a great view and it’ll be great to have some champagne glasses that you don’t normally have in all your properties or to really enhance that experience. I was in a hotel last week, and they hadn’t thought of my experience very well. And the way the furniture was laid out was pretty poor because you can watch the television in any angle and it’s these kinds of little things of actually getting the guest’s experience I think there’s nothing better good actually staying there yourself and make sure that you try it out. Okay, this doesn’t work and therefore shows that lack of care, doesn’t it?

Valerie: Definitely blackout curtains. There’s very rarely a hotel in the whole world that doesn’t have blackout curtains. It’s something hotels always do. That short-term rentals really do often fall short on because it is another expense. It’s another layer people don’t know how to do it. It’s confusing. It’s not that confusing. It’s three simple layers on the window. Do some hard blinds, do sit do curtain rod, do some nice blackout curtains, make sure that your guests can sleep and even if you know we’ve stayed at a place where I could tell it was a family home as well in the mountains and I could and they didn’t have any curtains on the windows. And I see why because the view was beautiful and they clearly didn’t want them and they didn’t like them and they stayed there themselves but it wasn’t about them. It was about me. So if I want to sleep in my mountain home that I’m renting and paying money for that should be an option. For me. So yeah, just continually think about the guests perspective and how you can create a better experience for them. And the best way to do that is to ask, ask your guests, guests and stay there yourself for sure.

Bart: Especially if it’s a family home as well or if it’s a multi-generational unit that you want to have. You want to come with everybody so you can experience it and find out that you don’t have enough cups of plate. So whatever those little, those little issues are. But if we go back to that, sort of the overarching theme here we’re talking about is living the experience from the guests’ point of view and making sure to make them not make the mistake of not taking that into account. And then our fourth one, what was the fourth one?

Valerie: The fourth one is very simple and really easy to fix if you have this issue, so as I’ve said, we’ve kind of got into this business by staying in short-term rentals for the past 10 years since it was you know, a very new thing and the thing that I saw consistently even in nice places, there’s just never enough lamps or tables. I don’t know what it is when it comes to like, Yeah, that’s fine. We’re just going to leave all that there with you know, the sofa and the chairs and there’s no place to put your drink your coffee, your wine, whatever. 

So just add some more and tables if you have space, think about the space planning of the room and always add more lamps. I think you can never have too many lamps because having lamps allows your guests to control the environment. By controlling the lighting and that is so much about how a space feels welcoming and comfortable is your lighting. So if lighting overwhelms you and you think I don’t know how to do the lighting, right, just add more lamps. You want some with different types of shades. If you have a metal shade that throws a harsher light. Make sure you have some soft shaded lamps. To give that glowy light around the room. That really does a lot for changing the environment. 

Bart: I’ve been in places where you’ve only got one really bright overhead light and that’s the only one that you can use at a certain point and then you see you’re stuck with it. You can’t do anything to work your way around because there are just not enough lights. I’ve remembered grabbing lamps out of some rooms to move them into different spaces. So you can create a relaxed kind of environment so I can completely understand that. And I think the other side of it and you’ve mentioned that a few times actually is how critical lighting actually is when you’re setting up a property and how it makes you feel overall. So it’s not just the number of lambs. It’s like you said the different colors, the different tones, and that sort of thing. What’s the kind of what’s a good way to sort of approach this like you’re saying, yeah, just add more and more and more but what’s what do we what’s a good way to really think about it if somebody is going oh, do I have enough lights or not? Yeah.

Valerie: Yeah, so a good way to think about it. So if you have a living room space, for example, you can add make sure you have a floor lamp. You can add some lamps on your end tables, but just you want to what you’re trying to do is allow your guests to control the lighting level like you said. So the lighting level, the lighting that is at eye level, is going to be more relaxing than the light use that you have coming from overhead that harsh overhead lights when you’ve got that one bowl beaming down. That’s a real hospital-like feel there are designers on Instagram who say like, you know, overhead lighting is just 100% Awful. Like just turn them all off. Never even use them. We have them for like sculptural. You can see mine up there like quite like my life. It’s very pretty and sculptural. But generally at night when there’s actually no, there’s no sunlight coming in. You want the light to be at eye level. So that nice ambient glowy light. 

So yeah, I think I think the main thing if you don’t really know where to start or how to do the lamps, think about the spaces you can add the desk lamps to or that sorry, the table lamps too. So do you have a TV console do you have on tables think about the height of those I see a lot of trends right now with big lamps. So the bigger the better. Instead of doing like small dinky little lamps it’s which is probably the biggest pet peeve of mine in a space that has enough lamps is that there’s like the scale is off so it’s really tiny and small. So think about doing something bigger to scale with the actual table and then like I said, just mixing it up so that you’ve got different types of, of light coming through. So if you’ve got a harsh metal fixture that’s called an apothecary fixture, it’s gonna throw a very different type of light into the room than if you have a shaded fixture something that is white and if you have a black shade, that’s gonna throw a different type of light into the room than a white shade. So yeah, play around with it and you definitely want to play around with it in the space when it is dark outside. This is something I would say when you’re setting up a property you might forget to do in some cases, you’re buying all the things and you’re throwing it in and you’re setting it up during the day but what does it like at night? Because that’s when the lamps are really going to come into play. And if you live in England as I do, one thing they don’t tell you when you move to England is that it gets dark here like after lunch and the winter was just in the dark for half the year. Those lamps, all that warm light is crucial. It’s really important. Yeah.

