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Confessions of a Property Manager

Hi, I'm Lisa and in my blog I'm going to be spilling the beans on what it's really like to be a property manager in Spain looking after other people's properties. Your wouldn't believe some of the things that I see and happen to me. I'm going to be telling you all about it!

Duquesa Property Managers - Update
23 April 2009

I am horrified to notice that my last blog was August 2008! That means that almost a year has gone by without me even realising.  I need a life!!

What has happened in the last - god how many months – well unfortunately we had to let our admin help go so we are back to my mother Joy and I. Joy has been catapulted into the 21st century as she had to learn how to email and take this on to ensure our owners were kept up to date with the management checks. After some near misses with the laptop nearly being flung out the window she has now got the hang of it – or almost anyway. 
We lost a couple of properties at the end of last year due to repossessions – a sad experience and very emotional for some of our clients. We have just lost management on another property as the owners are really struggling since becoming redundant in the UK due to the current financial climate it looks as though they may have to sell their property – if they can. 
Two separate agencies tried to take properties from us by emailing our owners - very underhand but seems quite common – dog eat dog  - luckily for us our clients are happy and didn´t want to move.   So any agencies out there – get your own clients!!
There also seems to be more and more “neighbours doing favours” for cash and this set up can be hard to compete with when taxes and social insurance contributions have to be paid. 
But amidst all this doom and gloom we try to keep positive and keep our heads down and work hard. We are continually updating our website and this year had the greatest number of returning clients for holiday rentals we have seen so far. Our portfolio is extending and we have just rented one apartment to a family from Russia, our Canadian guests were here during February and the Norwegians are always popular as are the French and Portuguese and let’s not forget the Spanish of course.
We are in the process of translating our site into Spanish – as we can´t afford to pay anyone to do this it is taking a while to do – I am looking at it as a huge lesson in Spanish! With that and the children´s homework I should be fluent soon!
Hasta Luego  – now where´s that online dictionary?

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Holiday Rentals - Maintenance problems during peak season
06 August 2008

August is the peak season for holiday makers and maintenance problems.  Full occupancy and same day changeovers mean maximum rental weeks booked and continuous use of appliances.  Things break down!  

Top of the list is air conditioning!   
With sweltering temperatures of up to 38 holidaymakers flock to Spain for the sun, however although they like to bake in it for most of the day they want the apartment nice and cool.  Most leave the aircon on for most of the time so with continuous use either the gas runs out and then the units just blow air or another favourite is that you will get leaks from the indoor units due to the build up of condensation and/or blocked drainage pipes.  

Can it be prevented? - not always but a service before the season is advisable to make sure the gas levels are right and if the filters are cleaned the unit will work better.  You can also check beneath the indoor units for leaks, if the unit is above the tiles in the bathroom usually you will notice damp patches appearing.  If a drainage pipe is blocked the units can leak a lot of water which can sometimes be mis-diagnosed as flooding from an upstairs apartment so it is important to investigate both options.  

Consequences - if the air conditioning is not working phone a good engineer as soon as possible! During peak season you may not be able to get an engineer the same day so if you can get in quick you reduce the time your guests are without air con.  Guests will complain about the absence of this, if the problem persists and they spend many hot, uncomfortable nights in an apartment which was advertised with air con you may have "compensation" issues .  So deal with this as quickly and efficiently as possible.  

Remember the hotter it is outside the more the air con system has to work inside so advise your guests to close all doors and windows if they have the unit on!!

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Late Deals and Discounts
11 July 2008

Last week we had an apartment rented out via the owner where the guests left it in a real mess. She had given a couple a good discount as it was a late booking and there were only two of them. When the cleaner went in, every bed had been slept in, there were noughts and crosses drawn with greasy fingers on the headboards, pillows on the sofa, smears all over the glass dining table and a bottle of vinegar left in the middle of the bathroom?.
A lot more than two people had stayed there! So if you are considering discounts for couples just be careful, don't give too much of a cheap deal, if you do, make sure you take a deposit and have the place checked over before you return it. 
These people broke the parasol, had left it really messy and now the owner is concerned about the keys so yesterday Joy had to meet the locksmith to change the locks – 75 euros. So when you cost out the extra cleaning, replacing the parasol and changing the locks was it really worth the rental? 
Remember not everyone will respect your property or the fact that you have given them a late deal. It is a shame that people abuse late offers and discounts. 
Needless to say the said guest will not be invited back to that apartment!

