When you’re self-managing short-term rentals (STRs), you will eventually need a system. Maybe you can get away with chatting with your guests directly in the native VRBO interface with one or two doors, but as soon as you scale much beyond that, you’ll need to bring in a little help from apps or sites designed to address every stage in the STR rental journey. And there are a lot to choose from out there.
We asked three experienced STR investors and property managers—people who have basically tested everything on the market—to share some of their favorites and the reasons they love them. These lists are not exhaustive by any stretch but offer great insight into platforms they use and trust.
Michael Sjogren, Investor, Coach, Podcast Host
Number of doors: Right now, we’ve got 101 doors. I own 72 of those. We have three boutique hotels and then 10 single families.
Investment areas: Massachusetts and up and down the East Coast, from New Hampshire down to Florida.
If you have five doors or fewer
Property Management System: Hospitable
I highly recommend Hospitable because it’s super easy. One of our core values is ‘keep it simple,’ so if you have less than five doors, even if you were going to keep going after that, Hospitable is great. It’s super easy to use, and it’s super cost-effective.
It’ll sync up all the calendars. It’ll centralize your messaging. It has AI built into it so you can preprogram messages, which means if somebody says, ‘Hey, what time is the pool open?’ It can detect that it’s a question about the pool, and you can create preprogrammed responses, [such as], ‘Hey, Johnny, looks like you have a question about the pool. Here are the hours and directions.’ So you can just build up this database of FAQs.
Turnover and Cleanings: Turno
Turno automates your cleanings, pays your cleaners, and is super easy to use. The app ingests your calendar and knows when checkouts are. And it’s going to sync up with Hospitable. You can add multiple cleaners to it and can prioritize them however you want. This means you could have a main cleaner and a backup cleaner, and the first one to accept it would get that cleaning.
You can build checklists in there that they fill out, and you can require them to take pictures. Then it’ll automatically pay them from your linked bank account. It just streamlines that whole process, which takes a lot off your plate at the beginning. The other cool thing is, is you can actually go on Turno and find new cleaners.
I know a lot of people, especially newer folks, are like, well, Airbnb has all these things you can do with pricing. However, in my experience, I’ve found that our pricing is typically 30% higher than what Airbnb recommends, and we still get plenty of bookings. Airbnb is incentivized to keep prices low because they want more people to use the platform, and the easiest way to do that is to get people to charge less.
PriceLabs looks at comps that are more relevant to what you own, in our case, a premium product, and will suggest prices based on that. Also, it will see spikes, and it’ll say, ‘Oh, it looks like Taylor Swift is in town on this Tuesday. You should probably charge double what you would normally charge.’ And that’ll do that automatically for you. You can really get in the weeds and build out custom dynamic profiles and really fine-tune this, but at the beginning, it does a really good job to just help maximize your revenue without too much of a lift on your end.
If you have more than five doors
Property Management System: Guesty
I can run my entire portfolio, including the hotels, through Guesty, and it integrates with everything under the sun, basically. So that’s our central hub. It has a lot more bells and whistles and can send text messages for communication.
We also use Guesty to coordinate cleanings—it has its own app for the cleaners, and it will schedule and automate text message reminders to them.
Data Analysis: AirDNA, STR Insights, IntelliHost, and Rankbreeze
These tools help us not only buy new properties but also help us analyze our current portfolio to make sure all of our listings are optimized and maximizing bookings.
AirDNA is good if you know a specific ZIP code that you want to look in, but otherwise it’s kind of hard to narrow down your search. STR Insights helps you whittle down your search and gives you access to the entire country. You can create filters to focus on—for instance, which areas have the highest ROI for properties in a certain price range?
Rankbreeze and IntelliHost help you analyze your listing. Where is it ranking on Airbnb? Is it on the first page or the second page? Where is it getting stuck? Do we need to adjust the title or the pictures?
Luke Carl, Investor, Podcast Host
Number of doors: 270 units. Eight are STRs.
Investment area: Six different markets in four states, including Florida and Tennessee.
Property Management System: Hospitable
I stick with the simple stuff. Hospitable was originally designed to be for messaging. That was their forte. It really just was like a message helper kind of thing.