Bart: It really makes me think as well as we’re kind of working through these different mistakes. We make and I want to go back to an earlier point that you were making around things being bland and then bringing in your own personality and the one thing that I’m really appreciating like even you should ask which lap you had above you and it’s so easy to also get it wrong because we add too much of our own personality, our own stuff into it and then we make some decisions that are bad and to be honest with you. A lot of people don’t also don’t have the time right to learn all of these different things and to know what’s the design thing I spent some time on Pinterest when they were trying to find cleaners moment. So how do we avoid making like of course, you know, you get a consultant and that sort of thing which is going to help you to get to where you need to be. But what kind of strategies can we use to really avoid making some of those fundamental mistakes of buying the lamp which is the ugliest lamp in the store?

Valerie: Planning, planning, planning in advance and I know that you’re doing a million things when you are buying a place you are. You’re thinking about the loan and you know all kinds of things. There are so many things you’re trying to make sure that you know the local jurisdiction is going to allow you to do the rental properly. You’re thinking about cleaners and managers and your system. Yes, you need a website for the guests. Yes, there’s a lot it’s a lot of things to think about. But I think it’s so easy to overlook design, but I don’t really understand why because it’s fundamental. What you are selling is the space what you are selling is the experience of the interiors of the space. So if you don’t pay attention to that you essentially don’t have a well run short term rental business. You don’t have something that is going to differentiate you you don’t have something that is going to sell itself. 

So you have to think about design on some level. And when it comes to the design, the decorating the staging, the furniture buying all of that I think it does tend to be crammed into the small amount of space when possible. You know, you get the place you know we’ve got the keys ready we need to have this thing up and running in two weeks because time is money let’s go, let’s make it return this investment. However, if you spend a bit more time putting the space together if you can spend a bit more time getting the proper furniture getting the things that are quality that is going to last, you’re going to make that money back when you pay attention to design, you’re going to be more successful your your your place is going to be more profitable. So just the planning yeah so so spend time on the planning and recognize that it’s just a part of the process. And the more upfront planning you do for all of the interiors, the more put together and design the place that’s going to feel and the more successful it’s going to be.

Bart: I think that always it also ties back so much to understanding your target market and your avatar and your audience as well and what their expectations are gonna be.

Valerie: Yeah. Yeah, who are you? Who are you trying to appeal to? Is it a person who cares about having robes in the closet or is it a person who is going to be on the beach with their kids? You know, they’re not looking for the luxury they’re looking for do you have beach toys in the garage for me to borrow? Do you have you know, so every guest that you’re trying to attract has very different needs and wants? Understanding those needs and wants is where you’re going to be really successful and a lot of times that does tie into that it always ties into the design in some way because you are selling the interior of your space whether you like it or not. So the more planning you do for that the more thought you put into that the more successful you’re going to be.

Bart: Yeah, look, folks. The reason why we’re doing this particular episode is not that this is proven this proves true when you get it right. And I know that you’ve probably worked with plenty of properties that didn’t have it right that went in you. We decorate it and then all of a sudden you can command almost double the price of the same property and then the investment was insignificant in terms of the return that you’re making, especially in a market right now where there’s so much demand for accommodation in general and it doesn’t matter if it’s a hotel or a short term rental, it’s just everywhere. It’s just booming at the moment. So make some really good margin if you get it absolutely right. But I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve seen properties that seem well designed and then had that upgrade that facelift. And then you just see the bookings just come flying through. Yeah, because yeah, I mean

Valerie: If you ask any property manager if they have a large portfolio of places, their owners who do invest in that design, they’re gonna see those places, you know, more booked at a higher rate every time so there’s plenty of proof that this is where you should be focusing a lot of time and energy and, and as we said at the beginning, this is not the short term rental world of 10 years ago. We’ve got we are now a more competitive field you are whether you like it or not, if you’re just one short-term rental, you’re competing with hotels, that is your competition. And so you need to rise to that level and make sure that you’re able to compete properly and create an experience that surpasses a hotel event because as a rental as a short-term rental space with the kitchen with extra living rooms with an extra amount of space. You have the ability to be better than a hotel in many ways. So don’t let the opportunity go to waste.

Bart: Fantastic. Look, I think I think we’ve worked through our four points. I think they’re amazing. And I look I think you’re amazing for sharing and jumping on and what I like is getting people thinking and really giving them some high-value tips and things that they could go and change and you can take any one of those four elements and start to implement them in your business straightaway or do all four of them and there’s probably plenty more. Now I know that you do lots of education and training. You’re helping people out what’s the best way for people to engage with you?

Valerie: Yeah, so my website is just quilldecor.com. Instagram is my favorite social media. So certainly DM me there if you’d like or you can email me at [email protected]quill decor.com If you have specific questions, I can help you out and I run a short-term rental design course that you can find information about that on my website.

Bart: Yeah, fantastic. I will put all of your links in the show notes as well as all of our links as well. So if you want to reach out to us about putting our book direct websites about marketing about branding and that sort of stuff, folks, if you are changing on the podcast and make sure that you leave us some comments that you live and that you subscribe. The reviews really mean a lot to us as well. If you’re watching on YouTube or any of those platforms, then once again make sure that you like and that you subscribe, it does genuinely make a huge difference to us being able to create these awesome episodes for you all. Valerie, thank you so so so much for your time, your expertise, your knowledge, and for getting up at the crack of dawn.

Valerie: It was my pleasure I just realized how much we coordinated our outfits today. Look at us with our blue and our pink.

Bart: I did that I’ve had another episode if we look back with Sam travels we’ve got exactly the same blue shirt  Thank you so much. Once again, I appreciate you and we’ll catch you around. Okay, thanks.

Valerie: Take care. Bye bye.

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