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Property Management 24/7
30 June 2008

I never realised when I fell into this job that it would mean that you couldn’t have a day off! At the moment work is intense due to last minute rentals for July. Luckily August is now fully booked except perhaps the last few days so it means that we can get everything booked in.
Our “full steam ahead” will start on 26th July when we have 6 meet and greets to do in the same day. There is a party of Norwegians coming down - at last count there is about 18 of them going to various apartments so that will be fun! We also have a very busy day on 9th August with 6 same day changeovers and another 3 apartments coming in the next day. 
My mother has found an apartment she likes so she is moving out after 2 ½ years with us. The apartment is nice but there are a few repairs to deal with and a great deal of cleaning to do. I still wonder how it is that every new “long term” apartment we visit has numerous light bulbs out. Do people move about in the dark? Every bulb in the living room was out, how do people live like that? Do they live by candle light because it is too much hassle to change a bulb? 
I hate moving and I hate moving in June/July even more – we did one trip today with stuff and the sweat was dripping off me – it is too hot to move but as work is an every day occurrence and people email for apartments daily! We have to fit moving around work. We have to take calls and deal with issues as we move furniture, cases and boxes from one place to another. Although Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest I have spent the morning catching up with emails then moving furniture. 
The good news is that when Joy moves out I will have a spare room so everyone is having a move around so I can have a room as an office! Yippeee!!!! I won’t know myself, no more screaming at the children to stop putting their stuff on my desk, no more paperwork covering the dining room table. No more running from room to room to hide from them when I need to take an important call. I can have a proper office set up and the first thing I will do is put a lock on the door!!

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Rental Enquiries, don't loose that enquiry pass it on!
16 June 2008

You are probably finding that most of your summer weeks are now booked or you only have a few gaps left to fill.  The most popular August weeks have gone and maybe you just need to fill some July weeks.

Whatever your calendar says, if you are still receiving enquiries for the summer which you can't accommodate remember to pass it on.  For maximum rentals it is a good idea to have a few people you can pass over enquiries to which is also reciprocated. That way you have more chance of filling odd weeks. 
If you haven’t stipulated Saturday – Saturday changeovers and are being more flexible sometimes it can be difficult to get the right dates booked to avoid awful 6 day gaps. The more enquiries coming you way the more likely you are of filling them – simple. 
So if there are others in your complex doing the same then see if you can set up some sort of system where you can liaise with each other and fill those remaining weeks.
I am now having problems accommodating August bookings, it seems the beginning two weeks of August are always the most popular. 
It is a while since my last blog and the reason being is that June has proven to be the month for last minute bookings – although this is good it is more intense as we have to organise everything at the last minute!  
My first Spanish guests who left on Saturday were great, they left the apartment in a very clean state and vacuumed the entire apartment. The dog was a breed of husky which seemed to moult everywhere! And although they had done a good job there was still dog hair around but it gathered together so for all the world the cleaners thought there had been a sheep in the apartment!!

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28 May 2008

This is the first year that I have actually managed to do bookings in Spanish! I have now took three bookings and I have to say in comparison to the English they take a lot of convincing that you are not some rouge individual scheming to take their money. Each booking has taken over 20 emails to convince them that I will have the apartment there for them. It does make me wonder though why they enquired in the first place if they are that sceptical?
I have given them all my legal requirements, my husbands work details in fact they know more about my family than my own doctor does. I have even emailed them the bank receipts for the deposits. I have had to meet them half way on the balance though as they insist on bringing cash on arrival. I suppose it stands out more because 90% of my UK bookings pay both deposits and balances into the bank without a second thought.
My latest booking is a lady called Ana, she phoned me up and I managed to decipher her warped speed Spanish and get the details, all was going well until she mentioned “perro” my brain was so into Spanish rental words I was completely taken aback and couldn’t make out what she was saying. Luckily she knew the word “dog”
I thought which owner will allow a dog into an apartment – I asked how big the dog was – 15kg (I have no idea whether she will come with a tall skinny dog or a little fat dog!) Luckily I have a Norwegian owner who will take anything – she packs her own bookings in like sardines. I emailed her to find out if she wanted to take the booking and her reply was
“I think that dog will not eat other things than his own food. Please do help her and the dog!”
So that was that – Ana will arrive in a couple of weeks with her dog and she will be my first Spanish guest to come – I have had all my driving instructions translated into Spanish and sent them to her, she is driving down from Madrid so I have sent her the instructions to pick up the road from Malaga. I will let you know how my meet and greet goes in due course.
All good practice for my Spanish!