I have hundreds of properties. I’m a busy guy. I consider myself a property manager more than an investor, even though I have five third-party property managers on my long-terms. You still have to manage the managers.
But long story short, I’ve used them all. And for right now and for quite some time, I’ve been using Hospitable, which is probably the simplest one there is. It also seems to be a little less glitchy. A lot of them have a difficult time communicating with VRBO because VRBO is so old school and their website is kind of outdated.
I use PriceLabs, of course. I like to say that PriceLabs is the race car, but without the driver, the car will crash into the wall and burn into a million pieces. So you have to get in there and steer the ship.
Guestbook: Touch Stay
[Touch Stay is] very easy to figure out. When I first started with it, it was a little confusing, but then I got used to it, and it’s pretty simple. It’s basically just a website that is like a dinner menu for your property.
I use QR codes around the house to direct people to the guestbook, too. Like, for instance, I have a QR code on all of my refrigerators. Most of the time, guests are really just looking for the Wi-Fi password. But I have a house in Florida with a swimming pool, and in Florida, if you have a swimming pool, by law, you have to have a pool buzzer, and the guests lose their minds over this pool buzzer. They hate it because it’s annoying, and it’s there obviously for safety reasons, you must have it. I have kids, so there’s no way I want [to] rent without this buzzer.
But I do have a QR code right next to the buzzer because inevitably, when nobody reads anything, they show up, and this buzzer goes off. They’re super annoyed, so then they can just scan that code and figure out, oh, I have to push this button.
It comes in super handy when you need to send somebody over to work on something. And I don’t like to give them the dummy code because I want to know who went in when, just in case weird stuff happens, I want to know who I’m holding accountable.
I’ll put in the last four digits of their phone number. You just integrate Schlage in your Hospitable dashboard, and it’ll change the door code for every guest. Each guest gets the last four digits of their phone number as their door code.
You can go two different ways. Your cleaner could have their own Turno, and then you give them your iCal, and they drop it in there with all their other properties. That’s really the way to do it. Or you can have your own Turno and drop your cleaner’s email in there as an employee, and then you give them access to your calendar so they know exactly what’s going on all the time.
Andrew Steffens, Partner, Vacation Rentals of Florida, and Broker Associate, 27North Realty
Number of Doors: Personally, I own nine, but we manage 75 doors currently, all STR.
Investment Area: We manage primarily from Tampa to Naples, Florida, but have been expanding statewide and even have some in New Jersey.
Property Management System: Streamline
Streamline is the legacy provider PMS for midsize and larger STR property management companies. It is a bit of a bear to integrate and learn, but once it is properly set up, it does do a lot—pretty much everything we would need it to do at our size. It also has a huge integrations market, so you can quickly integrate with new technologies, i.e., rental insurance providers, channel managers, lock automations, etc.
Channel Manager: BookingPal
Streamline does direct connect to Airbnb and VRBO but is pretty limited beyond that. You need a channel manager [like BookingPal] to open new doors to get maximum exposure. Airbnb/VRBO only account for 70% of our company-wide reservations, so expanding to other channels like Booking.com, Marriott Homes, and Villas, etc., is important.
In today’s competitive market, pricing is crucial. RevMax is pretty sophisticated, as it constantly adjusts the price based on macro data like area searches, seasonality, etc. Also, we upgraded and now have a dedicated revenue manager there looking at our prices on a daily basis to make sure we remain competitive and get the bookings.
Automation (locks): Lynx
[With Lynx], each guest gets a unique code for the duration of their stay. They also have some other features we have not added yet, like pool heat and thermostat controls.
Market Analysis: AirDNA
[It’s] far from perfect, but AirDNA provides a great starting point when analyzing a potential property. We have a premium account, so we can see the area comps it is using for projections, and we zero in on those and see what the competition is getting on ADR and occupancy rate.
Marketing: Constant Contact and StayFi
We use [Constant Contact] to market to past guests. In Streamline, we can use coupon codes to offer to repeat business to book direct. Booking direct is important to save guests money, make more money, and have more control of the money we earn (Airbnb loves to refund guests). We also use StayFi, which makes a splash login page when people log in to Wi-Fi. It also collects guests’ emails in order to use the Wi-Fi, and then we market to them later.
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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.