Friday, February 04, 2011

How to Set Up a Vacation Home as a Rental

One of the best real estate deals nowadays is to own rental property. Is that really possible? Yes, however, it must be a certain type of property. The property should be a vacation property able to support short term

rentals throughout the year. In order to be effective at turning a second home into a vacation home, there are a series of considerations and steps that you will need to be aware of and undertake. These will be described in more detail below.

Legal Considerations
Most of what is stated below will deal with Florida and local laws. However, most vacation homes in other states will have similar rules that are applicable. The author’s previous experience has been with short term rentals, for the most part.

Florida basically permits an individual or corporation to rent a dwelling, whether a condominium or home. In some cases, the local county where the property is located, will insist on an inspection of the property, however for the most part, this isn’t the case. In the case of condominiums, often the condo association will handle some of those issues.

The major interest the state and county has is whether or not the owner of the property is collecting and paying sales tax on the rentals and remitting it on a regular basis. One other consideration: before trying to rent your property out, make sure that the local ordinances support short term rentals. One further consideration is that it might be advisable to set the property up as a corporation for both tax and legal protections. Consult an accountant or attorney for advice in this regard.

Sales Tax
Sales tax on short term rentals are applicable to hotel rooms, rental homes and condominiums for stays of less than 180 days. With declining local tax revenues throughout the country, states like Florida, are now more vigilant in their efforts to collect sales occupancy taxes. In Florida, sales taxes on short term stays are especially important because the “occupancy” sales tax is typically double the regular sales tax rate.

For instance, if a county has a sales tax rate of 6% or so, one expects that the occupancy sales tax would be approximately 12%. Obviously on a week long stay with rentals of $900 or so, the sales tax collected for the state would be approximately $90. This will add up over the course of a year and is an extremely attractive source of revenue for the state. Therefore, a prospective owner must collect and pay the taxes or face strong legal action by the state.

Licensing – Any type of business activity must be licensed in the county where the business activity occurs. This is an occupational license. The fee for one may be anywhere from $75 and up. Sometimes in the case of a condominium, the condo association’s license is all that is required. Second, you may have to apply for a state license for your rental property. This will of course, entail another fee. This is renewable every year. In certain case, the state may insist upon an inspection of the property before granting a license.

Rental contracts – In line with the above, it’s important to have a well written, short term rental contract that protects you as the property owner. It is worth one’s time, expense and avoidance of future problems to have an attorney craft such a document
Safety Considerations - Most of the safety precaution are common sense, but it’s important that the property conform to the letter of the law. Additionally, there are some safety considerations that will be applicable. A short term rental home must have a fire extinguisher and a working dead bolt lock for all entry doors. Typically, the home must also have a fire alarm and an emergency light that automatically illuminates, if power is lost. The home must be easily accessible or easy to exit in cases of an emergency. If the home is a condominium on an upper floor and there is a balcony attached to the property, there must also be a restraining fence to prevent someone from accidentally falling.

Billing/Payment – Renting out a vacation property is a bit different from most other types of rental arrangements and business activities.
• It is such a short term transaction that it is important for the owner to obtain all payments well in advance of the rental period. If someone decides to rent your property and fails to pay in a timely manner and then cancels right before they were due to arrive, you’ll not usually be able to replace the rental.

• If they pay by check and the check doesn’t clear and the renter has already left, you might have a difficult time forcing him to make good on the rental and is certainly not worth the hassle. Therefore, insist on payment either by check (long in advance of the rental) or Paypal. Even funds transfer is open to abuse. Although in some cases, if the renter is arriving from another country, you may not have a choice.
Insurance – It is always vital to carry good insurance to protect against damage, weather disasters and liability in the case of accident.

Rental Season Profitability - In most case, if a vacation rental can accommodate virtually all seasons, such as the Keys, Tampa Bay area or South Florida, the total yearly rentals generated will be significantly greater on average, than properties that may only be rentable within a single season, such as a ski area or more northern lake properties. Typically, properties that have a year round rental attraction can usually show a profit within the first few years of ownership. This may be a major consideration when you are planning to purchase such a property.

Rentals Policy – When you are setting up a rental property, you will need to decide if you are interested in longer term seasonal versus shorter term vacation rentals. Most that wish to rent their property should avoid the spring break situation, for obvious reasons. Longer term rentals, one to three months, tend to be less profitable because rents will always be lower than a short term weekly rental. Also, short term renters usually spend minimal time at a property, while longer term renters will normally consider your second home to be their second home when they rent. The advantage is that because weekly renters are spending more time outside there will almost always be less wear and tear on the inside of your property.

Furniture, Equipment & Flooring – In order to make a vacation property attractive, the furniture should be of a reasonably high quality to accommodate years of rental abuse. In the case of sofas, the material should be treated with a stain resistance compound. Further, the appliances should be relatively new and modern and not prone to break down or malfunction. In most cases, avoid whenever possible, carpeting. It is a magnet for dirt and stains. Instead, install a good ceramic or porcelain tile which is worth the expense to avoid future headaches. Wood floors are attractive, but expensive and will require more maintenance.

Maintenance and Repairs – Typically, the short term renter pays for the exit cleaning. Therefore, it will be of paramount importance to locate cleaning people to come in and change the linens and perform the basic cleaning after guests have departed. In line with the above, a potential vacation home owner will need to have a working relationship with local maintenance people that can unblock a sink, repair damage or fix any appliances, when necessary.

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