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Maintenance - Boilers!
26 May 2008

Now the season is really starting and the apartments are filling up the maintenance call outs start.  I have been so busy lately with the rental side - it seems that late deals are the thing this year and everyone is booking last minute.  Great for them - intense for me as you have to get everything prepared and cleaners organised in one go.  No sooner are they in and the perfectly fine apartment seems to fall to bits!  

We had some guests arrive last Wednesday, the apartment was cleaned the day before, everything fine, they got in ok but that night  I had several calls on my mobile.  It was around 8pm and I was trying to get the children to bed and the phone kept ringing.  Once I managed to get downstairs I had three missed calls in about 5 minutes.  I returned the call and it was guests saying they had no hot water, they were really unhappy.  My husband was trying his best to get out in time for the football match but I said I had to pop out because the boiler was in a locked cupboard (owner has his personal stuff in there) so I couldn't ask them to check anything but had to go there to see for myself.  

I got there within 20 minutes of her call.  The lady of the group was really "cheesed" off so to speak, "they had paid for an apartment and there was no hot water - it wasn't on etc etc" I explained that it was cleaned the day before and everything had been fine so until we could check the boiler I couldn't do much.  She had a right attitude!  We checked the plug of the boiler which was fine and there was nothing obvious so called our "boiler" guy and he said he would be there first thing in the morning 09.30am.  I apologised that she was without water but these things happen to apartments and someone would be out asap to fix it.  It was fixed first thing the morning of the next day - the thermostat had gone.  I thought that wasn't bad going - but the guests just thought it shouldn't have happened.  How can you possibly control appliances?

Today we had a call from a long term tennant really fed up as the boiler was heating up then cutting out.  It is a gas boiler and they tend to cut out if the temperature gets to hot.  She has been going through a gas bottle every 2 weeks which I though was quite a lot.  We have already had someone down to look at it so in the end we called the owners to see if they would agree to changing it to an electric one. They agreed - the prospect of an unhappy tennant and call out charges to check why the boiler wasn't working well convinced them.  This property is relatively new - why they put gas boilers in is beyond me, normally the newer properties all have electric ones.  A lot of people in this complex had already changed them.  

So it seems this week is the week of the boilers - last week is we had to change a dishwasher - all go, go, go!

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To meet or not to meet?
17 May 2008

Whether you should pay for someone to meet and greet clients (along with cleaning costs) in my experience, generates a lot of discussion.  There are those who feel that is it not worth the money and should not have to pay for a meet and greet and there are those that think it is a great service. 

When there are companies out there who can offer key collection at various locations be it airports, bars, or a safe on a wall, just stop for one minute and put yourself in the shoes of the people arriving on holiday.  How many of us really want to have to find a bar or follow a map and hope they can find an apartment at the end of it?  After a tiring day travelling do you really want your guests to have to do this?

One year we decided to have a break and go to visit Nerja, I have family who love it and booked an apartment so we thought it would be a good idea to go up and see them for a few days.  We booked an apartment online and were given instructions on how to find the hotel which would give us the keys for the apartment.  We found the hotel and collected our keys but when we then had to follow the directions to find the apartment we had difficulty finding the right road.  Roadworks  had blocked the road we were meant to take and we did not have an alternative, we called the number we were given in case of emergencies and luckily they managed to direct us to a road for the apartment complex.  However, once we found where we were meant to park we then had to find out which block the apartment was in, the numbering system was certainly not in numerical order and we wandered about with 2 small children for a while until we discoverd that the parking was miles away from the apartment.  We then managed to illegaly park whist we unloaded all the stuff you need when holidaying for a short period with young children!  we then parked in the proper place.  After several attempts with the different keys on the keyring we got into our apartment.  If we had followed someone there and they had shown us where to go it would have saved us approx 15 minutes - which seems a lot longer with a 2 and 4 year old!!

Luckily the people had left us laminated instructions around the apartment for how to operate various appliances, they didn't leave instructions on how to find the tv remote!  That was a bit of a treasure hunt!  All in all though it wasn't too bad and we managed to work out how to operate all appliances.  We didn't know the shortest route into town though so that was a bit of a "gut instinct" - "hope we are going the right way"  - "why are we in a housing estate" - "shut up whinging children, we will get to the town in a minute"  - drama! 

We once had a client who didn't believe in meet and greets and was always moaning about them until he did his own bookings and one of his guests called him (on his own accord) and commented on what a great service it was and how comforting it was to have people they had physically met as a back up in case they had problems.  He then changed his tune!

