Renting out your vacation home in the winter brings a few more challenges than the easy, sunny days of summer. Freezing temperatures, risk of snow storms and power outages, and frozen pipes may be the least of your problems if your guests are fresh from the city and bring city attitudes to the country.
A cottage owner recalls stopping on a snow covered road to help a driver who had lost control of his car and spun off. He was horrified to find there were no snow tires on the car; the young couple had lightweight coats and no winter boots. They had booked a vacation home at the last minute for a getaway and had intended to stay indoors all weekend so hadn’t seen any the need for cold weather clothing!
As a property owner you are likely to be familiar with all the precautions necessary to be safe in winter. However, as a responsible owner who is renting out, it is important to give your guests as much information as they need to be safe as well.
Provide a comprehensive guidebook that covers every eventuality while your guests are at your property, and a pre-arrival letter to remind your guests what to bring with them, and you will have done your best to educate and inform. The following tips may help you towards this goal:
- Let your guests know the road conditions they are likely to encounter so they can prepare accordingly. In the event of heavy snow advise them when they could expect snow clearance and what their options are if this delays either their arrival or departure.
- Provide a power outage kit that includes candles and/or gas lamps; a battery powered radio; matches or a gas lighter; and a good supply of drinking water.
- Include advice in your Welcome Guide covering the safe use of candles and/or gas lamps and instructions on what to do in the event of a power outage.
- Supply a snow shovel and a bag of sand or ice clearing compound.
- Make sure there are ample supplies of spare blankets and comforters in case of an extended power outage that could affect heating systems.
- Your Welcome book should always contain a list of contact numbers, including a local towing service, a number to call the power company in case of an outage, and more obviously, the property address.
- When advertising a property for winter rental, make it very clear if 4WD is required for access. Don’t take it for granted that your guests will understand that conditions in the country are vastly different from city expectations.
- Your directions should be explicit and use accurate distances for use with a trip meter – don’t use references to any landmarks that may be obliterated in a snow storm. ‘Turn left at the house with the red roof’ is fine for visitors arriving in summer daylight, but not much good when the red roof is under a foot of snow!
- It’s much wiser to err on the side of pessimism when describing potential conditions. Describing a ‘worst case scenario’ will motivate visitors to arrive well prepared.
The key to maximizing your rental potential in winter is to be well prepared for every eventuality. Be practical and assume your guests know little about winter conditions in your area. You will feel more confident, and they will have a much better time!