From a maintenance point of view just consider how many people break things because they don't know how to operate them.  Trust me - our washing machines are happy that their doors are not being broken due to people not switching the machines off first before opening the doors!   We have saved a few doors in our time by simply explaining that the machine needs to be switched off before you can open the door and should they experience any problems - please do not force the door - just call us!  Yes - you can leave instructions but then you are relying on them to read them all - yes you may have deposits but are you going to generate returning clients because you took the cost of the door out of their deposit and they argue that the machine was broken and the door wouldn't release!

I know that service costs need to be scrutinised for holiday rentals but when considering whether to choose a company which does meet and greets properly or to choose one which has a safe, please put yourself in the holidaymakers shoes and consider what is best for them (and you in as much as you may generate another returning client) and also consider the fact that when someone is physically shown how to use something and personally told if they have a problem they should call - it does help reduce maintenance or call out costs.  

In my opinion meet and greets are essential - they give the holiday guest that personal touch - a face behind the booking or an approachable person to contact if they need to.  In my opinion they also personalise the apartment, the guests are aware that it is an apartment which is looked after and the person doing that is looking at them so they better respect it!!

I say yes to meet and greets - to returning clients and reduced maintenance costs.   

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How low will you go?
06 May 2008

When the market is saturated with rental apartments and there is a credit crunch in the UK is it worth reducing your prices to bring yourself into the competitive rental market?
I was with some owners the other day and they commented on the fact that I am currently about 300 euros more expensive than other properties in the same complex. The owners phoned another agency and they said they were fully booked for peak season, i.e. August but when they compared rental prices they were a lot cheaper.
So many owners look at rental weeks but not rental prices v costs incurred. There are times when you can make more money on fewer weeks at a higher price than more weeks at a lower price. Don’t be blinded by your weeks booked. Remember weeks booked have to work with service costs, utility costs, commission rates. At the end of the day you need to look at the money you receive in your hand rather than the money you envisage per rental week. If the price is too low and the guest don’t respect the property who will pay for any damages? If you have every week booked at a low rate who will pay for the electricity when the guests leave the air con on all day? Just bear in mind that sometimes less weeks at a higher rate can mean less utility costs, less maintenance fees as you have a different clientele.    
Rather than reduce your rates have you considered giving good discounts for second or third week bookings? The more weeks booked at a decent rate, the more money made as you normally only pay for service costs per booking. So if it is one week, don’t reduce, if two or three weeks then be more flexible with your prices. Offer more discounts for returning clients.
A lot of agents/people are offering cheaper rates to get the bookings in but is it always the right decision. I am holding out at the moment, I will offer discounts on longer rentals but for a week I think if they want a quality apartment with a quality service they can pay for it. Luckily for me, other agents have folded and gone for cheaper rates and now they are booked up I can offer my apartments at the rates I want. At the end of the day – supply and demand! I want my owners to have a decent return for a decent property so will price accordingly.

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Keeping it New
30 April 2008

I have completely neglected my blog and I apologise, I had some family over last week for my son’s 6th birthday and trying to fit work and family time in left me collapsing into bed around midnight most nights, absolutely shattered.
I was dealing with a phone call the other day for a holiday rental and even though I was booked and couldn’t accommodate the lady she said that I had been the most helpful and because of that she would defiantly keep my details on file for the future. This got me thinking about how I deal with clients and respond to enquiries and perhaps what made my responses and calls different from the others. 
I think it has to do with “keeping it new” and “enthusiasm”
I was driving down from Manilva the other day and the view as you drive down the bank is gorgeous, on a sunny day when the sun is reflected on the water and beams back at you I think how I love the area I live in. I never tire of walking along the beach and hearing the waves lap against the shoreline. When I speak to clients on the phone or email them about the area I feel myself getting enthused about it, how they should sample the tapas bars and how they must visit Sabinillas and sample some of the fresh fish. 
As monotonous as answering enquiries can sometimes be, particularly when you look after a few properties, I think it is important to keep it real, keep it new – make it seem like it is the first time you are describing the property and the area. Tell them what it is about the place that gives you the buzz. I have two boys,  so whenever a family person emails and is slightly nervous about certain aspects because they have young children, I always tell them about my own experiences with the children, where the best places to take them are, how deep the swimming pools are etc. I recently had an enquiry where a family member was in a wheelchair and they were concerned that the apartment/complex would be ok. I remembered that there was actually a guy living on the complex who was in a wheel chair and the community had changed one of the fire doors round so he could easily get from his car to the apartment. We ended up having a whole discussion about wheelchairs and access problems and built up a good rapport  - he was happy to book the apartment.
I hate automated responses and I think in general people prefer to feel like you have given them the time of day, so as well as quick response I think it is good to answer any enquiries from a personal point of view.

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